Tag Archives: Turkey

More ‘Stupid War’ in Syria, by Eric S. Margolis

Will Trump finally get the US out of Syria? From Eric Margolis at lewrockwell.com:

More war in wretched Syria.  Half the population are now refugees; entire cities lie shattered by bombing; bands of crazed gunmen run rampant; US, French, Israeli and Russian warplanes bomb widely.

Now, adding to the chaos, President Donald Trump has finally given Turkey, NATO’s second military power, the green light to invade parts of northeastern Syria after he apparently ordered a token force of US troops there to withdraw.

This, of course, puts the Turks in a growing confrontation with the region’s Kurds, who have occupied large swaths of the area during Syria’s civil war.  The Kurdish militia, known as YPG (confusingly part of the so-called Free Syrian Army), is armed, lavishly financed and directed by the CIA and Pentagon.

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Bravo Donald! A War Washington Might Finally Leave, by David Stockman

President Trump may have finally done something right in the Middle East. From David Stockman at antiwar.com:

Just when you think the Donald has lost his marbles completely, he pulls a rabbit of rationality out of the hat of Imperial Washington’s Forever Wars madness.

We are referring, of course, to his sensible decision to decline the opportunity to put American soldiers in harms’ way in an impending showdown between Turks and Kurds on the northern border of Syria. To our recollection, that particular tribal enmity has been going on for centuries and needs no help from Washington to fester on for years to come.

But already he is being monkey-hammered by the bipartisan War Party because by standing down and removing US forces from the contested towns along the border Trump is basically sounding the death knell for the neocons’ failed, bloody, illegal and demented regime change project in Syria.

Now – and very soon – the Kurds will have to make a deal with Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies to counter Turkey’s incursion, including the creation of a “safe zone” along the Turkish border that would be off-limits to armed Kurdish forces.

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Putin Planning “Deal Of The Century” Between Syria & Turkey As US Exits, by Tyler Durden

Russia may be far more instrumental to a Middle East peace than the US has been. From Tyler Durden at zerohedge.com:

Lebanese Arabic news broadcaster Al-Mayadeen is reporting that Russia has begun organizing “reconciliation talks” between Syria and Turkey, in what would be an unprecedented development, given President Erdogan’s position has long been that Turkey won’t negotiate with Damascus so long as Assad is in power.

The Middle East broadcaster cited Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who said, “Moscow will ask for start of talks between Damascus and Ankara”.

Russia’s TASS has also confirmed the initiative, making it the first significant attempt to bring the two sides to the table, given Ankara severed diplomatic ties with Damascus in 2012. Turkey could indeed be ready given it has finally gotten its way in Syria with a long planned attack on Syrian Kurds along the border in northern Syria, which began Wednesday with an air and ground offensive.

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THE ANGRY ARAB: The Saudi Crown Prince’s Crippled Agenda, by As`ad AbuKhalil

So far, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Muhammad bin Salman’s tenure has been distinguished only by his ineptitude. From As`ad AbuKhalil at consortiumnews.com:

From launching a war on Yemen to having Jamal Khashoggi murdered, As’ad AbuKhalil sizes up the magnitude of MbS’s miscalculations.

All is not well with the Saudi regime.  Despite amassing more power than any previous Saudi ruler, with the possible exception of founding King `Abdul-`Aziz (known in the U.S. as Ibn Saud), Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, or MbS, has not been able to deliver on any of his political and economic promises.

MbS offered the Saudi people a bargain: that he would achieve military, political and economic successes while imposing brutal repression at home.

He also offered a modicum of social relaxation, probably at the behest of Western PR firms that have influence with Gulf regimes. But these social reforms have been neither consistent nor smooth. Women were permitted to drive but the feminist men and women who advocated rights for women were jailed and tortured. (The easing of social restrictions was presumably meant to be popular, but it’s hazardous to measure public opinion in Saudi Arabia: Western media’s “conversations-on-the-street” don’t really say much because this is a government that imposes long prison sentences for the wrong retweet.)

Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman in 2018. (YouTube)

Power Grabber

MbS began seizing power when his ailing father took over as king in 2015.  He then became minister of defense. The post had long been held by his uncle, Prince Sultan, and it was widely expected that Sultan would be succeeded by his son, Khalid Bin Sultan (the figure-head deputy commander of the Desert Storm war). But MbS disregarded customary succession and the balance of power among the various royal factions, including his better-educated and more-experienced half-brothers.

In 2017, when he promoted himself to crown prince from deputy crown prince, he became the sole undisputed leader of Saudi Arabia. To consolidate his economic and military control, he weakened the National Guard, the vehicle for tribal alliances in the kingdom.

As soon as MbS became defense minister, he launched the war on Yemen. He calculated that the war would only last a few weeks and that the Huthis would quickly surrender. (The Obama administration presumably found this credible, since it lent support to the adventure, probably as a compensation for the U.S.-Iran agreement, which the Saudis vigorously opposed.)

Epic Huthi Resistance

But the war has dragged on and the Huthis have proven a formidable military force. Their resistance to the brutal military campaign by Gulf and Western countries is nothing short of epic.  And, while the war was launched in the name of weakening Iranian hold in the region, it has actually cemented ties between the Huthis and the Iranian regime and its allies in the region.

This calculation backfired on other fronts as well. The assault on Yemen brought international media scrutiny to his atrocious war crimes there, while repressions inside the kingdom have been exposed in the wake of the horrific killing and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi.

President Donald Trump with MbS in March 2017. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

President Donald Trump with MbS in March 2017. (White House/Shealah Craighead)

MbS assumed that his excellent relations with the Trump administration, and with the other Western governments, would be sufficient to shield his regime from criticism.  But Turkey — which has its own feud with the Saudis, largely due to Ankara’s alliance with Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood, and its good relations with Iran — released embarrassing details about the complicity of the MbS government in the murder of Khashoggi in the consulate in Istanbul. Turkey left no doubt that MbS was the mastermind of the murder, and the CIA seems to agree, according to U.S. media.

Khashoggi’s slaying became a permanent stigma for MbS. With the exception of his brief appearance at the G-7 summit in France a few weeks ago, he has not visited the U.S. or the West since.

Confronting Iran

MbS’s miscalculations have extended to his entire confrontation with Iran in the region.  Last year he kidnapped the prime minister of Lebanon, Saad Hariri (who has been a loyal Saudi client) to punish him for not going far enough in confronting Hizbullah. After subjecting him to beatings and humiliation, he forced him to read on a Saudi TV station a resignation letter prepared for him. But as soon as Hariri was released due to Western pressures, he returned to Lebanon and rescinded his resignation.

Furthermore, MbS was hoping — along with MbZ of the United Arab Emirates [Mohammed bin Zayed, crown prince of Abu Dhabi] — that Donald Trump would be the U.S. president they had been waiting for: the one who would launch a devastating war on Iran to end Teheran’s influence in the Middle East once and for all.

In the first few years of the Trump administration Saudi regime media were full of scathing attacks on former President Barack Obama, going so far as to suggest that he was a secret Shiite Muslim who harbored religio-political sympathy for Iran.  That same press was filled with glowing profiles of Trump and praise for his impending military campaign against Iran. (This was during Trump’s famous twitter threats against Iran and North Korea.)  But Trump has proven more cautious about military adventures than either of his immediate predecessors.  Once the Saudi regime media picked up on those signals, criticism of the Trump administration surfaced.

Change of Mind

MbS seems to have now changed his mind about the desirability of war with Iran.  What Iran has done in recent months (assuming it was responsible for the various attacks on shipping in the Gulf and on the oil installations in Saudi Arabia), is to demonstrate to Saudi Arabia and the UAE not only the reach of its bombing capability, but its determination to extend the war to the Arab Gulf countries if Iran is attacked by Israel or the U.S.  This can explain the recent Saudi and Emirati overtures to the Iranian regime. Both are suddenly expressing concern over the cost of war, if it were to erupt in their region.

Istanbul protesters outside Consulate General of Saudi Arabia following the murder of Khashoggi. (Hilmi Hacaloglu, VOA via Wikimedia Commons)

Istanbul protesters outside Consulate General of Saudi Arabia following the murder of Khashoggi. (Hilmi Hacaloglu, VOA via Wikimedia Commons)

MbS must not be a happy man.  He wanted the war on Yemen to become his signature victory and cement his reputation domestically and regionally.  But it has served the opposite purpose.

His 2017 blockade of Qatar has not gone well either. Qatar managed to survive economically and its impending regional isolation did not materialize either, as it worked to improve its relations with the unlikely odd mix of Turkey, Iran and the U.S.

Finally, MbS hoped Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be able to elevate his stature in Washington. But the latter has proven unable or unwilling to intervene on Capitol Hill to lower the tone of criticism aimed at MbS. Furthermore, Netanyahu is today the least popular Israeli prime minster in Congress, perhaps since 1948, because he has associated his fortunes so closely with the Republican Party, and with a president detested by Democrats.  Netanyahu has been dealing with his own personal scandal, and the recent election didn’t guarantee him his premiership. In other words, MbS can’t count on Netanyahu.

Limited Choices

Bin Salman’s economic promises have also failed to bear fruit for the Saudi population. He may now be facing rising resentment within the royal family itself, although he’s so far managed to deal with that ruthlessly in the last two years.

MbS has limited choices.  He can’t afford to antagonize Trump and nor can he influence Trump one way or another regarding U.S. policies toward Iran.

His best hope is that war does not take place, and that Khashoggi will be forgotten. That is very unlikely given the recent publicity surrounding the first anniversary of the killing. A man who made arrogance a key part of his personality, has been humiliated by Khashoggi, a former member of the Saudi royal entourage.

But then again, Western governments have short memories when it comes to war crimes, assassinations and human rights violations by despots who are loyal to Western agendas.  Any rehabilitation that MbS can work out will require him to sacrifice much of his original agenda. It will mean curtailing his appetite for war in Yemen and elsewhere and to drop his plans to confront Iran on all fronts. The recent crippling of oil installations responsible for more than 50 percent of Saudi oil production had the effect of also crippling the foreign policy agenda of Mohammed bin Salman.

Are These the Five Tweets That Change the World? by Tom Luongo

Did President Trump just change foreign policy in place since WWII? From Tom Luongo at tomluongo.me:

Over the weekend I asked whether Donald Trump had risen to the level of Grey Champion. A few days later Trump takes to Twitter and puts a big line item in his resume.

There have been signs of change coming since Trump rightly refused to go to war with Iran over their shooting down an unmanned U.S. drone.

Starting with a major shake up of his cabinet by firing National Security Director John Bolton to his tepid response to the Houthi attack on the Saudi Aramco Abqaiq facility, Trump has sought to defuse a situation that had flown way to close to the sun and threatened to burn millions.

These five tweets taken in context of the past few days, however, blow the lid off a number of narratives as well as ongoing operations.

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Turkey Exposes Central Bank Incompetence, by Tom Luongo

Mario Draghi is all-in on wacko monetary nostrums—like negative interest rates—that haven’t worked in either Europe or Japan. From Tom Luongo at tomluongo.me:

Last year I asked whether Turkey would be “City Zero in Global Contagion.” That question was based on the crisis unfolding in the Turkish lira which materially threatened a number of major European banks, especially those in Italy.

This week highlighted something really interesting for me that, I think, sets in motion a similar thesis about Turkey but for much different reasons. The sovereign debt crisis will come about purely because of a failure of confidence in institutions.

Competence is the key to staying at the top of human dominance hierarchies, not force. Those built on competence tend to last and those built on force are, at best, meta-stable for a specific period of time.

The difference between what’s happening in Turkey with President Erdogan taking control of the Turkish central bank and the end of Mario Draghi’s term heading the ECB cuts to the heart of this issue of competence versus force.

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One Last Ceasefire Before Oblivion for Jihadists in Syria, by Tom Luongo

Syria, Russia, and Iran have basically wiped out the jihadists in Syria. From Tom Luongo at tomluongo.me:

The battle to reclaim Syria moved forward this week. Syrian Arab Army forces reclaimed the town of Khan Sheikoun last week prompting a flurry of moves by all involved, most notably Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Erdogan was in Moscow this week sharing an ice cream cone with Vladimir Putin and cutting deals. The first part of that deal went into effect today; a ceasefire in the de-escalation zone in Idlib province.

If the battle is won, in essence, and the jihadists on the run, why call a ceasefire now?

Simple. Turkey needs to be able to recall its troops from the area and disengage with the rebels it has been backing there for years. That was what Erdogan bargained for in Moscow, the lives of his troops.

That should tell you how serious Putin is about retaking Idlib and how little patience he has now for Erdogan’s nonsense.

As Bernard from Moon of Alabama points out the proof of this is Turkey blocking the rebels’ escape from Idlib back into Turkey.

Today about a thousand ‘rebels’ tried to cross through the Al-Bab border station into Turkey. Videos show a long line of cars of fleeing people. At the front several hundred men managed to enter Turkish ground. They were pushed back by Turkish army forces with water cannon trucks, tear gas and finally with gunfire. At least two ‘rebels’ were killed.

People shouted “Traitor traitor traitor, Turkish army is traitor”. They burned pictures of Erdogan while screaming takbir and allahu akbar.

Putin has been very clear about his policy from the beginning. Terrorists are to be wiped out. They are not to be allowed to escape and regroup to show up and cause trouble somewhere else.

The implicit message here is that Erdogan cannot do the U.S.’s bidding on this. He must withdraw support from them and leave them to hang.

If the U.S. and Israel want these guys kept alive then they should stop acting through Turkey’s proxy.

The howls from the U.S. corporate media will be ridiculous. There will be infuriating bloviations from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. John Bolton’s mustache will be heartsick that opportunities to kill more decent people will be lost.

Netanyahu will likely bomb some SAA ammunition dump and declare himself the greatest military mind of the 21st century.

What was that the gods making men mad?

The failure to reinforce Khan Sheikoun and the open hostility by Syrian forces against the Turkish resupply convoy was Erdogan’s end-game in Idlib.

Putin by working with the SAA finally forced Erdogan to choose what’s more important: his relationship with the U.S. or that with Russia and China, who are currently supporting his economically-challenged regime.

Erdogan got what he wanted from the U.S. on removing the Kurdish SDF forces from the northern part of Syria. He made that deal when it looked like he would be able to hold Khan Sheikoun and keep maximum pressure on Bashar al-Assad’s government.

The U.S. is desperately trying to starve Syria of oil to keep the SAA from having the resources needed to finish its job. It is failing.

All of these little battles they’ve lost, inch by inch. The collapse of the coalition to starve Yemen has fractured because of this. The border crossing between Iraq and Syria is now open. Iran is surviving Trump’s sanctions as China’s oil imports are rising again.

Oil tankers will make it to Syria.

The amount of time and money the Trump Administration sank into stopping one Iranian oil tanker is ludicrous and now highlights jut how pathetic and ineffective the whole program is.

With each little victory, each tanker of oil offloaded, town liberated and each day survived the position of U.S. forces in Syria weakens.

And soon Trump will be forced to make a real decision, not some fake one he doesn’t have the stones to follow through on. He’ll have to decide if Syria is worth it.

The ceasefire will be temporary. It is Erdogan’s last chance to truly gain Putin’s trust and exit Turkey from an untenable situation. He cannot use his troops as human shields anymore to protect the jihadist attacks on government-held territory.

He’s been trying to play Russia and the U.S. off each other to forge an independent path and hold onto his gains in Syria, while at the same time pressuring Cyprus.

Putin wasn’t having any of that. The price for Turkey’s energy stability which Putin has provided is the end of Turkish-backed opposition in Syria. The price of Turkey’s territorial stability is also bound up in Putin’s support. Because it is clear that the U.S.’s goal is an independent and oil-rick Kurdistan under its proxy control.

Putin understands that Turkey needs to be put back in its box. Because this is the only way forward that puts Israel’s expansionist ambitions back in the bottle where they belong.

Trump’s over the top support for Israel emboldened everyone to think they had this campaign in the bag.

In thinking this everyone in the U.S.’s orbit — Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the UAE, the U.K. — all overextended themselves. In doing so they became exposed to counter-attack and to key moments of failure.

Khan Sheikoun was one of those moments. And with Turkey no longer providing support the jihadists there will be wiped out, paving the way for the reintegration of Syria.

As I pointed out last week, the Houthi drone attack was another. The UAE cutting deals with Iran after the attack on oil tankers at Fujairah was another. These were all small victories which have big implications.

Millions can return to rebuild Syria once this is campaign is over which Russia, China and Iran will take the lead on in defiance of horrific and cruel U.S. sanctions.

The big question is what Israel will do here to stop this. Because they are the last wild card.

Bibi Netanyahu is putting on his best show before September’s election. He’s opened Israel up to a response by Hezbollah and Lebanon after going way too far there and in Iraq.

One can only hope that Trump will finally see the folly of this policy, understand that the conditions to enforce the Kushner/Netanyahu plan for subjugation of the Palestinians is dead and begin reversing course.

There are signs that he obliquely understands this but Trump’s inability to curb his ‘enthusiasms’ is his Achilles’ heel.

The fate of tens of millions of people hangs in the balance.