In the topsy-turvy world as seen from the White House, Islamists such as Erdogan are regarded, incredibly, as the solution to extremist violence. Meanwhile, even as the US abets Shia militias in Iraq, those same fighters become US enemies if they venture into Syria
Last week, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan harangued Barack Obama in a very public tirade, warning that if America continued to support the Kurdish PYD-YPG in Syria it would be responsible for the creation of “a sea of blood”. Almost any president in the history of the United States could be guaranteed to recognise that Erdoğan’s millennialist ideology, not to mention megalomania, has transformed the fellow into a cross between Macbeth and King Lear. Almost any president apart from Obama, that is.
President Obama has, for years, consented to Turkey’s intervention in the Syrian civil war on the side of “moderate terrorists” — Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar ash-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam and so on. Erdoğan obviously desires Bashar al-Assad’s regime overthrown and replaced by radical Islamist outfits, à la Libya. How that might serve the interests of America and the rest of the world is another matter altogether. President Obama’s “special friendship” with the Muslim Brotherhood-associated Erdoğan leads some to infer that the current incumbent in the White House might himself be an MB man.
There is certainly a case that Barack Obama pandered to MB bigotry in his 2009 Cairo Speech and praised with faint damns Morsi’s MB government (2012-13). But it’s complicated. Barack Obama might have lamented the dawn of the post-MB era in Egypt, but Saudi Arabia actively embraced it, the Saudi Royal Family’s favoured Islamic fundamentalism, being Wahhabism rather than the Haraki (activist) Salafism of the MB. Nevertheless, President Obama has acquiesced to a very unsavoury alliance with the Saudis in Yemen’s civil war, which mostly involves hitting al-Qaeda units with drone strikes and defending a corrupt government against the Iranian-backed Houthi insurgency.
Any notion that Barack Obama is a Muslim Brotherhood acolyte comes completely undone when we consider his appeasement – sorry, placation – of the Islamic Republic of Iran with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) of July, 2015. It enraged the Sunni world in all its different manifestations, not least Muslim Brotherhood sympathisers everywhere. President Obama could not mollify the rival Iranians and Saudis at the same time. In Iraq, for instance, America liaises with the official Iraqi Armed Forces and associated Shiite militias, the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF). If a member of the PMF were to find himself on the other side of the Syrian border, however, he would be an adversary of the USA (and its Turkish ally) rather than an ally.
All the contradictions and inconsistencies of Obama’s foreign policy suggest there are no plans for defeating Islamic terrorism or militant jihadism. In other words, President Obama’s promise on the eve of the thirteenth anniversary of 9/11 to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State (IS) group was just so much hot air. Certainly his original response to the seizure of Fallujah in January, 2014, was to rate the IS group as the equivalent of a high school basketball team. Though Barack Obama later denied making any such suggestion, the evidence appears to suggest otherwise. Either way, his military response to the rise and rise of the IS group has been piecemeal and perfunctory, not withstanding American support for the Iraqi government’s recapture of Ramadi, the Iraqi Kurds (the Peshmerga) and the Syrian Kurds (YPG).
American aerial assistance during the Battle of Kobanî was, in the first instance, more happenstance and symbolism than some well thought-out strategy. That is, the Obama administration only acted at the time because it succumbed to pressure from the Pentagon and public opinion. The phenomenon of the Syrian Kurds (Rojavans) vanquishing the IS group across northern Syria was totally unexpected – more akin to winning the lottery than good planning. The US is, unsurprisingly, rather fond of its anarcho-communitarian ally, the Kurdish Democratic Union (PYD), and now provides the military wing of the organisation, the YPG, with on-the-ground assistance and has, allegedly, built a makeshift airbase in Rojava.
While the Obama administration appreciates the Goliath-felling capacity of Rojava’s PYD-YPG, there is little sense that it values the organisation’s anti-Islamic State ideology. The reality is that a total war against the Islamic State (and Salafi jihadism in general) must necessarily be waged along not only military lines but also on the ideological front – and Rojava leads the way on that score. The tragedy, then, is that the Obama administration appears to consider the PYD-YPG as a useful contrivance for “degrading and ultimately destroying” the IS group and yet has little appreciation of the role Abdullah Öcalan-inspired ideology has played in the Rojavans standing up to the Islamic State or building a secularist alliance between Kurds, Arabs, Christians, Turkmen, Yezidis, Assyrians and other religious and ethnic minorities under the umbrella of the Syrian Democratic Assembly.
Perhaps Barack Obama has no time for Abdullah Öcalan’s ideology (which, in turn, was inspired by the anarcho-communitarian philosophy of Murray Bookchin) because he has his own ideology, something I have elsewhere characterised as “radical realism”. The Obama Doctrine is not just a case of haphazardly placating Islamist governments and organisations at every turn. The attendant conciliation in his foreign policy programme is his ideology: a means to an end and an end in itself. Thus, when others think his decisions weak or compromising, President Obama believes he is taking the high road towards global reconciliation. The Bowe Bergdahl case is but one example among many in which Barack Obama has confused beneficence with capitulation.
Islamists, in the topsy-turvy world of the White House, are the solution to “extremist violence”. And remember, the term “Islamic violence” must not be uttered because that would offend Islamists, such as President Erdoğan, nor are they to be portrayed as facilitators of militant jihadism. America must keep President Erdoğan on side because, presumably, this will moderate Salafi jihadism in Turkey and serve as a role model for other “moderate Islamists” throughout the Middle East. In the eyes of President Obama, as evidenced by his Ankara Speech of 2009, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is always the glass half full and never half empty.
President Obama’s ideological myopia is such that he agreed to Erdoğan’s ban on the PYD being a party to the Geneva III negotiations. Now Vice-President Joe Biden has been sent to Ankara to declare that the Kurdish PKK (a cousin of the Kurdish PYG) and the Islamic State are on the same moral footing: “IS is not the only existentialist threat to the people of Turkey, the PKK is equally a threat, and we are aware of that.” This is despite the fact that Erdoğan broke off negotiations with Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the PKK, and initiated the latest round of sectarian warfare to obtain his Islamist AK Party’s victory in the November 1, 2015, parliamentary election.
The Obama administration has acquiesced with devilish forces in the name of peace mongering. We cannot be entirely certain what Tehran, a leading sponsor of terrorism, will do with the billions of dollars that have come its way in the aftermath of the JCPOA agreement, but we can make educated guesses.
Meanwhile, Obama’s close friendship with Ankara survives every new “bloody, bold and resolute” outrage byPresidentErdoğan. The latest news is that Turkey has fired across the border into Kurdish Syria. It might not have come as a complete surprise to the Americans after Erdoğan’s warning that Obama had to choose between his alliance with the YPG and his friendship with Turkey: “Are you on our side or the side of the terrorist PYD and PKK organisation. Is there a difference between the PKK and the PYD? Is there are difference with the YPG?” Yes, the two are similar – both fight against the Islamic State: alas, the same cannot always be said about Turkey.
Daryl McCann has blog at darylmccann.blogspot.com.au