Gangsters Conspire in the Middle East:
The New U.S.-Turkish Agreement

by Larry Everest | August 10, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper |


There’s been yet another significant shift in the complex, tumultuous Middle East.

In late July, the U.S. and Turkey announced a major new agreement: according to press reports, Turkey has agreed to join the U.S. campaign against the Islamic State (ISIS, or ISIL) and other reactionary Islamic fundamentalist forces. Turkey will now reportedly start launching military attacks in Syria and perhaps Iraq, and will also allow the U.S. to use the Incirlik Air Base in southwest Turkey to launch air and drone strikes against ISIS in particular. There are also reports that the two countries aim to drive ISIS and other jihadists from a 65-mile-wide zone along the Syrian-Turkish border, creating a “safe” space for Syrians fleeing the civil war, and a base of operations for U.S.-organized forces who oppose both Syria’s President Bashar Assad, as well as the anti-U.S. elements of the anti-Assad opposition—in particular ISIS and the al-Nusra Front. (At least for the moment, it doesn’t appear that Turkey or the U.S. is directly targeting the Assad regime.)

This is a big shift in Turkey’s position. Since the start of the Syrian civil war in March 2011, and as it has evolved into one of the most hellish slaughters between different reactionary forces on the planet, Turkey has refused to join the U.S. “coalition” against ISIS and other jihadists or to launch or facilitate attacks inside Syria. Instead, it has been giving them tacit support by not joining in the attacks by the U.S., or clamping down on its border—through which many jihadi recruits, money, and materials flow. Turkey has been something of a rear area for these anti-Assad forces, a place where they can get medical treatment, regroup, and reportedly act as a conduit through which ISIS has been selling oil and raising millions of dollars.

Turkey’s Bloody History... and Today Targeting the Kurds

Turkey did launch some strikes against ISIS targets in Syria as the deal was being announced. But quickly Turkey unleashed a much larger bombing campaign (reportedly over 100 strikes) as well as military attacks and political roundups directed at another target: Kurds and Kurdish opposition forces (particularly the Kurdistan Workers' Party—PKK) in Turkey (breaking a two-year truce), Iraq, and Syria. Some of these groups had been fighting ISIS in Syria and Iraq with U.S. backing. The PKK—despite the “Workers' Party” name, represents the outlook of Kurdish bourgeois (capitalist) forces who seek a better position in Turkey through armed struggle and negotiation with the ruling regime, along with alignment with U.S. imperialism. These attacks provoked massive demonstrations in Turkey against the Erdogan regime and its collaboration with ISIS, which were violently attacked by government forces, including reportedly with live ammunition. (New York Times, July 27)

So what’s going on here?

With 80 million people, and located at a junction between Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, Turkey is one of the region’s largest, more powerful, and most strategically located states. This brutally oppressive power was forged as a “modern state” in the aftermath of World War 1 from the remnants of the Ottoman Empire through the horrific genocide of over a million Armenians, and the brutal subjugation of the Kurdish people, an oppressed nationality (now numbering some 25-35 million people) living mainly in the mountainous region that straddles southeast Turkey, and northern areas of Iraq, Iran, and Syria.* When Kurds revolted in the 1920s and 1930s, many were resettled, their traditional names, dress, and language were banned—and even their existence was denied—with the millions of Kurds in Turkey labeled “Mountain Turks.” This violent oppression has continued right to the present day. During the past 30 years, the Turkish government has killed some 40,000 Turkish Kurds to crush their 30-year struggle for self-determination. (A truce was signed between the Kurdish fighters of the PKK and the government two years ago.)

Today Turkey is economically and strategically subordinate to global imperialism—a member of NATO with a “special” relationship with the U.S. At the same time, Turkey’s rulers, especially the current government of Islamist Recep Erdogan. harbor their aspirations—from being a model of more modern Islamic rule (what some call “Islamic Lite”), to exerting more influence in the region, to joining the European Union.

U.S.-Turkey Deal and the Middle East Cauldron

Turkey’s relationship with the U.S. and its European allies has been full of contradictions (for example, around Turkey’s role in the Syrian civil war and its clashes with Israel, among other things). This already tension-filled relationship is being shaken up by the tremendous destabilizing factors erupting in the region and the world, creating different necessities for all the powers involved, as well as, in that context, perverse opportunities for the Turkish rulers (including because of U.S. difficulties and the erosion of its hegemony).

The U.S. wants and needs Turkey to fight ISIS, as well as play a role in stabilizing the region and maintaining U.S. dominance overall. But the two have a sharp conflict of interest vis-a-vis the Kurds. For one, the U.S.’s key interest is in holding together this increasingly fragmented region overall, and the Kurds, in Iraq in particular, have proven valuable allies in that endeavor, as well as the most effective on-the-ground fighters against ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

Turkey has issues with ISIS. It fears the destabilizing impact of the Syrian civil war, including because there are two million Syrian refugees in Turkey. And recently there have been border clashes between ISIS and Turkish forces.

But Turkey has even bigger issues with the Kurds. The oppression of the Kurds has been a cornerstone of the rule of the Turkish bourgeoisie. The regime may now fear that Kurdish groups are gaining strength along the Turkish border due to the fracturing of the Syrian and Iraqi states, and in the course of their armed struggle with ISIS (and thanks to some U.S. military support). Second, this and other factors may be strengthening Kurdish opposition forces inside Turkey, and interfering with Erdogan’s ability to more permanently consolidate his quasi-fascist rule.

In this tension, the U.S. is trying to limit and focus Turkey’s attack on the Kurds, but Turkey has insisted that this is a package deal. (There are reports that the Turkish government opposes using its bases for bombing missions in support of Kurdish forces fighting ISIS in Syria and Iraq.)

A State Department official claimed the U.S. “played no role in the airstrikes against the Kurdish group, but recognized Turkey’s "right to self-defense," tacitly endorsing attacks on the PKK, which is still on the U.S. “terrorist” list. Could it be that the U.S. imperialists are preparing to betray the Kurds once again, coldly calculating that Turkey is potentially a much more strategic and substantial partner in advancing their agenda in Syria and elsewhere?

Then again, it’s far from clear how this new arrangement with Turkey will work out, including in Syria. The New York Times warned that the deal signaled the U.S. was sliding “ever more deeply into a complex war.”

What is clear is that nothing good ever comes from U.S. imperialism in the Middle East—or anywhere else.

* Imperialist and local reactionary powers have a long, sordid history of collaborating to suppress the Kurds and prevent them from achieving statehood or self-determination, even though they’re the fourth-largest nationality in the Middle East. [back]


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