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The worsening situation in the Middle East and the collapse of Turkey's policy of Neo-Ottomanism

A crisis is unfolding in the Middle East and almost all the regimes established with Western assistance during the Arab Spring have now been destabilized, thus thwarting not only America's strategic calculations in the region, but also the expectations of those who were attempting to further their own interests by playing along with the US plans. The biggest "loser" has been Turkey. Until quite recently, the Turkish leadership, headed by Recep Erdogan, was pursuing a strategy of Neo-Ottomanism that was intended to restore the country's former influence throughout most of the geographical area that at one time was under the sway of the Ottoman Empire. Then the Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutog(lu, added to this the doctrine of "strategic depth," which envisions Ankara's dominance in those parts of the Turkic world never held by the Ottomans, particularly in Central Asia and Russia ... Hakan Fidan, the head of Turkey's MIT intelligence service, has positioned the agency he oversees as the most knowledgeable and influential bureau in the region, capable of conducting major independent operations, including the subversion of certain regimes. And they are now reaping the fruits of their overreach.

The "new Ottomans" simply do not possess the economic, military, political, or other wherewithal to carry out their ambitious plans. For example, the regular meetings of the heads of state within the Turkic world have become pompous, expensive, and inefficient exercises, and an increasing source of exasperation to many of those leaders. After reaching a certain level, the economic ties within this community have begun to stagnate, and it is now obvious that their hopes for Turkish financial assistance were unrealistically high. The leaders of the post-Soviet Central Asian nations became convinced that almost every national-security issue required Turkey's assistance to resolve. In addition, they began to fear that country's attempts to disseminate its political model and to plant its agents of influence within their borders. Even Baku, which is closest to Ankara in terms of civilization and geography, began to evince a certain wariness. A survey of experts from seven Middle Eastern countries conducted in May and June of this year by Fatih University also showed that most of them felt Turkey's foreign-policy goals were out of step with the country's real capabilities.

Turkey's leaders have made a series of major and fatal errors. Of these, the biggest was the intervention in Syria intended to establish a deferential regime… But Assad held his ground, and now their former allies present nothing but problems. Turkey's efforts have boomeranged right back in its face. Originally placing their hopes on the opposition, the Turks quickly revised their opinion of the abilities of the relatively moderate Free Syrian Army and slowly found themselves drawn into supporting more militant jihadists. They saw their unnatural alliance with avowed supporters of Al-Qaeda to be temporary and officially denied it in every way. But the evidence of their close ties was too strong. The leader of the Syrian Kurds, Salih Muslim, who takes his bearings from the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which is active in Turkey, cites numerous examples of proof that "official" Ankara assembled, trained, and then armed Islamic radicals from around the world, including the founders of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which is now beyond Ankara's control. Nor did the jihadists feel much confidence in Ankara from the onset, and it looks like they exploited her to advance their own interests much more than she managed to profit from them. The chairman of the Republican People's Party of Turkey, Kemal K?l?çdarog(lu, confirmed that there is evidence that the ruling Justice and Development Party sent arms shipments to ISIS. In an interview with the Turkish newspaper Jumhuriyat, that Turkish opposition leader predicted that Erdogan's government will pay dearly for its policy in the Middle East.

One of the latest joint misadventures of the Turkish authorities and the radical anti-Syrian insurgents was their failed invasion, backed by the military might of the Turkish army, into the Syrian border province of Latakia - a stronghold of the Assad dynasty. It began and apparently ended with the capture and devastation of the Armenian city of Kasab, one of the few that had been left unscathed by the Armenian genocide carried out by the Ottoman Empire. A few days ago the Syrian army liberated Kasab, surrounding the group of approximately four thousand jihadists in Latakia, an area that is now being methodically obliterated. Having weighed all the risks, Ankara decided that it would be in its own best interests to hold off on a massive military intervention. Its soldiers have been abandoned to their fate and are not being allowed back into Turkey.

Confident in Assad's tenacious hold on his positions in central Syria, the jihadists decided to shift their main push eastward. The ISIS invasion of Iraq itself started with a major strategic deception, which more than anyone, Hakan Fidan, the head of Turkish intelligence, "bought into" - a mistake that could be seen as an enormous personal failure for him. According to Syrian sources, the Turks helped rearm and reposition the ISIS divisions eastward, believing that there they would be drawn into battle with pro-Assad forces and adversaries from Jabhat al-Nusra in the provinces of Deir ez-Zor and Raqqa, but that in Iraq they would not be able advance beyond the Anbar province.

The Turks could not imagine that this organization, which never particularly distinguished itself fighting the battle-hardened army of Bashar al-Assad, and which was for the most part drawn into the fight (during which as many as 1,400 were killed) with adversaries from Jabhat al-Nusra, would be so devastatingly successful in Iraq. It was there that its main forces were actually sent, instead of to Deir Ez Zor or Raqqa. And in Turkey public scorn is being heaped on the fact that ISIS has taken about a hundred Turkish citizens hostage in Mosul, including the country's consul general in that city along with all his staff. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, has now issued a public challenge to all "apostates" in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. For all practical purposes, ISIS has, as one should have expected, proceeded to the subsequent stage of its jihad - against its own recent sponsors.

These events have greatly damaged Turkey's image and economy (among other things), and the efforts to whitewash the consequences have been clumsy. For example, a court in Ankara has forbidden Turkish journalists from writing about their fellow citizens who have been kidnapped in northern Iraq. That court based its decision on the need to protect the safety of the hostages. Earlier, Prime Minister Recep Erdogan accused the opposition and the more critically-minded Turkish media of wanting to use the subject for their own political ends and thus "putting human lives at risk." Journalists loyal to the regime, trying to prove that ISIS is the love child of no one but the American CIA (as was Al-Qaeda at one time), are denying the obvious role in the birth process played by the other parent - Erdogan's government.

Iraq was previously one of the biggest importers of Turkish products, responsible for as much as $12 billion in annual sales. The giant Ceyhan oil terminal was built with Iraqi oil in mind, and only about a tenth of its capacity is needed to handle the supplies now piped in from Baku. Experts estimate Turkey's damages from the Iraqi turmoil to total $8.5 billion over the medium term.

However, the most unpleasant surprise for the Turks took place in Iraqi Kurdistan. Quite recently, fearing the growth of separatist sentiments among Turkey's Kurdish population, Ankara stated that it was prepared to launch a military intervention in the Kurdish autonomous zone within Iraq, if the Iraqi Kurds tried to occupy Kirkuk. And it cited the substantial breach of the rights of Turkish minority (Turkomans) in Iraq as another reason for intervening in Iraq. But now Ankara has been forced to sit silently and watch as the Kurds have taken Kirkuk and might possibly even add Mosul to their holdings. Once those areas have been annexed, Turkey would not only be unable to threaten the significantly strengthened Iraqi Kurdistan, it would even become dependent on it, because Iraqi oil travels right through Kirkuk and Mosul on its way to the Turkish port of Ceyhan. And particularly humiliating for the Turks was that, despite their stated commitments, they were in no position to protect the Iraqi Turkomans, particularly in Tal Afar, and their tribal leaders even raised the issue of being joined to Iraqi Kurdistan. It is not hard to predict that in the coming years the Kurdish problem in Turkey will become catch fire once again. The boomerang is on its way back.

The Turkish political columnist Ergin Y?ld?zog(lu compares America's imperial aspirations to the fantasies about "the 'new Ottoman Empire,' which the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has so cherished in its dreams about 'strategic depth,' and which, just like a parasite, has been latched onto a project of Washington's." According to that columnist, "one need only lift one's head and look around" in order to see that America's imperial plans, based on absurd ideas that involve rebuilding regions at gunpoint and democratizating "from without," are disintegrating. Thinking about the parallel ambitions for the restoration of the Ottoman Empire's sphere of influence, he poses a rhetorical, but very reasonable question: "If America's imperial strategy is foundering, how can the parasite that's latched onto to its back not founder as well?"

[Source: By Dmitry Minin, Strategic Culture Foundation, Moscow, 03Jul14]

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