As armed conflict erupts, Erdogan demonstrates his actual priority

If it quacks like neo-Ottomanism…

If you don’t believe Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan has regional ambitions, consider where he is this weekend, as neighboring Syria sinks into chaos and the Turkish military wages a campaign against PKK-related targets in northern Iraq.

Erdogan’s in Somalia.  He arrived on Friday.  Officially, he is representing Turkey and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in recognizing the plight of Somalia’s starving people and arranging for aid.  But that’s not as straightforward as it might seem.  The UN, many individual nations like the US, and various global charities are providing enormous amounts of aid to Somalia – and so is Iran.  It’s in part because of the latter connection that Erdogan has had this sudden fit of humanitarianism.

Iran has been cultivating links in the Horn of Africa for some years now, and regional reporting indicates that Tehran’s support for the Al-Shabaab insurgency in Somalia, brokered through the Afewerki regime in Eritrea, was intensifying through the summer.  Al-Shabaab, meanwhile, has been blocking the distribution of aid from the World Food Program and other non-Muslim sources, while being picky about which Muslim aid it allows through.  Al-Shabaab controls only part of Somalia, but the impact is still significant (especially when combined with the endemic theft and resale of donated goods).

Erdogan’s oddly timed trip comes in the wake of an OIC meeting at which he reportedly addressed his fellow Islamic leaders on the topic of Western arrogance and the failures of capitalism in relation to the Somali famine (this in spite of the literal billions in aid provided by Western governments and private organizations).

But it also comes at the end of a crucial two-week period that started with Al-Shabaab announcing a withdrawal from Mogadishu, and continued with an unprecedented level of success against the insurgency by African Union troops deployed in the AMISOM mission.  It is too soon to say that Al-Shabaab is “defeated,” but the momentum has turned against it – and hence against a strategic line of effort being prosecuted by Iran.

The timing of Erdogan’s visit comes off as doing a victory lap for the success of third parties (the African Union and the US), as well as putting down a stake where Iran has just suffered a reversal.  The location is geographically significant, as it splits the area of the Great Crossroads in which Iran has been diligently pursuing influence.  Eritrea and Sudan lie to the northwest, and Yemen, where Iran supports the Houthi rebels, to the northeast across the Gulf of Aden.  (The Horn of Africa is also, of course, a geostrategic hinge point in its own right.)

As indicated in the last link (and in an earlier one from my 15 August post), regional observers are calling Iran’s Horn of Africa/Yemen strategy her “back-up plan” for when the Assad regime falls in Syria.  Erdogan showing up right smack dab in the middle of it, just in time to associate himself with the glory of the US-AMISOM surge against Al-Shabaab – and perhaps seek to demonstrate that he can get aid delivered where others couldn’t – has all the air of exploiting an opportunity.

Consider what else is going on.  Erdogan’s own troops have mounted an assault in northern Iraq after the killing of dozens of Turkish soldiers by the Kurdish PKK insurgency.  The Turkish national security council decided on Friday to turn surveillance outposts in northern Iraq into support bases, in order to sustain continuous operations there – a move Iraq is likely to object to.  The internal situation in Syria becomes more precarious by the hour; thousands of refugees have flooded Turkey, and although Ankara denies imposing a “buffer zone” along the border, reports that precautionary planning is underway are undoubtedly true.

To the south, meanwhile, a guerrilla invasion of Israel has been mounted through Egypt, and Hamas has launched a deadly rocket assault.  An Israeli force pursuing the terrorist raiders killed five Egyptian soldiers, prompting the Egyptian government to announce – and then deny – that it had recalled its ambassador to Israel.

With all these shooting matches going on right in his neighborhood, Erdogan’s heart and vision are with the regional power situation: the larger rivalry with Iran.  The significance of position in this rivalry is evident in his rush to parade past cheering crowds in Somalia when the opportunity suddenly presented itself (not to mention prompting sycophantic opinion pieces in Turkey, with of course, the obligatory Ottoman historical references).

Michael Ledeen speculates at Pajamas today that if it looks like war – walks and talks like war – we might want to sit up and think about what’s going on.  His instincts are in the right place, I think.  The “next war” isn’t going to start and end like World War II, or even like the Cold War.  But regimes will change, along with alliances and alignments, and schemes of regional order and balances of regional power.

The US at the moment is perilously close to being used for the purposes of others, like a dying and dithering empire.  In spite of the significance of the setback for Al-Shabaab in Somalia, to everything from the piracy problem to dominance in the Middle East, the US is nowhere to be seen in the strategic aftermath of this tactical victory.  We have no idea what to do with it.  But Erdogan does.

J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at Hot Air’s Green Room, Commentary’s “contentions,Patheos, and The Weekly Standard online

23 thoughts on “As armed conflict erupts, Erdogan demonstrates his actual priority”

  1. Of course Turkey has regional ambitions. How could it not when it needs markets for it’s products and it’s not welcome in the EU?

    Erodgan’s not anyone to trust, but it’s hard to see anything in Turkey’s military actions against the PKK that differs greatly from military actions of Israel against armed insurgents.
    Of course, Turkey and Israel differ in that Turkey hasn’t shown itself to harbor ambitions for territorial expansion. That minor difference aside, Turkey and Israel have other things in common and their alliance, presently strained, will likely continue.

    Right now, Turkey is siding with the US and EU and the Saudis against Syria and Iran, no small thing.

    1. While I agree with your comments generally, I must disagree with your comments on Turkey’s counter-insurgency actions against the PKK, and comparing these actions to those of Israel in the occupied and beseiged Palestinian Territories. There is no record of Turkish forces using cluster-weaponary, white-phosphorous anti-personal incendary rounds, or of using civilians as human-shields. Moreover, the legal position of domestic counter-insurgency is very different from suppressing the resistance of a captive occupied population.

      1. Please pardon the Jews if they act with serious intention with weapon choices while fighting for their lives.
        Good manners, I suppose is always good form when one is threatened with annihilation.
        The Palestinians are held captive by armed thugs that Profit on the misery of their own people, but they fire very nice rockets and only slaughter innocent people (on purpose) when it is absolutely necessary.

        1. Oh really?

          How many people have been slaughtered by these “nice rockets”, and how many Palestinian people have been slaughtered by these “weapon choices” that seem only to have been “chosen” in recent years by the Israelis and certain other unsavoury factions in the Congo?

          Nice company these Israelis keep.

          I love the priceless bit about the Israelis being threatened by annihilation. The Israeli military behemoth is in armed occupation of the land of several of its neighbours as well as the palestinian Territories.

          “Fighting for their lives”, my left tit. They are fighting to suppress resistance against their occupation and land-grab.

          1. P, you really don’t want to get into “nice company” stuff. That doesn’t work well for you when you have to discuss the company of the guys fighting the Israelis.

            1. “Niceness” has never been a feature of resistance to military occupation. The resistance partisans of Eastern Europe had no compunction in exacting violence on their Nazi occupiers – including their civilian administrators, and of course, the German settlers planted upon their lands in furtherance of the Nazi “living-space” policy.
              Unfortunately, “niceness” has never done much good when it comes to resisting armed occupation of your lands by a foreign power. You must remember that long before the Intifada the Israelis were stealing Palestinian property and water at an even greater rate than subsequently.

              1. Perhaps you would also feel better if the US returned the greater part of the American South West to Mexico and, even better, if the US would apologize for the armed military intervention that led to the anexation of those conquered territories.

                I don’t know from where you post from but I would hazzard a bet thart you would make a pretty good Mexican.

                Aztlan forever… Right?

        2. This time around, unlike the early days, they weren’t fighting for their lives. The ground invasion of Gaza wasn’t some desperate struggle to keep Israel from being swallowed up.

          I agree that the Palestinians are in the hands of some bad people, but those bad people are relatively quite weak in comparison to the Israelis, so let’s not go giving the IDF a free pass. They are a professional military representing a nation that has moral standards worth upholding and in Gaza they didn’t quite uphold them.

          1. “Moral standards” are always a casualty of prolonged military occupation. The two are, and always have been, ultimately irreconcilable. With the experience of what happened in WWII, and in an attempt to ameliorate this reality, we in the United States presided over the drawing-up of a code of legal rules outlawing egregious behaviour by military occupiers. Foremost among these rules are the criminization of collective reprisals by the occupying power and the criminalization of the settling of the lands of the occupied population with the population of the occupier.

            1. In this particular case, the occupation has been prolonged as much through the choice of the Palestinians as not.

              And I agree that it’s near to impossible to maintain high moral standards during occupation, but it’s quite a bit more complicated when the occupied population harbors terrorists professing that blowing up Israeli grandmas or stabbing Israeli school kids is morally correct.

              Israeli action have become more immoral than they were or should be, but they still have a long way to go before they sink to the level of Hamas and the other vile Palestinian terror groups.

              1. Oh really?

                And what do you think of the anti-Nazi terrorists harboured by the people of Nazi-occupied Europe? And what do you think of their actions in cold-bloodedly and purposely killing German civilians – men women and children – who had been settled by the Nazis in occupied Eastern Europe?

                And why do you think that Israeli children are somehow more valuable and precious than Palestinian children – particularly when there are more than 10 Palestinian children killed or maimed (often by terror-weapons such as phosphoros and cluster bombs) for every Israeli child killed or maimed?

                I can guess the answer. Palestinians kids are unterkinder who don’t feel pain and grief the way we do. And the Palestinian resistance to occupation, disposition, and downright terror is not the same as armed resistance by ‘nice’ people like Europeans. And because the Palestinian resistance are not legitimate unless they are ‘nice’ democrats (The anti-Nazi resistance we armed and supplied in Nazi-occupied Europe was largely led by very un-democratic commies).

                And I won’t even mention the Irgun and Stern Gang terrorists.

                No wonder the Arabs despise us for our double-standards.

              2. What I think of people resisting Nazis hasn’t a damn thing to do with what I think of other people in other times and working for other causes, P.

                No point to your question unless you first make the equation between Nazis and Israelis…..and I really really really think that you’re not gonna be able.

                I’m no fan of the Israelis governments of the last decade and think that the settlements are bad for everybody, but this situation is all grey and not black and white.

                I don’t think oversimplifying it helps anybody.

    2. The territorial gains came after The Arabs started and Lost several wars. If the Arabs don’t attack and Lose, the boundries stay the same.
      I wonder what Sarah would say.

  2. The “Daily Times” article really doesn’t seem to demonstrate that Erdogan is critical of capitalism per se. He’s just saying that those that have should help those that have not, a basic tenet of Islam. And it would seem that Turkey, just now establishing government-sponsored medical facilities and food distribution, is a little late to the Somalia party.

  3. Having ambition to further your nation’s interests in any given region is actually a laudable thing and the responsibility of every government that hopes to stay alive. It is also the responsibility, of a rather direct nature, of every diplomatic corps in the world. There is nothing wrong with that. Nothing at all.

    Until that activity clashes or goes against the interests of my nation, of course.

    The problem with that statement is that nobody really knows what our interests are in the ME besides our contrived and self-imposed hunger for oil, of course. Because, although we source oil from very different inventories, our imported consumption does affect the price by which the ME nations live, prosper and, therefore, are in a position to better afford to undermine us directly, as with Iran, or surreptitiously, as with Saudi Arabia and others. It’s pretty good for Chavez too.

    But, back on point, because therein lies the rub. Can we really state, categorically, that Turkey is acting in any way in direct opposition to clear and constant US interests in the region by trying to increase their own image in their back yard or are we more worried about the resulting competition coupled to Turkey’s loyalty to the US as an ally? And, if they are opposing us, then I would prefer to know, not so much the generalities, but the specifics of how they are doing that and with what specific action.

    To be clear, I am not saying they are or thay are not. I am not privy to those details nor am I an expert in that subject. But my interest has peaked and I would like to know the answer to that, if any.

  4. There are so many variables conflated in this latest bid by Turkey for acceptance that I could write an essay to that effect. The Cliff’s Notes version:

    1.) Turkey prevented the US Army 4th Inf Div from stopping Saddam’s Iraq from transporting WMDs and BILLION$ of OUR money across the border into Ba’athist Syria.

    2.) While America promotes Turkey’s inclusion into the EU, Turkey itself has done everything it could to continue giving good reasons to the EU denying Turks membership (Euros never intended to include them btw – i lived there during the debate).

    3.) Islamism is a disease that has thoroughly infected Turkey, thus preventing its military from keeping the former peaceful co-existence intact.

    In Sum:
    NO ONE wants the Turks on THEIR side except the US Air Force (Incirlik AFB) and radical Islamists. What’s wrong with this picture? I mean besides the incompetence of President SmartPower™?


  5. –“The US at the moment is perilously close to being used for the purposes of others, like a dying and dithering empire.”–

    reports of the death of the American Empire are always greatly exaggerated here when Republicans aren’t in the White House.

    Our interests are in about every corner of the globe, but, while we’re always involved, our interests aren’t always involved to the extent that other nations interests are. Sometimes the people who actually live in the neighborhood are the people who should lead.

    Sometimes it’s just unbecoming an ex-officer to be suggesting that it’s good policy for the US to ensure that Egyptians continue to be misruled by Mubarak for another 40 years because ousting him might involve risk for other nations.

    Sometimes it’s just weird and unduly paranoid to suggest that we work a bad deal with the Iranians, brokered by Russia, rather than working with a Saudi/EU/Turkish alliance to push out Assad, Iran’s key ally in the Middle East.

    1. Spot on!

      There is no legitimate US interest served by propping up foreign despots like Mubarak. On the contrary, our policy of supporting dictators and despots signals to the victims of such people that the US is motivated, not by its professed values, but by venal and ulterior considerations. It undermines our diplomacy and long-term interests, and marks us as hypocrites.

      This policy is even more outrageous and unpatriotic when it is pursued in the sole interest of a foreign power which flouts the basic tenets and values enshrined in the Constitution.

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