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.

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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.

Russia Peeks Up Turkey’s Skirts

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

On Saturday, October 3, a Russian fighter flown from Syria entered Turkish airspace without Turkey’s permission.

 

Russian SU-27 Flanker aircraft. Image by UK Royal Air Force, wikimedia commons.

Russian SU-27 Flanker aircraft.
Image by UK Royal Air Force, wikimedia commons.

 

Turkey responded by summoning the Russian Ambassador to Turkey to receive a formal complaint from the Turkish government. The US, the UK, and NATO officials reiterated that they will stand by Turkey against any aggression. Naturally, Russia will pretend that the incursion was accidental.

Given the equipment used by Russian fighters, it is unlikely that the incursion was accidental or unknown to the Russian pilot. Given the command and control procedures enforced by the Russian Air Force, it is highly unlikely that the Russian pilot acted without the prior approval of bosses in Moscow.

So why would Russia look to annoy Turkey? It wouldn’t.

The incursion was not meant to insult or annoy the Turkish government. It was almost certainly an intelligence operation. Other Russian aircraft and ships in the area likely were listening to the Turkish reaction. The Russian GRU (military intelligence) will carefully analyze data collected, such as radar and radio signals from Turkey, along with a timeline of the mission. Apparently, the Kremlin felt that the information gained would be worth the minor diplomatic fallout.

Let’s see if Moscow risks the same trick with Israel. I doubt it will. Israel, given its small area, cannot afford to be so patient with aircraft incursions.

Changing US-Mideast Relations — Turkey’s Hot and Cold Running Erdoğan

By Jay Holmes

During the past twelve years, US-Turkey relations have been in a state of flux. Statements from Ankara and Washington D.C. to the Western media have been almost habitually optimistic, but the reality beneath the rhetoric has proven problematic for both nations. For the West, the rise to power of Turkish President Recep Erdoğan and his pro-Islamist Justice and Development Party has introduced complications in the previously stable US-Turkey relationship.

 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan Image by Govt. of Chile, wikimedia commons.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Image by Govt. of Chile, wikimedia commons.

 

As compared to earlier Turkish leaders, such as Abdullah Gül, the outspoken Erdoğan has demonstrated less finesse when dealing with Western leaders. In his three terms as Prime Minister and now as the President of Turkey, Erdoğan has represented himself as an agent for change. Precisely what sort of change Erdoğan represents is not so easy to identify.

Erdoğan is a case study in contradictions.

Turkey has been moving toward economic integration with the European Community for over a decade, and Erdoğan openly supports this. He’s counting on European markets to provide the cash that will satisfy the “development” aspect of his Justice and Development Party platform. Yet, in spite of his desperate need to bring Turkey into the European Community, he simultaneously sees himself as leading Turkey into a leadership position among Islamic nations.

These two positions are not realistically or mutually sustainable. The values, standards, and laws that are central to European Community membership are not compatible with the values, standards, and laws of most Islamic nations.

One of Erdoğan’s dilemmas is his relationship with Iran.

Iran, unlike Turkey, is a Shia nation with a radical Shia theocracy. Therefore, it might seem a simple choice for Erdoğan to openly oppose Iran and Iranian ambitions in Syria and Iraq. However, Iran is Turkey’s second largest export customer. Iran also provides Turkey with about 35% of its oil supplies. Instead of being at odds, these two countries have fostered closer relations in recent years.

The rise of a democratic reform movement in Syria followed by the birth of the ISIS cancer presents Turkey with obvious security risks. It also presents Turkey with a golden opportunity to assume a leadership role in the fight against ISIS at a time when Turkey so desperately wants membership in the European Community.

In light of this golden opportunity, one might envision coalition air attacks being conducted from Turkish air bases, which are ideally located near the Syrian border. One might even expect the Turkish Air Force to take part in those raids. However, one would be quite mistaken. While Erdoğan has loudly demanded and received prompt NATO protection in the past, he refused to allow US and European air forces to conduct raids against ISIS from Turkish bases. For apparent diplomatic reasons, the US and its allies have downplayed their frustration with Turkey over this and several other issues concerning ISIS.

Another contradiction in Turkish policies is Erdoğan’s changing relationship with the Kurds. While most Kurds see themselves as being one people in need of an independent homeland, Turkey views them as three distinct groups.

The first group is the Kurds within Turkey. In order to enter the European Union, Turkey has been under pressure from Europe to improve its stance on human rights. Erdoğan and many Turks see the Kurds within Turkey as enemies of Turkish culture and a challenge to Turkish nationalism. In order to gain entry to the European Community, Turkey has changed some of the laws that discriminated against Kurdish Turks, but Turkey’s relationship with other Kurds remains more complex.

The second group of Kurds resides to the east of Turkey in Iraq. From Erdoğan’s point of view, they are “our dear Kurdish friends to the east.” The central feature of those particular Kurds that makes them dear to Erdoğan is the oil reserves in their region. Perhaps I oversimplify. It’s not just the oil. There’s gas, as well.

 

Kurdish refugee camp in Suruc, Turkey, Nov. 19, 2014 Image by Voice of America, public domain.

Kurdish refugee camp in Suruc, Turkey, Nov. 19, 2014
Image by Voice of America, public domain.

 

The third group of Kurds is in Syria. Many of these Kurds previously resided in Turkey, but they escaped to Syria to avoid oppression by the Turkish government. While practicing to pretend to love Kurds in Iraq, Erdoğan is hosting 200,000 Syrian Kurdish refugees in Turkey. These Kurds have no oil and no gas to sell to Turkey, and so to Erdoğan, they are only a problem.

Removing ISIS from Syria would be a simple solution to the refugee problem. However, when ISIS attacked Kobani, Syria, on the Turkish-Syrian border, Turkey refused to allow the US and other coalition members to supply the Kurdish resistance fighters in Kobani through Turkey. In Erdoğan’s mind, Kurdish control of part of Syria represents a threat to Turkey. Erdoğan fears that the Kurds will one day do to Turkey what Turkey has done to the Kurds.

The US grew tired of negotiating with Erdoğan and resorted to airdropping supplies to the Kurdish fighters. In spite of Erdoğan’s opposition to US assistance to the Kurds, the Kurdish resistance fighters were able to drive ISIS from Kobani.

 

Kurdish YPG fighting in Kobane, Feb. 4, 2015. Image by Voice of America, wikimedia commons.

Kurdish YPG fighting in Kobani, Feb. 4, 2015.
Image by Voice of America, wikimedia commons.

 

One particularly nasty rumor that surfaced during the battle of Kobani is that members of the Turkish army supplied ISIS with ammunition during the battle. Another serious allegation against Turkey is that it may have been supporting ISIS affiliated rebels in Libya.

Turkey denies those allegations, but they cannot deny that a Turkish-born ISIS commander, Emrah Çaçan , is being treated in a Turkish hospital after being wounded in Kobani. At the same time, Turkey is prosecuting a Kurdish-Turkish medical student named Esra Yakar for providing volunteer medical treatment in Kobani.

Esra left school to volunteer as a physician in Kobani. She was badly wounded there, and with the promise of better treatment, she was taken to a hospital in Turkey. Her Turkish doctor requested that she receive advanced care by eye specialists, but he was ignored. She then lost the use of her right eye. After she was finally transferred to a hospital in Ankara, Esra Yakar was ordered out of her hospital bed by police, arrested, and thrown in jail. Though she was released a few days later, she is still awaiting a trail date on April 30. Apparently, Erdoğan and his government consider anyone that gives medical treatment to Kurdish fighters to be criminals, yet they are happy to give medical care to a well-known terrorist.

To be clear, not everyone in Turkey supports Erdoğan’s pro-ISIS behavior.

The medical community in Turkey is outraged by what was done to Esra Yakar and has lodged complaints and petitions on her behalf. Unfortunately, the opposition in Turkey counts for less each day since Erdoğan’s government has stifled the press and used the police and intelligence services to crush any opposition to his rule.

So why is Erdoğan so willing to defy his Western “allies”? Why would the European Community seriously consider Turkey’s application when Turkey has so clearly rejected all of the European Community’s shared values?

In large measure, the answer is oil and gas.

Turkey is serving as a major conduit for oil from Russia, Central Asia, and Iraq. Turkey must import most of the oil and gas that it consumes, and if the Justice and Development Party is to deliver on its “development” promises, it needs even more oil and gas to do so.

 

Kirkuk-Ceyhan Oil Pipeline -- only one of many through Turkey. Image by Amirki, wikimedia commons.

Kirkuk-Ceyhan Oil Pipeline–only one of many through Turkey.
Image by Amirki, wikimedia commons.

 

Although Turkey has none of its own gas and oil to sell to Europe, it collects lucrative fees on each barrel of oil or cubic yard of gas that flows through its pipelines or transfers through Turkish ports. At a time when Russia’s trans-Ukraine oil and gas pipelines are under threat because of its invasion of Eastern Ukraine, Europe will likely remain quiet about whatever Erdoğan does as long as he keeps allowing that oil and gas to keep flowing across Turkey.

And what will the US do?

For the moment, the US administration has decided to keep pretending that Erdoğan is an ally to the US and NATO. Elections in Turkey are scheduled to take place in June. Whether or not the throttled opposition can manage a victory remains to be seen.

The US will not be interested in harming European allies by slowing the transit of oil and gas across Turkey to European markets. My guess is that, if Erdoğan and his party remain in power, the US will begin to disregard Turkish interests while continuing to pretend that Turkey is an ally.

If the Justice and Development Party loses the next elections in Turkey, Turkey will likely end up with a more secular-leaning government, and it will abandon its fantasies of friendship with Iran and ISIS.

Until that happens, we cannot expect any real improvement in US-Turkey relations.

 

 

Muslim Radicals Attack Vienna (Again)

By Jay Holmes

In 1682, Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I was facing the nightmare that had haunted Austro-German leaders for centuries—the Hapsburg Empire was threatened by simultaneous wars on two fronts. On the Rhine to the west, his German states were under threat from a broad coalition of protestant nations such as England, Sweden, the protestant German principalities, and Catholic France. To the east, his Hungarian kingdom was in rebellion. Leopold chose to pay minimal attention to the rebellion in Hungary and stationed the majority of his troops and artillery along the Rhine.

 

Battle of Vienna, 1683 Painting by Juliusz Kossak, public domain

Battle of Vienna, 1683
Painting by Juliusz Kossak, public domain

 

Eighteen years earlier, a twenty-year peace treaty had been agreed to by the Ottoman Empire and Leopold’s Holy Roman Empire. Facing simultaneous threats on two fronts, Leopold was anxious to conclude an extension of that peace treaty. From his Ottoman neighbors’ point of view, the time was ripe for an invasion of Europe. Ottoman Emperor Mehmed IV declined to extend the peace treaty and authorized Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa to prepare for an invasion of Leopold’s Holy Roman Empire.

Vienna had been a tempting prize for the Ottomans since they came to power in 1299. Located on a navigable portion of the upper Danube River at the eastern end of the Alps, the city had been a strategic trading hub since around 500 B.C. The Ottomans viewed Vienna as a potential base for the eventual conquest of all of Europe.

In 1529, Suleiman the Magnificent had led an Ottoman army to an expensive defeat at the gates of Vienna. (See Muslim Radicals Attack Vienna.) Kara Mustafa was determined to avoid Suleiman’s mistakes. The idea of succeeding where the great Suleiman had failed became an overriding force in all of Mustafa’s military thinking.

 

Portrait of Kara Mustafa Artist unknown, public domain

Portrait of Kara Mustafa
Artist unknown, public domain

 

A more patient military leader might have advanced toward Vienna by successively conquering less heavily defended territories and eventually massing large forces closer to Vienna to attack that city without moving a large army over long distances. Such a strategy would have left the eventual conquest of Vienna to a future generation of Ottoman leaders. For Kara Mustafa, such a plan held no appeal. For him, the most important thing about capturing Vienna was that he be at the head of the Ottoman army that achieved that victory.

Instead of launching an Army westward as Suleiman had done in 1529, Mustafa invested heavily in improving roads and bridges leading into Europe while he amassed weapons, ammunition, and supplies at advanced bases. Mustafa wanted his Army to arrive well rested at the gates of Vienna in the summer of 1683. The plan made sense, but it had one drawback. The Ottoman preparations for a campaign to the west, along with their refusal to extend the peace treaty, did not go unnoticed by the Emperor Leopold.

 

Portrait of Leopold I of Hapsburg Holy Roman Emperor Artist unknown, public domain

Portrait of Leopold I of Hapsburg
Holy Roman Emperor
Artist unknown, public domain

 

Leopold and his military leaders used the time wisely. They did two important things. They reinforced the walls of Vienna and lay in supplies and ammunition for their cannons, and they concluded a treaty for mutual defense with Polish King Jan III Sobieski.

On April 1, 1683, the Ottoman Army began its march toward Vienna. Unlike his predecessor in 1529, Kara Mustafa did not have to fight a significant series of battles to arrive at Vienna. But similarly to Suleiman, Mustafa had used the standard jihadi holy war spiel to whip up support for his campaign.

For Mustafa, his ambition to take Vienna was likely more personal than religious, but convincing thousands of troops to leave their families behind and risk their lives for the sake of their general’s vanity is never a good recruiting plan. On the other hand, the jihadi holy war marketing plan worked like a charm, but it came at a cost that Mustafa did not anticipate.

On the way to Vienna, the jihadi-inspired army raped and pillaged, as did many armies of the day. When they reached Perchtoldsdorf, Austria, on the way to Vienna, Mustafa offered the city the chance to surrender in exchange for the safety of the city’s inhabitants. The city surrendered, and Mustafa’s jihadis immediately sacked it.

Mustafa’s army arrived at the gates of Vienna on July 14, 1683, and demanded immediate surrender in exchange for safe passage for all the soldiers and citizens. However, the Viennese had heard about the slaughter at Perchtoldsdorf, and they had no intentions of surrendering.

 

Map of Vienna, 1683 By Giovanni Giacomo de Rossi, public domain

Map of Vienna, 1683
By Giovanni Giacomo de Rossi, public domain

 

Estimates of the size of Mustafa’s forces vary widely depending on the sources. If we count the Tartar cavalry that joined Mustafa en-route to Vienna, it’s likely that he had approximately 190,000 troops at his disposal. Vienna had a garrison of 15,000 professional soldiers and 8,500 volunteers to defend the city. Also, further west, the Duke of Lorraine’s supporting force of 20,000 troops awaited reinforcements from Germany and Poland.

Based on the numbers of troops each side had on July 14, it seems that the Ottomans should have had an easy victory at hand, but when we consider the artillery that each side had, we discover why the Ottomans didn’t snatch a quick victory as soon as they arrived at Vienna. The Ottomans had 149 cannons ranging from light to medium size. The Viennese garrison had 370 cannons of medium to large size. The Viennese advantage in artillery was multiplied by the fact that they were in well-constructed battlements, whereas the Ottomans had no real defensive cover from which to conduct an artillery duel.

Mustafa was unaware that Poland and Germany were already sending a relief force to Vienna. Supremely confident in his position, he avoided an outright artillery duel and began mining operations to tunnel under the city walls. Mustafa hoped that after undermining and blowing up a significant segment of Vienna’s defensive walls, a portion of his vastly superior forces could rush the city. It was a reasonable plan, but it required time.

 

King Jan III Sobieski Blessing Polish Attack Painting by Juliusz Kossak, public domain

King Jan III Sobieski Blessing Polish Attack
Painting by Juliusz Kossak, public domain

 

Unfortunately for Mustafa, Poland’s King Jan III Sobieski was not altogether reasonable. On September 6, 1683, a force of 37,000 Polish troops crossed the Danube River twenty miles NW of Vienna and joined with a relief force of 47,000 troops of the Holy Roman Empire. After some initial squabbling over who would take overall command of the army, Sobieski was given the job.

On the night of September 11, the combined Holy Roman and Polish army got its artillery up steep terrain to a commanding position on the right flank of Mustafa’s army. On the morning of September 12, as Mustafa was launching a final assault on Vienna, the relief force struck with artillery and infantry assaults against Mustafa’s right flank.

Kara Mustafa calculated that he still vastly outnumbered the combined forces of the Vienna garrison and Sobieski’s army. He continued the final assault on Vienna while ordering a portion of his army to defend against Sobieski’s attack. He also ordered that the thirty thousand Christian prisoners he collected en-route to Vienna be executed.

 

Siege of Vienna, 1683 Painting by Frans Geffels, public domain

Siege of Vienna, 1683
Painting by Frans Geffels, public domain

 

By the late afternoon, Mustafa realized that his assault on Vienna was failing and that Sobieski’s army was not defeated. He tried to realign his forces to deal a heavy blow against Sobieski’s relief force, but before he could get his army into a better disposition for attacking, an 18,000-strong fresh cavalry force swept down the slope against the Ottoman lines. Mustafa’s army broke. When the sun set on the battlefield that day, it was effectively setting on the Ottoman’s ambitions to conquer Europe.

Mustafa’s army lost around 20,000 men in the siege of Vienna. In their battle with the relief force, they lost an additional 40,000 troops. Mustafa retreated with the remains of his army to Belgrade.

On Christmas day in 1683, the Janissaries—Mustafa’s elite troops—received a message from the Ottoman ruler Mehmed IV instructing that Kara Mustafa be executed. The Janissaries used a silk cord to strangle Kara Mustafa. His head was delivered to Mehmed IV in a velvet sack.

 

Return from Vienna Polish-Lithuanians leaving Vienna with their loot after defeating the Ottomans Painting by Jozef Brandt, public domain

Return from Vienna
Polish-Lithuanians leaving Vienna with their loot after defeating the Ottomans
Painting by Jozef Brandt, public domain

 

The Ottoman Empire endured for over two more centuries after their failed attack on Vienna, but it remained in a defensive mode for the rest of its history. In their final great foreign policy miscalculation, the Ottomans sided with the Austro-Hungarian-German powers against the European allies in World War One. In 1923, the Empire was dissolved and the modern state of Turkey came into being.

Turkey–Giving America the Bird

By Jay Holmes

As we looked at last Wednesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent visit to Turkey highlights the tensions between our two countries. (See Turkey–America’s Special Frenemy) In the long history of our “frenemy” relationship, the Kurds represent an interesting point of conflict. In fact, it’s played out like an Italian opera, minus the great singing. I’ll give you the short version.

Iraq oppressed the Kurds, even striking them with chemical weapons. Some of those Iraqi chemical weapons that many Westerners claim were all a figment of Bush’s imagination were manufactured by Iraqis in Republican Guards-controlled areas in the Iraqi Kurdish homeland. Saddam hated the Kurds so we liked them. Americans—the kind that also don’t officially exist—made friends with the Kurds. “Friends” as in the sort of friends who go shooting with you and agree to shoot at the same people you are shooting at. Good friends.

Our good friends, the Iraqi Kurds image from US Navy

Our good friends, the Iraqi Kurds
image from US Navy

The Turks didn’t like that much, but they understood the “shooting at Saddam’s pals and destroying his chemical weapons” part of the equation. What the Turks did not want was an autonomous Kurdish state in the post-Saddam Iraq.

At that time, a Kurdish group known as the PKK had been carrying out terrorist strikes against the Turkish government and Turkey did not want those attacks to continue or increase. The PKK assured the US that such attacks would cease, and the US generously passed on those assurances to Turkey. Those assurances were roughly as solid as assurances by Hamas that they won’t attack Israel any more. Ah, well. The best operas do include some comedy.

When it came time for the US to invade Iraq and depose Saddam, Turkey reversed itself at the last minute and refused to allow US troops, welcomed to Turkey as part of the pending invasion, to launch any attacks from Turkey. That decision left the US-led coalition without almost half of the forces that they had intended to use in the invasion. A back stabbing by Erdogan that some politicians in the US seemed to quickly forget.

Thanks to a vast superiority in equipment, quality of troops, and military leadership, the coalition still performed very well against Saddam’s forces and defeated his regime. Unfortunately, it took longer and cost more coalition lives than it would have had the coalition been able to use all of its assembled forces.

Then, something interesting happened. Turkey looked at the rising cost of oil and realized that there are sizeable untapped reserves underneath those quaint Kurdish mud hut villages. Turkey then did what Western oil companies and governments had already done. They started salivating over the idea of Kurdish oil flowing into the West via Turkey. In the Turkish version of the fantasy, less of that Kurdish oil flows out of Turkey into Europe, but what’s a few billion barrels of petroleum between old friends? The petroleum worked its old black magic and Turks and Kurds started getting along.

The US’s primary concern in Iraq was the survival of a central government led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Importantly, during Maliki’s tenure, Iraq has doubled its oil exports. The West understands Maliki is a less than ideal leader. From the Saudi king’s point of view, Maliki is an “Iranian agent.” Unfortunately, most of the idealists in Iraq were long dead when Maliki came to power, and in a nation full of intolerable political candidates, he was tolerable from the point of view of the present and previous US administrations.

As part of the reconstruction of Iraq, the Iraqi Interim Government responded to coalition pressure and gave Kurds semi-autonomous status in the north. The Turkish government was dead set against it at the time. Then, Turkey followed the example of US and Western oil companies and negotiated oil deals with the Kurds. Unfortunately for the Iraqi government in Baghdad, Turkey did not include them in their wheeling and dealing with the Kurds.

This presents a problem or two for the US. The obvious problem is that the Iraqi national government is being badly undermined. If the Baghdad government collapses, its replacement may be much worse. The second possible issue is that the US government may, for many rea$ons, have its own strong feelings about precisely who should be scarfing up that Kurdish oil. From the Kurdish point of view, it’s great to have multiple suitors.

Springtime always makes for a great setting in any opera. Ah, yes. The Arab Spring. Is that freedom that I smell in Syria? Some of the Syrians think so. But not all Syrians agree on what “freedom” should look like or who should be in charge of it.

In the political vision shared by Erdogan and Obama, the US would support Turkey in helping Syrians to oust Assad from Syria. The US would maintain the smallest possible visible profile in the conflict, and Erdogan would provide the locals leadership in helping the Syrians to form a united democratic front in Syria. Assad would depart as a passenger in a plane or in a box on a truck, and all would be well. That vision has not become reality.

What was to be a momentous coming of age for Erdogan and Turkey has become an embarrassment. Erdogan sponsored purges of Turkey’s military and intelligence leaders, and now he is handicapped by that. His military and intelligence services still have well trained troops, but their leadership was badly damaged. Some of the very people who could help subtly bring to bear Turkish influence in Syria are rotting away in Turkish prisons for imaginary crimes.

Turkey now houses thousands of Syrian refugees, and they can’t be sure how many of them are terrorists that might soon turn on Turkey. Erdogan’s attempts at rallying the various Syrian factions to cooperation and victory have been a complete failure. That helps explain his cliché anti-Israeli act at the recent Arab summit. He plays to a tough audience at Arab summits and they were not impressed this week. Just as Erdogan gained a position of eminence among the Middle Eastern Islamic nations, his stardom is quickly fading.

In yet one more political irony, Erdogan is now quietly begging the US to “take a more active role in bringing about change in Syria.” The same man that back-stabbed the US lead coalition because he supposedly could not bring himself to attack another Islamic nation now desperately wants the US to send its military to clean up the problem in his front yard. If you laughed as you read that, don’t feel bad. It’s okay. If you can’t laugh a bit when you consider foreign affairs you should avoid foreign affairs altogether or you might find yourself suicidal or in need of medication.

Erdogan’s quiet but desperate whispers to John Kerry were likely answered with charming and not very reassuring platitudes. I can just imagine Kerry smiling as he told Erdogan, “You have our full confidence. You know we’ll do everything we can to help you.” The entire time, Kerry had to be wondering what in the world the US could do to turn Syria into a happy and peaceful place without committing the US to yet another unpopular war.

As a NATO member, the US has sent Patriot air-defense missiles to protect the Turkish border, but it seems unlikely to me that the White House would be willing to get any more involved than that in Syria. After all, we are still busy building the world’s best disguised “democracy” in Afghanistan, listening to that ridiculous toad in North Korea threaten us with nuclear annihilation, and contemplating a possible war with Iran.

In less than four years, we will have a new administration in the White House. Erdogan might manage to stay in power beyond that in spite of growing opposition from many of his once staunch friends. Two things that won’t change by then are the geography or the West’s need for oil. Turkey remains the best route to the West for Central Asian oil. Our overriding need for oil combined with the fact that Turkey is in a rough neighborhood and needs friends means the Turkish-American Opera will be playing more acts for a long time to come. Turn up the music. It might drown out the rhetoric.

Turkey — America’s Special Frenemy

By Jay Holmes

US Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent visit to Turkey has momentarily brought US-Turkish relations to the forefront of US foreign affairs news. Days before Kerry’s visit, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan turned up the tension in US-Turkish relations by announcing that Zionism is a “crime against humanity.”

President Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, image in public domain

President Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, image in public domain

Many folks in the West had to wonder precisely how much of a “friend” US President Obama’s “special friend” Erdogan is and precisely who Erdogan’s friends might be. I didn’t include Israel in the list of those who wondered about Erdogan. Most Israelis long ago gave up wondering and decided they could always count on Erdogan to play that easy Anti-Israel card whenever it suited him. He has never disappointed them on that score.

The day before Kerry’s arrival, the Turkish government arrested yet another eleven journalists for daring to question the Erdogan regime. As near as I can tell, Turkey now has more journalists in prison than Communist China does. Of course, that’s a tricky comparison because China enjoys an advantage in dealing with journalist prison populations. China executes them. To their credit, the Turks generally avoid executing imprisoned journalists so they’re bound to accumulate a higher total of jailed journalists as long as they continue to suppress free speech.

Kerry issued a carefully muted disapproval of Erdogan’s words. I can’t fault Kerry for not speaking out more directly because he was in the middle of a diplomatic mission to Turkey—a NATO ally—and he was carrying a sizeable agenda of urgent issues. Beyond that, it’s not Kerry’s job to act on his own opinions. It’s his job to execute whatever foreign policy the US president dictates. Given that Obama has spent the last four years cultivating a “special close friendship” with Erdogan, and given the number of urgent issues shared by the US and Turkey, Obama is not likely to cut his losses with Erdogan too quickly.

In spite of the professional opinions of State Department employees and the US Ambassador to Turkey, President Obama was certain that, with a little influence from the US and the West, he could count on Erdogan to act as a moderate Islamic Democratic leader. The President has consistently held up Turkey as a leader of reform in the Middle East.

Given the turmoil in the Middle East, our addiction to petroleum, and the previous half a century of fairly good relations with Turkey, it’s understandable that the Obama crew might engage in a bit of wild optimism in dealing with Turkey. The White House publicly defined Turkey as a natural economic, ideological, and political gateway between the West and the Middle East. A country that’s supposed to be like leaving East L.A. via Disneyland and finding yourself on a quiet beach in Malibu without any drive-by shootings along the way.

That history of cooperation between the US and Turkey has to be placed in the context of the Cold War. Although Turkey tried to establish a close working relationship with the USSR after World War One, it quickly realized that it was on Stalin’s lunch menu and started looking to the West for friends. By the end of World War Two, the US and Turkey were working overtime to build a strong friendship based on Turkish geography and US cash.

The history of US-Turkish relations since World War Two is a complex one, filled with constant friction and held together by the overriding concern about Soviet aggression. That glue of Soviet aggression is no longer present, and like a passionate young couple, common ground and mutual understanding must be defined for the US and Turkey for the relationship to attain any lasting mutual benefit. The Obama administration sees common ground, but does Turkey see the same thing?

Both the US and Turkey openly agree that Turkey can be that peaceful gateway between the West and the Middle East. Turkey maintains diplomatic and economic ties to Iran and has consistently, and apparently faithfully, done a good job of acting as a diplomatic conduit for Iran and the US. Given that Turkey and its growing economy purchase oil from Iran, it’s no small matter for them to take on that role as a diplomatic third between Iran and the US. Erdogan sees himself as a top tier world leader, and his diplomatic position between Iran and the US gives him credibility both in the Mid-east and the West.

Many analysts point to the current civil war in Syria as a turning point in US-Turkish relations. It’s certainly an important event. In fact, if you live next door to Syria, as the Turks do, and artillery rounds and rockets are finding their way to your side of the border, which they are, then it’s critically important and urgently requires a solution.

More realistically, the strain in US-Turkish relations is at least in part caused by long standing issues. The first sticking point revolves around the fact that about one and a half million Armenians live in the US, and they remember the genocide carried out against Armenians by the Ottoman Empire after World War One. Please don’t hate Armenians just because of those silly Kardashian people. Most Americans of Armenian descent are lovely folks. They and the other millions of Armenian diaspora around the world want Turkey to admit that the genocide occurred. It’s quite clear to everyone except successive Turkish governments that it did occur. That has caused friction between the US and Turkish governments.

Another long-standing conflict between Turkey and the US has been Israel. While Turkey has not generally counted itself among the “death to the Jews” Middle Eastern crowd, it has been sympathetic toward Palestinians and cozy with Hamas. At the same time, the US categorizes Hamas as a terrorist group. Given that Hamas has spent most of its cash and effort over time on terrorist activities, the US is not likely to change its stance.

Then, there are those other, not so well-treated folks who call themselves Kurds. I happen to like the Kurdish people but in international terms, I’m in a minority. Some adventurous Americans, as well as a few nosey Brits, had very cordial dealings with the Kurds back when a nasty old creep by the name of Saddam Hussein was running Iraq.

Parts of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran were the Kurdish homeland for a period. The Kurds want those parts back. Turkey, Iran, and Syria have no intention of giving that land back any more than the US, Canada, or any other New World nation intends to return this half of the globe to the Native Americans. Note to Argentine President Kirchner: If the Brits gift you the Falklands, you’ll have to find some Native Americans to give it to.

During the Iraq War and the early stages of the subsequent “rebuilding” of Iraq, the vast differences in the US and Turkish view of the Kurds appeared to be a long term problem in US-Turkish relations. Most observers assumed that the PKK attacks on Turkish soil, which the PKK considers to be their rightful home, would remain the defining issue for Turkey in its policies toward Iraq. Problems are not always what they seem to be on the surface. As it turned out, there was a deeper underlying issue that would eventually shape a new Turkish outlook on Iraq. In our next article, we will examine that issue and the other emerging issues that have intervened in the simple view of US-Turkish relations that the present and recent US administrations have tried to implement.