Category Archives: Islam

Obama And His Very Confused Middle East Policy

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The Obama administration’s policy in the Middle East appears to be designed to remove secular tyrants and replace them with more religiously oriented regimes.  Thus, Gaddafi (“We came, we saw, he died.”  Ha ha ha.) and Mubarak were targeted.  Bashar al Assad is the current target.  This policy has been marked by monumental incompetence, mendacity, and confusion.  Nothing about it should be accepted without a healthy dose of skepticism, including what follows.

The Telegraph of the U.K. has a video of U.S. commandos fleeing a town under a barrage of insults (“Crusaders!  Infidels!  Dogs!  Get out!”) from the Free Syrian Army, our supposed allies.  CENTCOM commander General Lloyd Austin testified that a 500-million-dollar program to train opposition soldier had resulted in “four or five” being trained.  CIA-backed rebels have had armed confrontations with Pentagon-backed forces.  Two of Senator John McCain’s Libyan “heroes,” Abdelhakim Belhadj and the late Abu Mosa, turned out to be ISIS leaders.  Turkish and Saudi allies clearly do not have the same objectives as the U.S.  Former U.S. Department of State senior adviser David Phillips said, “Turkey’s role has not been ambiguous – it has overtly supported the ISIL.”

This confused U.S. policy has led to speculation that the U.S. created and still supplies ISIS.  In an interview with a reporter from the Koelner Stadt-Anzeigernewspaper, Abu Al Ezz, a militant jihadist commander with Jabhat Al-Nusra, claims, “The U.S. is on our side.”  Abu Al Ezz claims that his tanks came from Libya and that they have been supplied with American-made TOW rockets.  He also claimed that “we had officers from Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Israel and America here[.] … Experts in the use of satellites, rockets, reconnaissance and thermal security cameras.”  Al Ezz claimed that Jabhat Al-Nusra broke with ISIS because “[m]ost of the IS leaders are working with intelligence services, and it’s now clear for us. We, the Jabhat Al-Nusra, have our own way.”  Jabhat al-Nusra has been designated a terrorist group by the U.S. and U.N.

Al Ezz’s allegations are supported by documents obtained by Judicial Watch that reveal early U.S. support for ISIS.  The same article reported that U.K.-based Conflict Armament Research’s report traced the origins of Croatian anti-tank rockets recovered from ISIS to a Saudi/CIA joint program via serial numbers.  In 2012, Kenneth R. Timmerman reported that the Taliban fired on a CH-47 helicopter with a Stinger missile.  He reported, “The Stinger [serial number] tracked back to a lot that had been signed out by the CIA recently, not during the anti-Soviet jihad.”  Jihadists have also obtained a “significant” number of tanks and Humvees from their operations in Iraq.  These weapons have undoubtedly led to the deaths of American servicemen.  Attacks on U.S. forces could have been led by released Guantanamo detainees.  The Washington Postreports that at least 12 former detainees have launched attacks against the U.S.

The anti-Assad coalition may also have used poison gas in order to justify a U.S. attack on the Assad regime.  The network nsnbc claims that evidence of approval leads directly to the White House.  Dr. Christof Lehmann has done an extensive study on the gas attack.  Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh claims that Hillary Clinton approved sending the gas to Syria.  Although this attack was to be attributed to the Assad regime, the evidence would not justify a U.S. attack. German intelligence claimed that it had intercepted phone calls between Syrian officers and the Syrian High Command that convinced them that none of the Syrian forces has used a chemical weapon.

Al Ezz also commented ten days prior to the attack on the aid convoy bound for Aleppo that Jabhat Al-Nusra would not allow the aid to go through.  The aid convoy was attacked on September 15, resulting in 20 civilian fatalities.  U.S. Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified that he had no doubt that it was a Russian attack and called it an “unacceptable atrocity.”  He based this on the fact that two Russian aircraft were in the area of the strike when it happened, but he admitted he “had no facts.”

Secretary of state John Kerry has proposed grounding Syrian and Russian aircraft over Syria.  However, according to General Dunford, “Right now … for us to control all of the airspace in Syria would require us to go to war against Syria and Russia.”  Defense secretary Ash Carter stated that U.S. jets conduct their strikes “with exceptional precision … that no other country can match.”  He said this after U.S. airplanes struck a Syrian base at Dayr Az Zawr.  CENTCOM declared that they halted this airstrike when they were informed by Russian officials that the target hit by U.S. airplanes may have been a Syrian Arab Army base.  There is no evidence of coordination, but ISIS assaulted and overran the Syrian Army base right after the U.S. airstrike.

The Dayr Az Zawr attack may have been the result of relying on intelligence provided by anti-Assad forces.  Apparently, U.S. intelligence does not have a good reputation.  Volker Perthes, director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin, has stated, “Everyone is extremely skeptical about U.S. intelligence revelations.”  A congressional task force has confirmed allegations that senior U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) leaders manipulated intelligence assessments in 2014 and 2015 to make it appear that President Barack Obama is winning the war against the Islamic State.”  And two senior intelligence analysts at CENTCOM say the military forced them out of their jobs because of their skeptical reporting on U.S.-backed rebel groups in Syria.

A spokesman for the Syrian military called the Dayr Az Zawr strike a “serious and blatant attack on Syria and its military” and “firm proof of the U.S. support of Daesh.”  (Daesh is the Arabic acronym for ISIS.)  A Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, announced, “The White House is defending Islamic State. Now there can be no doubts about that.”  Our U.N. ambassador, Samantha Power, said Zakharova should be embarrassed by that claim.

It is not only Russians and Syrians who question U.S. policy.  U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Tom McInerney has claimed, “We are not trying to destroy ISIS.”  Daniel McAdams, executive director of the Ron Paul Institute, asserted, “The CIA agenda is definitely not anti-ISIS [Daesh], it’s primarily anti-Assad.”  Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev claimed, “The strengthening of the Islamic State became possible partially due to irresponsible policies of the United States.”

Naturally, U.S. policy has led to increased tension.  U.S. ambassador to the U.N.Samantha Power stated, “It’s apocalyptic what is being done in eastern Aleppo.”  She may be closer to the truth than she realizes.  State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told the press, “I think when American lives are at stake, when we’re talking about defending our own interests, we’re not looking for the approval of the Syrian regime.”  Why is the State Department so unconcerned about Syrian airspace yet scrupulous about Libyan airspace when an ambassador is under attack?

John Dietrich is a freelance writer and the author of The Morgenthau Plan: Soviet Influence on American Postwar Policy, Algora Publishing, 2013.

Nothing can be done in Syria? Not true.

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With world leaders gathered in Jerusalem for the funeral of Shimon Peres, a unique opportunity presents itself for decisive action by the West to intervene in the Syrian bloodbath.

First, it’s simply false that nothing can be done.

In her 2002 book, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, current American U.N. ambassador Samantha Power makes this point over and over again.  In reviewing the history of the genocides in Armenia, European Jewry, Bosnia, Rwanda, Srebrenica, and Kosovo, Power makes the case that in all but one of those instances, the United States and the other major powers knew what was going on and did nothing.

In each case, the West went through three phases: warning, recognition, and response.

Only in Kosovo did America and the EU act decisively – after widespread publicity and public outcry.

Well, we certainly have that now.  And, after Mr. Kerry’s latest pratfall, it’s time to pass the baton to someone else.

And, as it happens, Samantha Power – with coauthor Derek Chollet – has written a highly relevant book: The Unquiet American: Richard Holbrooke in the World, published in 2011.  It was written while Power was already on the Obama National Security Council and addresses the career of the late Richard Holbrooke.  In particular, it tells the tale of the U.S. diplomatic tactics, ploys, and military moves that ended the Serbian genocide against the Muslims of the former Yugoslavia.

It’s engrossing and informative and a homage to the Democratic Party’s brightest – and most controversial – diplomatic star.  It’s a pretty question whether, had Holbrooke not collapsed and died in Hillary Clinton’s Foggy Bottom office, he would have succeeded her as secretary of state.  But the relevance of the read today is as a toolbox for answering the question: what would Richard Holbrooke do in Syria?

In A Problem from Hell, Power found that three excuses occurred again and again for non-action: futility, perversity, and jeopardy.  All have been heard in the course of the Syrian catastrophe.

“Futility” is what we’re hearing now: nothing can be done.

“Perversity” is the danger of unintended consequences.  Syria is already a stew of unintended consequences run riot.  This excuse doesn’t hunt, either.

“Jeopardy” hasn’t come up yet.  But it probably will – because there are Russian and Iranian military assets in Syrian territory.

Here’s one we may also hear.  Because of the closeness of the American election and impending change of chief executive, nothing can be done.  Mr. Obama should leave this one to his successor.

Let me knock the futility” excuse in the head and be done.  Here is an options list for the principals and their deputies in Jerusalem to consider.

First, options unlikely to result in casualties:

a) Recall U.S., U.K., and French ambassadors from Moscow and go to the United Nations General Assembly to seek a declaration that Syria’s seat at the U.N. is vacant.  When passed, close Syria’s mission to the U.N. in New York.

b) Ask the U.N. General Assembly to amend the U.N. Charter to eliminate Russia’s permanent seat (and veto) on the Security Council.

c) Announce a no-fly zone over Syria, which will start on Monday.

d) Proclaim a naval blockade of Syria, including of the Russian naval base at Latakia, to start on Monday.

e) Present a resolution to the Security Council authorizing the use of force in Syria.  When Russia vetoes that, introduce a uniting-for-peace resolution in the General Assembly, which will have the same effect.

f) Present a resolution in the Security Council to create an international war crimes tribunal for Syria.  If the Russians are still able to veto that, seek a referral to the International Criminal Court.  If that’s blocked, France and the U.K. should sue Russia in the International Court of Justice for a declaration that they and their ally, the Assad regime, have committed war crimes in Syria.

In other words: raise holy hell.  And don’t stop.

Second, besides proclamation and enforcement of a no-fly zone over Syria, what military options are available to accomplish a humanitarian intervention?

a) Remote destruction of Syrian artillery and anti-aircraft facilities, including radar installations.

b) If necessary to stop Syrian attacks, remote targeting of Syria’s top leadership and command and control.

c) If Syrian attacks still don’t stop, use cruise missiles to target Syria’s national command authority, including President Assad.

d) Once the no-fly zone is in place, send in guarded relief convoys, accompanied by troops, helicopters, and drones.

e) As soon as possible, reopen airports to deliver people, supplies, and equipment by air.

f) Pending that, drop food and medical supplies in conflict areas.

g) Declare and establish “safe zones” for refugees.

h) Set up of temporary hospitals in conflict areas.

i) Deployment of two Saudi Arabian mechanized divisions, with American advisers, to enforce a truce.

j) Deployment of Jordanian military police, with U.S. contractors, to provide security and day-to-day law enforcement.

In short, decisive action.  The time for talking is over.  The only question now is the famous one from The Untouchables: “What are you prepared to do?”

Mr. President?  Mr. Secretary General?

Ambassador Power?

It’s Time, Mr. Trump: NATO Should Expel Islamist Turkey

 BY SETH CROPSEY

On September 11, Turkeyish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan used a less than two week-old government decree to sack 28 elected mayors, of whom a dozen were arrested for “actively engaging in acts of terrorism.”

These firings represents a miniscule fraction of the government officials, including the military, who have been accused of conspiring to remove Erdogan from office in July.

In mid-July, Turkey’s major cities experienced a brief period of violence as members of the Turkish military tried to depose Erdogan’s government. Erdogan regained control of the country the next morning. He delivered a televised speech before civilian crowds at Istanbul’s airport, and pro-coup soldiers surrendered to government forces.

President Erdogan has attempted, with less than a wisp of evidence, to pin blame for the coup on the Gülen movement. Run by U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, the movement has a favorable attitude towards secularism. It promotes interfaith dialog between Muslims, Christians, and Jews, and stands against racism and anti-Semitism. The recently sacked Turkish mayors were also accused of ties to Fethullah Gülen.

As Erdogan would have the world believe, the Gülen movement is an allegedly Islamist supremacist organization. Erdogan insists that it wanted to overthrow Turkey’s government and establish a quasi-theocracy.

Like such other hostile states as Cuba, North Korea, and Iran, whose rulers find it useful to blame the U.S. for their own domestic troubles, Turkish officials have also accused the CIA of complicity in funding the coup to remove Erdogan from power.

The Gülen movement was one of Erdogan’s political allies until corruption allegations against members of Erdogan’s political party surfaced in July 2013. Since then, Erdogan has suppressed criticism of his policies by claiming that the scandal was evidence of a “civilian coup” against the government. The Gülen movement, along with other dissident groups, has been termed part of the “Deep State” — the group of supposedly allied conservatives and Islamists who work within the Turkish government and media to undermine democracy and create a revanchist Ottoman state.

According to Erdogan, the leader of the moderate Islamic movement that favors secularism orchestrated an Islamist coup in July while living in a small town in rural Pennsylvania. This proposition is far-fetched.

However, its underlying argument — that Islamists have taken control of Turkey’s government — is fact.

Erdogan himself, both before and after the failed coup, has been working steadily to transform Turkey into an Islamist state. As of today, Erdogan has succeeded. Although not an Iranian theocracy, Turkey’s leadership is explicitly Islamist.

Its values and goals are antithetical to American interests and those of NATO as an alliance of free, democratic states that respect the rule of law.

Such a nation has no place in NATO, despite its previous history as a critical American ally.

When he was prime minister, Erdogan initially oversaw broad Europeanization. Expectations grew that his government might achieve EU membership for Turkey. This changed in 2013, when Erdogan used a corruption scandal — in which members of his own political party and some of their relatives were accused of bribery and fraud — to sideline the Gülen movement. Erdogan imprisoned pro-Gülen political figures and arrested journalists.

He forced members of his cabinet out of their positions by imprisoning their sons during the scandal. In 2014, after winning Turkey’s presidential elections, Erdogan aggressively expanded his power, transforming the traditionally enfeebled position of president into the country’s major office. Erdogan selected current Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to succeed him, preventing parliamentary challenges to his actions.

When Davutoglu finally challenged Erdogan, he was immediately replaced.

Erdogan broke the presidential “pledge of neutrality,” which constitutionally compels Turkey’s head of state to stay out of partisan politics. Erdogan openly supported the Justice and Development Party (AKP) — his party — during national elections, and has attempted to amend the constitution to allow him to openly affiliate with the AKP.

Erdogan continued his attacks on the press as president, arresting 31 journalists in 2015, and seizing major newspaper Zaman in March 2016 due to its alleged Gülenist ties. Turkey ranks behind Iran and China in the number of journalists behind bars, but it is easily in the top ten nations that imprison journalists.

Even before the July coup attempt, previous U.S. Ambassadors to Turkey Morton Abramowitz and Eric Edelman wrote in the Washington Post: “Clearly, democracy cannot flourish under Erdogan now.”

Within hours of the July coup, Erdogan combined state violence against dissidents with his unambiguous Islamism. Before the coup, the AKP, an explicitly Islamic party, progressively increased its anti-secular rhetoric. Parliamentary Speaker Ismail Kahraman, charged with drafting Turkey’s new constitution, stated that “secularism would not have a place in a new constitution,” and “[Turkey is a] Muslim country and so we should have a religious constitution.”

Although he later apologized for these comments, they accurately describe the AKP’s Islamism. For example, the party has encouraged women to wear the previously banned hijab in school and in the civil service, increased laws against alcohol sales, and attempted to eliminate co-ed housing at public universities.

Erdogan’s support of neo-Ottoman tradition puts him at odds with Turkey’s secular governmental structure, and more importantly, with the Turkish people who want their country to continue along the path towards a modern democratic, tolerant state.

When greeting PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas in 2015, Erdogan lined the stairway to the newly constructed presidential palace with guards dressed in uniforms from the “16 Great Turkish Empires,” a contemporary notion prevalent in Ottoman revivalist tradition. Erdogan called supporters of the AKP “grandsons of Ottomans,” and openly pursued a “Great Restoration” of Ottoman tradition.

Of course, among other horrors, this tradition includes the 1480 beheading of 800 Italian men in Otranto who, upon the order of the Ottoman commanders to convert to Islam, refused.

After the coup, Erdogan’s Islamism, along with his experienced persecution of political opponents, blossomed. In his first speech after the coup attempt, Erdogan called the uprising “a gift from God,” and vowed to “clean the state” of the Gülen “virus” while building a “new Turkey.”

The military has been decimated: over 100 flag officers were detained, including Major General Cahit Bakir, commander of Turkish forces working under NATO in Afghanistan, and General Bekir Ercan Van, the commander of Incirlik Air Base. Turkey’s military academies have been raided, and multiple cadets are currently detained. Their role in the coup has not been proved. Nor will it be, except by courts where Erdogan-appointed jurists preside.

Erdogan has complemented the military purge with purges of the civil service and educational system. All leave was suspended for civil servants on July 18, and all public sector employees were banned from leaving the country. Nearly 50,000 public employees were suspended.

What kind of conspiracy depends on the silence of 50,000 people?

Under emergency legislation, Erdogan shut down over 1,000 private schools and 15 private universities, due to their alleged affiliation with the Gülen movement. Even 35 hospitals were closed. The government additionally shut down 23 radio stations, 16 television channels, 60 newspapers and magazines, and 29 publishing houses shortly after the coup.

During the coup, Erdogan relied on the religious affairs directorate — Diyanet, a body with the power to issue religious legal verdicts — to mobilize supporters for the government. The Diyanet contacted the country’s 150,000 state-employed imams, instructing them to perform the sala prayer, a ritual used during Ottoman times to indicate difficult military battles. Erdogan has progressively expanded the Diyanet during his time as prime minister and president, transforming the organization from an oversight body to a fully fledged religious outfit, run by and beholden to the Turkish state.

All of this makes the coup plotters’ claim that they acted to defend constitutional secularism and democracy implausible. The Turkish government has become an Islamist autocracy, with its chief, the would-be sultan Erdogan, an aspirant for leadership of the Sunni world. Turkey today would not even qualify for Partnership for Peace membership, let alone acceptance into NATO and the EU.

As Turkish political ideology drifts further from Western values, so do Turkish strategic goals.

Can NATO include among its members an Islamist state whose strategic objectives are antithetical to those of the Western alliance? NATO seeks stability through a favorable balance of power, whereas Islamism seeks to use chaos and violence to cripple the West. Even if the U.S. and NATO must subordinate long-term goals to short-term interests by working with an Islamist member, keeping it within the fold of core allies invites trouble.

Turkey’s drift away from the U.S. began over a decade ago. In 2003, Turkey refused to allow American troops to mass along the Iraqi border, complicating Operation Iraqi Freedom. Despite Turkey’s military contribution to ISAF in Afghanistan, Turkey under Erdogan continuously hampered U.S. efforts in Iraq by deploying ground forces in 2007 to attack the Kurds. The Syrian civil war and campaign against ISIS has exacerbated this situation.

Turkey continues to attack the Kurdish troops that the U.S. supports. While allowing the U.S. to station nuclear weapons and to strike ISIS from Incirlik Air Base, Turkey has allowed ISIS fighters to move unopposed across the Turkish border and has turned a blind eye to ISIS oil smuggling in southern Turkey. Opposition leaders have repeatedly accused Erdogan of offering covert support to ISIS affiliates, or at a minimum to Islamist groups like Jabhat al-Nusra.

Turkey still occupies northern Cyprus, which it illegally annexed in 1974. Turkish armed forces frequently harass fellow NATO member Greece with military airspace violations.  For example, the Greek state news agency reported 22 airspace violations in a single day on February 15.

Turkey has also done little to stop the flow of migrants into Europe, stating that its own citizens must receive visa-free travel into the EU before taking any action on the migrant issue.

Further north, Turkey seems to be headed for a rapprochement with Russia. Putin used the coup to thaw relations with Turkey. He and Erdogan met the week of August 8. The meeting ended in expressions of fraternal solidarity that put behind them Turkish forces’ downing of a Russian fighter eight months earlier.

Western strategists should not devalue what Turkey provides the NATO alliance.  Historically opposed to Russian and Iranian power, Turkey has a clear interest in challenging both countries’ regional ambitions. The Turkish coast dominates the Black Sea and Eastern Mediterranean, making Turkey the most effective foil to expanding Russian naval power. A friendly Turkey that controls the Dardanelles has obvious strategic importance. A cooperative relationship with Turkey has been a U.S. objective since World War II, and previously a British objective since the 17th century. The Turkish navy, army, and air force are the only regional forces that can hope to challenge their Russian counterparts. American nuclear weapons in Turkey are a valuable strategic instrument that has an impact on Russia’s calculus.

However, Erdogan’s Islamism has transformed Turkey into a threat to American and European interests.

The NATO alliance should, at a minimum, show that Turkey is not indispensable. Turkey offers NATO a host of strategic benefits, but it can be replaced.

In the Middle East, despite its interest in curbing Iran, Turkey has supported Islamists rather than moderate groups. As a 2014 incident in Istanbul demonstrated, American sailors are no longer safe, even for leave, in Turkey. Ending NATO’s relationship with Turkey would do little to hinder American operations in Iraq and Syria. It would give America more freedom of action.

In the Eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea, the U.S. can work more closely with regional partners like Greece, Israel, Egypt, Cyprus, and Romania. Forward deploying assets in Haifa, Cyprus, or Crete would make up for decreased friendly naval presence after Turkey leaves NATO. Basing large U.S. combatants in the eastern Mediterranean, much like the U.S. carrier home-ported in Yokosuka, Japan, would further help fill the gap left by Turkey’s exit from NATO. Bolstering the U.S. European Command’s Task Force East with increased Romanian and Bulgarian participation, along with permanently forward-deploying ground and air forces like a Marine Expeditionary Unit or Marine Expeditionary Brigade to the region, would fill the gap left by Ankara’s departure.

Turkey is useful, but it is not indispensable to American and NATO interests in the Eastern Mediterranean, Black Sea, and Middle East.

At a minimum, the U.S. should withdraw all its nuclear weapons from Incirlik Air Base, and cancel the planned sale of F-35A fighters to the Turkish Air Force. At the same time, the U.S. should engage in closer talks with Israeli, Greek, Cypriot, and Egyptian military staffs, with the eventual goal of establishing permanent presence in the Eastern Mediterranean. In the long-term, the Arabian Sea and Eastern Mediterranean have both become “critical hubs” for the U.S. military.

Turkey has been an important American ally since the Cold War. Nevertheless, its return to the Islamism that was a characteristic of Ottoman rule makes it unsuitable for membership in NATO, and for the Western alliance’s strategic partnership.

Alliances can be cracked from the outside, as Putin seeks to do in the Baltic states. They can also implode from within, as the Anglo-Dutch alliance nearly did when the Duke of Marlborough’s efforts to confront Louis XIV’s forces directly was opposed by Dutch hesitation in the early 18th century War of Spanish Succession.

How can an alliance that was established to protect democracy include a state whose leader rules as a tyrant?

After winning the election for the Turkish presidency, a Turkish newspaper asked Erdogan about receiving only 52% of the national vote, lower than his expected vote share. Erdogan responded: “There were even those who did not like the Prophet. I, however, won 52%.”

If Erdogan fancies himself a sultan, let the West treat him like one, and respond decisively and appropriately. Then, maybe, he will feel the weight of the crown.