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US-Turkish partnership: “strategic” does not mean “reliable”

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The continuing tension in the Middle East has yet again become a discussion point during the so-called top-level week of the 74th Session of the UN General Assembly in New York. What made the situation worse this year was Washington’s decision to strengthen its military presence in the region, which it adopted a few days before the summit. According to US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, the measure was taken at the request of Saudi Arabia, which had been attacked by drones: “The President (Donald Trump) approved the deployment of US forces, which will be defensive and will focus primarily on air and missile defense”. According to the head of the Pentagon, this “will send a clear signal that the US is supporting its partners in the region.”

In turn, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joseph Dunford,  promised to begin to supply military equipment to regional allies – Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – at an early date.

According to Independent, on the night of September 17th, a couple of days after the drone attack, Saudi planes took part in an air raid on the alleged positions of the Iranian forces in Syria. An “informed source” told newspaper reporters that “Saudi fighters were spotted in the operation along with other fighters.” It is easy to guess the origin of “other” aircraft. Commenting on these events, Slavoj Zizek, a Slovenian culturologist and philosopher, remarks: “One should pay attention to the “wordless” partnership between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which serves as yet another proof of the existence of a new “axis of evil” in the Middle East, consisting of Saudi Arabia, Israel, Egypt and the UAE”.

Significantly, neither he nor other analysts mention Turkey, which is considered Washington’s strategic ally in the Middle East. And for a good reason – Ankara’s relations with all these countries are strained.

In the run-up to the UN General Assembly, “on the sidelines” of which a bilateral meeting of the American and Turkish presidents was to be held,  Ankara assured its Western partners that its foreign policy paradigm remains intact.

In his lengthy interview on CNN Türk, the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu emphasized: “We are not going to leave Europe … We are set in the direction of the EU”. Speaking about partnership with Russia, the minister noted: “Russia is a reality, not just part of the way towards Asia. Having good relations, economic ties with the East does not mean giving up on Europe … Our rapprochement with Russia does not give anyone the right to doubt our desire to join the EU or question our membership in NATO … We are members of NATO, we support a preventive and dialogue-based policy of the Alliance in relation to Russia. But we are part of  this region, and we must pursue a balanced policy with our neighbors.” Doesn’t it look like an attempt to make excuses before the Western vis-à-vis for the “tilt” towards Moscow?

Cavusoglu was echoed by presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin, who said in an article written for Bloomberg that allegations that Turkey is moving away from the West and pursuing policies that run counter to NATO’s interests, are ungrounded.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on the eve of his trip to New York, made it clear that Ankara was ready to look into the possibility of acquiring the American Patriot air defense systems on acceptable conditions. The United States could not but agree: according to the Haber Turk Channel, Washington is drafting a new proposal on the supply of Patriot air defense systems and F-35 fighters to Turkey.

The Americans are in a rush. The Syrian campaign has drawn the attention of countries of the region to Russian weapons. Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon have demonstrated interest in S-400 systems. The trend towards diversification of sources of arms supplies is visible. In this regard, observer of the Turkish Sabah newspaper Berjan Tutar reports: “The world has seen that trillions of dollars worth air defense systems which were sold to Saudi Arabia by the United States and Europeans since the 70s, have proved powerless comparied to drones, whose price is 10 thousand dollars.” The analyst recalls that in January 2018 similar Russian systems shot down all 13 drones that attacked Russian bases in Tartus and Khmeimim.

On the second day of the General Assembly, foreign ministers of countries of the Astana Troika discussed the situation in Syria, first of all, in Idlib, and in the north-east of the country.

Just on the eve of the negotiations, the London-based Arabic-language newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat, citing one of Erdogan’s aides, announced Turkey’s readiness to launch a military operation in Idlib against the jihadists who de facto control the province. According to the publication, the decisive measures are due to the fact that the extremists, by the very fact of their existence,  provoke Syrian troops and their allies into advancing on Idlib. Ankara disapproves of such a development. However, a scenario like this could be part of the “extra measures” that were worked out by the presidents of Russia, Turkey and Iran at their last meeting in Ankara. If reports about a Turkish operation are true, of course.

As for the northeast of Syria, on August 7th  Turkey and the United States agreed to set up the so-called “Joint Operation Center” in Syria, which was followed by American troops arriving in Turkey to work in this center. A joint patrol service was created the purpose of which was “to identify terrorist strongholds and track the presence of terrorists and heavy weapons.” Turkish Minister of Defense Hulusi Akar even signaled the intention to join forces with the United States to establish permanent (Sic!) military bases in northeastern Syria for patrolling this region. He warned, though, that Turkey would do this on its own if the US continued to delay negotiations.

Some observers suggest that Ankara and Washington have already reached a compromise on this issue. For example, Cenghiz Tomar, acting President of the Akhmet Yasevi International Turkish-Kazakh University, predicts: “A successful operation in eastern Syria will allow Turkey to guarantee the protection of nearly the whole of its border with Syria. The cantons of the PKK terrorists will be blocked, which will remove the threat to Turkey’s national security”. The article in question was published on the website of the Antalian agency broadcasting the opinion of Ankara. Thus, the “blocking”of  the Kurdish cantons may mean Turkey’s recognition of their right to exist (of course, under the aegis of the “senior” partner – the United States). They just have to be “cut off” from the territory of Turkey by the buffer zone. But we will not go into speculation.

Washington says that the US military presence in Syria is dictated, along with the need to combat the remaining members of the ISIS, which is banned in the Russian Federation, by the need to contain the mainly Kurdish self-defense units from attacking the Turkish military and from raiding the neighbouring territory. But few in Turkey believe it. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu complains that the United States is “slowing down” the implementation of a security zone agreement for northeastern Syria. The Minister made it clear that the American side’s approach to the agreement remains “unsatisfactory,” while the steps Washington has been taking are “perfunctory.”

Mehmet Ali Güller, a high-profile columnist for the Cumhuriyet newspaper, says openly that the main goal of the United States is to “create a dwarf Kurdish state” east of the Euphrates, which will become part of the “American corridor” from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea (as opposed to the hypothetical “Shiite corridor ”, which is allegedly being built by Iran – A.I.).

Erdogan would not be Erdogan if he believed everything they say and do in the White House. Particularly with Donald Trump, who “hires” and “fires” the allies, who brandishes promises and then cancels them without a twinge of remorse. Like none of his predecessors, Trump has changed an unprecedented number of advisers and ministers. “We have completed preparations (of a possible invasion – AI) along our border. We do not want a confrontation with the United States, but we cannot  but notice the support they provide to terrorist organizations, – the Turkish leader recently admitted, “ -I told Trump that they sent thousands of trucks with weapons. “We couldn’t buy these weapons for money, but you donate them to terrorist groups for free.”

Erdogan’s speech in the UN, in which he pointed out the need to restructure the system of international relations on the basis of justice, became a reflection on what could be described as the inconsistent policy of the “strategic partner” – Donald Trump, who, incidentally, declined the invitation to meet with his Turkish counterpart in the New York restaurant Cipriani.

From our partner International Affairs

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Weakness or calculation? How the pandemic undermined the US world leadership

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Anyone watching the numerous doomsday movies, happily churned out by Hollywood, will see American doctors saving the planet from space-borne viruses and the plague epidemic that turn people into zombies. However, the very first serious test in a decade has shown that the US healthcare system is actually inferior even to the Russian one, created during the Cold War years. And this despite the fact, that for the past 30 years, the Russian medical system has been suffering from “optimizations,” cuts and underfunding. Moreover, while the Kremlin, even for propaganda reasons, has managed to provide real assistance to a number of European countries, and has been the first to launch a vaccine on the market, Washington’s actions can be regarded as a sign of weakness, and a very dangerous one to its allies at that.

More than a year after the start of the global lockdown, we can already sum up the initial results, which look disappointing to Washington. The US healthcare system has collapsed under the pressure, thus laying bare the country’s inability to bring the outbreak of a less-than-deadly disease under control. As for Russia, despite its lack of America’s vast resources, it still managed to win the vaccine race and become the first to come up with a viable antidote.

More importantly, Moscow has also come out on top in the information “war” with the West, with its Sputnik V vaccine proving to have far fewer side effects than its Pfizer and Moderna counterparts. Therefore, the US and British lobbying of their own vaccines, and their attempts to close the European market for the Russian vaccine look unethical, to say the least, all the more so amid numerous European media reports about people having  died from side effects after being inoculated with Western vaccines. At the same time, there are simply no reports about similar complications caused by the Russian vaccine, even though the European Commission and Brussels have been keeping a close eye on the effects of its use in European countries, including Serbia and Hungary, which have already taken the first deliveries of the Sputnik V vaccine.

What is the reason for the US demonstrating its weakness? How come that in the midst of the epidemic Washington was unable to find the resources to demonstrate its readiness to lend a helping hand to its European allies? Unfortunately, one of the reasons was that the Americans simply freaked out. The truth is, the US healthcare system is rather decentralized and unorganized. People with good health insurance have little to worry about. However, in a situation of a pandemic, the US medical facilities are pretty hard to manage, so one has to do it manually. Compounded by the general atmosphere of panic and the fact that the poorest strata of society, who have no health insurance and constitute the main risk zone (obesity due to malnutrition, advanced chronic diseases and other COVID-inducing conditions), the system simply collapsed. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Trump administration tried to keep maximum resources at home. Moreover, the businessman-turned-president, who had openly spoken about “exporting security,” never missed a chance to make it clear to his allies that US assistance is never free. As a result, he was replaced by Biden, a Democrat who advocates maximum support for all democratic forces. However, Democrats usually provide moral or military support, but they have proved equally unprepared to line up any serious assistance to the countries hit the hardest by the pandemic.

Moreover, it was actually at the suggestion of the United States and the UK that the COVAX system, a global initiative aimed at providing equitable (but not free) access to COVID-19 vaccines for countries in need, stalled. It turned out (who might have guessed?) that both the US-developed Moderna and the British AstraZeneca vaccines are primarily needed by their own electorates, and only then by countries that need them, but are unable to produce their own vaccine. Meanwhile, India with a population of over 1 billion, managed to fulfill its obligations, and Russia is ready to launch the production of vaccines in Europe. However, bending under Washington’s pressure, the European Union has banned the import of Russian, Indian and Chinese vaccines, without bothering to explain the reasons for this ban.

A country, claiming world domination cannot lead in everything, of course.  Therefore, it is not surprising that the healthcare systems of many European countries, like Sweden and Switzerland, are way better that what they now have in the United States. That being said, the world leader still bears full responsibility for its allies and cannot leave them to their own devices, not only in the event of a military conflict, but also in the midst of a pandemic. However, this is exactly what it did…

From our partner International Affairs

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The legacy of 2020, and 2021 in the prospects of the United States and China

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2020 was a crucial year because of Covid-19, which disrupted the evolution of the world order in the direction of differentiation and transformation. This is the most severe crisis the human world has faced since the Second World War.

As of 10 May 2021, According to the Hopkins University Global New Crown Epidemic Statistics Report, as of May 10, 2021 there have been 158,993,826 confirmed cases worldwide and 3,305,018 deaths.

The pandemic is like a fatal global social test. On the basis of a world order that has already undergoing a crisis, it has not only caused a pause and thus a deceleration of economic development, but it has also stepped up social division and the transfer of power from the political to the technical sphere.

Although the most experienced analysts and leading research institutions have published various reports, currently none of them can accurately predict in detail the huge impact of the pandemic on the history of the 21st century.

The pandemic, however, will bring about major changes in four areas.

Firstly, it will accelerate the general trend of global economic recession and differentiation. This is due to the currency over-issue policies adopted by several countries and to intensified domestic social polarisation. Since 2018 the global economic and financial crisis has not yet been solved. On the contrary, the crisis has only been concealed by the short-term response of monetary policy.

Secondly, the pandemic will speed up internal changes and the reorganisation of the international political and economic order precisely due to internal social differentiation. Owing to the turbulent influence of domestic and international policies, economic and political risks in fragile regions of the world will intensify or have knock-on effects.

Thirdly, the pandemic will strengthen the digital society and competition between countries in building new technologies will become more intense. The most significant impact of digital society is the silent arrival of a transparent society that exists but has no human contacts.

Fourthly, the pandemic promotes the rise of vaccine nationalism and accelerates the revival of the community value of East Asian countries, which has epochal significance from the perspective of the history of world civilisation.

The most influential political and economic event in 2020 was the US elections and the related change of Administration. The US elections represented the sharpest but also the most frustrating change in US history. Although Donald Trump lost the election, 74,216,154 citizens voted for the outgoing President.

For the United States, the change in direction cannot be seen as the advent of a resolute and determined policy along one single line, as the basic reality of the highly divided American society was not changed, but indeed strengthened due to the general election. The huge impact promoted the spread of political violence and protests in the United States.

Source: The US Crisis Monitor, Bridging Divides Initiative, Princeton School of Public and International Affairs’, Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination.

First of all, Donald Trump lost the election, but the spectre of Trumpism has remained in the United States and even in Europe, which is generally not conducive to advancing the strategy of developing relations with China.

Secondly, the “antagonism” of the US strategy towards China has not changed radically. Trump hadopened a political-economic dispute with China. Itisparticularlynoteworthythat the younger generation of the Republican leadership isgraduallybecominghostile and negative towards China, and exertsgreatinfluence in Congress.Thisdoesnotfavours world peace.

Thirdly, if this attitude is not contained, it will lead to negative long-term impacts between high-tech decoupling and ideological competition. Finally, China’s policy towards the United States has been perfected and refined: although the government is still adopting a wait-and-see attitude, the voice of seeking cooperation and being rational and pragmatic is still the mainstream in China.

Besides the issue that China will reduce its dependence on the world and increase world’s dependence on China itself, China will reduce its dependence on traditional growth models and increase its care for social, green and environmental sustainability.

The year 2021 is proving that the focus of the analysis of global political and economic trends will still be competition between China and the United States. President Biden’s Administration still regards China as its main strategic competitor, but the methods of addressing the issue are quite different from those of Trump’s Administration. The main difference lies in the fact that President Biden focuses on solving domestic problems and does not exclude the most important issues with China.

President Biden’s Administration has adapted its strategy for China as the influence of major lobbies and interest groups – such as the US finance and military industry – on policy is constant compared to the previous Administration. Nevertheless, the Chinese factor in the chain of global interests keeps higher levels.

Indeed, voices from both parties in the US Congress calling for curbing China’s rise are also increasing.

In short, in terms of China’s policy direction, President Biden’s Administration is expected to oppose a trade war because it harms the core interests of the US business community. However, there are likely to be problems for Taiwan, Xianggang (Hong Kong), Xinjiang Weiwu’er (Uyghur), South China Sea, Xizang (Tibet), as well as other issues.

The possibility of renewed trade negotiations between China and the United States is expected to increase significantly in the future and the US strategy of constructive competition will be reformed.

Regardless of changes in Sino-US relations, China will certainly promote greater bilateral and multilateral investment cooperation, while seeking new development and shaping new models of cooperation.

The key areas which are currently the most important and noteworthy are, firstly, China’s joining the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and seeking to adhere to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which shows that China’s top leadership has decided to continue the reform strategy of internal and external promotion.

The RCEP is a free trade agreement in the Asia-Pacific region between the ten States of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (Brunei, Cambodia, Philippines, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam) and five of their free trade partners: Australia, China, the Republic of Korea (South Korea), Japan and New Zealand. These Member States account for approximately 30% of world’s population and GDP, thus making it the largest trading bloc.

The CPTPP, instead, is a draft regional investment and regulatory treaty in which negotiations, until 2014, twelve Pacific and Asian countries participated: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the USA and Vietnam.

Indeed, between the RCEP and the CPTPP, there is not only the interconnection of the industrial chain and commonality -and more reasons for unity than differences – but also the influence of great powers’ strategic factors.

The main difference between the two is that the CPTPP has higher economic quality requirements, while the RECP is more inclusive. Secondly, the China-EU trade and investment agreement is likely to be signed, which has clear short-term interests for Europe and long-term strategic interests for China. China, however, still needs to take a cautious attitude towards European policy and its legal systems based on double standards. Thirdly, China and Russia are strengthening comprehensive strategic cooperation and there will be new opportunities for their cooperation in the energy and military sectors.

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Why Congress should be rough on Chris Miller at his testimony on Wednesday

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FBI director Chris Wray’s weak congressional testimony in March left most of the Capitol attack questions unanswered and most of us scratching our heads: if the chiefs of the intelligence agencies don’t know, then who does?

As I argued back in March, before Senate Wray picked the low hanging fruit questions — such as confirming that the Trump mob that stormed the Capitol was indeed Trump’s mob and not some other people — while conviniently glazing over the real questions.

This is why the congressional testimony by former acting Secretary of Defense, Chris Miller, this Wednesday matters. The national guard mystery is still the elephant in the room that’s still sitting in the corner in loud, deafening silence.

The House Oversight and Reform Committee has been looking for answers from federal intelligence agencies on Trump’s role in the Capitol insurrection since day one. They have knocked on pretty much any door they could think of, requesting information from sixteen offices in total. That brings us to Wednesday when the Committee will hear from Chris Miller, as well as Jeff Rosen, former acting Attorney General, and Robert Contee III, District of Columbia Police Chief, in a hearing titled “The Capitol Insurrection: Unexplained Delays and Unanswered Questions.”

Back in March, when Senate grilled Wray, the FBI director could not answer why the national guard was not sent in to quell the attack. Wray vaguely put the decision on local policy makers, conveniently circumventing federal responsibility.

Then months later, defense officials actually stated that the national guard was delayed for reasons of “optics” and worries over how it would look if Trump’s mob was pushed out forcefully, as they should’ve been. Miller dragged his feet for hours before giving the green light, as he wanted to imagine what exactly the national guard’s intervention will look like. The actual deployment took only 20 minutes, logistically speaking.

Miller has already spoken about Trump’s “cause and effect” words responsible for inciting the Capitol attacks. And some commentators like Sarah Burris at Raw Story already predict that Miller is about to throw Trump under the bus on Wednesday.

But that’s not enough. Where was Miller back then? The delay was his decision and no one else’s. The Congressmen and Congresswomen of the House Oversight and Reform Committee chaired by Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, should not go easy on Miller only because now, after the fact, he is willing to speak up against Trump. Now it’s easy. Now it doesn’t count.

Trump removed Secretary of Defense Esper over his objection to sending the national guard on the Black Lives Matter movement that sparked up exactly one year ago. That’s why Trump replaced Esper with Miller. Miller could have also said no to Trump but he played along. That’s why Miller doesn’t get to play hero now. There are no heroes in the Trump Administration’s aftermath. Some “cause and effect” talk and hypocritical outrage after the fact don’t count. Now doesn’t count. The House Oversight and Reform Committee shouldn’t buy this. The time for cheap spins and late awakened conscience is up. Now is the time for real answers. Miller and Rosen should get a rough ride on Wednesday. Anything else would not be acceptable.

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