Unless you make the effort to follow alternative media, you won’t know about these things. If you do know about them, it’s easy to get depressed. Acting like a cynical third-world instigator-nation is not what America is for. But that’s how Obama is using our national power (to the extent it still exists in useful form).
Some readers will be aware of the news that, according to an Iranian official, we’ve been asking the Iranians to keep quiet, please, about their missile launches in violation of UNSCR 2231. Jeff Dunetz elaborates:
Per a Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) translation of a news story posted at the Iranian news site Tasnimnews.com, Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Aerospace and Missile Force, told a conference of religious students in the Iranian city of Qom:
“At this time, the Americans are telling [us]: ‘Don’t talk about missile affairs, and if you conduct a test or maneuver, don’t mention it.’ If we agree to this, they will advance another step, and say: ‘Don’t conduct [a missile test] at this time, and also don’t do it in the Persian Gulf region.’ After that, they will tell us: ‘Why do you need your missiles to have a range of 2,000 km [anyway?]?’…”
In other words: “Shhh, mullahs, for crying out loud. Cut it with the announcements and the victory laps. You’re making us and our deal look bad!”
Readers may not be quite so aware of the role we seem to have taken on this week, in the wake of the Kurdish rebel (PKK) shootdown of two Turkish military helicopters in Turkey. (See below for videos of both shootdowns. Western media mainly picked up the Cobra shootdown, but a CH-47 Chinook was also shot down.)
Helping militants extort our ally
The PKK is the main Kurdish militant group in Turkey, waging a decades-long armed struggle against the central government and seeking to carve out territory from Turkey for an independent state. Now, the U.S. has designated the PKK a terrorist organization, and Turkey is a NATO ally. But complicating the situation are the additional facts that Turkey’s current leadership – Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Islamist AKP (Justice and Development Party) – is radicalizing more and more by the day; Turkey and the U.S. have often-conflicting purposes in the civil wars in Syria and Iraq; and one of the chief ways that that manifests itself is in our involvement with the Kurds in Syria and Iraq, who are fighting against ISIS.
Obama is determined not to exercise any leadership in the fight against ISIS, but instead to back the play of others, like the Kurds. So after NATO ally Turkey’s helicopters are shot down by the terrorist PKK organization, using modern Russian-made missiles which might well have been supplied to them by Russia,* the U.S. anti-ISIS czar, Brett McGurk, finds himself in a parley between Turkey and the Syrian Kurds, in which the Kurds are basically seeking to extort the Turks.
This is the proposition, as laid before the representatives of Turkey:
Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) will stop its military operations in southeastern Turkey if the Democratic Union Party (PYD) is allowed to advance towards Western Euphrates river in northern Syria, a source revealed. …
[Journalist Raman] Yousif claimed that PKK has promised to halt its military operations in Nusaybin, Şırnak, Cizre and Batman “if Turkey stops preventing the Syrian Kurdish forces from advancing to the northwest.”
He added that PYD is insisting that liberating the northwestern parts of Syria should take priority, and then they agree to take part in a future major operation to liberate Raqqa, the de facto capital city of the Islamic State (IS).
In other words, “We’ll stop shooting down your helicopters if you’ll let us advance into the territory you’ve been denying us in Syria.” (A little background on the territory in question here.**)
It’s the straightest possible extortion, including establishing that the Syrian Kurds’ priority is to occupy the territory Turkey doesn’t want them to have. The U.S. priority is to attack ISIS in Raqqa, further east, but the Kurds insist on moving into their desired area of northwestern Syria before anything else.
As you and I would do, if we were Kurds. They’re trying to consolidate territory while the consolidating is good. It’s actually better for their purposes if ISIS is still around to keep everything in an uproar, until they’re done consolidating.
And if we were the Turks, we’d see this as a growing threat (look at the maps), and we’d see it as unacceptable to be extorted in this way. The linkage offered by the PYD – to turn off their boys in the PKK for a while – is all the Turks need to know. If it works one way, it can work the other: letting the Syrian Kurds establish territorial control across Turkey’s southern border, especially on both sides of the Euphrates and consolidating a link with Aleppo, will enlarge the strategic depth of the PKK across that border. It will increase Turkey’s domestic security problem.
This is blatant, cynical extortion, and what’s the United States of America on the scene doing? Participating in this unsavory negotiation as if we were Belgium, or something: as if it’s the best we can manage, to be embedded, importunate, in someone else’s fight, trying to negotiate an extortion involving our treaty ally and a terror group’s allies, with whom we are “partnering” to “fight ISIS.”
You don’t have to like Erdogan or what he’s turning Turkey into to recognize that this is a crummy way to advertise the benefits of an alliance with the USA. In fact, if you don’t like Erdogan – as who would? – you should recognize that it’s cynical fecklessness of exactly this kind, on the part of Obama’s America and a dazed, cud-chewing Western Europe, that has effectively given him the green light to turn a Western-friendly ally away from NATO’s common interests, and go skipping off down the radical Islamist path.
The various interests colliding in Syria and Iraq are crying out for leadership, of the kind the U.S., while far from perfect, has been uniquely trustworthy in. The Kurds do, in fact, merit an autonomous political situation for themselves – but if we leave that consideration up to the regional players, all they’ll ever do is play each other off against each other in a never-ending downward spiral.
Turkey, meanwhile, should have the usual national prerogatives over the sanctity of her borders. It’s stupid – dangerous, counterproductive, unwise – to have as your policy the proposition that “Turkey sucks,” so it doesn’t matter what happens to Turkey. The same is true of everyone in the region, but the only way to enforce principles about that is to enforce them, instead of taking out stakes in mafia-style extortions conducted at obscure campfire meetings. Doing the latter will never – as if by magic – result in seeing honest, impartial principles enforced.
It’s not just that Obama has tossed out our tools for such leadership. It’s that he has replaced American leadership with sneaky-poo American collusion in the worst kinds of international skullduggery. There is no justification at all for the latter.
Another day, another “we’ll sink your battleship” threat from Iran
Outside the learning-challenged precincts of Western Europe, foreign actors have Obama’s number. Here is the commander of Iran’s revolutionary guards navy on 10 May, outlining the fraternal amity of our burgeoning bilateral relationship:
The Americans are aware that if they make even the slightest mistake, their naval vessels will be sunk in the Persian Gulf, in the Hormuz Strait, and in the Sea of Oman.
At the beginning of the clip, Ali Fadavi tells his interviewer that Iran now requires American warships to speak Farsi in maritime interactions (implicitly, instead of English, which is the international standard). He claims (I know, I know) that our warships are all deploying with Farsi speakers in order to comply with this Iranian edict.
“The Americans can sense by all means how their warships will be sunk with 5,000 crews and forces in combat against Iran and how they should find its hulk in the depths of the sea,” Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi, the commander of the elite Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Navy, was quoted as saying Sunday in the regional press.
It’s worth noting that this unchanged posture has been displayed throughout the timeframe of the negotiation process over the nuclear “deal,” which began formally, in earnest, in late 2013. At no time has Iran felt any need to rein the rhetoric in or make any pretense of goodwill.
But the claimed Farsi edict is interesting in itself. We can note, first of all, that a U.S. Navy crewman, whose voice communications were captured in a ridiculously doctored video aired by Iran in January 2015, was not speaking Farsi. He was speaking English. But we can only approximate the date that video was recorded – probably in late 2014, shortly after the Farsi edict was issued – and we don’t have newer video with an audio track to compare it to.
English being the international standard for communications between foreign interlocutors at sea, we can hope that the U.S. Navy is continuing, as it should, to communicate with the Iranians in English. But in 2016, we can’t be sure Obama hasn’t required his navy to knuckle under. If he has, it’s a good bet the Obama administration has begged Iran not to announce it to the media.
* The shoulder-fired missile system used to shoot down the Turkish AH-1 Cobra was a 9K38 Igla variant (baseline NATO designation SA-18 Grouse), a Russian-made man-portable air defense (MANPAD) weapon. The CH-47 Chinook was probably shot down with an Igla as well. The weapon has been sold to Iraq, Libya, and Syria, and there are multiple ways that PKK militants could have gotten their hands on it.
Such respected observers as the analyst crew at The American Interest see a more than passing probability that the Russians themselves, who have had a sponsor-client relationship with the PYD for some time, supplied the missile to the Kurds. The guy using the Igla in the video looks well trained, but it’s not a hard weapon to learn to use. It appears equally likely that the PKK got its hands on the Igla from the stash of a regional dictator – Saddam, Qaddhafi, Assad – so I’m withholding judgment.
** In addition to the recent, tactical-level background on activity in the territory west of the Euphrates at the Turkey-Syria border, see here, here, and here for earlier discussion of its unique import, not only for Kurdish aspirations but for Turkey, Ottoman history, and the apocalyptic expectations of ISIS. This little patch of territory everyone has clustered around isn’t just some random real estate. A map from one of the links features one salient factor.