Twist and turns, a sharp u-turn, a clean break, starting over -you name it. These all may depict maneuvers of some sort, and yes you guessed right, as in foreign policy as well. Yet maneuvering is anathema in my humble opinion when it comes to Ankara’s Syrian adventure. For, to execute a maneuver one has to have an end game in mind or at least one has to have had charted a course from point A to point B.
Here we are rather in cosmetics territory as in make-up. We may as well be in full lethargy territory. If you wish you can also hark back to late great thinker Berlin’s reference to the expression “a fox knows many things, but a hedgehog one important thing.” But you would again be off the mark at worst or too optimistic at best.
It is perhaps more reminiscent of the expression “let’s lift anchor first and then see whether the steam will push the ship forward -that I heard being used more than once by various experienced ambassadors during my time at the Foreign Ministry. It also reminds me of another top Turkish diplomat’s stark warning in Davutoğlu era that “zeal should not be mistaken as efficiency” in foreign policy.
Let’s not turn around our subject matter any further: In short, Idleb will not end well for Turkey. Because there is no possible graceful exit. Any exit option is perceived as defeat by President Erdoğan and he is not willing by all the means to admit any defeat. Otherwise, Idleb for sure is not an existential matter neither for Turkey’s national security nor should have been a priority for its foreign policy.
Russian and Turkish delegations met in Ankara. Munich Security Conference created another opportunity for two sides’ foreign ministers to meet. And today, a Turkish delegation will be landing in Moscow. In the mean time we heard from various actors as Ambassador Erkhov, DFM Bogdanov or even FM Lavrov that time was up for Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) to pack up and leave Idleb.
On the other hand, the hedgehog in question, namely President Erdoğan has spoken too and reiterated the “one thing”: Assad must go and it is not the TAF but the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) to pull back from the entire Idlib pocket. Here we face a classic logical dilemma of a binary impossibility: Either the TAF or the SAA can remain where they are now. It is “on” or “off.”
The art of diplomacy, among other things, is to create time and space for a rationale within the possible outcomes. That would be in this case, for the recently heavily fortified TAF observation posts establish a new frontier line leaving the control of the M4 and the M5 highways together with all the towns along them to Damascus and keep a much narrower pocket including the Idleb town to host the almost a million Syrian IDPs and hence allowing them conditions not push for the Turkish border.
This in turn too would have to be a temporary and not an open ended new status quo. There would ideally have to be a timeline attached to it. The wiggle room for Ankara would be then to connect that timeline with conditionality like “until a political solution will be found in entire Syria.” Ergo, the event horizon will be set in 2021 –the year when the elections will be held in Syria.
The sweetener for Russia, and even perhaps for the lost and newly found Turkish allies like the US and the EU, would for Turkey to change its behaviour towards that political solution. All parties seem eager to re-energize Geneva process. Alas, Assad does not appear to be willing play ball, as he sees now that momentum is on his side and that any solution will by default be “Made in Syria” and not elsewhere.
For Turkish diplomats and ministers rushing to NATO HQ in Brussels, receiving their Russian and American counterparts in Ankara, hurrying up to Moscow, it is a tough case to crack. To negotiate a rational outcome they need clear political instructions. To negotiate just for the sake of negotiating, hoping that an indeterminate lull will freeze all movements in Idleb as for example it did in Cyprus for over forty years will not work here. The situation on the ground is fluid and does not depend only of what Ankara chooses to do or abstain from doing.
US and EU political support are not fully welcome or convincing either. Erdoğan made sure to let it known that he does not see the US position as being trustworthy and he was not wrong to expose the duplicity of the migration obsessed, short sighted and toothless EU policies. He will make the call politically as usual. This time around, Turkish public opinion does not appear to be consolidating behind his Idleb conundrum.
Let’s follow our initial the hedgehog and the fox analogy through by way of conclusion: The bear, invited the wolf to kill the dog and then let the hyena loose to push the wolf out of the floor. Meanwhile, the eagle looked on from the branch of a tree nearby and lamented: “What do you expect me to do? To land on the ground and get in between the wolf and the hyena?”
At the end of the day, not the multiple three way negotiations but the velocity of the SAA advance and the intensity of the RuAF aerial bombardment backing it will determine the outcome. Nothing short of a declaration of an all-out war with Syria will make any difference. As the coded message passed by Ricky Jay to Gene Hackman in David Mamet’s Heist (2001): “The situation is pristine.”
Turks and Kurds are not exotic fruits that grow in faraway lands. As citizens of this country, namely the Republic of Turkey, they yearn for equality, justice for all, state of law, plurality, agency, effective administration through decentralization, secularism, better education and economy for their children, security.
Perhaps at glacier speed yet things appear to have started to move between Turkey and the U.S. Stars are almost getting aligned what with Turkey in dire need of fresh monies to fill its fast emptying forex coffers and the U.S. shifting its military focus for the umpteenth time from the MidEast to global rivalry with first China and then Russia.
If the truth is circumvented or sterilized, finding a solution to a problem that is being carried along since almost a century will be harder if not impossible to reach. Politics is one thing, law is something else, political science is another and history is yet another.
Lefter Küçükandonyadis (1925-2012) was Fenerbahçe football club’s and Turkish national team’s star player during the many long years when he played football. Last week, my good friend and distinguished sportswriter Bağış Erten named his new born son “Lefter” and announced the happy news through social media.
The capacity and the capability of the Turkish Armed Forces is overwhelming compared to its regional peers. The resolve of the leader and the public support are formidable. The pandemic keeps the global powers at bay. The worm in the apple is the economic engine.
President Erdoğan in his last “address to the nation” which was duly broadcast via all available means defiantly stated that “our country will eradicate all (its’) media and politics viruses.”
At the very end of the day (literally), just two hours before midnight the interior minister declared a curfew for the weekend. And, all hell broke loose (again literally).
An appointed official, in this case the interior minister, defies and elbows the elected mayor of a city, for example Istanbul with its 16 million inhabitants because he represents the state also known as the office of the presidency and also because he has a hunch that if these pernicious activities are allowed, then God forbid, HDP municipalities may follow suit and raise money for PKK!
The imam too is apologetically in a hurry. I try to appear comforting in reiterating over and over again that everything is in order according to Islam. I even attempt to reassure him by patting his shoulder but my hand remains hanging in the air as the wide-eyed imam is aghast of this potential physical contact.
At the end of the day, Ankara’s undisclosed three-way bet appears to the naked eye as resting first on a hybrid mitigation approach as opposed to the full throttle suppression. Second, that the storm will pass quicker than others expect. Third, that Turkey will find itself on the winning end once the skies clear.
The Moscow Protocol puts the task on Ankara’s shoulders of stopping the armed militia like the HTS and the Turkey backed SNA from endangering traffic on that road to be jointly controlled. By the same token, while effectively offering the use of the road on a plate to Damascus, it allocates the burden of preventing the SAA to take it over and make a northbound push to Russia.
Not quite. One can safely assume that Moscow dictates the, call it “new order” or the “new status quo” in Idlib. And at that, effectively getting in between the Turkish Armed Forces and the Syrian Arab Army. No more, no less and temporarily. Compared to a potential full-blown Turco-Syrian war, encouraged first and foremost by the U.S., it is no small feat either.
The assumption of those who predicted a sudden death to Erdoğan-Putin bromance is proven to be only wishful thinking. The two leaders, as shared with the public by Kremlin’s spokesperson Peskov are slated to meet in Moscow either on the 5th or the 6th of March. How many more Syrian Air Force Soviet made attack jets will be downed by then is anybody’s guess. The tally stands at three at present time.
Title is from a song by Sheffield band Pulp’s well known 1995 debut album: “Mis-shapes, mistakes, misfits / Raised on a diet of broken biscuits, oh…” With a sleight of hand replace “biscuits” with “promises” and there you have it, a concise executive summary of Erdoğan’s Syria and Libya policies.
Bana, on her term, travelled numerous times from Istanbul to Misrata than to Genoa and so forth. Recently though, the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle sailed through the disputed eight parcel declared by Greek Cyprus and, “to add insult to injury”, also topped its flag displaying mission by monitoring the same Bana being escorted by Turkish navy fregates to Libya. Before AFP had time to break the news, President Macron had already denounced Turkey as breaching the UN imposed arms embargo to Libya.
I have no single bit of sympathy at all for this ridiculous Trumpian unilateral MEPP that makes a mockery of diplomacy and the Palestinian land. But I do worry about the fact that Turkey carries no weight to dictate its will upon all the rest of the world. For that matter, no other power, be it regional or global, not even the U.S. enjoys that sort of latitude. There is no need for Ankara to constantly pick unnecessary fights while in the meantime there is no shortage of conflicts that Turkey’s national security all around it.
Today, a shaky hodge-podge opposition coalition of sorts seems to have emerged following the metropolitan municipality victories in 2019, first and foremost winning the prized duchy of Istanbul among them. Now, the secularist nationalists and muslim democrats with the Kurds and leftists suspiciously eyeing but soldiering on with them have a quite clear shot at the presidency in 2023 the latest -in ceteris paribus conditions.
The outcome of the Berlin Conference on Libya is anybody’s guess and whether it will make any difference is anybody’s guess as well. The safest bet is to claim that we are just starting a long de-escalation period with its inevitable ups and downs unless General Hafter manages to upend it militarily.
President Erdoğan’s combative foreign policy appears to let off steam and slow down on both Syrian and Libyan fronts. It is too early to tell whether finally reason had found a foothold in Ankara. For Mr. Erdoğan the hardest bit to tackle in 2020 will be the U.S. President’s repeated invitation for the NATO’s mission to be expanded to the Mid East and namely to Iraq.
Turkey, if it stops short of going all in in Libya and taps into its long forgotten diplomatic arsenal, has a unique opportunity to step forward with its home brew de-escalation efforts. President Erdoğan already had both Mr. Rouhani and Mr. Saleh on the phone. Briskly, Ankara can step forward and play on both its hundreds year long relations with Teheran and its half a century old NATO membership.
Mr.Erdoğan went to Tunisia but came back empty handed following his meeting with his counterpart Mr.Saied. The joint diplomatic, military, intelligence team that was dispatched to Moscow got no deal after three days long talks. Italy, Britain, France and Germany are seriously considering imposing a No Fly Zone which will definitely put a hold to armed drones provided by Turkey to GNA.
Vienna, no need to be a historian to reach that conclusion, is an imperial capital. Coming from Istanbul, I can’t help but think about the parallelism of these two cities being amputated of their respective empires almost simultaneously at the end of World War I.
Ankara went ahead and put the pedal to the metal in all files. No restraint, no consultation, no foresight: Just jump in head-on wherever, whenever you see trouble. Why? Simply because it almost always paid off at the ballot box. Second, there was no payback, no price tag attached to any of all these reckless foreign policy moves, manoeuvers and adventures.
So here I was back at heart of the blob. Or alternately, here I was knee-deep back in the swamp. Ten years ago this city was sort of abuzz. This time though, if President Macron kindly allows me to borrow the description he recently used for NATO, DC appeared to me sort of “brain-dead”. A good friend who had navigated these treachourous waters for decades had warned me that I would come to witness “the demise of an empire.”
Never in the history of mankind, less than ten richest persons in the world possessed more than half of the global wealth. But also, never in the history of mankind, humans lived so long and a billion people to global population was added in such a short span of time. Statesmen are in short supply in our time and at the same time all the public upheaval from Santiago to Najaf can be understood as a global rejection of being lead by anyone anyway.
It seems like Erdoğan’s Turkey not only wants to go it alone almost in all foreign policy issues but also actually expects almost all other countries, friend or foe, to, at best, applaud its acts and decisions or to understand them and to remain silent, at worst. That’s not a realistic goal.
What is the secret of the “Kılıçdaroğlu Doctrine”? That’s “winning with a disappearing act”, in a nut-shell. That is, now you see Mr.Kılıçdaroğlu and he dexterly shuffles the deck of cards lurking in the shadows, and now you don’t, the cards are open on the table with brand new names facing the voter. Ergo, CHP rises as the legendary phoenix from its ashes.
Where will Iraq go from here, I do not know. The historical process triggered by the U.S. military that toppled the most brutal dictator of its era in 2003 does not yet appear to have arrived at its final destination. It is perhaps a good enough thing to be alive for some of us, but then again, for some of us to merely survive is not enough. The brave young generation of Iraq, unlike the frequent traveler that your humble servant was, plays this game for their lives: They want to live, to be free and pursue their happiness as they see fit.
The relations between Turkey and the U.S. are beyond repair. The bilateral relations are either going to look like “operational” as in U.S.-Egypt relations for example, in which case people who consider themselves democrats will definitely go under the bus. Or, another option may appear to be, as it derives from the dominant narrative of Erdoğan, a character similar to the U.S.-Russia relations: Turkey playing the part of an equal and indispensable but difficult partner.
Turkey is anchored in the West since the Paris Peace Conference in 1856 that ensued the Crimean War. Today, over the control of a godforsaken piece of land of 120 to 32km, Putin is invited to kill too many birds with one stone.
As the U.S. pulled out, Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian Arab Army (SAA), supported by Russia, moved into Manbij and Kobane to the west and to the Qamishli axis to the east of the said rectangular field of ongoing operations. Hence, there is no reason why the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) should heed the U.S.-Turkish Joint Statement, and there is no reason why the congressional sanctions effort should stop—it didn’t.
Last week marked the fourth anniversary of the Ankara Train Station massacre. The pain caused by the hundreds of dead and injured subsists. The victims simply demanded peace. But they paid a high price for it.
Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said, rather ungrammatically, that they would 'raggedy' Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu if he doesn't mind his own business. He openly and directly threatened him with these words