Turkey’s Purge

turkish-flagErdogan was gleeful during the coup, and he has used it to clean house.

The number of people arrested with alleged links to the plot reached 7,543. They included more than 6,000 soldiers, 100 police officers, 755 judges and prosecutors and 650 civilians.

Earlier Monday, a senior security official told the Reuters news agency that 8,000 police officers, including those based in the capital Ankara and the biggest city Istanbul, had been removed from their posts on suspicion of links to last weekend’s abortive government takeover.

It seems very unlikely to me that all these people were linked to the coup. Instead most of them were probably on lists of enemies that Erdogan already wanted to get rid of.

Turkey’s remaining secular culture will now be strangled.  Erdogan wants to bring back capital punishment for those “involved” in the coup, saying his followers demand it.

The world continues to darken.  The great project for a secular Middle East, which was championed by many who lived there, appears dead and the Islam that is replacing it, with a few exceptions, tends not to be particularly humane.

This is far more important than whether Melania Trump plagiarized part of her speech, a sin which most ordinary people (contra the media) consider venial at best.

Update: the resignation of all public university Deans in Turkey has now been demanded.

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Russia Sells Six to Seven Billion Dollars of Planes After Syria

Not a bad return indeed:

What I wrote November 13th, 2015:

What is happening in Syria is a demonstration that Russia can be counted on to help its allies—meaning its customers. It is a demonstration that Russia’s new weapons, and particularly its cruise missiles and airpower, are comparable to US product, and maybe, even in the case of its most advanced fighter/bomber, better.

It is a demonstration that if you buy Russian you aren’t buying crap that US-supplied forces can roll right over any more.

Putin: If he’s not the world’s most capable leader, he’s certainly in the running. One doesn’t have to like him, or approve of him, to acknowledge this.

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Guardian Pushes for Western Countries Involvement in Invasion of Syria

So, Michael Clarke in the Guardian writes that the Saudi Arabian threat to invade Syria isn’t credible (it isn’t, if acting alone, but Saudi Arabia claims Turkey is onside, and Turkey is a credible threat.)

He then goes on as follows:

Militarily, the Saudi threat issued at Munich has to be made credible. If a ceasefire does not materialise soon, the Russians, Iranians and Assad himself have no incentives to quit while they are ahead. Only the possibility of Arab ground forces, from Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the UAE, heavily backed by western logistics and intelligence, air power and technical specialists, could force Assad and his backers to make a strategic choice in favour of cessation. Only the US could make that work for the Saudis and others – and only Britain could bring along other significant European allies.

So, he wants America involved in this invasion in a big, visible way, along with Europe.

The sheer crazy here is awe-inspiring. Clarke believes that a “vengeful Assad” would be a huge problem for the West if he reconstitutes Syria.

Big enough to risk nuclear war?


It’s a small country, destroyed by war, run by a pragmatist. I suppose it is possible Assad could sponsor terrorism, but he’s unlikely to risk anything truly large that would entail risking his own life in retaliation, nor could he expect Russia to defend him if he was truly sponsoring terrorism.

There is nothing in Syria, and never was, that was worth a war there, at least not for the West. Destabilizing Syria has caused nothing but headaches for the West, including the current refugee crisis, which is likely to seen, historically, as one of the causes of the EU either breaking up or becoming a largely toothless and ceremonial organization.  (The main cause will be that the EU cripples its own members economically.)

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I am shocked at the level of political thinking which the Guardian considers worth publishing. Truly shocked, not just rhetorically. Insane NeoCon warmongering is one thing when you’re dealing with countries like Iraq and Libya, it is another when you are dealing with a country where one of the world’s great nuclear powers is currently fighting.

Stupidity like this could get a lot of people very dead, and not just Middle Eastern people the West doesn’t care about.

Nothing in Syria is worth risking a war with Russia over. Nothing.



Saudi Arabia & Turkey to Invade Syria?

It’s hard for me to credit anyone for being so careless, but the Independent reports that:

Saudi Arabia is sending troops and fighter jets to Turkey’s Incirlik military base ahead of a possible ground invasion of Syria.

“At every coalition meeting we have always emphasised the need for an extensive result-oriented strategy in the fight against the Daesh terrorist group.

“If we have such a strategy, then Turkey and Saudi Arabia may launch an operation from the land.”

So… they will claim that they are fighting ISIS, which is, by this point, I suppose, traditional. Turkey is already shelling Kurdish positions in northern Syria.

Of course, Saudi Arabia is not credible on this (at least with regards to a large commitment), with their involvement in Yemen, especially as they are also considering invading that country.  But Turkey is. I hope this is just bluster, intended to sway negotiations.

If it isn’t, this is a fiasco, a catastrophe, waiting to happen. Unlike the other foreign forces with boots on the ground (Iraq, Iran, Hezbollah, Russia), these forces would obviously not be invited by the Syrian government.

Syrian forces, backed by Russian airpower, are now fighting quite close to the Turkish border. Their aim has been to close that border so that various rebels (including ISIS) can’t receive supplies from Turkey.

It should be pointed out that if Daesh/ISIS has a government ally in the world, it is Turkey. As for Saudi Arabia, well, Daesh’s theology is a very close descendant of their branch of Islam.

Perhaps more to the point, all those armies tromping around in a rather small country risks war between Russia/Syria/Hezbollah and Saudi Arabia/Turkey.

Russian supply lines to Syria are not the best, to put it mildly. Turkey can close the direct sea route from Sevastopol, and alternative routes require going through some dangerous territory.

I wonder what Russia would do in such a situation. The Turkish military is very large and right on the border. A Turkish attack on Syria can’t be considered an existential threat to Russia, so Russian nuclear doctrine doesn’t call for use of battlefield nukes, but… I get twitchy when a NATO member goes up against Russia, and Turkey is a member of NATO.

Russia created “facts on the ground,” which have led to a realization that Assad will probably survive and that the rebels are doomed.

It seems those who wanted Assad gone the most now want to create their own “counter-facts” on the ground. Either they get rid of Assad in peace deals (assuming they avoid outright conflict), or they divide up Syria, with Turkey getting a good chunk of it.

That’s the plan. If they do invade, I find myself almost hoping the plan “works,” because if it doesn’t “work” that will most likely be because of general war between the powers.

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This is an absolute catastrophe waiting to happen. I find it unlikely this could be done without the US’s approval, and, given Obama’s recent statement about how Russia should stop hitting “moderate” opposition targets in Syria, I can only assume he’s greenlighted this.

Were I in the White House, I’d be telling Saudi Arabia and Turkey not to. If they insisted on doing it anyway, I’d go public with a warning not to, and a UN Security Council motion with the US voting against Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

And let’s be perfectly, brutally frank here: If they want to do this, I’d tell Turkey that NATO’s “an attack on one is an attack on all” principle will not apply here. You do this, we’re not getting into a nuclear war for you. This is not self-defense.

As for Saudi Arabia, I’d have a pointed conversation about the price of oil and their budget. However, as much as they think the price of oil will increase if there is a war in Syria, their economy is still in bad shape, and the US could total it tomorrow if they chose to–simply through Treasury sanctions. Likewise, an end to parts and ammunition for their military would curtail them.

These are stern, even radical steps. Avoiding a war with Russia justifies them. There is nothing in Syria worth the risk of having all these armies stomping around, especially after Turkey has already shot down one Russian plane.

Jeremy Corbyn and the Syrian Bombing Vote

So, today there will be a vote in the UK House of Commons to determine whether the UK should bomb Syria.

The Conservatives and the Liberal-Democrats will vote yes. The SNP will vote no. And Corbyn has allowed Labour party members to vote according to their consciences.

This is a close vote, but even if every Labour party member voted no, the motion would fail.

Nonetheless, much of the media is blaming Corbyn for the possibility of bombing.

Seventy-five percent of Labour party members are against bombing Syria, and the logic on the side of not bombing Syria is strong; interventions in the Middle East since 9/11 have seen an inexorable rise in terrorism rather than a decrease.

But there is more to consider. Corbyn has always said he would bring more democracy to Labour, and this is in line with that promise. This is a case of one principle “no war” going against another principle “more democracy.”

Also, letting Labour MPs vote against bombing Syria, when the majority of Labour party members are for it, may be very smart politics. Smoke the pro-war MPs out, let them run up their flags, and when the time comes for candidate selection, well, everyone will know who is for war. The majority of voters selecting candidates are free to use the next election to ensure that Corbyn has a party of MPs who are anti-war. This gives him a much stronger hand.

The Labour party has been rife with backbiting since Corbyn won. The majority of MPs did not want him as leader, do not want him as leader, and have been doing what they can to weaken him.

Corbyn cannot deal with this alone. It must be dealt with by the membership, who must get rid of those members. Corbyn does have limited ability as leader to flush them out, but he can hardly refuse to sign nomination papers from 60 percent of MPs. They have to be sent packing by the membership.

So, if you are a British Labour member, remember who voted for war and turf them.

Correction: I had the math wrong on the vote. If every Labor member voted “nay,” it would not make a difference without a lot of Conservative members also voting against.

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Examining Turkey’s Shoot Down of a Russian Jet

First, the ostensible reason for this incident is the Turkmen rebels in Syria. Erdogan summoned the Russian ambassador earlier this week to warn against strikes against the Turkmen in Syria.

Second, it’s worth considering that much of this is about Turkish domestic politics. Erdogan is playing to the crowd, in the same way done by jingoistic politicians all over the world.

Then there is Putin’s statement:

This event is beyond the normal framework of fighting against terrorism. Of course our military is doing heroic work against terrorism… But the loss today is a stab in the back, carried out by the accomplices of terrorists. I can’t describe it in any other way. Our aircraft was downed over the territory of Syria, using air-to-air missile from a Turkish F-16. It fell on the Syrian territory 4km from Turkey.

We will analyse everything, and today’s tragic event will have significant consequences, including for Russia-Turkish relations. We have always treated Turkey as a friendly state. I don’t know who was interested in what happened today, certainly not us. And instead of immediately getting in contact with us, as far as we know, the Turkish side immediately turned to their partners from Nato to discuss this incident, as if we shot down their plane and not they ours.

So, Putin is saying that Turkey is the “accomplice of terrorists.” Because the preponderance of evidence is that Turkey has been keeping supply lines open for ISIS, I would tend to agree. But something being true, and something being stated by the leader of a Great Power are two different things. Putin calling Erdogan an accomplice of terrorists is a big deal.

Russia can retaliate in a number of ways, from the obvious (shooting down a Turkish jet in a “tit-for-tat”), to the brutal (cutting Turkey off from natural gas this winter) to the subtle (taking the Turkish PKK under wing and becoming their new sponsors, while providing the Turks in general with equipment such as man portable anti-air missiles and anti-tank weapons).

Bear in mind that the Turkish military is very large, with a pile of tanks. They have, however, spent their recent history mostly in anti-insurgency efforts (burning Turkish villages, rape and torture, the usual), and anti-insurgency tends to degrade militaries.  It is also an open question how much the purges of the officer corps have affected the military.

NATO and President Obama have both made supportive sounds, so Russia and Putin are likely to lump in the West with Turkey in this matter.

I feel I should point out the obvious, once more. Russia is still a nuclear armed state with enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world multiple times over. A confrontation between NATO and Russia is not acceptable to anyone even remotely sane.

Finally, there is the question of whether or not the Russian jet was in Turkish airspace. The Turks claim it was (for a few seconds), the Russians claim it wasn’t. I certainly don’t know which is true.

But over-fussiness about a few seconds strikes me as absurd. The US routinely violates virtually every country in the world’s airspace. Turkey and everyone else in the region routinely violates Syrian airspace, while Russia actually has permission to be there.

I believe that countries should not violate each other’s airspace. And I would be willing to support that principle in a world where that was the practice, but it is not.

That said, the real rule of airspace is: “Can you shoot me down?” And Syria’s answer is: “No.” But Russia’s answer Russia is: “Yes,” and Russia could decide to defend Syria’s airspace from Turkey at the request of the Syrian government.

All of this is vastly complicated by geography. Turkey can close off the Black Sea from the Mediterranean any time it wants. This means that Russia’s supplies to Syria must go through either Iran and Iraq, or it must come the long way around from the Baltic Sea.

By and large, however, this entire exercise stinks of hypocrisy. The fact is that despite all the screaming and the rhetoric almost no one actually wants to defeat ISIS. Turkey definitely doesn’t want to, the US doesn’t want to because its allies like Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and Israel in varying degrees support ISIS, and the West in general doesn’t want to (as with France bombing empty depots in response to the Paris attacks; sound and fury accomplishing nothing.)

Russia wants to support the Syrian government, and the first thing Russia wants to do is seal the Turkish border in order to cut off ISIS’s main supply line and source of recruits.

That is what this is really about. Turkey wants what remains of the Syrian state to collapse or to become a puppet (thus “Assad Must Go”).  The goals of the two states are in direct opposition. And Erdogan has just made it clear in how much direct opposition.

This particular incident is about ISIS only indirectly, but be clear: The only people who really want to defeat ISIS are Russia, Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, the Kurds, and Iraq. No one else of significance does.

Your deaths in Paris and elsewhere, children, whatever hypocrisy Western leaders like Hollande may spew, are acceptable collateral casualties to your masters. They will turn Europe into a police state in an attempt to root out ISIS cells (and because they wanted a police state already and this is a great excuse), but they are not actually serious about defeating ISIS.

(Addendum, Obama’s statement:

President Obama noted that it was important to ensure that Russia and Turkey continue to talk to each other, but went on to say: “This points to an ongoing problem with the Russian operation, in the sense that they are operating very close to the Turkish border and going after moderate opposition supported by Turkey and a wide range of countries.”

Anyone who says “moderation opposition” is either abysmally stupid or lying. (Again, no Western country is serious about defeating ISIS.))

(Addendum #2, Lieutenant General Sergei Rudskoy:

Now the General Staff is elaborating additional security measures for the Russian airbase.

First: All the activities of the attack aviation will be carried out only under cover of fighter aircraft.

Second: Air defence will be reinforced. For that purpose, the Moskva cruiser equipped with air defence system Fort analogous to the S-300 one will go to the shore zone of Latakia. Russian Defence Ministry warns that all the potentially dangerous targets will be destroyed.

Third: Contacts with Turkey will be terminated at the military level».)

Ouch. AKA, “Don’t try that again unless you want an actual fight.”)

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Turkey Shoots Down Russian Jet

Turkey claims it was in Turkish airspace, Russia claims it was in Syrian airspace.

Remember, ISIS gets a lot of its supplies and recruits through the Turkish border, which the Turks have kept open for them.  Remember also that Turkish air strikes in Syria have primarily hit Kurds fighting ISIS.

Turkey is not “anti-ISIS,” quite the contrary.

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The Reason for the Paris Attacks

So, 128 dead so far, and over 200 injured in multiple attacks across Paris. ISIS has claimed responsibility, though nothing in their communique shows any knowledge not in the news, so it may or may not be them.

In a sense it doesn’t matter who it is. The task of any group which seeks minority support is to “heighten contradictions,” as the old Marxists used to say. You commit atrocities precisely because you want backlash against an identifiable minority. The more they are oppressed, the more they will turn to you, the less they will inform, and so on.

“Terrorists” and western Governments have become co-dependent. Many in the West want further excuses for internal repression (which is usually justified as just being against a despised minority, then spreads), and for more war.

Hollande has used language which indicates he may be about to invoke NATO Article 5. If so, he would presumably want significant Western military action where ISIS is—Iraq and Syria.

This is a potential disaster, given the Russian presence, and given that the Russian presence, in part, was to forestall a NATO “no fly zone.” With public opinion inflamed, the West may tell Russia to “step aside, or else.” What if Russia doesn’t?

Even if Russia does withdraw, welcome to another quagmire, ending in a failed state. (Yes, Syria is a failed state now, mostly, but if you think Western intervention will fix that you haven’t been paying attention.)

Let us hope sanity reigns. And let us remember that attacks of this magnitude are reasonably common in Iraq, Syria, and other failed states. To be sure, it is a tragedy. It is no more of a tragedy, nor less a tragedy, than a similar attack in Baghdad.

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Putin’s Secret Intent and How It Relates to Syria

Apparently Putin is difficult to understand:

Vladimir Putin Official Portrait
Vladimir Putin

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, created in 1949 to contain the Soviet Union, said it’s not sure what Putin is trying to achieve with either his actions in Ukraine or his weapons program.

“We cannot fully grasp Putin’s intent,” the alliance’s top military commander, U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, told Congress in April, according to the Defense Department’s website. “What we can do is learn from his actions, and what we see suggests growing Russian capabilities, significant military modernization and an ambitious strategic intent.”

I first studied economics back in the early eighties. The discussion of trade was perfunctory; trade was not considered particularly important to the US economy because, with the exception of oil, the US could produce pretty much everything it needed, and–just as importantly–most of what it wanted.

Modern orthodoxy maintains that trade makes one strong. This is fundamentally incorrect. Trade is necessary at times as a bootstrap up for industry, or to get things you truly cannot make yourself, but it can make you weak. The more you trade, the more vulnerable you are.

Russia is vulnerable. Putin turned Russia around by concentrating on hydrocarbon production and selling it to foreigners.

Commodity production is always a bad deal. No matter how rich it makes you, commodity prices are always boom or bust, and are always subject to technological obsolesence.

So, Russian defense spending:

Defense and the related category of national security and law enforcement now eat up 34 percent of the budget, more than double the ratio in 2010.

Putin signed documents creating what he called the “industrial battalions” program, which will give thousands of draftees the option of working in defense enterprises instead of joining the regular military.

After years of chronic funding problems for weapons makers, Russia has started to prepay for the goods and services it buys from the more than 1,300 organizations and 2.5 million people that make up the defense industry.

This is not hard to understand.

What part of Russian industry is most technologically advanced and does the world demand the most?


Russia needs to diversify what it exports. Military goods are the obvious market for which to do so. Really, there are only three sources for military goods: the West, China, and Russia.

Russia appears to have begun this strategy about 2012, before the oil price crash, the Ukraine, and so forth, but their vulnerability to oil price crashes was obvious. That the US was continuing to try to destabilize Russia’s near abroad and draw it into NATO was obvious as well.

Now, Syria.

What’s the problem with buying your weapons from the US?

Unless you’re a core US ally, the US is unreliable. If your government changes in ways the US doesn’t like, or if you are an enemy of  US core partners (Israel, Saudi Arabia, etc.), they will cut you off from parts and ammunition at the drop of a hat, as well as canceling pre-paid orders.

But: The US was able to say that they had the best equipment. No one could compete.

What is happening in Syria is a demonstration that Russia can be counted on to help its allies—meaning its customers. It is a demonstration that Russia’s new weapons, and particularly its cruise missiles and airpower, are comparable to US product, and maybe, even in the case of its most advanced fighter/bomber, better.

It is a demonstration that if you buy Russian you aren’t buying crap that US-supplied forces can roll right over any more.

The Syria issue is a trade policy issue.

That is not to deny the geopolitical element to it, there certainly is one. But most analysts are not catching that this is also economic policy in action.

Shove Russia against a wall, impose sanctions, drive down the price of oil, and of course they will reach for what else they do well, and can sell.

The failure to anticipate this, the failure to understand this at the highest possible levels of NATO, when Putin had been telegraphing his strategy for years, is a terrible indictment of our “leadership”‘s competence.

Now, add to first class armaments and reliable supplies, a proper payments and banking system with China’s aid. Add China’s industrial goods and willingness to build infrastructure, and you have a second vertical capable of supplying virtually everything the West can do, and one which doesn’t care about the internal politics outside its near-abroad.

That new world isn’t quite here yet, but it’s almost.

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Some Interesting Things About the Russian Coalition’s Syrian Campaign

Notice that one of their major initial objectives is to seal the border with Turkey.

This is because Turkey is the major supply route for the various factions in Syria (and Iraq). And that is Turkish policy.

Note, also, just how effective Russian air support, backed by coalition ground forces, has been. Air power without decent boots is great for destruction and not much else, but it really is a force multiplier if you have the troops to exploit it. This is Russia giving its ally an air force, in the same way the US has so often done.

Finally, note that Russia has just given itself a major presence in the Middle East by becoming a strong ally of Iran, Iraq, Syria, and (downstream) Hezbollah. Don’t think they’ll forget who bailed them out on this.

I’ll have a longer guest post up on Russian strategy in historical context posted soon, I hope.

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