The real cold war is with Islamism

Any variety of Islamism from the ISIS-K or Taliban to Pakistan, Iran or you name it is no more intrinsically compatible than the Chinese model with those universal values upheld by the West. “Difficult” partners like Turkey will be the bellwethers for defeat or victory in that real cold war.

Russia nibbled on eastern Ukraine and gobbled up Crimea. Ukraine is a member of the CoE and the OSCE. Then, the “rule-based” international order was apparently not affected. Germany went on to finalise the Nord Stream 2 agreement in summer, ruling over the warnings and even the sanction threats of the US. Merkel is the outgoing German chancellor, while Putin is the staying for life Russian president: There-in lies the dilemma? And then again, while the incoming U.S. President Biden couldn’t yet find the time to get seated, the EU rushed on to conclude a bilateral trade and investment deal with China. The same China which would have replaced the USSR in our times.

Yet, according to the narrative, that pristine international order would have received a severe blow only when it turned out that the all-mighty U.S. capitulated to Taliban. The Afghan army which the U.S. spent a whopping 83 billion USD to train and equip evaporated in a merely eleven-day campaign by the rag-tag Taliban militia which literally took over the country without a fight. Turkey had contributed too to that effort under the NATO umbrella for an uninterrupted twenty years. Not surprisingly, eminent rising voices from allies like Germany and Britain which were blindsided by the US considered the present Afghan debacle as “the most serious” in the history of NATO as well. One expert I spoke to here in Istanbul even judged the event as being “the tombstone of NATO.” 

Allow me to relate a short anecdote here within this context. During that ice age between the U.S. and Turkey following the rejection of the motion that would allow US troops to transit through Turkey to invade Iraq from the north in 2003, I had started serving in Baghdad. Each time we tried to take the privileged “DoD line” reserved for the coalition partners with our embassy vehicle, we had a hard time explaining that Turkey is a NATO ally too only to be refused entry through the fast lane to the so-called Green Zone and BIAP. Once, a US private standing guard at the gates had flatly rejected my plea by asking me “what is NATO?” Indeed. 

Only days ago, Defence Minister Akar was pleading the Turkish cause for staying at the Kabul Airport with reference to “brotherhood” and “Turkey’s non-combatant role since 20 years” and even priding himself that “since twenty years our NATO allies were asking us when we were going to leave” as if Turkey was not a part of the NATO mission. Then, the Turkish armed forces abruptly packed up and left the airport and the tune changed. Now, none other than Erdoğan himself in Sarajevo suddenly remembered that “we are NATO members too.” He even went further to admit that he wasn’t knowledgeable about the difference between the Taliban and DAESH as both are terror organisations.

Almost simultaneously two well connected reporters broke the news of an “imminent” deal in the making to take over the management and the security of that same Kabul airport with Turkey and Qatar on the one side and the Taliban on the other. According to the report, that would happen in return of the recognition of the Taliban. To give him where credit is due, on his way back from Bosnia and Montenegro, Erdoğan himself sounded much more cautious than herewith alleged deal though.

Almost within the same breath Erdoğan also declared that Turkey was ready to procure a second batch of S-400s from Russia basically “regardless of whoever says what”. While the US was busy evacuating Afghanistan, Turkish Air Force was busy bombarding targets in Northern Syria. US Assistant Secretary of State Hood visited the region right after. Yet the same TuAF was also busy protecting the Baltic and the Polish fronts of NATO against Russia as the Turkish navy patrolled the Black Sea. This showcases another dimension of that same rules based international order: A kind of blackmailer-client dash transactional partner status. If Pakistan can proliferate nuclear weapons, host Osama bin Laden and create Taliban directly through the ISI, why others much better positioned then Pakistan can treat the American hegemon the same way?

Tagging along the same path, now following the August 27 Kabul airport suicide attack which drew to a close the twenty-year chapter which had begun with the 9/11 2001 NY suicide attacks, even the Taliban itself stands as an eligible candidate to be promoted to become a transactional partner in its own right. Why not, transactional partnerships and stability, these are the buzzwords of our times’ myopic diplomacy endeavours. After all, IS-Khorasan can be defeated through the Taliban and the Taliban can be tamed through its dependency to foreign aid, the thinking goes. 

According to plan, once these frivolities will be swiftly dealt with, the time will come back again to concentrate on the Cold War 2.0 with China. When the US had withdrawn from Vietnam, it had managed to peel Beijing away from Moscow at the time and it had run to the end zone to win the Cold War against Russia. Today, after the debacle in Afghanistan, the US can do the same by pulling Moscow from the arms of the rising challenger Russia. Global war on terror, forever local wars and state-building efforts are all over. Probably, Pentagon’s train & equip programs will either change form or be terminated wholesale as well.           

The civil war in Afghanistan kicks off in earnest between the Taliban and the ISIS-Khorasan and will probably soon involve God knows which third parties. We also stand at the dawn of a hardening global competition for hegemony between the two ways of life: The American/Western and the Chinese/Eastern. If this will not look like the Cold War of the yesteryear but be a battle of ideas for our and our children’s and grand-children’s future, then the Western model of human rights and freedom should prevail at some point almost by default.

But then again, any variety of Islamism from the ISIS-K or Taliban to Pakistan, Iran or you name it is no more intrinsically compatible than the Chinese model with those universal values upheld by the West. “Difficult” partners like Turkey will be the bellwethers for defeat or victory in that real cold war. For, to my mind, global war on terror may well be over but the real cold war is with Islamism.

September 13, 2021 The new cold war