The Wall Street Journal report that Russian aircraft had bombed a supposedly secret U.S.-British base on the Syrian border with Jordan last month should raise the hackles of everyone in the presidential race and Middle East policymakers everywhere. It proved, redundantly, the comprehensive failure of Obama’s policies in the Middle East, particularly his more than two-year war against ISIS.
The base was reportedly used by U.S. and British special forces to stop ISIS fighters from coming to Syria from Jordan and for other anti-ISIS missions. A British special forces unit had apparently left the base less than a day before the attack. There were no reports of U.S. or allied casualties, which doesn’t mean there weren’t any.
The attack had the objective of goading us into sharing more intelligence information with the Russians. Sure enough, it worked. Secretary of State John Kerry visited Moscow last week to offer greater sharing of U.S. intelligence with the Russians. (Kerry added a clause to the document he signed stating that if the Russians bombed our bases again we could — might, maybe, perhaps — suspend cooperation.)
Kerry made this agreement despite the rather loud objection by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and the quieter opposition of Defense Secretary Carter.
Several conclusions must be drawn from Kerry’s actions. First, it is clear that Obama and Kerry have long since decided that Russia and Iran — the two nations whose forces have occupied Syria and protect Bashar al-Assad’s regime — will be the nations who should create a new stability in the Middle East. (Obama said, when peddling his Iran nuclear deal, that Iran could be a force for stability in the Middle East.)
Second, that Obama is entirely comfortable with the fact that the “stability” he wants in the Middle East would be accomplished by the force of arms of our enemies, to our strategic disadvantage and that of our ally, Israel. He either doesn’t understand or doesn’t care that a Russian and Iranian-dominated Middle East means war, not peace, and that such wars could engulf the whole region and us as well. When — not if — Iran achieves its nuclear weapons ambitions, that war could be the first in which nations exchange nuclear strikes against each other.
Obama has misplayed all our cards in the Middle East. There are none left for the next president except to gradually undo what Obama has done.
Obama’s policy has directly benefitted ISIS which, two years ago, he promised we would degrade and eventually destroy. Not only have ISIS, Russia, and Iran benefitted from his strategic mistakes, so has our supposed ally, Erdogan’s Turkey.
Of the world’s worst kept secrets — not counting all of those made available to our enemies by Hillary Clinton’s email system — Erdogan’s informal alliance with ISIS is one of the least talked about.
Since 2015 it has been obvious that Turkey has been buying a lot of the oil — as much as $2 million per day — shipped to it by ISIS. The money, of course, goes to fund ISIS troops, arms, and terrorism around the world.
The failed coup against Erdogan was an opportunity for the Turkish army to fulfill what had been, for decades, its duty under the Turkish constitution to maintain the non-sectarian government established after World War One by Kemal Ataturk. Erdogan used his allies in the Muslim Brotherhood to put down the coup and is now engaged in a purge to eliminate any opposition to his Islamist government.
The scope of Erdogan’s purge is breathtaking. According to various reports, about sixty thousand people have been arrested or fired from their jobs. They include not only the vestiges of the constitutionally minded military, but tens of thousands of judges, lawyers, teachers, university professors, and anyone suspected of even remotely opposing Erdogan’s determined effort to turn Turkey into an Islamist state.
The purge has been compared to Mao’s “Cultural Revolution” of the 1960s and 1970s. It is a revolutionary act which must have been years in the planning.
Though Erdogan cut off electricity to our remaining airbase in Turkey for about a day, Obama’s reaction has, so far, backed Erdogan to the hilt.
Turkey was once a cornerstone of NATO. Now it is an opponent. Regardless of its intent, and despite its hostility toward Russia, the fact that Turkey is eagerly helping ISIS makes it at least a de facto ally of Russia as well as Iran.
Erdogan has turned his nation into an enemy of ours and of the NATO alliance. It has been the pathway of ISIS fighters entering Europe. The million or more “Syrian refugees” now in Turkey are Erdogan’s sword against the NATO nations that fear another flood of refugees and the terrorists embedded among them.
There is no mechanism for one of the NATO members to be thrown out of the alliance. Unlike the EU’s Lisbon Treaty, which includes the Article 50 provision of a nation exiting the EU, the NATO treaty foresaw no need of one.
But any alliance can and must evolve. Donald Trump wants to abandon NATO but he should instead look to revive it and to gain the support of its other members to throw Turkey out of the alliance.
That would require a courage that neither the NATO members (who are also members of the EU) nor Trump have. That courage would require us to relocate the strategic Incirlik air base from Turkey. But there’s nowhere to go.
Turkey shares borders with Iran, Iraq, and Syria as well as the Caucasus. Its strategic value is incomparable in the region. A U.S. base in Jordan or Egypt could be substituted, but neither of those governments would host such a base. Israel might welcome one but, given Obama’s and Clinton’s consistent political rejection of its friendship, the opportunity may never arise. Israeli politics — and the growing strength of forces opposing Prime Minister Netanyahu — might not permit it.
The only answer would have been covert American support of Turkish political and military forces opposing Erdogan, aiming at his downfall. But that avenue has evidently been blocked by Erdogan’s purge of his opponents. So what’s left?
The answer is that our next president will have no good options to defeat ISIS and control Turkey’s Islamic radicalism.
In his acceptance of the Republican nomination, Trump said he would use the best intelligence, reject Bush’s policy of nation-building, and work with our regional allies to defeat ISIS. How that could be accomplished, given Turkey’s quasi-alliances with ISIS, Russia, and Iran, he didn’t explain.
Those ideas are nice, but they don’t fit in with the facts on the ground. If he’s elected, Trump will find his options limited to hard power that can only be used in confrontation with Russia, Iran, Turkey, and allies who refuse to cooperate. Clinton, a principal architect of Obama’s strategic mistakes, won’t even try to repair them.
The next president, whoever it is, will be challenged in his (or her) first six months in office by several crises including the continuing wars — and new wars — in the Middle East. It may seem that the world is rapidly falling into wars and that the seventy-year Pax Americana prevented with global American military power has unraveled. That won’t be an illusion.