Turkey and The Little Coup That Couldn’t

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

One of the most pressing national security issues for the US and NATO is the recent coup disaster in Turkey. Along with the people of Turkey, Syria, and Iraq, NATO state citizens, Americans, and the Putin gang are all pondering the same questions. . . . What really happened in Turkey, and what does it mean for us?

 

Turkish No-Coup Protest Image by Pivox, wikimedia commons.

Turkish No-Coup Protest
Image by Pivox, wikimedia commons.

 

The coup attempt resembled another poorly directed episode from a comically bad Mexican telenovela. Much speculation and media frenzy has focused on the “who,” “what,” and “why” aspects of the coup.

The “who” depends on whom you ask.

Some Westerners are certain that Putin quietly sponsored the coup. I am always happy to blame dastardly schemes on Putin and his thugs. However, while in many cases “Putin” is the right answer, in this case I don’t think it is.

I have two reasons for not blaming Putin.

The first is that although the Erdogan government in Turkey is suspected of helping Islamic terrorists in Russia, and although Erdogan wants Syria for himself rather than for the Russians or Iranians, Putin does not take him very seriously as a threat.

Putin does not like the Erdogan Circus, and he sees Erdogan as an ineffective and inept clown. If Erdogan were to be replaced, then nearly any Turk would be a more formidable opponent. Erdogan is an effective conqueror, but he’s only effective at conquering Turkey. Beyond Turkish borders, Erdogan is a run-of-the-mill inept political hack. Putin would not wish to spin the dice for a new leader in Turkey. There are scenarios that we could imagine where Russia would hand pick a successor to Erdogan, but that would involve risky gambling that Putin does not find necessary.

The second reason for doubting that there are Russian weasels at the bottom of the Turkish coup disaster is that the Russians are better at running a coup than the coup organizers were in Turkey.

Other folks are certain that the CIA is behind the coup attempt.

It is not. Lots of folks are certain that the CIA gives orders to Obama. It doesn’t, and neither Obama nor the CIA would wish to throw Turkey into instability or civil war by instigating a coup.

Like the Putin gang, the US has enough reasons to be disgusted with Erdogan. He has stabbed the US in the back on more than one occasion, and he is a one way “ally” for NATO. Erdogan’s NATO motto is, “All for Erdogan, and to hell with you guys.” The US and NATO could easily conduct better relations with almost any randomly selected Turkish citizen over the age of twelve.

The problem is that the CIA and the State Department are very aware that Erdogan has spent over a decade crushing opposition and making himself coup-resistant by using the tried-and-true “Stalin purging” method of government. Any coup in Turkey could easily have ended up looking like another Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lansing, etc. The US wants a Turkey that is stable enough to allow the US to operate from bases in that country. It’s easier and a little cheaper to bomb ISIS idiots from bases in Turkey rather than having to conduct all operations from further afield.

The second reason why you can be certain that the US did not organize a coup attempt in Turkey is that, like the Russians, the CIA is better at it.

The CIA is not big on the “find ten thousand co-conspirators” method of coup organizing. Any coup attempt involving so many conspirators will always have a security problem, and that makes success less likely.

Personally, I would never conduct a coup, but theoretically speaking, if my evil twin were to throw a coup, I am certain that he would use the “dispose to depose” method. I know. It’s so old fashioned and makes for dull reading, but it’s way more effective than the silly modern “tell him he’s deposed, and maybe he’ll let us depose him” method.

All in all, it’s sad that a nation like Turkey, with such a proud tradition of quick and effective military coups, ended up with such a half-assed coup. It’s damned embarrassing for the international coup fraternity.

As for the “who,” the Western media is fascinated with the question of how much Fethullah Gulen was involved in organizing the failed coup.

 

 

Gulen was Erdogan’s ally until he realized that Erdogan was perfectly capable of jumping in bed with jihadis – which Erdogan did. Since the two men parted ways, they have been opponents. Erdogan targeted and marginalized Gulen’s friends and supporters within Turkey, but Gulen remains popular with the people. In spite of that remaining popularity, the coup organizers did not need Gulen or his supporters to get the ball rolling because Erdogan has done such a good job inciting a coup against himself by just being Erdogan.

The remaining question of “who” is not all that important. The “what” ended up being damned sloppy, and the “why” is the easiest part of this shallow mystery.

Erdogan is a creep, and lots of folks in and out of Turkey wish that he would vanish. No news there. Hating Erdogan is more popular than playing Pokémon in Turkey.

This leaves us all with the more important question, “Now what?”

Unfortunately, the answers are as ugly as they usually are when one asks a Mid-Eastern region question.

I know that a lot of folks on the Middle Eastern teams at the CIA will be aghast at my willingness to simplify the Turkish picture. But let’s compare it for a moment to a Kandinsky painting. Is another gallon of spilled house paint or a gallon less of spilled house paint really going to improve the picture? It is ugly, and it will remain ugly. It hurts to look at it, and it will still hurt tomorrow. Just like a Kandinsky painting, if you think about it at night, you won’t sleep.

As we all know, and as any reasonable soul would predict, Erdogan is using the coup flop to conduct his biggest Stalinist purge ever.

He’s enjoying it. His poor wife is probably happy that he finally found something that helps his marital life better than all those blue pills that he tried. (Word on the street is that it’s been a long time since Erdogan has been able to bring this much enthusiasm to his home life.) Unfortunately, along with her husband, she and Erdogan’s unfortunate mistresses are the only ones seeing any “up tick” from this lousy coup.

Erdogan will continue to scream at the US and make all sorts of demands.

 

Recep Tayyip Erdogan & Barack Obama Image by State Dept., public domain.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan & Barack Obama
Image by State Dept., public domain.

 

Secretary of State John Kerry will continue to fuss over his hair and try to look like a male model when he gets off the plane in Turkey. Kerry will make his regular meaningless statements when dealing with Turkey. The President (this one or the next) will look “deeply concerned” and not do much.

Europe will continue to respond with another frightening “Euro-frown,” and Turkey will continue to not care.

The good news for the West is that even a dope like Erdogan knows that in the final analysis, since he lives next to Iraq, Syria and Russia, and we don’t, he can only push his snotty temper tantrums so far.

Erdogan has always wanted a bigger, more powerful military to make him more relevant. Despots hate being laughed at when they make threats. He has planned for and tried to finance that better military, and he fantasizes about an indigenous 5th generation fighter for Turkey. It won’t happen under an Erdogan government.

Unfortunately for Turkey, Erdogan has always been more effective at destroying his own military than destroying his foreign enemies. If Erdogan had a campaign slogan to share with the US audience, it would be “don’t hope for any change.” The future of Turkey, Turkish-NATO relations, and Turkish-US relations will continue to look a lot like the last ten years, just slightly worse.

US-Vietnam Relations — The Healing Power of Cash

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

Due to Communist China’s aggression in the South China Sea, or as the Vietnamese call it, the Eastern Sea, the US has become interested in building a closer relationship with Vietnam. Despite strong emotions on both sides, the changing relationship with Vietnam is less complicated and less subtle than the relationships that the US has with other South Pacific nations. However, it is not without obstacles.

 

US Pres. Obama & Vietnam Pres. Tran Dai Quang Presidential Palace, May 23, 2016 Image public domain.

US Pres. Obama & Vietnam Pres. Tran Dai Quang
Presidential Palace, May 23, 2016
Image public domain.

 

Understanding the forces that drive the US/Vietnam relationship is easy if we consider a few key events since the end of the US involvement in the Vietnam War in 1973.

From the point of view of many US citizens, building a working relationship with the communist Vietnamese government is something new and innovative. From Hanoi’s point of view, it is something natural that should have happened a long time ago.

It might surprise many Western Cold War survivors to know that Hanoi fully expected to quickly normalize relations with the US once it was able to capture and control South Vietnam. US President Richard Nixon had ordered an increased bombing campaign against North Vietnam to force Hanoi to return to the Paris Peace Talks. Both the North Vietnamese government and the US government understood that those peace talks were pure theater and without any potential lasting value, but Nixon felt he needed to create the appearance of a peaceful settlement to the conflict. All Nixon really wanted was for the US to pull out of South Vietnam.

When President Nixon told the South Vietnamese government that the US military would return if North Vietnam broke the peace treaty, he knew that he was lying. The South Vietnamese government knew it, as well, but there was nothing it could do about it. Years of blatant corruption and criminality in the South Vietnamese government, combined with the thousands of deaths of young Americans, had left much of the American public unwilling to continue to support South Vietnam. Nixon fully understood that the US public was done with Vietnam.

Westerners understood that Nixon was clearly using a “big stick” approach against the North Vietnamese government in order to force them back to the transparently farcical Paris Peace Talks, but most were unaware that Nixon and his soon-to-be Secretary of State Henry Kissinger were also quietly holding out a large carrot to the North Vietnamese government. That carrot was a normalization of relations with the US, trade agreements, and US influence to allow North Vietnam access to the International Monetary Fund.

The North Vietnamese government carefully considered the offers from Nixon, and after about two minutes fully agreed. What could be more splendid than the US showering North Vietnam with cash instead of bombs? In response to Nixon’s offers, Hanoi suggested that the US quickly develop offshore oil reserves in Vietnamese territory with a perfectly reasonable revenue sharing formula. The communists in Hanoi were clearly in love with capitalism.

Hanoi wanted to become something like a new Saudi Arabia.

The automobile-addicted Yankees would get more oil, and Vietnam would get cash. And here is the subtle little detail that mattered most in all this. Hanoi expected its “capitalist Yankee dog” enemies to become Vietnam’s beloved allies against Vietnam’s problematic neighbor, the People’s Republic of China.

It might be difficult for Americans that remember the Vietnam War to believe that the Hanoi government would have been capable of an alliance with the US after the Vietnam War.

If we consider the North Vietnamese view for a moment, it’s a little easier to understand how they might have hoped for our bombing campaigns to be converted to cash-dropping operations. From Hanoi’s perspective, the US had spent more than a decade lavishing cash, equipment, and young American blood on a wildly corrupt South Vietnamese government in exchange for nothing.

So why then would the Yankees not do the same for a wildly corrupt communist Vietnam in exchange for oil rights?

It made perfect sense to the pragmatic Kissinger, the impatient Nixon, and to everyone else involved in the Vietnam quagmire. It would have worked except for another critical event. To the surprise of no sober adult in Vietnam or the US, the North Vietnamese could not resist invading and conquering South Vietnam after the US military went home. They miscalculated. Oil or not, the US was not going to become close friends with Hanoi once Hanoi so completely violated the Paris Peace Treaty.

So, all “that” explains why communist Vietnam would pretend to be our friend now. Now let us consider why the US government might be willing to pretend it believes that the Vietnamese are our friends.

The answer is simple enough to express in one word – China.

It is easy for the Vietnamese communists to abandon their own dogma and do business with their old “Imperialist Yankee dog” enemies in the face of the more avaricious Communist Chinese imperial aggression. In the face of that same Chinese Imperialist campaign in the Pacific, the US government is willing to cooperate and even aid its old “communist terrorist” enemies.

Vietnam understands that the USA does not wish to install a “Pax Americana” in the South Pacific. It understood that we weren’t even willing to install a “Pax Americana” in South Vietnam, and it counted on that fact in its strategy in the 1960s and 1970s. For other South Pacific nations, an escalated conflict with China is future possibility to be avoided. For the Vietnamese, it is a reality that they have experienced many times over, and as recently as 1979, when China again invaded Vietnam. For the Obama administration, convincing the Vietnamese to take the Chinese Imperialist agenda seriously is about as difficult as convincing a teenager that sex is good.

Changes in the US-Vietnam relationship can be measured by key steps the two countries have taken.

On January 13, 1993, the US Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs gave a favorable final report that cleared the way for the Clinton Administration to resume IMF and World Bank lending to Vietnam. For Americans such as me, who were still waiting for a loved one to return from Vietnam, the fact that Vietnam had conducted a visible long-term effort to account for all US MIAs in Southeast Asia mattered a great deal. For the Vietnamese, access to the IMF and World Bank mattered a great deal financially.

On February 3, 1994, US President Bill Clinton partially lifted the trade embargo on Vietnam. This was a boon for the Vietnamese economy and provided US corporations with an alternative to cheap Chinese manufacturing labor.

On July 11, 1995, US President Bill Clinton announced the normalization of diplomatic relations between the United States of America and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

In November 2003, the USS Vandergrift became the first US Navy vessel to make port call in Ho Chi Minh City since 1975. This initiated a regular schedule of US Navy calls at Vietnamese ports.

The US Congress approved Permanent Normal Trade Relations for Vietnam in January 2007. This further boosted US Capital investment in Vietnam.

In early October 2014, the United States approved a relaxation of its arms embargo on Vietnam.

In May 2016, President Obama announced the full lifting of the embargo during his visit to Vietnam.

Thus far, there has been little practical impact from lifting the embargo because Vietnam prefers to purchase less expensive weapons and systems from their Russian allies. However, one sign that that the trade agreement might benefit the US economy is the $11.3 billion pending Vietnamese agreement with Boeing for the purchase of 100 airliners. It is not clear to me where the cash will come from to make this deal a reality, but time will tell. There is also optimistic chatter about Vietnam purchasing P-3 Poseidon maritime reconnaissance planes, but I can’t see Congress and the DoD signing off on the sale of such high tech military systems to a close ally of Russia.

Many human rights groups feel betrayed by the Obama administration.

Critics of the lifting of the embargo feel that Obama could easily have demanded human rights reforms in Vietnam in exchange for such a lucrative agreement for Vietnam. Vietnam has clearly demonstrated that it is in no rush to improve human rights for their citizens. From a political point of view, Vietnam remains very similar to Communist China. The one difference is that Vietnam is reliably anti-Chinese, and, therefore, this administration and previous administrations have been willing to ignore Vietnam’s transparently horrible human rights record.

It’s tough to not see the parallel between current US Pacific strategy and the US strategy in Central America during the Cold War.

Then, as now, we have often been willing to tolerate wildly corrupt governments when they have opposed major enemies of the US. The philosophical and moral questions surrounding the current US administration’s willingness to do business with a despotic Vietnamese government are beyond the scope of this article and this series of articles. In the European tradition of “Realpolitik” and in step with the worldwide practice of self-interested political policies, the US has chosen to strengthen ties with Vietnam.

In my estimation, the relationship between the US and Vietnam will continue to grow. The next US presidential election will not likely disrupt this trend, regardless of which candidate wins.

In our next article, we will consider the relationship between the US and India, and India’s huge potential influence on South Pacific affairs.

 

Chinese Aggression Spurs New Alliances for Japan

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

Chinese aggression in the South China Sea is causing Japan to strengthen its alliance with the US and build new and unlikely partnerships with some traditional enemies.

 

US Pres. Obama and Japanese Emperor Akihito Image by State Dept., public domain

US Pres. Obama and Japanese Emperor Akihito
Image by State Dept., public domain

 

Building a stronger defensive alliance with Japan is the least challenging foreign policy task faced by the Obama administration. It is also the easiest foreign relationship from the point of view of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration.

Modern Japan and the US share similar political and social values, and both countries are strongly independent and democratic in structure and outlook. At times in the past, trade imbalances and the vast US presence in Okinawa have stressed the US-Japan relationship, but those issues never prevented strong military and diplomatic cooperation. The two countries have shared a consistently solid relationship since the founding of modern Japan in 1947.

To understand the US-Japan relationship, we should consider Japan’s geographic and political dilemmas.

Japan imports most of its fossil fuels and about sixty percent of its food. Free navigation of the seas is critical to Japan’s prosperity, and even to its very existence. To varying degrees Russia, China, and North Korea all pose serious threats to Japan’s national security. In a sense, Japan is the “Israel” of the Pacific. They have no allies in their region. Fortunately, this may be changing.

China remains bitter for the brutal invasion and occupation carried out by Imperial Japan during the first half of the twentieth century.

 

Japanese Soldiers with Broken Statue of Chinese Leader Dr. Sun Yat Sen. Image public domain.

Japanese Soldiers with Broken Statue of Chinese Leader Dr. Sun Yat Sen.
Image public domain.

 

China’s communist government has found it convenient for its political mythology to foment hatred toward Japan rather than seek reconciliation. Fifty years ago, Japan could afford to be less concerned with China’s hatred.

As the People’s Republic of China has begun to overcome its long history of inept and self-destructive government, it has been able to develop its massive population and considerable natural resources.

Having established a stronger economy and a stronger military, China has made itself more “relevant” in the Pacific. Unfortunately for them and for everyone else, they have chosen to seek “relevancy” and legitimacy through increased aggression toward their neighbors. As China’s military strength and aggressive attitude grows, so grows Japan’s concern for self-defense.

The one challenge that remains in US-Japan relations is Japan’s poor relationships with other US allies in the Pacific.

The US has had a close, though rather one-sided, relationship with South Korea since WWII. That relationship has been based on the US’s willingness to defend South Korea against its communist neighbors. While North Korea remains a menace and a constant nuisance to both South Korea and Japan, until recently that has not been enough motive to bring the two nations closer. Both South Koreans and North Koreans remain angry over the Japanese occupation prior to and during WWII.

However, there are now signs of a thaw in relations between South Korea and Japan.

To a degree, North Korea’s nuclear threats and China’s increasing aggression are motivating Japan and South Korea to cooperate more on issues of trade and defense. It may take several more decades for South Koreans to form a more favorable view of Japan, but if the Japanese exercise some diplomatic skill, they may eventually be able to change their image in South Korea. This would enable more effective military cooperation against the growing threats from the North Koreans and China.

A similar three-way dilemma exists between Japan, the Philippines, and the US.

For the same historic reasons, Japan remains unpopular in the Philippines while the US maintains close relations with both countries. As with South Korea and Japan, the US has long hoped for and attempted to promote closer relations between the Philippines and Japan.

In the case of the Philippines, there have been strong signs of growing cooperation with Japan.

Recently, a Japanese warship took part in naval exercises with the US and the Philippine navies. Even as recently as two years ago, the presence of a Japanese warship in Philippine coastal waters would have been completely unwelcome in the Philippines. In another clear sign that China’s aggression is forcing Japan and the Philippines together, Japan is selling jet trainer aircraft to the Philippines. This sale is a major event in Philippine-Japan relations.

By quietly acting as a go-between, the US has been able to help Japan begin to build better relations with its Western Pacific neighbors.

In military terms, relations between Japan and the US are very good and getting better. Japan continues to allow the US to maintain considerable air and naval forces in Japanese territory, and the working relationship between US and Japanese forces is excellent. Senior military officers from both nations have a high degree of trust in each other’s ability and integrity. When the US and Japanese militaries make an agreement, both sides are confident that the agreement will be carried out.

Perhaps the single greatest impact thus far from China’s growing aggression in the South China Sea can be seen in Japan.

The Japanese constitution limits Japan to a relatively small self-defense force. While the Japanese self-defense force is small, it is high in quality. Whenever the Japanese government has committed to building ships for its maritime self-defense force, the ships have been well designed, well built, and delivered on time. Japanese politicians and voters are starting to consider expanding their military both in budgetary and doctrinal terms. In budgetary terms, Japan has made small increases in expenditures, and they are now developing their own stealth fighter. This new stealth fighter is in addition to Japan’s participation in the expensive US led F-35 program.

 

F-35 Joint Strike Fighter at Edwards Air Force Base Image public domain.

F-35 Joint Strike Fighter at Edwards Air Force Base
Image public domain.

 

In doctrinal terms, Japan was willing to participate in naval exercises in the Philippines.

Until recently, the Japanese government and Japanese voters would have considered such a deployment unacceptable. The Japanese voters still have a deep aversion for involving themselves in another war of aggression, but they are beginning to accept that the security of the Philippines directly impacts their own national security.

Over eighty percent of Japan’s oil comes from the Mideast. Since the Fukushima nuclear power plant leak disaster in 2011, Japan’s oil import requirements have increased. Free navigation of the international waters of the South China/West Philippine Sea is even more critical to Japan than it is to the Philippines.

The US has announced that the linchpin for US strategy in the Pacific will be the Philippines.

In reality, that only appears to be the case because of how little Japan needs to improve its self-defense as compared to how desperately the Philippines needs to build a credible military. For diplomatic reasons, both the US and Japan prefer to publicly keep the focus on the Philippines.

The relationship between Japan and the US has evolved in to one of equality, shared values, and genuine mutual respect. Whatever problems might arise between the US and Japan, the relationship will remain strong.

The Japanese people have no desire to create a Japanese hegemony in the Pacific, but China’s expansionist agenda has forced them to accept a greater role in international affairs in the region.

In our next episode, we will consider the changing US-Malaysian relationship.

Shifting Sands in the House of Saud

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

Since Fahd ibn ‘Abd al-‘Azīz Āl Sa’ūd ascended to the throne of Saudi Arabia in 1982, relations between the West and Saudi Arabia have been fairly stable, if somewhat complicated.

 

Secy of Defense William Cohen (left) and King Fahd ibn 'Abd al-'Azīz Āl Sa'ūd (right) October 13, 1998 Image by Dept of Defense, public domain

Secy of Defense William Cohen (left)
and King Fahd ibn ‘Abd al-‘Azīz Āl Sa’ūd (right)
October 13, 1998
Image by Dept of Defense, public domain

 

The Saudi government has remained consistently willing to maintain close diplomatic, business, and military ties with the US and other Western nations. At the same time, it has supported Wahhabi religious leaders in maintaining extremely conservative Sunni religious dominance over Saudi citizens. While the West enabled technological and business modernizations in Saudi Arabia, the Saudi government to a great extent allowed the Wahhabi religious leaders to define culture in their country.

Saudi Arabia’s dichotomy of petroleum-fueled modernization versus conservative Wahhabi cultural control has been somewhat baffling to Westerners from democratic nations.

In spite of these constantly conflicting forces, King Fahd managed to maintain a stable balance. From the US point of view, the Saudi Arabian government was one of two allies in the region, Israel being the other. Yet while relations between Riyadh and Washington remained warm, not all Saudis felt that warmth toward the US or the West. In fact, Saudi Arabia, thanks to Wahhabi influence, remained a breeding ground for violent jihadism.

Fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 attackers hailed from Saudi Arabia, and wealthy Saudi Arabians have consistently been a leading source for terrorist funding. Yet the oil flowed to the West while Western cash fueled the extended Royal family’s lavish lifestyle. That oil wealth also fueled vast social programs and a bloated civil government that makes our US government seem almost efficient by comparison.

In 1993, King Fahd sent shockwaves through Saudi society when he instituted a sixty person consultative council.

All the members of the council were picked by him. It was nothing like “elected representation,” but by Saudi standards, but it was a huge step forward for Saudi society. Two years later, twenty women were allowed to attend the consultative council. To Westerners, it might seem like a miniscule token step toward liberalization, but to the Wahhabi religious leaders, it was wild heresy.

King Fahd suffered a major stroke in 1995. His brother, Crown Prince Abdullah, acted as his regent and unofficial prime minister. When Fahd died in 2005, Abdullah ascended the throne and continued the balancing act.

 

King Abdullah bin Abdul al-Saud, January 2007 Image by Cherie A. Thurlby, Dept. of Defense, public domain

King Abdullah bin Abdul al-Saud, January 2007
Image by Cherie A. Thurlby,
Dept. of Defense, public domain

 

Like his predecessors, Abdullah was willing to use the Wahhabi establishment to maintain order and enforce their version of Sharia law in his Kingdom, but like every Saudi King, he was leery of their power. He continued to use oil wealth to further drive modernization and hold up vast social welfare programs while simultaneously struggling with the domestic terror issues caused by the radical Wahhabi influence.

Gradually, King Abdullah implemented small steps toward liberalizing Saudi society.

In 2007, he banned the infamous religious police from making arrests and began to institute major judicial reforms. Two years later, Abdullah pushed ahead with reforms and fired most of the senior judges and leaders of the religious police system.

In 2011 the Arab Spring swept across North Africa and the Mid-East. When it reached Saudi Arabia, it was quickly stifled by police action.

To outsiders, it may have appeared to be simple oppression, but inside the kingdom, there was genuine fear that Al Qaeda and their many clones would hijack any Arab Spring. There was also concern that Iranian-backed Shia minorities in Saudi Arabia would agitate on behalf of the Iranian Ayatollahs. King Abdullah responded by announcing increases in social welfare programs in the hope of appeasing many of the potential “Springers.”

In September of 2011, King Abdullah announced that women would be allowed to vote in municipal elections and run for office. While Saudi women were quietly celebrating their newfound empowerment, the Saudi courts sentenced a woman to ten lashes for driving a car. King Abdullah overturned the verdict.

In 2013, while Saudi Arabia continued to struggle to control domestic terrorism by homegrown jihadists, King Abdullah appointed thirty women to the consultative council.

The following year, fearful of Iranian-backed insurgents in Yemen and the simmering unrest of the Shia-backed majority in Bahrain, King Abdullah did an about face in policy and introduced strict anti-terror laws.

The new laws give the police the power to arrest anyone that protests against or speaks against the Saudi government or the Wahhabi religious establishment. The law even prohibits “thoughts” against the government or Wahhabi Islam.

When King Abdullah died in January of 2015, his brother, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, ascended the throne.

 

Saudi Arabian executions graph Image by Runab, wikimedia commons.

Saudi Arabian executions graph
Image by Runab, wikimedia commons.

 

Though Salman had supported King Abdullah’s reforms he was already eighty years old and in declining health. Instead of appointing one of his aging brothers as his acting regent, he appointed his thirty year old son, Mohammed bin Salman al Saud, as deputy crown prince and defense minister. The choice may prove to be an exceptionally bad one.

Unlike his father and uncles, Mohammed bin Salman was educated in Saudi Arabia rather than in the US, and he is not well travelled. He has a reputation for arrogance and ruthlessness.

Salman and his son face the same challenges that King Abdullah faced, but they lack one important resource that King Abdullah and his predecessors always relied on . . . They lack the cash. Oil prices have been down for the last couple of years, and that has forced the Saudi government to reduce the allowances of the extended royal family and to reverse the increases in social welfare programs that helped calm the attempted Saudi Arabian Spring.

The fear in the house of Saud is showing.

The new anti-terrorism laws are being rigorously enforced. Executions are at a two-decade high. There were 150 public beheadings in 2015. In the first week of 2016 alone, there were 47 executions by beheading or firing squad.

 

Human Rights Activist Samar Badawi Image from Int'l Women of Courage Awards 2012, Dept. of State, public domain

Human Rights Activist Samar Badawi
Image from Int’l Women of Courage Awards 2012,
Dept. of State, public domain

 

In addition, popular blogger, Raif Badawi, who urged Saudi society to be more liberal and secular, was imprisoned in 2013 and sentenced to 10 years and 1000 lashes. His lawyer, Wahleed Abu al-Khair, was imprisoned in 2014. Now, Samar Badawi – Raif Badawi’s sister and al-Khair’s former wife – was arrested on January 12, 2016, along with her 2-year-old daughter. A long time human rights advocate, Samar Badawi’s crime was running a Twitter account to raise awareness of al-Khair’s situation. At this rate, the Saudis might have to use any money left over from their campaign in Yemen and their weapons acquisitions to fund new prison construction.

On top of the domestic strain, on January 2, 2016, the Saudi execution of a prominent Shiite cleric led to an Iranian mob storming the Saudi Embassy in Tehran. Iran and Saudi Arabia then severed diplomatic ties.

The current generation of Saudi leaders is under pressure, and it shows.

The growing influence of Iran in the new Shia government in Iraq, the Iranian-backed rebellion in Yemen, the rise of ISIL in Syria, the increased Russian military presence in Syria, all combine to present what the young Saudis likely perceive to be a menace to their rule and their physical survival. When they add to that the American and Western “accord” with Iran, they may see themselves as being isolated while facing unrest at home and increasing threats by Iran.

So where will the young Royals take Saudi Arabia?

Mohammed bin Salman is planning major economic reforms. He will have to implement those reforms while dealing with Saudi Arabia’s expensive support for Sunni (non-ISIL) rebels in Yemen, the war in Yemen, and the brewing opposition at home.

 

King Ibn Saud & President Franklin D. Roosevelt Great Bitter Lake, Egypt, 2-14-1945 Image public domain

King Ibn Saud & President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Great Bitter Lake, Egypt, 2-14-1945
Image public domain

 

In 1928, King Ibn Saud came to power on the back of a fierce Wahhabi tiger. The house of Saud has never been able to completely dismount from that tiger. Since 1928, governing in Saudi Arabia has required an acrobatic balance of Wahhabi interests versus Saudi national interests. The future of Saudi Arabia depends on how well Mohammed bin Salman can ride that tiger.

 

 

 

 

The Military-Industrial Complex — Where Is The Money?

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

On January 17, 1961, US President Dwight D Eisenhower delivered his farewell speech. The retired five star general had served two presidential terms and was being replaced by his fellow military veteran, the newly elected John F. Kennedy.

 

President Dwight D. Eisenhower receives hydrogen bomb tests report from Lewis Strauss Image public domain.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower receives hydrogen bomb tests report from Lewis Strauss
Image public domain.

 

In that farewell address, Eisenhower warned, “We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military–industrial complex.”

Left-wing radicals are always quick to oppose military spending, but Eisenhower could hardly be accused of being anything like a left-wing radical. At the peak of his long military career, he skillfully commanded the allied forces in Operation Torch, which was the 1943 Allied invasion of Northwest Africa, as well as the 1944 D-Day invasion of Normandy and the Western Offensive against Nazi Germany and the European Axis powers.

After WW2, Eisenhower served as US Army Chief of Staff and then as Supreme Commander of European Forces. Few Americans could claim to have anything close to Eisenhower’s military experience or expertise.

Eisenhower was no “dove.”

He took the threat of Soviet expansion seriously. As US President, he oversaw the conclusion of the war in Korea in 1953 and approved funding for fledgling US space and satellite programs. Eisenhower also approved expensive Navy projects, such as the nuclear submarine program and the construction of the nuclear carrier, the USS Enterprise. He presided over the growth of expensive jet aircraft in the young US Air Force, and he approved funding for expensive new air defense systems for the US Army.

In spite of the large military budgets that President Eisenhower approved, some military and defense industry leaders saw him as being too frugal. Conversely, Eisenhower and his supporters felt that increasing military budgets threatened the economic health of the US.

Fifty-five years later, the arguments over defense spending continue.

Unlike during Eisenhower’s time, the arguments are now conducted against a backdrop of a frightening budget deficit and an eighteen trillion dollar national debt. The consequences of all government spending have a serious impact on the quality of life for the average American and on national security.

In Eisenhower’s time, the real threat posed by the Soviet Union impacted defense spending. Today, the Soviet Union is gone, but US and European citizens are justifiably concerned by threats from various radical Islamic groups, the increasingly nuclear-equipped North Korean despot Kim, a rapidly growing communist Chinese military capability, and a resurgent and belligerent Russia.

At a glance, it might seem as though a stable status quo has been in effect in military budgets.

In some senses, similar dynamics have remained in force. In 1961, Eisenhower was unable to convince Western allies to commit to adequate defense spending. The allies seemed happy to let the US military and taxpayers carry more than their fair share of the responsibility for the defense of Western Civilization. In 2016, that dynamic continues. US President Obama listens to nations like France, Canada, and the UK proclaim their increased commitment to defeating Islamic radicals, but then he watches as they reduce their defense programs. Eisenhower would recognize his frustration in dealing with NATO partners.

We might be tempted to assume that US defense spending itself is proportionate to what it was in 1961. Let us make some comparisons.

In 1961, US military personnel were badly underpaid. In 2016 this remains true. In 1961, the US defense budget was close to 10% of GDP. Today it is below 5% of GDP. In terms of GDP, the defense budget seems reasonable enough. But let us compare some specific defense project costs.

In 1961, the new Enterprise class nuclear aircraft carrier cost $451 million to build. Due to the escalated cost of construction, the additional three carriers of that class were cancelled. Today the new Ford class nuclear aircraft carrier is, so far, costing the taxpayers $12.8 billion to build, with an additional $4.7 billion in research costs. If we compare the two ships in inflation adjusted costs, then in today’s dollars, the Enterprise would have cost $3.4 billion to build. Where did the other $9.4 billion go?

When the Enterprise was built, it included many state of the art features, but its air defense system had been scaled back to save money. The Gerald Ford class carrier includes state of the art equipment and features, but the overall economics of the two programs are completely out of scale.

 

USS Gerald Ford under construction in Newport News, VA. Image public domain.

USS Gerald Ford under construction in Newport News, VA.
Image public domain.

 

My question is simple. What national defense value are we receiving for the disproportionately high cost of the USS Gerald Ford?

We could make similar comparisons with nuclear submarine programs, but let us instead apply the scrutiny to a broader defense project, the F-35 fighter program. The F-35 was developed as a low cost alternative to the F-22 Raptor. So what does “low cost alternative” mean in the defense industry?

The F-22 cost a frightening $150 million per plane. No wonder we wanted a “low cost alternative.” The F-35, so far, cost between $100 million for the basic model and $104 million for the VSTOL version. I’m grateful that we decided to pursue a “low cost” fighter plane.

Let’s compare the F-35 to the infamously expensive Republic F-105D fighter. In 1960, the year before Eisenhower’s farewell speech, the outlandishly expensive F-105D cost $2.1 million each. In 1960, it was the state of the art fighter, and it incorporated many new technologies. It was plagued by cost overruns, and its development was every bit as contentious as the F-35 development has become. In 2016 dollars the F-105D cost $17 million apiece. As with the Gerald Ford Carrier, the cost of the F-35 has wildly outpaced inflation.

 

F-35 Joint Strike Fighter at Edwards Air Force Base Image public domain.

F-35 Joint Strike Fighter at Edwards Air Force Base
Image public domain.

 

What defense benefit are we getting for the additional $80 million per each F-35? Is the F-35 going to bring us more security today than the F-105D brought us in 1960? I don’t see it.

The defense industry would counter my concerns with comforting catch phrases. They tell us that it is “stealth,” and that it employs more “net centric ability” than previously imagined. For less than $100 my house is “net centric.” So how does the marvelous net centric ability account for the cost of the F-35? From my point of view, it doesn’t.

Defense contractor PR players would likely question my patriotism. Am I not aware of all the real threats in the world? Do I not want the best possible defense for my family’s safety? In fact, I am very much aware of the many threats to our national security, and I do want the best possible defense capabilities for our nation. That’s precisely why I question our $100+ million fighters and our $13 billion aircraft carriers.

Every dollar wasted or overpaid is a dollar that does not help our national defense. At the same time, high costs work to erode our national defense by damaging our economy.

The F-35 and the Ford Carrier are only two of many defense projects that beg closer scrutiny. These high cost programs are being funded at the same time the US Marine Corps is undergoing a 30,000-man reduction in force. The Pentagon and the White House tell us that we are more committed than ever to fighting the increasing terrorist threats, so how is it that we justify large cuts in our premier expeditionary force? The numbers just don’t add up. In some cases, they don’t come close to adding up.

President Eisenhower’s words are even more appropriate today than they were in 1961. Think twice before you quietly accept every extravagant defense expenditure. Let your congressmen know you are watching.

Buyer Beware!

 

Crooked Line in the Sand — Russia and Turkey

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

On Tuesday, November 24, 2015, two Turkish Airforce F-16s shot down a Russian SU-24. How will that incident impact Russia-Turkey relations, Russia-West relations, NATO response, and the fight against ISIS?

 

Russian Sukhoi SU-24 Image by US Dept. of Defense, public domain.

Russian Sukhoi SU-24
Image by US Dept. of Defense, public domain.

 

Not surprisingly, Russia and Turkey disagree on what occurred leading up to Turkey shooting down the SU-24.

Russia claims that its aircraft flew along the Turkish border, making sharp turns along the crooked and sharp-angled Northwestern Syrian border to avoid flying into Turkish air space. According to Russia, its pilot received no warnings prior to being shot down. The Russians claim they were hitting ISIS targets in the area.

Turkey claims that the Russian plane flew a two mile route across a small section of Turkey that borders Syria to the east and west. Turkey claims that it radioed ten warnings to the Russian pilot before shooting down the SU-24. According to Turkey, there are no ISIS terrorists in the area that the Russians were bombing – that ethnic Turks that do not support ISIS, but do oppose Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, inhabit the targeted area.

Russia’s claim that the downed SU-24 never flew across Turkish airspace is highly improbable.

The SU-24 lacks the maneuverability required to fly the route that the Russians are claiming that it flew. Also, the Russian claim that they were attacking ISIS targets in the area is most likely at least partially false. ISIS members would be scarce in that area. The Turks seem to be telling the truth about those elements of the shoot down.

However, the Turks could not have radioed ten warnings in the few seconds that would have elapsed while the SU-24 was crossing over Turkish airspace. It’s possible that they could have been broadcasting warnings as the SU-24 flew the long leg of its route that paralleled Turkish airspace. In any case, Turkey had previously warned Russia to keep their warplanes out of Turkish airspace in response to earlier incursions by Russian planes. (For one example, see Russia Upskirts Turkey.)

So why did Russia allow their pilot to fly over Turkish air space?

Given the highly regimented air combat control structure employed by the Russians, it’s not likely that the pilot acted on his own initiative. Russian avionics equipment is not cutting edge, but it is certainly adequate to prevent an accidental flyover on the particular route taken by the SU-24. My guess is that Russia had decided that their pilots should limit their incursions into Turkish air space, but that they approved the flight path that led to their plane being shot down. It seems that Russia miscalculated Turkey’s resolve concerning its incursions.

So how will this incident affect the famed “international coalition to combat ISIS”?

Since the famed coalition is more a product of rhetoric and wishful thinking than of substance, it’s not likely to matter much. Russia is in Syria to prop up the hapless Bashar Assad. Russia’s opposition to ISIS is secondary to that goal. The West opposes both ISIS and Assad. Non-ISIS rebels are receiving Western aid, and both Turkey and its Western allies are opposed to Russian airstrikes targeting non-ISIS rebels. None of this will be greatly impacted by Turkey’s shoot down of the Russian SU-24.

On the diplomatic front, Putin claimed that Turkey “backstabbed” them by shooting down the plane.

Given that no real cooperation between Turkey and Russia has occurred in Syria, and given that the Syrian regime previously shot down a Turkish F-4 on the Syrian Turkish border, it’s more accurate to describe Turkey’s actions as a “counter slash.”

Russia canceled some official meetings between Russian and Turkish ministers and has asked Russians to halt any tourist travel in Turkey. Russia is also claiming that it is scaling back plans for gas exports through a new Russian gas line across Turkey. This seems unlikely since the alternative is for Russia to continue to rely on gas lines crossing Ukraine to reach European markets. With the current low prices of crude, Russia cannot afford to scale back on energy exports. Their fragile economy needs the revenue generated by oil and gas exports.

In military terms, Russia has reacted by deploying better air defense missiles in Syria.

This, when combined with the uncertainty that Putin relies upon so heavily in his foreign policy tactics, may present a new threat to Western and Jordanian aircraft flying in Syrian airspace hunting ISIS targets.

Putin likely does not want to further escalate the situation in Syria by attacking Western or Jordanian aircraft, but he might feel justified in shooting down Turkish aircraft that fly into Syrian air space. The possibility that Russia might mistake a French or American aircraft for a Turkish aircraft cannot be ignored. In recognition of that, the West might, without much fanfare, inform Russian commanders in Syria of Western flight plans when attacking ISIS targets.

As for Russian relations with Western nations, the impact will be minimal.

The US views Erdogan as unreliable on his best day. If Erdogan has “backstabbed” anyone, it has been his NATO partners. Nobody in the US military community will forget that on the eve of the 2003 US-coalition invasion of Iraq, Erdogan withdrew his permission for US troops to invade Iraq via Turkey. More recently, Turkey has been inconsistent in dealing with the Kurds in their fight against ISIS. Erdogan claims to want to fight ISIS, but he has spent far more effort fighting Kurds both in Turkey and in Syria.

Turkey is a NATO partner, but thanks to Erdogan, it is the least trusted and least liked member. NATO will not ignore direct military aggression by Russia against Turkey, but given Erdogan’s long, ugly record of ignoring the interests of his “allies,” NATO partners are not going to allow Erdogan to control their agenda in Syria.

As for the war on ISIS and statements by US cabinet members and DOD spokesmen that “this further complicates our efforts against ISIS” – that’s more PR effort than reality.

The Obama administration’s opponents have been critical of Obama’s minimalist approach to combating ISIS. The White House now has one more excuse for not escalating efforts against the Islamic extremists.

Given the economic trouble at home and the expensive conflict in Ukraine, Putin does not want to escalate a conflict with Turkey. Given the growing discontent and political violence in Turkey, along with troubled relations with his NATO allies, Erdogan does not want to escalate a conflict with Russia. NATO does not want Turkey or Russia to escalate a conflict. Neither Erdogan nor Putin have demonstrated skill in foreign policy or diplomacy, but both have strong reasons to avoid a serious engagement with each other.

Most likely, the status quo will continue in Syria. The fight against ISIS will remain in low gear, and since Russia has few friends, economic convenience will prevent a long term freeze of Turkey-Russia relations.

ISIS Attacks Paris — A Major Mistake

Bayard & Holmes
~ Jay Holmes

On the night of November 13, 2015, cowardly criminals from the ISIS gang carried out coordinated attacks against innocent people in Paris, France. So far, 136 people are confirmed dead, and many more remain wounded.

 

Memorial at Bataclan Image by Annie Harada Viot, public domain.

Memorial at Bataclan
Image by Annie Harada Viot, public domain.

 

Before examining the effects of the attacks beyond the casualties, Piper and I wish to offer our respectful sympathy to all the families that lost loved ones in the attacks. We also wish to assure the people of France that civilized people throughout the world stand in solidarity with them.

It is easy to see why reasonable people might view the Paris Attacks as a “success” by ISIS.

ISIS got attention, and its vainglorious leaders lust for that. They hurt France and, by extension, all French allies and sympathizers. The attacks were a tactical success in that, while they likely killed far fewer people than the ISIS head-monkeys had hoped for, they killed more than enough to justify their efforts in tactical terms.

All this notwithstanding, I view the Paris attacks as a gigantic failure on the part of ISIS.

That’s because the violence in France does not, and will not, support ISIS’s goal of extending its control over more Middle East territory. It certainly doesn’t get the group closer to its stated goal of worldwide Islamic rule.

The Paris attacks have already resulted in increased French air strikes against ISIS assets in the Middle East. As for ISIS assets in Europe, France and other European nations have redoubled their efforts in rounding up the ISIS vermin that have been roaming free across that continent. If you are an agent of ISIS in Europe, your life is more difficult this week than it was last week. Those seventy-two virgins are closer than you think.

This does not mean that ISIS is incapable of carrying out further attacks in the West.

It is never difficult for criminal enterprises to recruit the losers in any society. But since the latest attacks, Europeans will be more willing to tolerate increased police activity and higher military budgets. Those higher military budgets, coupled with increased Western willpower to use military force against ISIS, will equate to a higher rate of vaporization of ISIS thugs across the Middle East. If anyone disagrees with this theory, please note the ISIS casualties these last few days in Syria and North Africa. It’s not a good time to be waving an ISIS flag.

So then, why would a group that claims to be the rightful rulers of all the people on the planet be so unwise as to carry out the Paris attacks?

One critical element of the answer is stupidity. No sane, intelligent person would join ISIS, let alone try to lead it. Lots of types of individuals might join ISIS, but one of the common traits they share is an inability to reasonably perceive reality. Even those that join because they wish to rise in personal status from unemployed dishwasher to “badass terrorist gun slinger” must be intellectually deficient in order to volunteer for life as an ISIS gofer. Being the lead lowlife in a group like ISIS is, at best, a short-term thrill. Being at the bottom of the lowlife heap must be hellish. We are not dealing with a collection of 25,000 brilliant scholars. We are dealing with heartless, bloodthirsty idiots. And they will fail.

When ISIS first came to the forefront of Western media, some analysts predicted that they would be very difficult to defeat. I stated openly that with any real effort by the West, ISIS could be sent back to the caves and sewers that they crawled out of. Some observers viewed the well-publicized parades of black clad jihadists waving ISIS flags as a terrifying new event. I viewed them as an ideal opportunity for target practice for Western and Middle Eastern militaries. A few (very few) experienced military analysts scoffed at the notion that ISIS could be defeated with less than years of major military effort including thousands of US “boots on the ground.”

Thus far, with minimal effort by the US and far less serious efforts by a few of our allies, the ISIS Middle East blitzkrieg has been halted.

Keep in mind that Western efforts have amounted to airstrikes against ISIS targets, pathetically small assistance to the Kurds, a mammoth infusion of cash and arms to that vaguely defined troupe of hapless clowns that we so generously call “the Iraqi Army,” and minimal efforts at helping independent Syrian rebels. We will not at this time delve into any possible covert actions that may have occurred against ISIS.

Thus far, the airstrikes have been partially effective.

Some in the West have called for a more robust bombing campaign against ISIS targets, but that’s a topic for another discussion. The under-armed, outmanned Kurds, now assisted by a few poorly-armed Yazidis, have been very successful in their struggle against their well-armed ISIS opponents. The fact that the Yazidis and Kurds are willing and able to cooperate with each other is further bad news for the despised ISIS. Our wildly expensive efforts with the Iraqi Army have resulted in little more than accidentally supplying ISIS with weapons, ammo, and equipment. Our efforts at assisting Syrian rebels have yet to yield meaningful results. And yet, with such minimal effort by the West, ISIS has been stalled.

What about ISIS’s many friends across the Middle East?

They no longer have any. Thus far, the ISIS Middle East Foreign Policy Initiative has consisted of creating steadfast enemies in Jordan, infuriating the Egyptian government, and declaring war on Hezbollah in Lebanon, thus earning the always generous hatred of the Iranian Shia junta. All of this has been done without them initiating their most important battle – their “coming war” against Israel.

Even by the low standards of ISIS logic, the Paris attacks were a foolish move. ISIS’s future has never been bright. This week, it’s dimmer still.

Vive la France! Vive la liberté!

À la ferme porcine avec ISIS!