Tag: Turkey

Trump’s Budweiser Putsch

US President Donald Trump gestures as he arrives to a “Make America Great Again” campaign rally in Cincinnati, Ohio, on August 1, 2019. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Emily Holland, an Assistant Professor in the Russia Maritime Studies Institute at the US Naval War College & Hadas Aron, a Faculty Fellow at the Center for European and Mediterranean Studies at NYU.

This week’s violent takeover of the Capitol Building has fueled the ongoing debate on the future of American democracy. For several years analysts have argued that the United States is undergoing the same process of de-democratization as countries like Turkey, Hungary, and Poland. However, the comparison to European populist de-democratization is misleading. The difference between Trump and European counterparts is that the latter do not rely on post-election violence to hold onto power, instead they rig the system long before the election. This week’s events demonstrate what is at stake for American democracy. Unlike  in European countries, the elimination of checks and balances is not the main concern. The real danger for the United States is out of control anti-system political violence that brings to a boiling point polarization and racial tensions.

Democratic breakdown or decline in places like Russia, Turkey, Hungary, Israel, and Poland, has inspired theories on how democracies die, comparing the United States to failing democracies around the world. But in these countries, populist insurrection is far more subtle [and effective] than the attempted insurrection on Capitol Hill. Populist leaders have successfully transformed political institutions, concentrated political power, broke down opposition, and dismantled democracy, with little overt violence and often without large-scale election fraud. Trump also attempted these strategies, but mostly failed because of the dispersed power structure of the United States, and his own incompetence.

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Will Eastern Mediterranean tensions matter to IR if there is no war?

We open each of my undergrad classes with a discussion of current events. In the past four years, there have been several times that students have wondered whether a war may be about to break out: between America and North Korea, America and Venezuela, India and China, Qatar and Saudi Arabia…America and Iran. We spend a lot of time talking about the issues, the motivations for each state’s behavior. And when “nothing” happens, I always wonder whether all the time we spent was worth it.

I’m wondering the same thing about tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean. If the situation defuses without conflict between Turkey and Greece, will all the attention we’re paying to it have been worthwhile? And will this register as a “case” worth explaining for international relations? I argue that it should, and suggest a few ways we can approach it.

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What do new Turkish university campuses have to do with Trump’s Syria decision?

So by this point we all know the big news on Syria. Overnight, Trump announced that–after consulting with Turkish President Erdogan–the US would be pulling troops out of north Syria, giving Turkey freedom to operate. This would likely involve military actions against Kurdish forces there, which Turkey fears are coordinating with Kurdish insurgents in Turkey. This is concerning for two reasons. First, the United States had worked with these Kurdish forces to fight ISIS, so we’re basically abandoning them. Second, this will basically leave ISIS detention camps unguarded, possibly letting this terrorist organization regroup.

A lot has been said on Twitter and elsewhere. This will hurt US credibility. We shouldn’t have open-ended commitments in the Middle East, but this isn’t the way to stop them. This is no way to treat our allies. I encourage you to read others’ takes, and I’m not going to pretend these insights are original to me (but you could read my thread if you want).

But I did start thinking about what Turkey is hoping to accomplish. They’re framing this as a security issue; they want to uproot forces supporting insurgents in their territory. That is understandable, even if we don’t like abandoning Syria’s Kurds. But there are indications this is part of a broader push to increase Turkey’s regional influence.

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Enes Kanter was right to be cautious

The NY Knicks will be travelling to London in a few weeks for a game against the Washington Wizards.  But center Enes Kanter has announced he won’t be joining them. Kanter, who is Turkish and a frequent critic of Turkey’s authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said he is worried about his safety if he leaves the United States. This may seem surprising, but it shouldn’t; Erdogan has launched a campaign of repression against his critics, both in Turkey and around the world. Kanter has every reason to be concerned.

At first, this decision may seem a bit dramatic, like something out of a spy novel. A basketball star travels to a foreign country and is kidnapped or killed by his repressive home government? Some may believe the Turkish government’s rebuttal that Kanter is really having visa issues (which Kanter denies).  Others, may see this as primarily a political statement, as the New York Times seemed to suggest:

It was a dramatic escalation of his longstanding criticism of Erdogan and a reflection of the way Kanter has been determined to use his fame as an athlete for political activism he considers crucial and dire.

But anyone who’s been following Turkish politics over the past few years  should believe a threat to Kanter’s safety is credible.

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Iraqi Kurds vote for independence: What does this mean for Iraq’s neighbors, and especially for Turkey?

This is a guest post, written by Margarita Konaev, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Center for Strategic Studies at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and Kirstin J.H. Brathwaite, Assistant Professor in the James Madison College at Michigan State University.

The referendum on independence of Iraqi Kurdistan and subsequent military clashes between the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) and Baghdad are setting off alarm bells across the Middle East. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to cut off the flow of Kurdish oil exports, warning that the Kurds could “go hungry” as a result of economic sanctions. Military options, he added, were also on the table. The Syrians are refusing to recognize the results of the referendum. And at the request of the central government in Baghdad, Iran has closed the airspace to the Iraqi Kurdish area. The United States, United Nations, and even Russia have all expressed their disapproval of this “unilateral” move. In fact, the only country that welcomed the independence vote is Israel. Continue reading


WPTPN: Different Paths to Regional Economic Hegemony: Russia and Turkey Compared

 This World Politics in a Time of Populist Nationalism (WPTPN) guest post is written by Seçkin Köstem, an assistant professor of International Relations at Bilkent University, Ankara, and managing editor of the Review of International Political Economy.

Various sub-fields of International Relations, including IPE and security studies, have explored dynamics of cooperation and conflict in different regions of the world as well as regional integration and regionalism. Yet little has been done to investigate the role that regional powers, as economically preponderant states, play in fostering economic integration in their regions. In particular, two questions have been unexplored. First, why do the regional economic priorities of regional powers shift over time? Also, why do regional powers pursue different forms of leadership to exert economic influence over their neighbors? In my doctoral dissertation, I have tried to answer these two questions with a cross-case and within-case comparison of Russia and Turkey.

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WPTPN: Lessons from Turkey: Populist Nationalism and the Threat to Democracy

This World Politics in a Time of Populist Nationalism (WPTPN) guest post is written by Gizem Zencirci, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Providence College. Her research interests include political Islam, neoliberalism and social policy, and Middle East politics. 

The rise of the AK Party in Turkey and its consolidation of power is a case with generalizable lessons about the rise of populist nationalism elsewhere.

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A New Plan B for Syria


Syria’s civil-proxy war is on the cusp of turning into an all-out regional war, with negative repercussions for all involved in the conflict. The humanitarian disaster is at its most acute to date, with Russian forces systematically attacking the Syrian opposition and on the verge of a rout of Aleppo—and now Turkish ground forces engaging Kurdish forces across its border. With the U.S.-Russian ceasefire accord appearing unlikely to alter much on the ground, the time has come for the U.S., Europe, and the Saudi-led Gulf countries to make a decisive move to take the initiative back from Russia, contain Turkey, and stabilize the conflict.

Anti-ISIS efforts in northeastern Syria and Iraq aside, the pressure point at present is in northwestern Syria. Conventional wisdom suggests that there are no good options for the allies: 1) Attempting to implement the loophole-ridden ceasefire accord, 2) allowing Russia to continue bombing “terrorist groups” i.e. the opposition forces, or 3) taking more direct military action directly against the Syrian military, for which there is zero appetite in the U.S. and Europe. Nonetheless, putting a safe/no fly zone option back on the table would not only meet the joint interests of Western and Gulf allies, but also prove viable on the ground. Not only has Turkey called for this, but so have Germany and France–not to mention Hillary Clinton.

While Turkey will be critical for getting to an eventual endgame in Syria, at this crucial juncture this key western ally needs to be contained itself. Turkey has been shelling Kurdish YPG militia forces for the last week, and now that one of its operatives is being blamed for the successful attack in Ankara, Turkey is on the verge of a highly destabilizing escalation. Turkey legitimately needs the U.S. to press the YPG to back off, and Turkey itself has called for the establishment of a Safe Zone. The U.S. and its western allies need to act fast, also to ensure that the YPG does not “defect” and transfer its allegiance to Russia—which would be another coup for Russia.

Having ceded the initiative to Russia, not seizing it back would be an additional strategic error. Already the Russian action proves that conventional deterrence against it remains lost, even after announcement of a major U.S. effort to shore up western capabilities in Central Eastern Europe. Even before it could be enacted, it is falling short of one of its major objectives: the intended deterrent effect is stillborn. Russia has already wiped out the efforts of allied intelligence agencies on the ground in Syria. And at the Munich Security Conference it just took the mask off in claiming it is in “a new Cold War” with the West. To begin restoring deterrence, western allies need to act. It was a mistake to publicly declare that military options in Syria were off the table, indicating the diplomacy track is now the basket holding all the Administration’s eggs. The allies need to pursue a different option in order to regain their lost leverage. Continue reading


Tweets of the week #4

This was another busy week in global politics and I’m going to highlight some of the best tweets in my Twitter feed. Before starting, however, I will acknowledge that this post is late.

I believe my excuse is pretty good as it involves lots of late night baseball. I grew up in Kansas rooting for the local team — and the Kansas City Royals are in the playoffs for the first time since winning the World Series in 1985. Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, the Royals won three consecutive extra inning games. All ended after 1 am Eastern Time. I then had to read for 30 to 45 minutes after the long and exciting games just to unwind enough to sleep.

None of those victories featured  the longest game of the week. As DC residents know, the Washington Nationals lost to the San Francisco Giants 2-1 in the 18th inning. I caught a bit of that contest:

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Tweets of the Week #3

Twitter HQ: Logo artwork

It’s the weekend, so it’s time for the third edition of “Tweets of the Week.” My twitter feed was again filled with some interesting micro-blogging.

By the way, I apologize for the way last week’s home page post looked. Obviously, I’m doing something wrong with the images, though it seems to be fine once the reader clicks the link to Continue Reading. I hope readers can see the image at the top of this page. Continue reading


More on Moral Hazard in US Alliances: Explaining Japan-Korea Tension (and Greece-Turkey?)


So this post is a bleg to those of you who know more about alliances than me. I am considering writing this up for an article, so I thought I would ‘crowd-source’ early comments on the basic argument. I also wonder if someone elsewhere has already suggested this idea in the vast alliance literature. So please let me know. The motivation is inductive – the deepening tension between Japan and Korea has suggested the addendum to alliance theory I am proposing here. But I wonder if others have said this before.

Put briefly, I don’t think entrapment or abandonment captures the US position between allies in dispute, like Japan and Korea, or Greece and Turkey (perhaps – I know that latter case less well). Instead, each seems to use the US alliance patron to: a) compete with each other, because b) the US alliance relieves external pressures (China and North Korea, and the USSR and chaos in the Balkans and Middle East, respectively) that would otherwise incentivize a rapprochement. These four states are not trying to ‘entrap’ the US so much as leverage it for an intra-alliance squabble, with the shared patron as referee. I’ve not read this theorized elsewhere, so here is an effort to do so.

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Of Sultans and Soap Operas

This is a guest post by Peter S. Henne. Peter is a doctoral candidate at Georgetown University. He formerly worked as a national security consultant. His research focuses on terrorism and religious conflict; he has also written on the role of faith in US foreign policy. During 2012-2013 he will be a fellow at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia.

Last December, I was in Doha to attend the UN’s Alliance of Civilizations conference. While fighting off jet lag in my apartment–the 13 hour flight is a killer–I saw a commercial for ‘Hareem al Sultan’ (the Arabic version of the original Turkish name, ‘The Magnificent Century’), a racy-looking soap opera on a UAE TV station. The show depicts the life of Suleiman the Magnificent–one of the greatest Ottoman Sultans–focusing specifically on the women in his life. I was a little surprised to see something that would shock my rural PA hometown’s sensibilities on Middle Eastern TV, but that was the last I thought of the show.

Until this week, when I saw a report that Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan has publicly attacked the show. Erdogan was upset by its depiction of the Sultan–whom he claimed spent more time on horseback than in the palace–and conservative sentiment in Turkey was angered by the show’s risque nature. Continue reading


Arming Syria’s rebels

This is a guest post from Idean Salehyan, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of North Texas and the author of Rebels Without Borders: Transnational Insurgencies in World Politics (Cornell Univ. Press, 2009).

Reports have emerged that Turkey is supporting a group of military defectors from Syria, which have organized under the name, the ‘Free Syrian Army’ or FSA. Led by Riyad al-Asad, a former Colonel in Bashar Assad’s army, this group claims to have inflicted a series of impressive attacks against regime forces. Although the extent of Turkish involvement is still unclear, providing sanctuary to the FSA is seen by many as an attractive way to tighten the screws on an increasingly brutal and unpopular regime.

Indeed, in a recent editorial the Wall Street Journal (“Turkey Turns on Assad, ” October 31), makes a strong case for supporting the FSA. It argues that the United States should begin by giving the FSA “diplomatic and non-military support,” but that “arms shouldn’t be ruled out”. In the coming weeks and months, such voices are likely to become more numerous as the international community seeks a solution to the current impasse.

Diplomatic pressure and sanctions on Damascus do not appear to be working, as Assad’s ruthless suppression of peaceful demonstrators continues. However, supporting an armed opposition group would open a new—and potentially disastrous—phase in the uprising. The United States and Turkey must carefully consider what such a step may mean for the Syrian opposition and for the region as a whole. This would not be the first time the US has supported cross-border militant groups—the Nicaraguan Contras operated from bases in Honduras and the Afghan Mujahedin operated from inside Pakistan. Current research on transnational rebel organizations and externally-sponsored militant groups suggests that Turkey may be in for a long insurgency and a regional war.

First, foreign-backed opposition groups can quickly lose legitimacy at home. Assad would love to portray the Syrian opposition as agents of a foreign power. As disingenuous as this tactic may be, a sense of external threat is likely to cause those on the fence to rally behind the leader to confront a common enemy. Attacks on peaceful, unarmed protestors have eroded Assad’s popularity at home and abroad; confronted with this brutality, regime supporters must stop to question their own loyalties. An armed, US/Turkey-backed militant group is much easier to portray as illegitimate, power-hungry, and part of a Western conspiracy. One reason for the success in Libya is that the US steered clear of the Transitional National Council until relatively late in the rebellion. Hastily recognizing the opposition could cause it to lose credibility in the eyes of many Syrians

Second, as unpopular as the Syrian regime is, the strategic decision to relocate to Turkey reveals the Free Syrian Army’s relative weakness. Rebels in Libya were able to secure domestic strongholds in the east early on, while they advanced toward the capital city-by-city. By contrast, Syrian dissidents have been unable to find a permanent, domestic base of operations free from government control. With an external sanctuary the FSA is much less likely to be defeated militarily, but this does not necessarily mean a swift rebel victory. Instead, cross-border groups often fight bloody, protracted insurgencies which end in a stalemate. The Afghan/Pakistan conflict nexus offers just one such example.

Third, foreign backing of rebel organizations is an indirect means of prosecuting an international war. These indirect means tend to escalate to more direct confrontations. If Turkey backs the FSA, Syria is likely to retaliate by opening up its territory to Turkey’s Kurdish rebels as it had in the past. Turkey has it bad enough with the Kurdish Worker’s Party (the PKK) ensconced in Northern Iraq; it has not been able to defeat the group despite decades of trying. Cross-border attacks and raids by proxy forces, along with mutual recriminations, often escalate to more severe international conflagrations.

Wanting to ‘do something’ is understandable. But the track-record of funding rebel groups and transnational dissidents is cause for caution. It will take much more than funneling arms and money to a relatively obscure rebel group to oust Assad from power. The first principle in dealing with Syria should be to ‘do no harm.’ Arming the opposition does not appear to satisfy that criterion.

As the Syrian regime fails to bend under international pressure, debates about the appropriate next-step will continue. All options should be on the table in dealing with Assad’s brutality. If attacks on civilians intensify, the international community has a responsibility to protect innocent civilians with all appropriate means, including armed intervention as a last resort. However, before agreeing to back armed militants, all stakeholders should stop to carefully consider the likelihood of success versus yet another front in the Middle East quagmire.


Not working out so well

Although it received comparatively little attention in the US, the State Department’s attempt to push for Turkish-Armenian normalization was one of the great foreign-policy follies of the early Obama Administration. There was little chance that the Turkish public would accept normalization absent some kind of Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) settlement; the political viability of normalization in Armenia wasn’t much greater, particularly given hostility among the Armenian Diaspora to normalization sans recognition of the “Armenian Genocide.”

To make matters more fun, successful normalization would have further isolated Azerbaijan, jeopardizing the Northern Distribution Network and possibly convincing Baku to attempt to seize NK by military force.

But, the process failed, and thus merely strained US-Turkish and US-Azerbaijan relations.

I mention all of this because RFE/RFL has a story that encapsulates this comedy of errors:

It was meant as a symbol of friendship that would help to heal the wounds of a long history of bloodshed, bitterness, and recrimination between Turkey and Armenia.

Instead, an imposing monument in the eastern Turkish city of Kars near the two countries’ border threatens to become yet another victim of their tortured relations after incurring the wrath of Turkey’s mercurial prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

In a visit to Kars on January 8, Erdogan showed emphatically that he was unimpressed by the sculpture’s subliminal message of peace by denouncing it as a “freak” and calling for its demolition. The prime minister, a former Islamist, voiced particular display that the towering structure threatened to overshadow the shrine of Hasan Harakani, a revered 11th-century Muslim figure. […]

Gevorg Ter-Gabrielyan, Armenia country director at the Eurasia Foundation, even goes as far as agreeing with Erdogan’s critique of the Kars statute, saying it is typical of sub-standard memorials to the Turkish-Armenian conflict built over the years.

“I have seen myself that monument [and] I fully agree with Mr. Erdogan,” Ter-Gabrielyan says. “That’s a horrible construct and we know that many horrible constructs have been erected, both in Turkey and Armenia and it would be great if there was perhaps some kind of joint commission created which would evaluate the aesthetical, architectural and environmental significance of the monuments and buildings that are being constructed in eastern Turkey and today’s Armenia.”


Between Scylla and Charybdis

James Traub reminds the Atlantic Community not to freak out over Turkey’s “Neo-Ottoman foreign policy.”

It’s a caricature to say that Turkey has chosen the Middle East, or Islam, over the West. Turkey’s aspiration for full membership in the club of the West, including the European Union, is still a driving force. But Turkey aspires to many things, and some may contradict each other. The country wants to be a regional power in a region deeply suspicious of the West, of Israel, and of the United States; a Sunni power acting as a broker for Sunnis in Lebanon, Iraq, and elsewhere; a charter member of the new nexus of emerging powers around the world; and a dependable ally of the West. When Turkey is forced to choose among these roles, the neighborhood tends to win out, and that’s when you get votes against sanctions on Iran. At this week’s NATO summit in Brussels, for instance, Davutoglu has expressed skepticism about missile defense, because any such system would be aimed at countries like Iran and Syria, which Turkey declines to characterize as threats.

True enough, but I still believe that the Europeans will come to the rue their decision to de facto reject Anakara’s bid for European Union membership. The ascession process, and eventual membership, would have done much to consolidate Turkish democracy while bringing a vibrant, emerging power into the EU. In light of ongoing developments in the Balkans, I have particular difficulty understanding why Turkey is a worse candidate than certain states already represented in Brussels.


On the Israeli Convoy Raid – briefly

I wanted to write/post something about the Israeli-Turkish ship incident but this post here on Information Dissemination pretty much sums up everything I wanted to say: the attack was legal… but this doesn’t mean it was in any way intelligent or a clever thing to do. (Hat tip to LGM’s Robert Farley’s Twitter for pointing out the post.)

Drezner also has a post on this last point (ie: that it wasn’t really clever) at FP and brings up the the North Korean angle:

Indeed, the parallels between Israel and — gulp — North Korea are becoming pretty eerie. True, Israel’s economy is thriving and North Korea’s is not. That said, both countries are diplomatically isolated except for their ties to a great power benefactor. Both countries are pursuing autarkic policies that immiserate millions of people. The majority of the populaion in both countries seem blithely unaware of what the rest of the world thinks. Both countries face hostile regional environments. Both countries keep getting referred to the United Nations. And, in the past month, the great power benefactor is finding it more and more difficult to defend their behavior to the rest of the world.
He’s taking some flack in the comments section for comparing the two countries, (not that I really put a lot of stock into the FP comment section) but I think he’s correct. North Korea’s sinking of the South Korean ship was one of the first things I thought of when I heard about the incident (and not only because they both invovled boats). The US’s initial response – a call for more information – was exactly the same as China’s. More importantly, can the US garner support for condemning one without condemning the other?
Regardless of the comparison, Obama now has to find a balance between two important US allies (Turkey and Israel) – right at the same time it is trying to improve relations with the Netanyahu Government after several unfortunate incidents (such as announcing new settlements at the same time Biden was in the country) AND trying to sort out new sanctions on Iran. Methinks life just got a lot harder for Susan Rice at the UN.
UPDATE: Drezner responds to criticism of his comparison to North Korea and Israel. Again, I pretty much agree….
UPDATE 2: The Israeli Foreign Ministry actually tweeted me a response to this. (Really?!!) They sent this link of a shaky video cam on a MFA International Law expert talking about the whole thing. Watch it if you want their take on the legality. (Although, as I pointed out above, I have no problems with the legality…)

The role of al Qaeda of Iraq

Some of the remaining presidential candidates are this week debating the role of al Qaeda in Iraq. Senator John McCain points to AQI to justify his pro-war position, Senator Barack Obama points out that al Qaeda would not be in Iraq if the US hadn’t invaded. It was not in Iraq before the US invaded.

If the US abandoned Iraq, McCain says, then AQI would not just be “establishing a base.” No, he says, “they’d be taking a country.” President Bush has been making this same point for years — though the point is even more misleading now than it was then, when Bush was using this a justification first to attack Iraq and then to “stay the course.”

Steve Benen succinctly shoots down McCain’s point:

the reality is AQI has no real allies in Iraq. The Kurds have no use for them, the Shiite majority has no use for murderous Sunni jihadists running around their country, and Sunnis have been rising up against AQI since before the “surge” even began. If we left, al Qaeda would “take” Iraq? Not in this reality, it won’t.

Marc Lynch pointed this out as an argument against the case against withdrawal way back in mid-2006.

Time’s Joe Klein thinks McCain “knows” better than to make this argument, but is pushing this line of attack against Obama to appeal to the uninformed Republican base.

They’d be taking a country? Last time I checked, Iraq has a Shi’ite majority. McCain thinks the Shi’ites–the Mahdi Army, the Badr Corps (and yes, the Iranians)–would allow a small group of Sunni extremists to take over? In fact, as noted above, the vast majority of indigenous Iraqi Sunnis aren’t too thrilled about the AQI presence in their country, either….The sadness here is that McCain knows better. He knows the complexities of the world, and the region. But I suspect he’s overplaying his Iraq hand in order to win favor with the wingnuts in his party.


Maybe this calls for a quick examination of the thinking of some of the most eloquent war supporters. Let me take on two important claims in this debate.

1. First, hawks claim that Iraq will explode in new violence if the US departs. This will be according to al Qaeda’s plan.

Popular right-leaning blogger Engram argues that Iraq sectarian forces are currently aligned together against AQI, but worries that US withdrawal from Iraq would free AQI’s suicide bombers to again provoke civil war.

The Sunnis, the Shiites, and the Kurds, together with 160,000 American soldiers are all united in an effort to quell al Qaeda’s suicide bombers, who remain very deadly. According to what fantasy can we simply withdraw American troops from Iraq and not have al Qaeda once again succeed in deliberately fanning the flames of sectarian violence? John McCain knows that Barack Obama does not have a sensible explanation.

For some time, Engram has been arguing that the situation in Iraq changed dramatically when al Qaeda bombed the Samarra mosque. AQI — particularly its “foreign fighters” — launched a campaign of suicide terror to provoke civil war, assure US withdrawal and presumably allow the eventual establishment of a Sunni Islamic state.

While Engram’s concerns are thoughtful, he fails to account for a number of realities:

First, the best research on suicide bombings demonstrates that it is a strategy uniquely situated to ending foreign occupation.

Pape is the director of the Chicago Project on Suicide Terrorism, and has just published a book called Dying to Win, the Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism….Pape says his research indicates that, every major suicide campaign has what he calls a secular and political goal, to compel democracies to withdraw military forces from areas the bombers view as their territory….He says the objective of compelling countries to withdraw military forces from territory the terrorists perceive as occupied has been the central goal of suicide campaigns in Lebanon, Israel, Sri Lanka and among separatists in the Russian republic of Chechnya and the disputed region of Kashmir, which is divided between India and Pakistan.

“Suicide terrorism is mainly a response to the presence of foreign military troops, that is mainly a response to the threat of foreign occupation, not Islamic fundamentalism,” he said. “This is a terribly important finding, because it means that the use of heavy military force to transform Muslim societies is only likely to increase suicide terrorists coming at us.”

If the US withdraws from Iraq, the underpinning logic supporting the suicide bomber strategy falls apart. Sadly, AQI has been able to recruit suicide bombers from throughout the region to expel the US — but who will be recruited for the more cynical strategic purpose of AQI? Even Engram acknowledges that the bombers themselves likely have very different goals than does al Qaeda strategists.

The bombers are anti-American occupation, not pro-civil war.

Likewise, Engram ignores the best evidence about civil war. As James Fearon and David Laitin of Stanford have explained, civil war is NOT a result of ethnic or religious conflict. Thus, Engram’s logic about AQI reigniting civil war is seriously flawed:

Rather, The factors that explain which countries have been at risk for civil war are not their ethnic or religious characteristics but rather the conditions that favor insurgency. These include poverty—which marks financially and bureaucratically weak states and also favors rebel recruitment—political instability, rough terrain, and large populations.

The US created a failed states in Iraq, a country geographically and demographically suited to civil war, which perhaps inevitably triggered internal war.

Moreover, Fearon’s research on civil war demonstrates that civil wars are typically not ended by temporary strategic moves by foreign allies. Fearon testified to Congress in September 2006, the US troop presence in Iraq is NOT contributing to long-term stability:

The historical record on civil war suggests that this strategy is highly unlikely to succeed, whether the US stays in Iraq for six more months or six more years (or more). Foreign troops and advisors can enforce power-sharing and limit violence while they are present, but it appears to be extremely difficult to change local beliefs that the national government can survive on its own while the foreigners are there in force. In a context of many factions and locally strong militias, mutual fears and temptations are likely to spiral into political disintegration and escalation of militia and insurgent-based conflict if and when we leave.

Thus, ramping up or “staying the course” amount to delay tactics, not plausible recipes for success as the administration has defined it.

…Congress and the Bush administration have to ask what the long-run point is. The militia structures may recede, but they are not going to go away (absent some truly massive, many-decade effort to remake Iraqi society root and branch, which would almost surely fail). Given this, given myriad factions, and given the inability of Iraqi groups to credibly commit to any particular power- and oil-sharing agreement, ramping up or staying the course amount to delay tactics, not plausible recipes for success.

Since Engram refuses to define the Iraqi conflict as a genuine civil war born of political instability and poverty, it is not surprising that he ignores this research in his writing.

2. McCain’s fellow war supporters are also claiming (again) that the 2002 presence of terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq proves that al Qaeda had pre-war ties with Iraq. It was already part of their grand design.

I’ve debunked related claims many times before, when they were expressed by Vice President Cheney and President Bush.

Here’s Engram, repeating the point on Thursday

Zarqawi, the evil genius who later spearheaded al Qaeda’s incredibly successful campaign to incite sectarian violence, was in Iraq before the invasion.

Engram is somewhat agnostic as to exactly why Zarqawi was in Iraq.

Last night, on Bill Maher’s HBO show, writer Christopher Hitchens said that Zarqawi was in Iraq before the war and he “didn’t get in by accident.” I suppose these guys want the innuendo to speak for itself, eh?

How about letting Hitchens refute himself?

Hitchens, June 8, 2006:

Colin Powell was wrong to identify Zarqawi, in his now-notorious U.N. address, as a link between the Saddam regime and the Bin-Ladenists. The man’s power was created only by the coalition’s intervention, and his connection to al Qaida was principally opportunistic.

While I think Hitchens mumbled “Baghdad” when talking about Zarqawi’s pre-war presence in Iraq, he was actually in the Kurdish area — practically an independent entity even before the war. The BBC:

He is believed to have fled to Iraq in 2001 after a US missile strike on his Afghan base, though the report that he lost a leg in the attack has not been verified.

US officials argue that it was at al-Qaeda’s behest that he moved to Iraq and established links with Ansar al-Islam – a group of Kurdish Islamists from the north of the country.

He is thought to have remained with them for a while – feeling at home in mountainous northern Iraq.

The Kurds have been informal US allies for more than 15 years — though some PKK membership (Turkey’s main enemy in Iraq this past week) is apparently aliged with Ansar al-Islam in the Kurdish region.

Sorry for the length of this post.


Sage advice from the Prez

George W. Bush had this exchange at his press conference, February 28, 2008:

Q Mr. President, Turkey’s ground offensive in northern Iraq is now a week old with no end in sight. How quickly would you like to see Turkey end its offenses, its incursion? And do you have any concerns about the possibility of protracted presence in northern Iraq causing further destabilization in the region?

THE PRESIDENT: …I strongly agree with the sentiments of Secretary Gates, who said that the incursion must be limited, and must be temporary in nature. In other words, it shouldn’t be long-lasting. But the Turks need to move quickly, achieve their objective, and get out.

Q But how quickly, sir, do they need to move out?

THE PRESIDENT: You know, as quickly as possible.

Q Days or weeks?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, as possible.

Here’s John McCain on the US attack on Iraq, back in 2003:

“It will require a commitment to do what is necessary militarily, to deploy as many American forces for as long as it takes, to ignore the political calendar and to trust Iraqis with a greater degree of authority to manage their own affairs,” McCain said.

How long might it take? By 2008, McCain said that the US could spend “maybe 100” years in Iraq.

Of course, President Bush eventually expressed the same sentiment as McCain about Iraq: “as long as it takes.”


Escalation: Turkey enters the war?

I’ve warned before that one danger of war is that it can escalate. The Iraq war could escalate to include Turkey, which claims that it will attack Kurdistan Iraq. From Monday’s Times of London (it is already October 22 there):

Turkey will launch military action against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq despite frantic appeals for restraint from America and Nato, its Prime Minister has told The Times.

Speaking hours before the PKK, the Kurdish Workers’ Party, killed at least 17 more Turkish soldiers yesterday, Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkey had urged the US and Iraqi governments repeatedly to expel the separatists but they had done nothing. Turkey’s patience was running out and the country had every right to defend itself, he said. “Whatever is necessary will be done,” he declared in an interview. “We don’t have to get permission from anybody.”

Last Wednesday, the Turkish parliament voted overwhelmingly to authorize such an attack.

And be sure that if Turkey attacks, there will be a fight.

Again, the Times of London reports:

The Kurdish regional government, which has a force of about 100,000 men, has promised to resist any incursions.

Turkey has an estimated 60,000 troops on the border with Iraq.

PM Erdogan sounds like he has fully embraced the Bush Doctrine:

“If a neighbouring country is providing a safe haven for terrorism . . . we have rights under international law and we will use those rights and we don’t have to get permission from anybody.”

Turkey is a NATO member state, but none of its allies seem sympathetic to the argument that Turkey is already under armed attack.


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