Nov 9 (8/8): NATO v. “The Ottoman Slap”

I’m still waiting for the Roebuck memo discussion to blow up.

le sigh.

In the mean time: What are we doing here?

Stars & Stripes: For east Syria, US troops are about much more than oil

Stars and Stripes: For east Syria, US troops are about much more than oil

The military understands the mission is not oil and not Rojava for that matter, but Iran.

“The revenue from this is not going to the U.S.,” Hoffman said.

From the ground, the new U.S. mission blocks Damascus’ plans to regain the east and Iran’s efforts to complete a land corridor through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Iran’s ability to project power and potentially transport advanced weaponry all the way to Israel’s doorstep has long been a major U.S. concern.

“Iran is the real danger,” said Omar Abu Layla, a native of Deir el-Zour who lives in Europe and runs an activist collective called Deir Ezzor 24 that monitors developments in the area.

This is about attempting to pivot while ostensibly not changing anything.

Hassan Hassan, a Syria and terrorism expert with Washington-based think tank Global Policy, said the new mission is “a recalibration of the previous plan, currently focused on Iran and the (Syrian) regime.”

It is not, however, “part of a thought-out and politically sustainable strategy,” he said. “The risk is that Trump will order a sudden withdrawal when something goes south.”

Assad has been making veiled threats.

In a subtle hint, Assad said in an interview last week his military is no match for the U.S. forces but their presence may spark “popular resistance,” likening it to what happened in Iraq before the U.S. withdrawal in 2011.

The civilians on the ground understand all this.

Residents of the east are already wary of the forces of Assad and his Iranian-backed allies, deployed just across the Euphrates.

Reports have circulated among locals that government troops were massing and Iranian-backed militias arriving from Iraq. Kurdish-led forces and government troops clashed Tuesday near the town of Husseiniya, according to Deir Ezzor 24 and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor group.

The Observatory said the clashes prompted the U.S. military to fire rockets at the government forces. The U.S.-led coalition denied firing, but the reports underscored the possibility of frictions.

The fears sent prices of basic goods shooting up as people began to horde. Many considered fleeing, said Shehab, who had to leave his home west of the Euphrates when government forces moved in two years ago. Iranian-backed militias are recruiting and confiscating homes across the river, he said.

Here’s some good context for that mission vis-a-vis our relationship to Turkey:

National Review: Turkey, NATO, and a Shifting World

National Review: Turkey, NATO, and a Shifting World

Turkey is a strange ally of the United States, and a strange member of NATO. This has been clear for several years now. It has become yet clearer in recent weeks.

. . .

It perhaps goes without saying that it is very, very unusual for one NATO member to threaten another with the total destruction, or obliteration, of its economy.

The US and Turkey have basically been talking shit to each other. Erdogan referenced “the Ottoman Slap.”

On October 11, U.S. troops who had not yet cleared out of the region came under artillery fire from the Turks. (No one was harmed, or at least no American.) U.S. officers said that this was no accident: The Turks knew exactly what they were doing. And why were they doing it? To announce that there was a new sheriff in town? To administer something like “an Ottoman slap”?

This phrase had been introduced by Erdogan in early 2018. He used it in a speech to his parliament, responding to an American general, Paul Funk. Funk had warned Turkey not to tangle with Americans in Syria. “You hit us,” he said, “we will respond aggressively. We will defend ourselves.” Speaking to the parliament, Erdogan said, “It’s obvious that those who say ‘You hit us, we will respond aggressively’ have never received an Ottoman slap.”

The USA and Russia both vetoed the UN Security Council Resolution against Turkey.

Despite this threat, several EU nations have responded to Operation Peace Spring, imposing arms embargoes on Turkey. These nations include Germany, France, Sweden, and Finland. Also, a group of EU nations on the U.N. Security Council proposed a resolution against Turkey. The resolution was vetoed by Russia and the United States — a surprising pairing. This produced headlines that you perhaps had to read twice, such as “EU Stands Alone against U.S. and Russia on Syria.”

Turkey was obviously admitted to NATO for strategic reasons of geography and to a lesser extent demographics. But it would never be admitted today.

If Portugal was of strategic importance, Turkey certainly was, and is: a literal bridge between Europe and Asia, bordering the Arab world, bordering Iran, bordering the Black Sea, the Aegean Sea, the Mediterranean . . . When considering the question of NATO and Turkey, says Eric Edelman, you have to remember an old adage. Edelman is a former U.S. ambassador to Turkey and a former Defense Department official. The adage is one that President Trump is no doubt familiar with, as Edelman says, for it comes from the world of real estate: “Location, location, location.”

Furthermore, Turkey is a majority-Muslim country, and this can be useful in international disputes. An action may be seen as less “anti-Muslim” if Turkey is involved. There are some 2,000 American troops in Turkey, and nuclear warheads as well — American nukes, about 50 of them, at Incirlik Air Base.

Turkey would never be admitted to NATO today. It has an authoritarian regime, with democracy an increasingly distant memory. NATO is not admitting such countries anymore; it has stricter democratic criteria. But Turkey is grandfathered in, if you will. Other NATO countries have “backslid” as well, in the course of these decades — Greece, for example, during the Regime of the Colonels (1967–74).

Erdogan is kinda pissed about all that. The piece lays out the arc of Turkey trying to join the EU when Assad’s regime began in 2003 to their more recent truculent bitterness about Europe, but the best NATO can do is hope Turkey asks itself, “What Would Peter Parker Do?”

Does NATO have any tools, any leverage? Something with which to chasten or reform erring members? There is always moral suasion — but this can seem weak and pathetic. As Turkish forces and their associated militias were doing their worst against the Syrian Kurds, the secretary general of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, was reduced to saying, “Turkey is a great power in this great region, and with great power comes great responsibility.” This must have occasioned guffaws in Ankara. What NATO can do, however, is distance itself from Turkey. Freeze it out. Stop sharing intelligence, stop sharing technology. And this, NATO members are already doing. Erdogan is not complaining about it publicly, says Ben-Meir — but he knows he is being marginalized, and he will complain about it publicly before long, almost surely.

If you freeze out Turkey, you have to replace it with something. You have to replace what Turkey has brought to the alliance, which is considerable. Already, there is “open conversation” about this, as Nate Schenkkan says. He is an expert on Turkey and Central Asia at Freedom House. Where are you going to get another air base, so desirably positioned? Where are you going to store your nukes? What are you going to do for ports? How about reconnaissance and surveillance capabilities? Current discussion revolves around Greece, Cyprus, Romania, Jordan, Iraqi Kurdistan, and still other locales.

Conclusion, we might need to rethink this, up to and including how we think about political realism in international relations.

I myself think of the Palmerstonian adage: Nations do not have permanent allies but permanent interests. For some years now — at least half of Erdogan’s 16-year reign — Turkey has not looked like an ally, certainly not of the United States or NATO. Mark Esper, the U.S. secretary of defense, said on October 21, “We had no obligation, if you will, to defend the Kurds from a longstanding NATO ally.” Does this kind of thinking make sense in today’s world? Does it comport with the realities on the ground? Does it jibe with conscience? Remember, U.S. forces took off from Erbil, not Incirlik. And, according to various sources, among them U.S. officials, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was located thanks to Kurdish intelligence.

No one, including me, has an easy answer to the Turkish question, and the specific question of Turkey in NATO. Nate Schenkkan asks, “What does it look like to have an ally that’s not fully trusted within the alliance?” We are seeing that now, as he says. “It is uncomfortable, and challenging, but not unmanageable. And people are getting used to the idea.” True.

In related news:

Bosnia would like to know WTF France?

France dissed Bosnia in an east-west tension kind of way, an historical problem within NATO. (This of course on the heels of Marcon claiming NATO is brain dead, ostensibly because of its inability to rein in an “eastern type state.”)

Reuters: French ambassador in Bosnia summoned over Macron’s ‘time bomb’ remark

About that Wall…

Finally, I at last get why I’ve seen more stuff about the Berlin Wall in ME stuff than I would have expected. But that’s clearly because I’m an idiot, as the connection isn’t that obscure.

Arab News: How the fall of the Berlin Wall influenced the Arab world

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