Western Imperialism and the ISIS Alibi

It’s fairly obvious to keen observers that Turkey’s Recep Erdogan is not the moderate reformist he once pretended to be, back when Turkey harbored fantasies of joining a surging European Union. In the end, the EU’s temporizing about Turkey’s entry turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Ankara. And now, with the EU in dire straits as Germany savages debtor colonies on the union’s periphery, Erdogan has turned East and finally shed his Western-facing Kemalist disguise, revealing himself for an Islamist with dreams of a recrudescent Ottoman Empire. Neo-Ottomanism is essentially a pivot back to the East, and an effort to extend Turkish influence across former Ottoman territories. As Foreign Minister Ahmet Davotoglu said a few years ago, “…we will once again make the Balkans, the Caucasus, and the Middle East, together with Turkey, the center of world politics in the future. That is the goal of Turkish foreign policy and we will achieve it.” Turkish actions in the Middle East may best be viewed in the context of Erdogan’s huge appetite for Ottoman glory, and his desire to regain primacy in the Middle East.

Thinking like a sultan, Erdogan seems to have no qualms about interfering in lost Ottoman provinces along the Syrian and Iraqi borders. They include Adana, Aleppo, Deir el-Zour, and Mosul. How convenient the chaos might prove to be for Erdogan to ultimately seize these territories, annexing them back into their former Ottoman confines. Shrinking or capsizing President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Damascus would help ease these territories into Turkish hands.

An interrelated and companion mission to this neo-Ottoman project is dismantling Kurdish solidarity across Turkish, Syrian, and Iraqi borders. This is Erdogan’s nightmare scenario: a contiguous Kurdish state consolidating Kurdish communities in northern Iraq, eastern Syria, and Southeastern Turkey. Ankara has long seen this as a threat to the integrity of the Turkish state.

The new U.S.-backed Turkish plan to create an ISIS-free buffer zone along Turkey’s border with Syria offers Erdogan the perfect pretext to achieve both objectives. As such, the deal is less motivated by Turkish fear of ISIS, but of Turkish fear of Kurdish solidarity and of its companion desire to gain a degree of regional hegemony.

Not only can Erdogan use the agreement to realize his revanchist fantasies, but Washington too can leverage the plan to move closer to a long-standing objective—the overthrow of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. That is, in fact, why Syria is now a purgatory of takfiri rage. Half the population of the country has been either internally or externally displaced. This was surely predictable, but of no import to Washington’s imperial planners. From the very beginning of the conflict in 2011, Washington sought to hijack civil unrest to destabilize Syria and force Assad from power. Since then, the CIA or Pentagon has trained some 10,000 “rebels” at taxpayer expense, along with further training and support generously provided by Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, Turkey, and Britain. How could any impartial observer not recognize the signature of imperial power in the profile of this so-called civil war?

The False Pretext

The agreement between Washington and Ankara is a definitive step forward in the masterplan of overthrowing Assad, shattering the Shia Crescent, and isolating Iran. ISIS is nothing more than a convenient pretext. Noam Chomsky often talks about the scourge of the “vanishing pretext.” After Iraq rejected total legal immunity for American troops and requested they kindly leave the country, Washington had to conjure a plausible reason to re-enter the country. Peace has never been an option, mainly because it is incompatible with the overarching U.S. objective of global hegemony. To achieve global dominion, wars must be fought, governments destabilized, and innocents slain. The mindset that presently dominates Washington political class is what critic Dwight MacDonald called, “the psychosis of permanent war.”

The joint plan to degrade ISIS is completely transparent to anyone willing to step outside the cul-de-sac of the Mainstream Media (MSM). The façade is partially belied by the fact that Turkish attacks on the Kurdish PKK debilitate an effective fighting force against ISIS. Turkey’s anti-Kurd animus creates a self-defeating proposition at best for the Washington-Ankara alliance. Likewise, the Syrian army itself—which is the ultimate target—is perhaps the most powerful antidote to ISIS, but it is being progressively weakened by the West itself. And though it is content to work with a surly confection of so-called rebels, Washington is loathe to coordinate the fight with Damascus, despite the latter’s willingness to do so.

If Washington were at all serious about tackling ISIS, it would quit training, arming and funding terrorists to fight Assad. Then it would tell Turkey to close down the jihadist highway into Syria it has established for anyone with a Kalashnikov and a grudge. Finally, it would convene a regional council to address the ISIS threat, and immediately cede the floor to Iran, Iraq and Syria itself. But that is madness to beltway politicos and their think-tank minions. Voltaire said that if God didn’t exist, he would have had to be invented. It’s the same with ISIS. The ISIS pretext had to be invented because of the American public’s war fatigue. Exhausted from ceaseless national security alarms and military campaigns, the people aren’t prepared for another war built on shoddy fictions. Thus the war crime of destroying a secular state had to be sold to misinformed Americans as a necessary humanitarian intervention to defeat a rogue terrorist outfit. Only then would the patriots be able to wave their flags and salute America’s noble purpose with a clean conscience.

Which means the U.S. and Turkish forces will have to conduct some attacks against ISIS to legitimize their publically promulgated war. But that is the extent of it. Washington is said to be using the much-coveted Incirlik base to fly cross-border sorties and drone missions against ISIS. To some degree, perhaps. But if the authentic goal is to get rid of Assad, then we ought to see U.S. missions destroying Syrian state infrastructure as well. That’s just what we’ve been seeing. The Turks, for their part, will mirror Washington policy by also pretending to fight ISIS, but in reality they will primarily attack Kurdish militias, namely the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) military, destroying whatever thaw in relations Erdogan had temporarily broached with the Kurds before they won representation in parliament, which was evidently beyond the pale for a would-be emperor.

More than a Buffer Zone

The purpose of the safe zone isn’t simply to provide a refueling station for jihadists, wonderful as that is. The broader plan was essentially outlined by the Brookings Institute in June. (Erdogan has been calling for variations of the plan since last year.) As the report states, the goal is “to train and equip more recruits so that the zones could be stabilized and then gradually expanded.” Eventually these zones would include “special forces detachments and air-defense capabilities.”

Note the last point about air defense. The eventual plan is likely to establish a no-fly zone that expands across Syria. In fact, Obama has now openly authorized the air defense of Pentagon-trained soldiers advancing in Syria. Damascus’ one advantage over the jihadist factions is air power. None of the insurgents have an air force. This then should be a decisive move that tilts the playing field in favor of the West.

Should Syria think of actually defending its territory and attacking U.S. or Turkish air forces infringing on its territory, it would instantly subject itself to the implied threat in Article 5 of the NATO charter. This infamous credo stipulates that an attack on any NATO member is tantamount to an attack on all NATO members. Thus, Damascus would risk a wider assault from NATO itself.

This is all textbook American foreign policy: Fund, train, and arm a phalanx of rogue fundamentalists and sic them on the regime you want to remove. Support them with air power and destroy that government’s air force under the guise of a no-fly zone. Put some special forces on the ground to help jihadists choose the right targets for bombing raids. Within a series of months, or years, the regime collapses and—if you manage it right—your chosen puppet assumes the throne, ready to do your bidding,  accumulate status and stockpile personal wealth. Welcome to modern imperial policy. Destabilization on demand.

Media Complicity

No one in Western MSM has bothered to note that this plan formalizes a war of aggression against a sovereign state. This is the chief international crime as established at the Nuremburg trials and codified in the U.N. Charter. As a general rule, The New York Times and other sycophant peddlers of state-sanctioned propaganda never mention international law unless an official enemy is violating it. Hence the recent furor and theatrical handwringing when Russia annexed Crimea, which merely had the appearance of a violation. In fact, a plebiscite was held and Crimea chose to abandon its neo-fascist coup government in Kiev. But ignoring international law is a fundamental feature of American exceptionalism. The philosophy of American exceptionalism is simple: it means that other nations must always make an exception for the United States when it breaks international rules because America is special. That’s the intellectual depth of the creed that President Obama endlessly rehearses before the press, which in turn accepts it without the least scrutiny.

Larger Agendas

Erdogan has also used border violence as a justification to round up a thousand or more ‘terrorist suspects’ across Turkey. Domestic repression is always a corollary of foreign aggression. This dragnet, passed off as a crackdown on ISIS cells, was simply a purge of pro-Kurdish elements within Turkish society.

Washington couldn’t care less. President Obama would like to see regime change in Damascus before he exits the White House. Then he could add another feather in his blood-soaked cap. Removing Assad—or at the very least marginalizing him—will shatter the Shia Crescent, isolate Iran, and sever the umbilical cord it shares with Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Not only that, but by refashioning the Syrian state, the West would likely eliminate Russia’s sole access point to the Mediterranean and at the same time create an alternate source of natural gas for Europe aside from Russian gas. Washington will likely play Tehran off of Moscow in an attempt to weaken Europe’s energy dependency on Russia. And with a Western-friendly stooge installed in Damascus, the U.S. could cede regional management to its proxies there, and retrain its attention to the larger geopolitical challenges of containing and degrading Russia and China.

As for Turkey, capsizing Damascus would remove the stumbling block to a potential gas pipeline running from Qatar through Saudi Arabia and Jordan across Syria into Turkey and on to everyone’s favorite destination—Europe. This was the proposed deal from Qatar that Assad famously spurned in favorite of an Islamic pipeline being built from Iran through Iraq and Syria and on to Europe. Turkey already has the Turkish Stream, which brings Russian gas to Europe via Turkey and Greece. It is also developing the South Gas Corridor to transport gas to Europe from Azerbaijan through Georgia to Turkey and on to Greece. Given all this, Turkey would then be the de facto pivot point of the European energy supply, optimizing its status as the bridge between Europe and Asia.

In the end, ISIS is an alibi. Little more than a useful proxy to conduct the dirty ground wars that Western publics haven’t got an appetite for. The goals are geopolitical. The prize is energy. The players are amoral. The victims are powerless. As usual. Even as the upward trajectory of the American empire begins to succumb to the gravity of geopolitics, Washington will not go quietly. The rise of Eurasia and the prospect of an unfathomably huge Silk Road economic corridor surely frightens the would-be hegemon perched on the Potomac. Cornered, empire will do what it does best: use military muscle to disrupt, divide, and destroy potential rivals. The only question is: is there still time, or has the D.C. dream of full spectrum dominance slipped away?

Jason Hirthler is a writer, political commentator, and veteran of the communications industry. He has written for many political communities. He is the recent author of Imperial Fictions, a collection of essays from between 2015-2017. He lives in New York City and can be reached at jasonhirthler@gmail.com. Read other articles by Jason.