The Coalition Air War in Syria and Iraq

The US led air war over Iraq and Syria began in August 2013, after the Islamic State’s rapid advances in Iraq threatened the Kurdish capital of Erbil. The war has expanded into Syria and the US has been joined by a sizable number of Arab and Western partners. To date, there have been 2,400 strike sorties and 10,000 bombs dropped from a variety of platforms, including strike aircraft, bombers, and unmanned drones.

What are the challenges the coalition faces? How does the no boots on the ground pledge impact targeting? What challenges to do drone pilots face when trying to provide close air support for coalition allied forces? To answer these questions and to get a sense of the current state of the air war, Aaron speaks with David Mujamdar, a defense reporter specializing in aerospace issues.

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Turkey Withdraws from Suleyman Shah: The Implications

What follows is a joint article with Michael Stephens, the Research Fellow for Middle East studies and Head of RUSI Qatar.

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Just days after finalizing an agreement to train a new rebel force inside Turkey to attack the Islamic State, Turkish forces moved into Syria to evacuate some 40 soldiers protecting the Suleyman Shah Tomb: a small Turkish enclave on the eastern bank of the Euphrates river, 30 kilometers from the Turkish border town of Karkamis. The operation included 39 tanks, 57 armored vehicles, and an estimated 572 military personnel. The soldiers removed the body of Suleyman Shah and transported his remains to an area just opposite the Turkish town of Esmeler.

The tomb lies on the M4 highway that runs West-East from the coastal city of Latakia across northern Syria to the Yaroubia border crossing with Iraq, via Aleppo. The highway serves as a main artery across the northern central part of Syria, and is a key supply route for anybody wishing to move supplies and personnel quickly back and forward across the country. In this instance between ISIS’ nominal capital Raqqa and the outskirts of Aleppo. The road was frequently in use by ISIS particularly for those units travelling between the town of Manbij and Raqqa. Indeed the rationale for the string of ISIS offensives launched against the Kurdish city of Kobane in 2014 (quite apart from their hatred of the PYD/YPG’s socialist ideology) was to protect this particular highway and afford ISIS logistical resilience and strategic depth for the main arteries running between its major population centres.  

M4

But it begs the question, if ISIS was able to pass by the Tomb on a daily basis, why did the Turks not consider the site to be under such threat that it needed to be forcibly evacuated? These points of interest should be considered:  

    • Something has changed: Since the rise of the Islamic State, Ankara has sought to tie the group’s defeat to that of regime change in Damascus. Ankara argues that the Islamic State is a symptom of Assad’s brutality, and should be dealt with as part of a broader military campaign to force the Syrian dictator from power. Ankara’s efforts to convince the coalition to widen its current air offensive have failed and Turkey recently reached an agreement with the United States to train a small group of rebels to fight ISIS. The introduction of these forces risks embroiling Turkey in a direct offensive against the ISIS: a policy it had hitherto avoided.
    • Given the intensity of the fighting in Kobane, the security environment around the tomb was simply too hostile for the Turks to attempt a rescue. The Turkish soldiers were in effect trapped inside the tomb complex for months, with the resupply by air complicated by MANPADS concerns, and the overland route blocked by ISIS forces. ISIS just chose not to fight with them out of desire to avoid opening up another front, this time against a nation state which it knew it could not defeat.
    • Similarly, ISIS feared that any engagement with Turkish forces could prompt Ankara to take further steps to impede the flow of fighters and cross border trade: both of which ISIS relies on to sustain its war in northern Syria and throughout Iraq.
    • The collapse of the ISIS offensive against Kobane and the subsequent advances made by the YPG and allied FSA groups towards the towns of Tel Abyad and Jarablus have been the major catalyst in bringing about a strategic shift for both ISIS and Turkey. In the absence of any strategic depth for its main supply corridor ISIS is likely to act in a less calculated fashion. No longer on the offensive, the Turks have calculated that ISIS may have little to lose. Either out of retribution, spite or simple petulance for the losses in the Kobane area the tomb becomes a legitimate target for withdrawing ISIS forces.
    • The Suleyman Shah Tomb was a soft target liable to fall into the hands of either ISIS or the YPG, offering a point of leverage to blackmail Ankara, and so the Turks moved to evacuate it. Ankara has fears that Kurdish control of the area would strengthen the YPG’s hand and by extension the PKK. ISIS strength in the area appears to be on the decline, and a possible withdrawal from Manbij would be filled most likely by a coalition of FSA and YPG led groups who the Turks cannot trust to maintain previously existing no-targeting agreements.
    • Relatedly, ISIS has a presence in Turkey. Its operatives continue to work with local Turks to facilitate the movement of fighters through the country and to sell oil and antiquities plundered. The coalition’s air attacks have decreased ISIS’ oil profits, thus increasing the group’s reliance on alternative means for financing. Turkey remains the main conduit for the group’s illicit trade. Consequently, the group has a number of cells operating inside Turkey, which could be used to carry out suicide attacks, should the tacit agreement with Ankara break down. Increasingly, there are signs that this is exactly what ISIS is planning.

Implications

First, the PYD (Democratic Union Party) have emerged as a powerful actor from this episode. That the Turks had to work with them to secure safe passage to the tomb shows a de facto recognition on Ankara’s part of the YPGs growing strength in North Central Syria. This does not indicate an alliance of any sort between the two sides. Mutual mistrust after perceived Turkish inaction in Kobane is high, and growing social unrest in the Turkish Kurdish towns of Cizre and Amed (Diyarbakir) demonstrates that cooperation over the Suleyman Shah withdrawal is nothing more than a moment of mutual agreement in an otherwise deeply hostile relationship. Against this backdrop, Qandil had expressed misgivings about the AKP led negotiations with Abdullah Ocalan, thus complicating the on-going efforts to reach a peace agreement between the Turkish state and Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Second, the PYD have chips to play. It was politically smart for the group to guarantee safe passage to the Turkish military. The PYD have sought to convince the Turkish state for some time now that they are not a threat to Ankara. Turkey has quietly acquiesced to this approach, albeit after working for months to marginalize the group via its preferred Kurdish interlocutor, Massoud Barzani. Turkey’s actions would not have been possible without the Kurdish and coalition’s advance. All the fuss about the rise of the PYD whom Ankara repeatedly calls a terrorist organisation seems to have been conveniently forgotten for the time being. Expediency trumps ideology it would seem.

Third, the operation shows just how far IS has been pushed back, after nearly over running the YPG in Kobane in early October. The PYD and FSA allied elements have intermittently shelled the IS stronghold of Jarabulus for the past week; signalling that it is indeed now the Kurds and the coalition that is on the offensive, rather than IS. Quite whether this has an effect on ISIS’ growing presence in Eastern Aleppo remains to be seen, but as with the Iraqi city of Mosul the weaknesses in ISIS’ overstretched supply lines are beginning to become apparent.

Fourth, the rift between Turkey and ISIS has grown to the point where Turkey feels its territory is directly threatened by the group. Turkey has been taking steps to stem the flow of illicit trade and human trafficking since February/March 2014. To be clear, these efforts could be augmented further. But long gone are the days of Turkey actively facilitating the movement of weapons and fighters to all areas of Syria carte blanche.

Domestic

Turkey is polarized. The opposition has already criticized the action, saying things along the lines of “Erdogan will go down in history, Kobane stood, while Suleyman Shah fell.”  

 Beyond this headline, the issue will have resonance for Turkey’s nationalist right, which has long prioritized the maintenance of the tomb in Syria.

Indeed, this political dynamic explains why Turkey moved the tomb to a location inside Syria (albeit just inside the officially demarcated border). The AKP is eager to protect its right wing flank from any encroachment from the MHP: a political party with which the AKP shares a small percentage of its political base. Far from fearing any encroachment from the political left (represented imperfectly by the CHP), the AKP has always feared the loss of small numbers to the MHP on its right.

Even a small loss of votes could have a large impact on the AKP’s overarching political goal: winning over 330 seats in the parliamentary election to allow for the rewriting of the constitution. The political signalling thus far indicates that the AKP is targeting the far right with its imagery and rhetoric.  

 

In short, the action may lead to criticism of the AKP, but much of that should be dismissed, in favor of a more pronounced focus on upcoming poll data indicating the popularity of the MHP.  With that said, the Kurds remains the kingmaker in Turkey and their decisions may well determine the AKP’s constitutional future. This requires watching closely how the Kurdish political movement responds to this incident and indeed whether it remains a politically salient issue after the media coverage subsides.

 Conclusion

 It is important to put this operation into perspective: Ankara launched a limited incursion to evacuate a tomb that had come under threat. The coalition, the Kurds, and the FSA did much of the heavy lifting. Turkey, however, has proven yet again that its role in the Syrian conflict must not be overlooked. It has links to all the main actors operating in northern Syria and is able to generally get its way with most of them, albeit with the occasional disagreement.

 The biggest change appears to be Ankara’s approach to ISIS. Since 2013, Turkey had treated ISIS as an irritant, rather than a major security threat, but the Suleyman Shah operation is the clearest sign to date that this approach is changing. However, it is far too early to determine whether this will result in Turkey changing its approach to the coalition’s military operations. All signs indicate that Turkey will not agree to increase its role in the coalition by opening up Incirlik Air Force base for armed strikes, or by allowing its planes to bomb ISIS directly.

 Turkey’s role will remain limited to the train and equip, intelligence sharing, and border enforcement, rather than engaging ISIS from the air. In fact one must consider that now that the potential embarrassment of an ISIS takeover of the Tomb has been avoided, Turkey will take a more relaxed stance to events south of its border, and it is unlikely that another Turkish military incursion will be repeated. It is more likely that Turkey will continue with the policy it has pursued thus far: border defense at airports, increased military deployments along certain areas of the border, and the training of the new rebel brigade with US assistance. This signals one key change: Turkey is now attacking ISIS through the use of proxies, which Ankara had previously rejected, in favor of focusing on Assad.

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Missile Confusion: Turkey’s Dance with the Chinese

I am confused. This morning, Anadolu Agency reported that Turkey’s Defense Minster, Ismet Yilmaz, wrote in response to a parliamentary question about Turkey’s missile defense tender that Turkey’s future system will “not be integrated” with NATO’s missile defense system.

Here is the tweet:

Reuters picked up on the story and wrote the following:

Turkey will go ahead with plans to order a $3.4-billion missile defense system from China, Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz said, despite U.S. and NATO concerns over security and compatibility of weaponry. Yilmaz said in a written response to a parliamentary question published on Thursday that Ankara will use the long-range system without integrating it with NATO’s system.  Turkey originally awarded the tender to China Precision Machinery Import and Export Corp in 2013, prompting U.S. and NATO officials to say the deal could raise questions over security. Turkey later said it was in talks with France on the issue, but Yilmaz said no new bids had been received. “The project will be financed with foreign financing. Work on assessing the bids has been completed and no new official bid was received,” the minister said.

As of January 2015, Turkey was reported to have decided to put-off “making a hasty ‘final-final’ decision” on the long-delayed T-LORAMIDS tender. The Turkish leadership, according to Burak Bekdil, was continuing discussions with the United States’ Lockheed Martin/Raytheon for the PATRIOT system and MBDA for the SAMP/T, but were watching how both countries’ governments handled the events surrounding the 100 year anniversary of the “Armenian Genocide.” According to Burak Bekdil’s report:

The procurement official did not comment directly on whether Congress’ decision would be a parameter in selecting a winner in the contract, or whether the US contender would be blacklisted for political reasons. But he said: “Our procurement decisions are not free of deliberations on foreign policy.” Both the procurement and defense officials said that although all three bidders are in the picture, they admitted that talks with CPMIEC have not been productive.” I cannot say negotiations with the Chinese contender have evolved as we expected,” the procurement official said. The defense official said: “[CPMIEC is] still in the game. But they don’t stand where they stood when we selected them. We expect all bidders to improve their offers in line with four criteria: better technological know-how, local participation, quick delivery and price.”Turkish procurement officials earlier admitted that technical negotiations with CPMIEC had dragged into several problematic areas and “this option now looks much less attractive than it did [in 2013].”

To add more fuel to the linkage between missile defense decision-making and the Armenian Genocide issue, Daily Sabah – a newspaper that, lets say, has strong ideological sympathies for the AKP – wrote the following:

Satire

Was this a Freudian slip, or did Yilmaz gaffe? Here is where the caveats have to come in: Yilmaz is not, lets say, a very strong Defense Minister. He is not exactly a known commodity in Turkey. I suspect that these types of decisions are above his pay-grade and the buck for these political sensitive decisions stops at a rather large office inside Ak Saray.

In any case, one can tease out three plausible explanations for Yilmaz’s comments. First, he gaffed and Reuters jumped the gun (likely). Second, he is trying to indirectly pressure the Europeans (the U.S. has little hope of winning this, unless Turkey changes its tender terms.) Third, it was a Freudian slip and Turkey has decided to purchase the HQ-9.

Option 1 may be the most plausible.

And for good measure:

But wait! To make things even more confusing, Yilmaz just double downed on his “we wont integrate the missile defense system” proclamation, per a CNNTurk tweet:

To recap: Turkey is still keeping its missile options open, but wont integrate the system it eventually chooses with NATO systems. On the technical side, the issue connecting explanations 2 and 3 is simple: Turkey, as a matter of state policy, has prioritized the development of an indigenous defense sector. To do so, Ankara conditions its purchase of foreign military equipment on offsets. According to the U.S. government, offsets can come in many forms. For example:

  • Offsets: Industrial compensation practices required as a condition of purchase in either government-to-government or commercial sales of defense articles and/or defense services as defined by the Arms Export Control Act and the International Traffic in Arms Regulations.
  • Military Export Sales: Exports that are either Foreign Military Sales (FMS) or commercial (direct) sales of defense articles and/or defense services as defined by the Arms Export Control Act and International Traffic in Arms Regulations.
  • Direct Offsets: Contractual arrangements that involve defense articles and services referenced in the sales agreement for military exports.
  • Indirect Offsets: Contractual arrangements that involve goods and services unrelated to the exports referenced in the sales agreement.
  • Co-production: Overseas production based upon government-to-government agreement that permits a foreign government(s) or producer(s) to acquire the technical information to manufacture all or part of a U.S. origin defense article. It includes government-to-government licensed production. It excludes licensed production based upon direct commercial arrangements by U.S. manufacturers.
  • Licensed Production: Overseas production of a U.S. origin defense article based upon transfer of technical information under direct commercial arrangements between a U.S. manufacturer and a foreign government or producer.
  • Subcontractor Production: Overseas production of a part or component of a U.S. origin defense article. The subcontract does not necessarily involve license of technical information and is usually a direct commercial arrangement between the U.S. manufacturer and a foreign producer.
  • Overseas Investment: Investment arising from the offset agreement, taking the form of capital invested to establish or expand a subsidiary or joint venture in the foreign country.
  • Technology Transfer: Transfer of technology that occurs as a result of an offset agreement and that may take the form of: research and development conducted abroad; technical assistance provided to the subsidiary or joint venture of overseas investment; or other activities under direct commercial arrangement between the U.S. manufacturer and a foreign entity.

Turkey’s emphasis on this strategy has long transcended politics. During the 1990s, for example, Ankara’s defense relationship with Israel was based – at least in part – on Tel Aviv’s willingness to play ball with Turkey’s defense industry (and overlook human rights concerns while doing so).

The key difference in this regard is twofold: First, the AKP has adopted anti-western rhetoric to bolster its populist appeal. The rhetoric, while based on genuine political disagreements, is nonetheless an election tactic designed to reinforce the AKP’s post-Gezi/17 December political narrative. Second, missile defense, since 2010, is now a central part of the Alliance’s commitment to burden sharing and collective defense.

NATOMissileOffsets are one thing. The Alliance is another. If Yilmaz’s statement is accurate, than we have a problem. Turkey’s standard argument is that other NATO states – and in particular Greece and the Baltics – have Russian/Soviet systems that are outside of NATO’s emerging missile defense network. Turkey therefore will not be the only member with an independent missile defense system. True. But those systems predate the inclusion of missile defense as a key component of the Alliance’s updated approach to collective security. (And the Cyprus S-300 issue has its roots in Turkey’s objection to the system. Greece has also purchased Patriot, even using them to paint Turkish F-4s during the annual summer dog fights over the Aegean that cost both countries millions in wasted dollars.)

Ankara also argues, albeit indirectly, that they worry about the use of their systems for an “out of area conflict.” Thus, during a conflict with a  neighboring country in the Middle East, Turkey wants the flexibility to use the system as it pleases, rather than face potential restraints should it go to war with an adversary that the West has no appetite to fight.  (Syria is a good example of this, but there is another, smaller, state that comes to mind that shall remain nameless.)

These arguments have their merits, but they miss the point. Ankara’s pursuit of offsets and its concerns about fire control are political – and thereby can be addressed via other means within the Alliance itself. If Ankara does opt to go outside of the Alliance structure, it will undermine the concept of collective security at a time when it relies on NATO PATRIOT batteries forward deployed in Turkey for defense against Syrian Scud attacks.

The timing of Yilmaz’s statement could not have come at a worse time. In the past few months, Russia has invaded a sovereign country, increased the number of (presumably nuclear armed) bomber flights around various NATO states, got caught running subs through Sweden’s archipelago, and is developing a new cruise missile. (Hint: At least one is aimed at a target in Turkey. Bank on that.)

As Jeffrey Lewis and I have spoken about on our weekly podcast, Russian policy vis-a-vis NATO is to try and split the alliance, which thereby weakens the collective response to issues like, say, the blatant invasion of a neighboring country under entirely false pretenses. This is why Turkey’s decision-making matters. Neither the PATRIOT or SAMP/T would be used to defend Europe proper: the systems are battle field systems, designed primarily to target shorter range ballistic missiles (think Syria, not Russia. The HQ-9 is sold as an AWACS killer and not a missile defense system per se, but I digress). But that is not the point.

The point is that Turkey is a member of NATO. NATO is a collective defense organization. And in 2010, Turkey and its NATO allies agreed to a Strategic Concept that identified missile defense as a key component of its approach to collective security – which Turkey currently relies on for ballistic missile defense. The European system is a smarter choice for a whole host of technical reasons; not the least of which is that they can plug it into the US funded command and control system, which then would allow for the system to access cueing data from the TPY/2 down the road in Kürecik.

This decision, regardless of the technical merits of the systems under consideration, is political. Ankara will, in all likelihood, never be able to export a viable missile defense system, which means it will probably never get a good return on its investment. The intention is different: develop an industrial base to support a defense sector, rather than missiles in particular. Political.

As for Turkish defense policy, that decision too is political. NATO asks that missile defense be part of a collective approach to security issues. NATO guarantees Turkish security. Turkey’s faith in that guarantee is, at its core, political. So this decision would give is a good sense of which way the political winds in Ankara now blow.

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After Kobane: Turkey’s New Pan-Kurdish Nationalism

The PYD’s victory in Kobane has had a tremendous impact on Turkey’s Kurdish political movement. The feeling of Pan-Kurdish solidarity with Rojava – three autonomous cantons in neighboring Syria – has complicated the AKP and Abdullah Ocalan led efforts to strike a peace accord. The situation remains fluid, but schisms inside the AKP and the Kurdish political movement appear to have grown over two inter-related issues: Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s quest for an executive presidency and the PKK’s withdrawal from Turkey. Is the peace process beholden to Erdogan’s Presidential ambitions? How has Kobane changed the nature of Pan-Kurdish politics? Will the HDP’s electoral strategy backfire?

To answer these questions, Aaron spoke with Amberin Zaman, the Turkey correspondent for The Economist and a columnist for Turkey’s Taraf newspaper, about the state of Kurdish politics in Turkey today.

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Turkey’s Stunted Democracy

There is a general consensus that Turkey is amid an authoritarian backslide. Is it as bad as generally believed? Are things better than they are made out to be? Is Turkey a one-man state with Erdogan at the head and everyone following?

To get to the bottom of these issues I spoke with Howard Eissenstat, an assistant professor of Middle East history at St. Lawrence University.

Stunted Democracy: Erdoğan, the AKP, and Turkey’s Slide into Authoritarianism – by Howard Eissenstat | Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED)

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Cizre and the New Turkey’s Kurdish Problem

 

In the small Kurdish-majority city of Cizre, Kurdish affiliates of the PKK have been digging trenches to prevent Turkish security forces from entering the city center. In recent weeks, two Kurdish children have been killed during these clashes. Against this backdrop, a large majority of Kurds in Turkey have identified with their counterparts in the besieged Kurdish town of Kobane – the small enclave that has been under siege by Islamic State forces since summer 2014. The PYD-IS clashes prompted more pronounced calls for unity through out the Kurdish majority areas in the Middle East.

In today’s podcast, Aaron first speaks with Noah Blaser about the political impact of the Cizre clashes in Turkey. Later, Aaron is joined by Cale Salih for an in-depth discussion about the politics of the Kurdish movement more broadly and how Kobane and the wars in Iraq and Syria have affected the Kurdish movement.

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The New Turkey and Saudi Arabia’s New King

*Authors note: For a far more detailed analysis about the death of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, please read my RUSI colleague, Michael Stephens’, excellent piece over at Al Jazeera English. 

In recent years, the Turkish-Saudi relationship has come under strain, owing to the two countries’ numerous differences about the role of political Islam in the Middle East. The AKP’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, combined with Saudi Arabia’s efforts to roll back the group’s political gains after the Arab Spring have pitted these two powerful states against one another in numerous political – and, at times, military – proxy battles. The current dynamics in the relationship do not portend any major changes. Turkey remains wedded to what it is calling a “principled foreign policy” of support for its conception of democracy (more on this in a moment). Saudi Arabia, in contrast, is facing numerous challenges, from the crisis in Yemen to the unique threat posed by the Islamic State. The current Turkish-Saudi relationship will have implications for US, Western, and Arab policymakers, as they seek to continue their efforts to roll back the Islamic State’s military gains in Iraq and Syria.

Foreign Policy: The Drivers of Turkish-Saudi Tensions

Following the AKP’s election in 2002, it initially adopted a multipronged approach to foreign policy that blended certain elements of strategic depth with realpolitik (which the AKP dubbed ostpolitik, in reference to the West German Cold War-era foreign policy of normalising relations with its communist neighbour, the German Democratic Republic). The result was that Ankara’s early handling of regional affairs was at times at odds with a number of Davutoglu’s assertions about failed political ideologies in much of the Middle East.

Turkey abandoned ostpolitik at the height of the Arab Revolts and sought to empower its preferred political allies: The Muslim Brotherhood. This policy was not at odds with Turkey’s historic approach to regional affairs; in fact, in post-invasion Iraq and in Palestine, Ankara pursued similar policies. However, their actions in Egypt – which differed considerably from their handling of the Arab revolts in Tunisia and, at first, Libya and Syria – the AKP’s policy of unabashed support for the Brotherhood placed it on a collision course with Saudi Arabia.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, most notably in his book, Strategic Depth, makes the case that the “archaic regimes” in the Middle East are illegitimate, destined to fail, and eventually be replaced by government’s more representative of what he calls “the Muslim masses.” In 2011, he paraphrased his lengthy argument in an interview with AUC Egypt. In response to a question about whether or not Turkey “saw the Arab Spring coming,” he said:

From our point of view, it was expected; we were aware of the urgent need for change and democratic transformation in the region. As you might remember, in my book Strategic Depth (April 2001) I have underlined that the stability and political experience in the Arab states were not based on social legitimacy, and that stability was worthless. Likewise, I have also asserted that the transformation in Arab nationalism and the political legitimacy crises in the Arab world would affect the political leadership structures of those countries. As such, from the early years of the previous decade, we started emphasizing the importance of introducing political and economic reforms and upholding dignity, human rights and freedoms, as well as universal values such as the rule of law, transparency, accountability, and gender equality in the region.

In 2012, Davutoglu sought to enumerate the new “principles” of Turkish foreign policy. The principles paraphrase assertions made in the book, but are nevertheless relevant to help understand the AKP’s perception of the Saudi regime – and more importantly, how it it is representative of a faux-pact made with Western policymakers that explains the root causes of instability in the Middle East. According to Davutoglu:

…We believed that the youth demonstrating in the streets represented the future of the region and their aspirations needed to be taken into account…In fact, this was a delayed transformation and was long overdue. All these transitions to democracy…should have been achieved in the Middle East in the 1990s as the Cold War’s downfall was instigating an international wave of democratization. But, unfortunately at the time, the preference of major powers was more for stability than democracy in this region, and the archaic regimes continued existence with their backing. As the region was undergoing such a political earthquake, we aspired to position ourselves on the right side of the history and decided to make our humble contribution to this epic democratic struggle.

In the article, “The Clash of Interests: An Explanation of the World [Dis]Order,” Davutoglu blamed the region’s instability on the import of Western political constructs like ethnic nationalism, arguing that the rulers who have embraced these concepts have lost their political legitimacy, having to rely instead on repression to remain in power. In parallel, the West adopted the discourse of Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order (1996) and Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man (1992), to justify a post-Cold War policy of political expansion.In the words of Davutoglu:

This approach becamethe intellectual vanguardand secular baptismal creed of the universal democratic crusade in the name of New World Order. It was found convenient by US foreign poliry makers because it provided them, during the Gulf War, with the necessary political rhetoric needed to mobilize the whole world with the necessary political rhetoric needed to mobilize the whole world for the achievement of their own strategic planning in the Gulf War.

The Muslim World, he argued, was under threat, owing the rapid expansion of “Western civilization.” The people who resisted the wholesale adoption of Western norms – whether they be the distinctly western concept of Secularism, capitalism, etc. – were dubbed as “backwards” and thus subjected to orientalist – and Islamaphobic – description. As part of this discourse, the West, he argued, inflated the threat posed terrorism and unjustly equated it with Islam. The Arab rulers, in turn, sought to take advantage of this emerging narrative and rebranded themselves as bulwarks against the threat posed by “radical Islam.” These “archaic regimes” entered into an agreement with the West: The West should maintain their support for the regimes, despite them not being being democratic, because both countries had an interest in hyping up the threat posed by “Islamic terror.” For the West, it retained its influence in the Gulf – which would be eroded by a transition to a more democratic system of governance. And the Gulf monarchies retained their support from the West – which the rulers needed to retain their hold on power.

The Arab Spring, the AKP has argued, upset this dynamic and was a natural manifestation of the people’s desire to move away from dictatorship and towards a government more representative of the “Muslim masses.” In this regard, the war in Syria is about far more than just the ousting of Assad for the AKP. The war has, in fact, become a microcosm for the AKP’s approach to regional affairs. The increasing calls for the West and its Arab coalition partners to cooperated with Assad – and Iran, for that matter – is directly at odds with this paradigm and, more broadly, the AKP’s vision. (One must keep in mind that this vision was not entirely incorporated in to Turkish foreign policy until 2012.) Moreover, it is representative of what the AKP feels is wrong with the region: The West, in an effort to prevent “Islamists” from gaining power will make the choice to reach an agreement with a secular dictator. This dictator will, in turn, receive the tacit support of Arab regimes, whose very survival depends on these dynamics. It is a lose-lose for Ankara. And this is why – beyond all of the very real and rational reasons to target Assad’s forces as a means to end the Syrian civil war – that they are so focused on Assad.

This approach explains this statement:

More broadly, this point of view about the future of the region paints a picture of continued tension with Saudi Arabia. In general, the two share an interest in overthrowing Assad and, in general, share a discomfort about the Houthi advance in Yemen (In this interview, for example, Davutoglu pulls no punches and calls Iran “sectarian” and lists Saudi Arabia as being one of many “political actors that are scared of democracy. These states prefer autocrats to govern their country…”) Thus, beyond this narrow overlap of interest, the two countries have a sharply different world view and conception for the future of region. For Turkey, Saudi Arabia is an “archaic regime,” wedded to a foreign policy that bears considerable responsibility for regional instability. Turkey, in contrast, is standing up for human rights and democracy For the Saudis, Turkey is seen as a source of instability, owing to its support for the Muslim Brotherhood and, in Syria, a slew of rebel groups that the Kingdom has deemed too radical.

 

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