LONDON — Speaking at Harvard University earlier this month, Vice President Joe Biden set the tone for a heated and tenacious debate on the political, ideological and hegemonic interests of Middle Eastern powers within the context of the global war on terror.
Pointing an angry finger at Turkey, among others, Biden said, “Our allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria.”
He explained: “[Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates] were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war” that they channeled “hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of weapons” toward anyone who would fight against Bashar Assad. “And we could not convince our colleagues to stop supplying them.”
While Biden has since issued a series of apologies to the various states he singled out in his tirade, the idea that governments could be playing and trading terror as a commodity to assert, serve and carry out their hegemonic ambitions has taken center stage in a new discussion among analysts, bringing into focus an emerging new Middle East order.
With Kobani fast attracting the world’s attention, especially in light of Turkey’s refusal to engage ISIS troops, even though its very border stands to be breached by the formidable black army, Ankara’s strategy and its officials’ positions toward Islamic radicalism have drawn not only criticism but suspicion.
As noted by Veli Sirin in a report for the Gatestone Institute, “Turkey under a stronger Erdogan presidency may become more Islamic, more neo-Ottoman, and more directed to the East rather than the West.”
“Neo-Ottoman” and “Islamic” seem very much the order of the day when referring to Turkey and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s foreign agenda, which supported the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, which later merged with the Nusra Front and ISIS — especially vis-a-vis the rise of ISIS in the greater Levant.
According to many, Erdogan’s alleged shadow games with ISIS represent little more than the manifestations of a desire to see rise a new Ottoman Empire, the impetus of which will be fed by ISIS crusaders. Egypt’s foreign ministry issued a statement in September, slamming Erdogan for his promotion of terror in the region. The statement read, “The Turkish President, who is keen to provoke chaos to sow divisions in the Middle East region through its support for groups and terrorist organizations … Whether political support or funding or accommodation in order to harm the interests of the peoples of the region to achieve personal ambitions for the Turkish president and revive illusions of the past.”
Even more damaging was the April publication of Seymour Hersh’s work, “The Red Line and the Rat Line,” in which the veteran journalist argues Turkey would have orchestrated the Ghouta sarin gas attack in order to drag the United States into a war.
The very existence of the Free Syrian Army has also been pinned to Turkey, raising some questions as to the group’s intentions, motivations and methods, as noted by Aron Lund, editor of the Carnegie Endowment for Peace’s Syria in Crisis Blog in an article titled, “The Free Syrian Army Doesn’t Exist.”
Erdogan’s imperial nostalgia
Erdogan is described as a keen geo-strategist and astute politician by Marwa Osman, a PhD candidate and political analyst based in Beirut. She told MintPress News, “Recep Tayyip Erdogan has the ambition and the drive of the Ottomans.”
“Erdogan has been actively dismantling Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s secular legacy by eroding at the republic, slowly reshaping Turkey’s political and institutional apparatus in view of introducing a neo-Ottoman empire. Erdogan’s Islamic narrative is but a platform for his imperialistic ambitions. He seeks to re-establish Turkey as the center of the Sunni Islamic world and eclipse both Saudi Arabia and Iran in terms of religious and political influence in the region,” she continued.
Erdogan’s imperialistic drive was also underscored by Robert David Kaplan and Reva Bhalla in analysis for Stratfor in August, which stated: “Erdogan … has stressed the soft power of cultural and economic connections to recreate in a benign and subtle fashion a version of the Ottoman Empire from North Africa to the Iranian plateau and Central Asia.”
Very much in keeping with what late Marshall G.S. Hodgson of the University of Chicago described as Islam’s merchant-religion phenomenon as the basis of Islamic expansion and political patronage in the Middle Ages, Erdogan has worked to expand Turkey’s commercial and diplomatic network to better lean on its partners and affirm its position as the region’s main axis.
“The use of terror as a neo-imperialistic weapon has been seen as opportune to Erdogan’s plan,” said Alissa Haddad, a political researcher based in Paris, to MintPress.
She added, “I would say that Ankara is playing terror to further its ambitions. It’s not so much the case it engineered the inception of ISIS, but rather that it nurtured its rise to achieve immediate political gains — namely, the fall of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad in Syria.”
Complicit in the rise of ISIS?
Finian Cunningham, a journalist and well-known commentator, wrote in a report for Global Research: “At the same time Erdogan was denouncing Syria as a ‘terrorist state,’ some 400 members of the self-styled Free Syrian Army were gathering in Turkey’s Hatay Province for a three-day summit. The agenda? How to sharpen their campaign of terror on Syria to overthrow the government in Damascus.”
Cunningham essentially argues that Erdogan has willingly and knowingly abetted militants to further his political goals in Syria, regardless of the risks it would ultimately pose to the greater region. He also suggests that Erdogan’s Islamic views are not as remote from ISIS ideology as Erdogan would like the world to believe — especially when it comes to using violence and repression as tools on civilian populations.
“For the past 17 months, the Turkish government and military have been brazenly assisting the armed militias waging a foreign-backed covert war of aggression against the neighboring Syrian state and people. Turkey has provided the criminal war effort with land bases, logistics and surveillance, personnel training and weapons, including anti-aircraft missiles, according to recent reports,” he writes.
As lines have been blurred between ISIS militants and the Free Syrian Army, both entities have more often than not appeared as two faces of the same terror coin, with only variable degrees of terror to differentiate them.
Back in February, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies wrote a damaging report which asserted that Turkey “has become a principal financial hub for terrorists under the leadership of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose government has helped Iran skirt sanctions, supported jihadi groups in Syria.”
The case of Kobani
Commenting on what she describes as Turkey’s terror puppet show in the Middle East, Osman, the PhD candidate in Beirut, told MintPress she believes Turkey’s refusal to actively intervene in Kobani only serves to prove its guilt and underscores its affiliation to radicalism.
“Turkey has become the epicenter of Islamic radicalism … I don’t actually like to refer to this radical movement as Islamic, since it bears no resemblance or even links to Islam, but the truth of the matter is, President Erdogan has had a hand in the promotion of terror in Syria and beyond ever since 2011.”
Osman added, “Should further proof still need to be set forth, I’d like to refer to the murder of Serena Shim by Turkey’s Intelligence Services this Sunday. Serena uncovered proof of Ankara’s ties with ISIS while reporting for Press TV in Kobani and upon her return on Turkish soil she was murdered. Turkey is hoping with her death to prevent evidence of its dealing with ISIS from being made public. This is what Turkey is really up to in Kobani, this is why Ankara has not lifted a finger.”
Yet Ankara presents a different version of these events.
President Erdogan told the press on Sunday that, “Turkey would not agree to any U.S. arms transfers to Kurdish fighters [PYD] who are battling ISIS militants in Syria,” as Ankara understands the Syrian Kurdish group as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Turkey sees as a terrorist group.
“The PYD is for us, equal to the PKK. It is a terror organization,” Erdogan stressed.
While Erdogan might understand his position as legitimate within the framework of his political narrative, Ankara and ISIS have nevertheless increasingly become associated. At times, the latter is even referred to as the ideological extension of the former.