Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Trump Presidency, US Foreign Policy and the War against Terrorism

What impact will the Trump presidency have on US foreign policy, particularly the war against terrorism? In many parts of the world, there is deep concern about what type of foreign policy Donald Trump will pursue, both among allies and states opposed to the United State.   

To get a sense of what US foreign policy will look like under Trump, and its possible long-term consequences, I analyze 5 variables: ideology, temperament, military preparedness, isolationism and economic policy/climate change.  Each of these variables provides insights into the type of foreign policy Trump will follow, the extent to which it will be successful, and its long-term consequences.

Ideology may be too sophisticated a term to apply to Donald Trump in light of his superficial grasp of foreign affairs, as he made clear during the recent US presidential campaign.  I use this term to characterize Trump’s world-view which is largely based on binary thinking and the resort to strong measures to address problems which he finds threatening, whether domestically or in the global arena.

By ideology, I include several dimensions.  Let’s begin by examining Trump’s attitudes towards minorities in the United States, whether they are Latinos, African-Americans, Muslims, or disabled people.  If we think of his comments – which are all available on video – Trump has clearly provided a trove of material for terrorist groups to use for propaganda purposes.  Put differently, Trump has already provided anti-American terrorist organizations with a powerful ideological weapon to use for recruitment purposes and to legitimize their message of the threat against Islam posed by the “Crusader West.”

Despite its all too frequent support for dictators in the Middle East and elsewhere, the United States has never elected a president as bellicose and pugnacious as Donald Trump.  The US will certainly lose what moral high ground it had under President Barack Obama and make it much easier for groups like the al-Qacida, the so-called Islamic State, and the repressive regime in Tehran to portray US foreign policy as disingenuous and hypocritical.

Second, it is clear that Trump possesses few ideological positions once he moves away from the business world.  Trump has strong views on trade and the impact of countries like China and Mexico on US trade, but little else.  Trump’s ideology can be characterized as ill-formed and one which views foreign affairs as isomorphic to business contracts.  Everyone and every country has their “bottom line.”  If you can find the ”sweet spot” where you and your competitor can meet after making mutual concessions,  then a “deal” can be made.  For Trump, this is how all problems in the international arena can likewise be solved, by cutting a deal.

The lack of a developed political ideology, particularly one concerned with foreign affairs, suggests that foreign policy will be delegated to as cadre of advisors who, like Dick Cheney et al. under George W. Bush, will decide its final contours.  The argument that Trump does not have the ability to understand the complexities of foreign affairs and will most likely be a “hands off” commander-in-chief is underscored by the 20 words he uses most in his speeches (

If we add Trump’s personal disposition to this equation – an ill-formed ideology, negative characterizations of minority groups, including Muslims, and a lack of interest in foreign affairs - we encounter a toxic mix.  Taking Trump’s characterization of Mexicans as “murders and rapists,” and stereotyping all Muslims as potential terrorists is bad enough.  However, adding these characterizations to his tendency to become agitated and resort to his Twitter account whenever he feels attacked, we can be sure that diplomacy will not be one of his strong suits.  While he later backed off, the President-Elect has already responded negatively to the numerous demonstrations which have occurred since he won the presidency earlier this week. 

Military policy is closely related to the issues of ideology and temperament. Trump’s “tough guy” approach to foreign affairs - a way of avoiding dealing with nuance and complexity - will have a negative impact on US military policy and readiness. 

Trump’s emphasis on rebuilding US armed forces is based on outdated understandings of both the threats which the US faces in the world today and the best means to confront them.  Building more ships, which is one of the few specific policies he outlined during the presidential campaign, will add little strategic value in the struggle against terrorist groups.  Nor will building more sophisticated fighter aircraft, such as stealth bombers, play a central role in that battle either.

What is needed above all is the development of new strategies and military forces to meet the changes on the battlefield, particularly those required to successfully engage in asymmetric warfare.  Will the joints chiefs and respected military planners convince Donald Trump to backtrack from his outdated vision of the US military?  A more likely scenario will be Trump's desire to appear “strong,” before his political base and Republicans in Congress who also share his outdated notions of military preparedness. 

The nature of asymmetric rather than conventional war means the US needs to place greater emphasis on highly mobile military units whose members have not only military but cultural and language proficiency.  The problem with the Trump administration is that it is not likely to emphasize these qualities.  It was the lack of Arabic language speakers, and officers, troops and CPA officials with knowledge of Iraqi society and culture, which led to such a disaster after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Nor does Vice President-elect, Mike Pence, a former talk show host, Congressman and Indiana governor, have much interest in or aptitude for foreign policy.  While the names of Steven Hadley and former Intelligence House Chair Mike Rodgers for Secretary of Defense suggest highly competent nominees, the new secretary will represent the tip of the iceberg.  He will not bring the type of innovative and forward-looking foreign policy analysts to the Pentagon which one would have expected in a Clinton administration.  One of the causalities of the 2016 presidential elections will almost certainly be US foreign policy.

Isolationism will certainly weigh heavily on a Trump administration.  He will find little support among his political base for active US involvement in foreign affairs.  There will be no trade war with China because it would be a costly blunder for the US.  Despite the bluster, there will not be mass deportations of undocumented immigrants.  The US Embassy in Israel may be shifted from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and support for moderate Syrian rebels fighting the Asad regime in Syria will most likely be eliminated.   

NATO will no doubt be left untouched and perhaps even largely neglected. Trump might elicit some modest concessions from Putin for his administration’s lack of engagement with NATO and European affairs.  This will certainly outrage some Neo-Cons such as The Weekly Standard's William Kristol.  However, the US role in the world will almost certainly contract during the Trump years, which is not a good sign for developing effective policies to use in the struggle against terrorism in the MENA region, and in Eastern and sub-Saharan Africa.

The only area where I see Trump deviating from a neo-isolationist strategy will be his ideological support for right wing anti-immigrant governments and movements in Europe, e.g., Le Front National in France and the Alternativ für Deutschland in Germany.  Already United Kingdom Independent Party leader Nigel Farage had paid Trump a post-election visit at Trump Tower in New York.

Another foreign policy area where Trump may intervene is to either amend or cancel the nuclear weapons agreement with Iran.  Certainly, there are many Trump advisers who feel that such a decision was fool hardy.  While the abrogation of the agreement may make Sunni Arab regimes, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, more supportive of the United States, it would most likely lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East with possible devastating consequences.

Trump’s economic policy is closely linked to his views of regulation and climate change.  He rejects government regulations and states that he doesn’t believe in climate change.  The Syrian uprising made clear the extent to which climate change is affecting Middle East politics.  Drought and Turkish dams, which severely cut the flow of water in the Euphrates River, destroyed 175 Syrian villages and set in motion peaceful demonstrations which were brutally suppressed by the Asad regime, leading to the current civil war, with all its massive destruction, deaths and displacement of civilians.

Denying climate change, and thus refusing to see its relationship to political instability, would be an especially damaging policy in the MENA region where water is already a scarce commodity.  With military planners not developing contingencies for conflict caused by global warming, the Trump administration will cause the US to fall behind in coping with the new global challenges of the 21st century.

Donald Trump’s presidency will be one in which foreign policy is not a high priority.  Many important issue areas will either be ignored or given short shrift.  The types of specialists who could bring new and innovative policy perspectives to the State Department and the intelligence community will not be attracted to the Trump administration. 

New perspectives designed to quell conflict and encourage long-term stability by deeper engagement with foes as well as allies will no doubt be replaced by a foreign policy of “benign neglect.” The war against terrorism, which requires a comprehensive and multi-faceted effort to eradicate the causes which attract youth to extremist organizations, will suffer as a result.  Increased global instability will be the result of Trump’s presidency, not because of what he does as president, but what he doesn’t do.

Monday, October 24, 2016

After Mosul and the Caliphate's Collapse: The Coming Storm in Northern Iraq and Syria

Iraqi Army convoy prepares to move into battle against the Dacish in Mosul
 The long awaited offensive to liberate Mosul from the so-called lslamic State – Dacish – has now completed its first week.  As Dr. Faris Kamal Nadhmi noted in a perceptive post (, victory in Mosul cannot be understood in military terms alone.  What then constitutes a successful outcome to the current campaign against the Dacish in Mosul?  Unfortunately, unless there is comprehensive and integrated political and humanitarian assistance campaign designed to consolidate the military gains in Mosul, northern Iraq, military success will represent a Pyrrhic victory.

There are three critical issues which need to be considered in conjunction with the current military offensive. The first is trust and loyalty, the second is humanitarian assistance, and the third is the regional balance of forces.  If each of these issues is not dealt with systematically and in a well-thought out manner, the Dacish’s defeat in Mosul could lead to even greater, enduring problems in northern Iraq and eastern Syria.
Pesh Merga convoy on way to Mosul

Trust and loyalty
When the Dacish defeated Iraqi army units numbering 60,000 in June 2014 with only a small force, it was clear that much preparation for the attack had already occurred.  Dacish agents had already infiltrated the city and bribed city officials in Mosul to pave the way for the attack.

With 800-1000 lightly armed terrorists defeating two divisions of Iraqi troops with state-of-the-art US military weaponry, the Dacish victory in June 2014 was political, not military.  It was the direct outcome of the highly sectarian policies of then Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.  Officer posts in Mosul and northern Iraq were sold to Maliki loyalists, often to those who had little or no military experience.  Many of the newly appointed officers refused to pay members of the Iraqi army their salaries, keeping part or all for themselves.  

This theft of salaries had the effect of leading Iraqi soldiers to erect checkpoints on Mosul streets where residents were required to pay brides to pass by.  Understandably, such actions created enormous resentment, especially since the troops were not native Moslawis but drawn from other areas of Iraq.

Member Iraq's elite counter-terrorism unit
Many Moslawis fear the return of the Iraqi army, which is made all the more combustible by the inclusion of Popular Mobilization Units comprised of predominantly Shici troops.  After the Dacish is expelled from Mosul, the Iraqi government’s first task must be to secure its residents’ loyalties.  First and foremost, Iraqi militias - known as Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs or al-hashid al-shacbi) - which are officially not part of the Iraqi army - need to be excluded from post-Dacish Mosul.  There is no military reason why they should be allowed in the city.

Made up almost exclusively of Shica, Moslawis fear these militias, some of which have already been accused of serious human rights violations in al-Anbar Province and other areas of north central Iraq  (  With the Dacish playing the sectarian card, Mosul residents are terrified of being killed by the terrorists for perceived disloyalty, or attacked and possibly killed by PMU forces after the Dacish defeat because they will be considered, ipso facto, Dacish supporters. 

To promote feelings of trust among a populace, which has been traumatized by over 2 years of Dacish rule, requires a crystal clear statement by the Iraqi government that only Iraqi Army personnel and federal police will be allowed in the city.  Only such a statement can help alleviate Moslawi concerns about the PMUs.  Further, the Iraqi government should request an observer team from the United Nations to take up residence in Mosul for the foreseeable future. 

United Nations personnel should include members of the UN High Commission for Refugees who can see to the needs of displaced persons, from Mosul and surrounding villages and towns.  Knowing that UN personnel will serve in an around Mosul represents another way to reassure Sunni Arabs and other ethnic groups that their rights will be respected.

The Iraqi government will need to quickly put in place a new Mosul municipal council comprised of trusted community leaders who are not tarnished by having cooperated with the Dacish.  These community leaders, along with members of the Ninawa Provincial Council, should be invited by Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi and Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) President Masoud Barzani to make a presentation to meetings of the Iraqi Council of Deputies (national parliament) and the KRG Regional Parliament to exchange views on the rebuilding of Mosul and Ninawa Province following the elimination of the Dacish.

Such high level meetings, and smaller informal meetings of influential decision-makers from all Iraq’s ethnic and religious groups, would go a long way to reestablishing trust among Mosul's residents.  As such, it could become a “teachable moment” which would prevent sectarian forces from exploiting the current situation to promote narrow and divisive political ends which could lead to a new and potentially larger crisis threatening Iraq’s national unity.

The humanitarian dimension of the crisis
Displaced family from  village of Qayyara south of Mpsul
Along with the current civil war in Syria, the Mosul offensive threatens to produce one of the MENA region’s largest displaced persons crisis.  There are still 1.2 million residents in Mosul and countless Iraqis have already been forced from the city and surrounding villages and towns.  Large tent cities have been erected for them.  If the fight for Mosul persists for a long time, and the city experiences significant destruction of buildings and infrastructure, the residents may be forced to leave an uninhabitable space. 

The Obama administration - which has pushed for the Mosul campaign to defeat the Dacish before Barack Obama leaves office – should make a much more concerted effort to organize an international coalition including the UN, the EU, Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf states, India and Japan, to develop a Displaced Persons Fund for those civilians forced to leave their home as result of the current offensive against the Dacish.

Tent city under construction
Here is a unique opportunity to engage Iraqi youth groups – Arab, Kurdish, Assyrian, Yazidi, Turkmen and Shabak – to deploy to refugee camps to provide services to their inhabitants, including providing children with toys and education, conveying problems and complaints about life in the camps to the appropriate officials, organizing sports activities, and demonstrating to refugees that someone cares about them.

Likewise, a coalition of clerics from Iraq’s many religious communities could serve in the displaced persons/refugee camps to meet the residents’ spiritual and psychological needs.  The Federal Government and the KRG could work together with local Ninawa Province leaders to organize both youth groups and groups of clerics to confront the many problems which will be faced over an extended period of time by those Mosul and surrounding area residents forced from their homes.

Proper treatment of residents in displaced person’s camps is also critical to long term views of those who are displaced.  If the time during which they are displaced shows no concern and caring by either the Federal Government or the KRG, it will recreate the same feelings and resentment which led many Moslawis to welcome the Dacish as liberators when they seized Mosul and large parts of northern Iraq in June and July 2014. 

Balance of forces
Many analysts see the diverse military coalition mobilized against the Dacish as a potential “time bomb” in the making once terrorist forces are expelled from Mosul.  In other words, once the Dacish is defeated, the forces in the coalition will turn on each other. 

Soldiers suffer from the toxic air from oil well fires set by the Dacish
However, this coalition can be viewed through another lens, namely as unique in terms of the diversity of ethnicities and religious identities which comprise the forces fighting against terrorism.  If the US is smart, it will work with local forces sympathetic to a stable post-Dacish northern Iraq by working to bring them together.

While there are forces within the KRG’s Pesh Merga which want to use the battle to increase Kurdish controlled territory, the US should make clear to the Kurds that moving into areas not considered Kurdish will only lead to a renewed conflict.

The KRG faces severe economic constraints with the collapse of international oil prices.  There have been demonstrations in the KRG because its employees have not been paid for over 14 months.  Under the new Federal oil minister, cAbd al-Karim al-Luaibi, significant progress has been made to finally establish an oil policy which the Federal Government and the KRG find acceptable.

Because the US has considerable influence in the KRG, a bundle of economic incentives should be offered to prevent the KRG from seizing land to which it is not entitled. Such incentives can also be used to consolidate the military cooperation between the Pesh Merga and the Iraqi Army in fighting terrorism to date in an effort to develop a truly federal fighting force.

Pesh Merga forces themselves still reflect residual divisions between those loyal to Kurdish Democratic Party leader (KDP) and KRG President Barzani, and those loyal to Jalal Talabani and the Patriotic Union of Kurdish (PUK).  US Special Forces should work to train a new inter-ethnic Iraqi force designed to address the problem of terrorism in northern Iraq which will continue beyond the defeat of the Dacish in Mosul.

In addition to the mixed ethnosectarian composition of the Iraqi Army, there are also Assyrian, Yazidi,Turkmen and Shabak forces.  Because these minority groups have experienced some of the most horrible torture, killings and sex slavery at the hands of Dacish terrorists, they should also be organized into mixed military units to assure residents of their respective communities that they will have formal military protection in the future.

Beyond the defeat of Dacish looms another serious problem – the threat Turkey poses not just to Iraq but to the Rojava Kurds whose YPG (Peoples' Protection Forces) units have been in the vanguard of fighting the Dacish – think of Kobane – and liberating territory from it (

Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has used the crisis in northern Iraq to promote his interests in northern Iraq where the Turkish Army has a base north of Mosul and is training a militia of Sunni and Turkmen fighters under the aegis of the prominent al-Nujayfi family from Ninawa Province.

Erdoğan’s two objectives in interfering in Iraq’s internal affairs are, first, to prevent the Rojava Kurds from consolidating a viable autonomous political entity in northeastern Syria, and, second, gaining control over the oil resources in northern Iraq around the city of Mosul.  The latter represents an irredentist objective which extends back to the end of Ottoman rule in Iraq at the end of WWI.  

Preventing the coming storm
The main threat to post-Dacish stability in northern Iraq and, after the de facto terrorist capital, al-Raqqa, is liberated, is preventing Turkey from exploiting the situation for its geo-strategic and economic ends.

Turkish forces train Iraqi Turkmen units in Bashiqa near Mosul
First and foremost, Turkish troops must be forced to withdraw completely from northern Iraq.  The US, the EU and NATO need to impose serious economic sanctions on Turkey if it fails to do so.  The positioning of Turkish forces in the north without the Federal Government's permission constitutes a serious violation of Iraqi sovereignty. Second, the US must make it clear that it will not allow Turkey to destroy the autonomous region which has been established by the Rojava Kurds in northeastern Syria. 

As I noted elsewhere, the social and political experiment which the Rojava Kurds have created is a model for all countries and regions of the MENA region to emulate (  Economic cooperatives, gender equality, outlawing destructive traditions such as so-called “honor killings” and forced marriages of underage girls, equal treatment of minorities and emphasis on human rights for all citizens, allowing Erdoğan to end this experiment through military force would be shameful on the part of the US which is the only power which can prevent it from happening.
Putin and Erdoğan meeting in Baku June, 2015
To those who argue that Erdoğan should be supported for Turkey’s strategic value, let’s remember the failed US’ track record over the last 50 years with dictators in the Middle East.  While US policy favorable to the Rojava Kurds, especially its arming them to fight the Dacish, might push Erdoğan closer to the Russians, such an alliance is inherently unstable, since Turkey is the odd state out in a Russia-Syria-Iran alliance.  As two headstrong dictators, Putin and Erdoğan do not make for a good long-term couple.

Let’s also remember that Erdoğans current popularity is, in large measure, due to his suppression of last July’s military coup, and that the path of the Turkish economy will be the longer term determinant of whether such support persists.  Erdoğans core social base is in the small business sector of the Turkish economy.  If sanctions are imposed and the economy begins to deteriorate, then  his political position will  be adversely affected.

Now is not the time for the US to follow a “hands off” strategy in northern Iraq.  It needs to bring all the stakeholders to the table and indicate that “enough is enough.”  The US has given sizeable resources in blood and materiel in Iraq and it is now time for sectarianism and individual political agendas to be put aside for the common good of Iraq, Syria and the region.  

The US playing “footsie” with dictators like Erdoğan must also stop.  Short term fixes, such as the US maneuvering which allowed Nuri al-Maliki to remain in office as prime minister after losing the 2010 Iraqi national parliamentary elections, can now be seen for the out-sized mistake that it was.

Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me!      

Friday, September 30, 2016

State Sovereignty and Military Force in the Middle East: the Case of Iraq’s PMUs

Iraq militia leaders Qa'is al-Khazali, Hadi al-Amiri and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis
What threat do militias and armed forces which are not under the control of the  state pose for its sovereignty?  In Iraq,  a large number of militias were created after the Dacish (the so-called Islamic State) seized Mosul in June 2014.  What are the ramifications of the formation of military units beyond the control of the central state? 

Max Weber’s well-known definition of the state as the institution which enjoys a monopoly on the use of force within a given territory is increasingly meaningless in the MENA region.  A survey of the states of the region indicates that the majority of states are challenged by oppositional military forces or are unable to  reign in militias which compete with the national army.

Moving from west to east, the Algerian military is challenged by an al-Qacida affiliate – al-Qacida  in the Islamic Maghrib (AQIM).  In neighboring Libya, there is only a nominal  national army, with real power residing in a myriad of militias which are largely tribally and/or regionally based. 

Tunisia also faces a threat from a militia which has sworn allegiance to Dacish in the northwest of the country while Egypt faces a challenge to its national authority in the Sinai Peninsula from the so-called Wilayat Sina' (the Sinai Province) which has pledged loyalty to the Dacish.

In Lebanon, the national army has always been weak in relation to the militias controlled by the political power brokers (al-zu’ama) of the country's various ethno-sectarian groups, whether it be Hizb Allah, the Lebanese Forces, the Druz Militia and many others.  In Syria, of course, there is a beleaguered national army which most likely would have collapsed in the face of multiple militias throughout the country, were it not for Russian intervention on the side of the Bashar al-Asad regime.

Although Turkey boasts the most powerful  military in the MENA region after Israel, it faces a serious threat from a guerrilla movement, the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), which it has fought from 30 years.  Just when it appeared that the conflict might be nearing resolution, the regime of President Recep Tayyib Erdoğan decided to forsake negotiations for a reintroduction of military force to bring the PKK and its supporters to heel. ow is this problem mpalying itsdelf in Iraq/HH

Yemen is largely a failed state, and all the more so, after the indiscriminate bombing by Saudi Arabia over the past year in its effort to defeat Houthi forces.  In other words, very few states in the MENA region have control over their territories from a political-military point of view.

Thus we find (at least) 3 patterns in terms of state-military force relations.  First there are a few states which fit Weber’s definition, such as Morocco, Jordan, the UAE, Kuwait and Oman.   

A second pattern is  countries which fall into the failed state category such as Libya, Syria and Yemen, where there is no state control over the national territory.  A third pattern is where the state is fighting insurgencies, such as Iraq, Turkey, Egypt, and Algeria.  

Finally, there are states in which militias challenge the authority of the central government. Lebanon is the quintessential example of a nation-state where the national army has always been subordinated to more powerful ethno-sectarian based militias.
Hizb Allah Brigades firing captured US M198 howitzers
Two other states in which militias challenge the power of the central state are Iran and Iraq, which brings us to the topic of this post.  In Iran, the Revolutionary Guards are the supreme military force and compete with traditional military forces.  In Iraq, the Popular Mobilization Units or PMUs (al-hashad al-shacbi) likewise threaten to become more powerful than the national army.

Why have the PMUs become so powerful in Iraq?  At the more general level, their emergence reflects a number of developments.  First, the MENA region, like other regions of the world, has seen the undermining of secular nationalism. 

Second, the emergence of what we may call “third party” armed forces represents the concomitant rise of sectarianism in the Middle East.  Ethno-sectarian groups – as in Lebanon – don’t trust the central state to protect their communal interests.  Third, sectarian entrepreneurs exploit the dual structure of armed forces to provide themselves with an informal source of power and influence which can be used to intimidate political rivals.

In Iraq, the PMUs were established following the seizure of Mosul and much of northeastern Iraq in June and July of 2014.  The story of how Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki pursued highly sectarian policies in Mosul and Iraq’s Sunni majority provinces, following his reappointment to a second term in 2010, has been told many times before. Maliki sold positions in the military to Iraqis who had little or no military experience, dismissed competent military officers who were replaced with those loyal to him, and attacked Sunni politicians who he thought would challenge his political position.  

Maliki’s sending of security forces to fire on peaceful protestors in al-Hawija on April 23, 2013 constituted the "straw that broke the camel's back.".  Following similar events in Mosul and Falluja in March 2013, which failed to provide any accountability despite a purported investigation, Maliki completely alienated Iraqi’s Sunni populace. Such behavior angered the residents of al-Anbar, Salahidin and Ninawa provinces and created fertile soil for the so-called Islamic State (Dacish) to recruit fighters to their organization.

Following the seizure of Mosul by the Da’ish and their progress in moving their forces south towards Baghdad, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani issued a religious decree (al-fatwa) calling on Iraqi to take up arms to defend Baghdad and the nation from the Dacish.
Qa'is al-Khazali
Some militias already existed at the time such as Hadi al-Amiri’s Badr Organization ( which was once the military arm of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (subsequently more benignly renamed the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council), and Qa’is al-Khazali’s League of the Righteous People (Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqq -

Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis’s Hizb Allah Brigades (Kata’ib Hizb Allah -, and Muqtada al-Sadr’s Peace Companies (Saraya’ al-Salam), the successor to the Mahdi Army (Jaysh al-Mahdi - were also militias beyond the control of the state.
A copy PM al-Abadi's Order 91, Feb 22, 2016
While these militias were pivotal in preventing Dacish forces from reaching Baghdad, and have been assisting the Iraqi Army to defeat and push Dacish forces out of al-Anbar and Salahidin provinces, a number of them – particularly the Badr Organization, the League of the Righteous People and the Hizb Allah Brigades – are appendages of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).  The official legitimation of the “Popular Mobilization Front” (PMF) by Order 91, signed on February 22nd of this year by Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi, referred to the militia front as an “independent military formation.”
Qassem Solamani in Anbar Province
In addition to having military units which demonstrate greater loyalty to Qassem Solimani, the head of the IRGC, and Ali Khamanei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, than to Iraq’s Prime Minister, the constitutionally constituted commander in chief of Iraq's armed forces and all military forces within Iraqi territory, Iraq now has a “fifth column” operating in its sovereign territory (
There are other alarm bells which have been rung by the creation of separate military forces under the control of militia leaders who profess loyalty to a foreign leader (paralleling the lack of control by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani over the IRGC). 
One such issue is that of corruption.  Iraq enjoys the dubious distinction of being one of the most corrupt nation-states in the world – 161 of 166 countries on Transparency International’s 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index (
Militias do not receive funding from the state.  While Iran has provided training for Iraqi Shici youth fighting in Syria and monthly wages in the neighborhood of $600, an Iraqi colleague recently informed me that hose wages have been reduced for youth fighting inn Syria.  To keep amassing recruits, militias constantly need to find new recruits and funds with which to pay them.
The incentive for Iraqi youth to join militias is less ideology than steady employment.  If militias cannot provide steady income for its young fighters, they will leave the front.  There is a strong incentive, therefore, to find new sources of income which makes the state budget a primary target for acquiring additional funds.  
The existence of a parallel set of armed forces in Iraq works against the effort of Prime Minister al-Abadi to bring corruption under control.  Because they have military force at their beck and call, militia leaders can entice cabinet ministers, parliament member and other state bureaucrats to bend to their will.  Intimidation is another option at their disposal. 
Because Iran provides wages for Iraqi PMUs, the Islamic Republic now has a permanent client base in Iraq.  Knowing that Iran has such power makes al-Abadi and other Iraqi politicians think twice about adopting policies viewed and unfavorable to Iran.
As an example of the power of the Popular Militia Front, there is an effort in the Iraqi Council opf Deputies (parliament) to give militias legal immunity.  Currently, only parliamentary deputies enjoy legal immunity.  Under the pretense that such immunity is necessary for all PMU members before they enter the battle for Mosul, it would impossible to prosecute any militia members who engaged in human rights abuses ( ).
Because PMU have committed human rights abuses and have engaged in looting, this law threatens to undermine any victory by the Iraqi Army over the Dacish.  As all analysts have noted, the real struggle for Mosul and other areas liberated from the Dacish will begin after its military defeat.
If local populaces feel that they have rid themselves of one oppressor only to find them controlled by new forces which they consider equally oppressive, any military victory will ring hollow.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Spread of Terrorism

The New York Times published a lengthy article, “Both Arsonists and Firefighters: Saudis Promote Jihadist Ideology but also Fight Terrorism,” on August 26, 2017 ( What was striking about this article was the delay in its publication. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) has been in the forefront of spreading its puritanical and deviant form of Islam, Wahhabism, for decades.  The question arises: why are we just now seeing exposes of the KSA and its relationship to the spread of terrorism? 

The key variable neglected in the New York Times article is the lack of a historical and political economic context.  It also fails to address whether the United States, and its Western allies in the EU, will try to pressure the KSA to reduce its support for radicalism around the world, which is amply documented in the article.

KSA influence has been directly correlated with the collapse of the state system in the Middle East.  This collapse is not recent but has been a long time in the making and was evident by the abject defeat of Arab states by Israel in the June 5-10, 1967 Arab-Israeli War.  

The 1967 Arab-Israeli War The June War began the decline of one party authoritarian states, such as Jamal cAbd al-Nasir’s (Nasser) Egypt and Ba’thist Syria and Iraq, which lost legitimacy given their inability to keep their promise to bring victory to the Palestinian people in their struggle with Israel.  Once the residents of Egypt’s Suez Canal cities were forced to move westward following the war, many to Cairo, and other Delta towns, and the Canal was shut down with the consequent loss of transit revenues, the Nasir regime found itself facing severe economic hardship.

Egypt’s economic dependency on the KSA The KSA’s used its extensive oil wealth to weaken the Nasir regime - which it saw as its main adversary in the Arab Middle East – by creating an economic dependency in which a tacit agreement was forged, leading Nasser to tone down his anti-Saudi and anti-monarchical rhetoric in exchange for financial aid.

KSA political and ideological penetration of Egypt However, the critical post-1967 war legacy was the ability of the Saudis to use their new found influence in Egypt to support the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist political forces.  The US tacitly supported this effort because the Nasir regime was seen as a Soviet ally in the Middle East.  

US support for Islamism The same mistake of supporting intolerant Islamism following the 1967 War presaged the mistake the US made again when it trained and militarily supported Islamist forces (so-called al-mujahideen) in ousting Soviet forces from Afghanistan during the late 1980s.  In both cases, the US felt that the KSA could be used to promote its Cold War agenda, namely reducing Soviet influence in the oil-rich Middle East.  In both instances, the US learned the meaning all too well of the admonition “play with fire and you'll get burned."

Wahhabism as a ploy for Western economic and military ties Among its shortcomings, the New York Times article fails to mention a key reason why Wahhabism is viewed in instrumental and not just ideological  terms by the Saudi royal family.  Anyone who has visited the KSA knows that the social-cultural reality of the public sphere differs dramatically from the behavior of the political elite behind closed doors in private palaces and mansions. (Johnny Walker Red was the alcohol du jour when I visited the KSA). 

By empowering an austere and repressive clergy to control behavior in the public sphere, and enforce strict codes of gender relations (, the royal family can manipulate Wahhabism, an ersatz caricature of Islam (better referred to as al-inhiraf), to offset criticism of the close economic and military ties which the KSA maintains with the West, especially the United States.  Using the public veneer of what the KSA calls “Islam” – Wahhabism – Saudi royals make the argument to the KSA’s citizenry, and Muslims elsewhere, that the kingdom’s public persona makes it the most “authentic” (asil) Muslim state on the planet.
Domestic, regional and global Wahhabism As the New York Times article correctly notes, the KSA’s alliance with Wahhabism serves an important  legitimating function.  However, the relationship cannot be comprehended only by referencing the ties of the founder of Wahhabism, Muhammad ibn cAbd al-Wahhab (1703-1792), with the Al Sacud tribe in the al-Najd region of the Arabian Peninsula.  To fully understand the significance of this relationship requires situating it in the contemporary politics of the Middle East.

As noted, Wahhabism serves a domestic function by allowing the KSA to suppress internal dissent, e.g., directed against the regime’s authoritarianism, corruption, and dependency on the West, through arguing that the kingdom embodies the “true form” of Islam.
Saudi blogger Raif Badawi - flogged for seeking free expression
At the regional level, Wahhabism has been used to combat republicanism in the form of Arab nationalism and socialism, e.g., in Algeria and in the former People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen.  It is not true that the Iranian Revolution of 1978-79 represented the key stimulus for the KSA to promote Wahhabism regionally.  Let’s not forget that Egypt and the KSA were fighting a proxy war in Yemen just prior to the 1967 Arab-Israeli War after a clique of army officers, led by Abdallah al-Sallal, who were sympathetic to Nasir, overthrew the monarchy of Imam Muhammad al-Badr in 1962.

In the current political situation in the Middle East, Wahhabism has assumed a virulent anti-Shi'a tone.  The anti-Shi'a rhetoric is directed against the KSA's current nemesis, the so-called Islamic Republic of Iran.  This policy only feeds into the brutal policies developed by the so-called Islamic State which made killing Shi'a one of its signature acts of violence.

At the global level, Wahhabism represents a strategy for offsetting a mono-culture economy, namely one built on oil wealth, a relatively small population, and, apart from the Hijaz, a weak entrepreneurial sector of the overall economy.  By exporting Wahhabism to the nation-states of the Middle East, Pakistan and Afghanistan, and countries and regions farther away, such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Central Asia and North America, the KSA has created not only a global network of ideological ties but a parallel network of political, economic and cultural ties as well. 

To give examples of Saudi behavior, during the UN sanctions regime of the 1990, the kingdom paid money to Iraqi Sunnis who agreed to pray 5 times a day and to Iraqi Sunni women who wore the hijab .  When a Saudi delegation arrived in the Kurdish region of Iraq, after the 3 majority Kurdish provinces broke away from Saddam Husayn's regime after the 1991 Gulf War, they informed the Kurds that they have arrived with funds to help them build their new autonomous political entity.

The Kurds, in turn, informed the Saudis that they welcomed the visit because they needed funds for schools, hospitals roads and municipal services.  When the Saudis replied that the funds they had brought were only for building mosques, the Kurds immediately realized the hidden Wahhabi agenda and sent the Saudi delegation packing.

The “chickens come home to roost” The title of the New York Times article conflates two phenomena, spreading radical Islamism and fighting terrorism.  The KSA only began to take terrorism seriously after al-Qacida was established and set up shop in Yemen, and attacks against the kingdom were initiated by the so-called Islamic State (Dacish).  In other words, if we review KSA policies extending back to the 19670s and afterwards, there were no efforts to fight terrorism in the MENA region.

It is true that the seizure of the Grand Mosque of Mecca by Saudi religious radicals in 1979 constituted a serious attack against the Saudi monarchy (an uprising which some analysts claim was actually suppressed by Israeli troops in unmarked uniforms after Saudi forces were unsuccessful in recapturing the mosque). 

Only after the 1991 Gulf War, when Usama bin Ladin used the presence of US military forces on Saudi soil to establish al-Qacida, did fighting terrorism become part of the KSA political agenda. Thus the title, “Both Arsonists and Firefighters” is misleading, because the KSA is a late-comer to fighting terrorism, and only once it threatened the Saudi homeland.

Will the US change its policy towards the KSA? Don’t expect any meaningful change of US policy towards the KSA, whether during the remainder of the Obama administration or under what will probably be a Clinton presidency.  Because the KSA feels highly threatened by the P5+1 deal with Iran to curtail its nuclear weapons development program, the US and its allies do not want to alienate the KSA and other Sunni allies such as Egypt, Jordan and Turkey, by exerting pressure on the KSA to stop its global promotion of Wahhabism and, with it, Saudi political influence.

Further, there is a tacit alliance between the KSA and Israel who have been cooperating for years in intelligence sharing (  This unstated alliance includes Egypt, Jordan and the Arab Gulf states, and is considered essential to the United States in its struggle against the so-called Islamic State and other terrorist organizations operating in the  Middle East.  Thus the US is reluctant to put too much pressure on the KSA to force it to curtail its financial support of radical Islamist organizations, including so-called "charities" and "religious schools" (al-madrasa; pl. al-madaris).

The role of the “oil curse” The only variable which may lead the Saudi monarchy to play down it reliance on Wahhabism is the collapse of oil prices in the world market.  While highly conservative, the current KSA leadership realizes that, unless the regime changes its economic development model, the Saudi state could experience some rough sledding in the coming decades. 

The political economic contradictions of Wahhabism If the Saudi state does not remove Wahhabi clerics from positions of power within the kingdom, women will not be able to be fully integrated into the Saudi economy.  Saudi males will not be able to be taught the types of business and entrepreneurial skills which would allow the economy to move from its overarching dependence on oil to one characterized by economic diversity.

Saudi youth and future of the KSA Perhaps most important is the simmering discontent of large segments of Saudi society, especially the large youth demographic which chafes at the social and cultural restrictions, which many consider Medieval, and the lack of any meaningful political participation for those outside the royal family in the political system.  Unless Saudi youth can be motivated to support the monarchy, and that can only happen through greater political participation and personal freedoms - at this point a contradiction in terms - the KSA faces yet another enormous impediment to implementing reformist change.

The role of Iran Given the large Shica population in the KSA’s 2 oil-rich provinces of al-Hasa and al-Qatif in the northeast of the country and the growth of Shica populations in the Arab Gulf, the future behavior of Iran will strongly influence any moves towards reform by the Saudi monarchy.  If the current radical elite of Ayatollah Khamenei, the Guardian Council and the Revolutionary Guards continue to spew vitriol against the KSA and the Arab Gulf states as lackeys of “the Great Satan,” then those within the monarchy who seek to curtail Wahhabi influence will face a difficult time.

In the KSA, Islam explains everything and Islam explains nothing Islam – or more precisely Wahhabism, a deviant form of Islamism – is ubiquitous in the KSA.  As I have argued, the manipulation of Wahhabism has little to do with orthodox Islamic doctrine and everything to do with protecting and expanding the domestic, regional and global power and influence of the Saudi royal family and political elite.

Journalists and analysts who write for The New York Times and other forms of mass media in the West do their readers no service by constantly viewing the contemporary Middle East through the prism of something they call “Islam,” to the detriment of other forms of explanation, especially historical context, and the political economy of inter-elite and inter-state conflict, and the efforts of states such as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to cast a global political and economic reach.

Friday, August 26, 2016

al-Jareeza MIN WASHINGTON - “Donald Trump and the World: a Return to Unorganized Chaos?"

I recently had the pleasure of appearing on al-Jazeera Arabic’s program, Min Washington (From Washington).  The program was broadcast on August 16-18.  The host was Mr. Muhammad al-Alami and the guests were Dr. Khalil Jahshan, Executive Director of the Washington, DC Arab Center, and myself. (
The topic of the program was Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s foreign policy.  Does Trump have a coherent foreign policy?  Does he have an effective strategy for addressing the major security threats which currently face the United States?  If so, what exactly does he propose?
Trump woos Arab clients while arguing that Muslims must be barred from US
Understandably, there is great interest in Donald Trump outside the United States.  This is especially true in the Arab world and the larger Middle East where most countries have Muslim majority populations.  In light of comments he has made about American Muslims, and Muslim beyond the borders of the United States,  Trump’s use of terms which many Muslims find objectionable, e.g., “radical Islam” and the need to subject Muslim immigrants to the United States to “serious vetting,” have created serious concerns.
Trump and Husayn Sajwani, DAMAC Group CEO, Dubai
A problem the Min Washington producers encountered was that there are few Muslims in the United States who support Trump and who would appear on the show to defend his policies.  That fact indicates a serious problem facing Trump should he win the presidency.  Muslims, both in the United States and in the Arab world, hold very negative views of him.  Few in the Middle East trust Trump and thus he would start his presidency with a substantial deficit in the eyes of most Middle East governments and politically active citizens.

Dr. Jahshan and I noted the absurdity of Trump’s statement that President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were the founders of the so-called Islamic State (Dacish).  Apart from the patently false nature of the claim, what exactly did Trump mean when he made it?  How in fact did Obama and Clinton establish the IS?  

Dr. Jahshan pointed to the fact that 50 former top American security officials, all Republican, signed a document disavowing Trump who they consider unqualified to hold the office Commander-in-Chief, precisely because he makes absurd and contradictory statements about both domestic and foreign policy.  

The question hovering over our discussion was how could someone with absolutely no foreign policy experience become a candidate for the most powerful political position in the world?  I offered two arguments to address this issue.  

First, Trump has been very clever in exploiting the anger and fear of a large segment of white middle aged male voters who are losing their jobs to US corporate off-shoring and technological change.  The need for higher levels of education and robots are making many blue collar jobs redundant.

Second, the Republican Party is no longer unified.  In fact, it is divided into three different trends.  First, there is the traditional free trade and security hawk Republicans.  Good examples are Paul Ryan and William Kristol.  A second trend with the GOP is the Tea Party.  While the junior senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, didn’t win the nomination, he did demonstrate the strength of this wing of the party during the Republican primary season this year by beating Trump in several of the contests.

A third and powerful wing of the party is what formerly was referred to as the “Reagan Democrats,” namely white working class voters who are socially conservative and favor a strong defense.  However, since the 1980s, this group has been transformed into what we may call “resentment voters.”  The promises of the Reagan era that cuts in government spending would improve their standard of living haven’t materialized.  Indeed, the opposite has occurred, as members of this demographic have seen a secular decline in their wages.

What I emphasized was the isolationist tendency of resentment voters, the core of Trump supporters.  Despite Trump’s claims to the contrary, manufacturing is at an all-time high in the United States, having increased over 45% during the last 25 years.  The problem is not the lack of manufacturing but the increasingly high skill levels required of workers and the continued replacement of workers by robots.

If the next president doesn’t address this issue, the anger and frustration of resentment voters will only increase.  If the Republican dominated US Congress continues to refuse to allocate funds for stimulating economic growth, particularly infrastructure development, then new construction jobs will not materialize and the economic conditions faced by high school educated white voters could lead them  to support extremist politicians and groups, even farther beyond the political mainstream than Trump.

Isolationism is the last thing the United States needs in an era of spreading global terrorism, reckless regimes such as Iran and North Korea, and the aggressive behavior of a Russia which, under Vladimir Putin seeks to project a much greater level of power and influence on the world stage.

In the end, Trump is only the tip of a very dangerous iceberg.  He symbolizes the degradation of American politics where hope in the future is replaced by fear, anxiety and decreasing trust in democratic institutions. 
The beginning of the 21st century cries out for statesmen, not short-sighted, self-centered and narcissistic politicians.  It calls for political leaders who can offer new policies with which to tackle the complex and dangerous problems which face the global arena. 

That Donald Trump is only an election away from becoming leader of the most powerful country in the world - the country which remains in the forefront of providing international leadership - is disconcerting.  That Trump evokes only the dark and mean-spirited side of American politics, and knows nothing about the problems he would face were he to be elected president, represents a disturbing sign of the times.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

After the Turkish Coup - Democracy, Development and the Struggle against the "Islamic State"

It has been 2 weeks since the attempted military coup in Turkey was aborted.  What will be its long term impact?  Clearly, the coup and its aftermath have degraded the quality of the once vaunted Turkish military, after Israel, the second most powerful in the Middle East.  The US coalition’s ability to defeat Da’ish has also been undermined.  However, the consequences of the coup go far beyond its military implications.

Much analysis of the failed coup has focused on the culpability of the Gulenist Movement, led by the exiled Turkish cleric, Fethullah Gulen.  Once an ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), the Gulenists have come to be viewed, over the past several years, as the AKP’s mortal enemy.
US General J.F. Campbell, Ret.,who AKP magazine, Yeni Safak, accused of supporting coup
What has been particularly galling to Erdogan and the AKP is that Gulen lives in exile in Pennsylvania.  Not an insignificant number of Turkish politicians, and military and intelligence personnel, have (irresponsibly) implied that the US was sympathetic, if not involved, in the coup. Academics sympathetic to the Erdogan government have described the coup attempt as part of an ”international imperialist Zionist plot.”  In short, much rhetoric and hot air have been expended in an effort to explain the coup, but relatively little serious analysis.

The United States, the international community and even Fethullah Gulen have condemned the coup attempt for its effort to overthrow a democratically elected government.  Nevertheless, the international community has expressed its serious concern at the manner in which President Erdogan has used the coup to eliminate large numbers of Turks, whose loyalty he suspects, removing them from their positions in the military, intelligence services, state bureaucracy and secondary school system.
Turkish soldiers who purportedly participated in failed coup being beaten by civilians
What has been especially disturbing has been the arrest of large numbers of Turks immediately after the coup was suppressed.  To analysts of Turkish politics and society, this indicated that lists of suspected dissidents had been compiled long before the coup attempt, which provided a perfect pretext for mass arrests and dismissals of Turks from their government positions who the Erdogan regime suspected of disloyalty.

Since the coup, over 15000 Turks have been arrested and more than 60,000 Turks fired or suspended.  The purge of government positions has gone far beyond the military and intelligence services.  It includes large numbers of secondary school teachers, judges, and bureaucrats.  Further, Erdogan has labeled all newspapers and television stations, which do not tow his line on interpreting the coup, as part a Gulenist and foreign plot anti-Turkish and has suspended their licenses.
Turkish officers arrested after failed coup attempt-center former Air Force Commander Akin Ozturk
The following is a list of those suspended or detained after the coup (  The list is striking in the breadth of those who have been implicated in some manner in the failed coup attempt, even though, by the Erdogan government’s own indication, only 1.5% of the military joined the coup attempt:

·       42,767 people in the Ministry of Education including 21,738 suspended government workers and 21,029 public staff education members
·       8,777 Ministry of Interior personnel
·       2,745 judges and prosecutors have been listed for detention
·       1,700 soldiers -- including 87 generals
·       1,577 university deans have been asked to resign
·       1,389 military personnel from the Turkish Armed Forces
·       1,112 officials removed in the Presidency of Religious Affairs
·       673 staff members at the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Stockbreeding
·       599 officials from the Family and Social Policies Ministry
·       560 Ministry of Science, Industry and Technology personnel
·       529 Ministry of Transportation officials
·       500 officials at the Ministry of Finance
·       300 Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources staff
·       300 TRT employees
·       257 officials removed from duty in the Prime Minister's Office
·       265 Ministry of Youth and Sports workers
·       262 military judges and prosecutors
·       221 officials Ministry of Forestry and Water Affairs
·       211 Turkish Airlines contracts have been terminated
·       184 Ministry of Customs and Commerce officials
·       180 Ministry of Labor and Social Security personnel
·       167 staff members at the Ministry of Environment and Urbanisation
·       110 Ministry of Culture and Tourism employees
·       100 Turkish intelligence service personnel
·       86 people removed at the Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency
·       86 staff dismissed at Ministry of Foreign Affairs including removal of Central Ambassadors Gurcan Balik and Tuncay Babali
·       82 Development Ministry workers
·       51 people at the Istanbul Stock Exchange while 36 have been terminated at the Capital Market Council
·       36 Energy Market Regulatory employees
·       29 Radio and Television Supreme Council workers
·       22 employees at the Housing Development Administration of Turkey
·       21 Turkish Statistical Institute workers
·       15 Ministry of Economy staff members
·       2 general directors, 1 deputy director general, and 5 department heads at Treasury

While the suppression of the coup has allowed Erdogan and the AKP to extend their control over Turkey as never before, the short-term benefits in increased political power will be far outweighed by long term losses.  What will these losses look like? 

First, the secondary school and higher education systems will be denuded of critical thought, already undermined by the "Islamization" of the Turkish education system.  Students will receive an education which, while perhaps continuing to be strong in STEM, will suffer in the social sciences arts and humanities.  This will alienate many urban, secular Turks and will foster emigration of many to Europe, the United States and other more liberal countries.  Creativity in all aspects of Turkish life will be a casuality.

The dumbing down of the quality of Turkey's school system and prestigious universities will be exacerbated by a muzzled press and mass media.  Only newspapers, television channels and official social media which support the AKP political line will be allowed to function.  The access of ordinary Turks to alternative perspectives on important political, social, economic and cultural issues will be severely curtailed.  Because freedom of expression represents a core component of democracy, Turkey will continue the process of becoming a thoroughly authoritarian state.  Already in 2013, at least two people were sentenced in to prison on “blasphemy” charges.

Turks who disagree with the AKP government of President Erdogan will have few avenues of redress because judges who disagree with the AKP regime have been or are in the process of being dismissed.  This effort to politicize the judicial system will not only undermine the rule of law – already severely comprised by policies enacted by Erdogan prior to the coup attempt – but discourage peaceful efforts to resolve political conflicts in Turkey, espocially the 30 year old war with the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK).  

In other words, the state takeover of the judiciary will make it easier for those advocating violence to silence those calling for peaceful change and resolution of conflicts confronting Turkey.  This effort will strengthen radical elements involved in the conflict between Turkey’s large and growing Kurdish minority.  Indeed, we can predict that the events following the coup will play into the hands of those who advocate violence rather than negotiation in addressing the Kurd's discontent resulting from their treatment by the central government in Ankara.

From the US perspective, the most ominous development following in the coup is the possibility that Turkey will reduce its commitment to NATO.  With the arrest of the former Turkish commander of the Incirlik Airbase, a vital facility for US airstrikes on Da’ish targets in Syria and Iraq, the US was temporarily suspended from flying sorties from the base.

Erdogan has never been an enthusiastic supporter in the fight against Da’ish – the so-called "Islamic State."  A bitter enemy of the regime of Bashar al-Asad, and sympathetic to Islamist sentiments, Erdogan has had to been cajoled by the US and its allies to fight the terrorist Da’ish and then only after Da'ish attacks on Turkey.

Over the past several years, thousands of Da’ish fighters have crossed the Turkish border to join the terrorist organization in Syria and large amounts of crude oil has been smuggled across the Syrian-Turkish border providing Da’ish with a large amount of monthly revenues.

The US can expect less cooperation from the Turkish military in the future. The Turkish military no longer enjoys the capacity as a highly effective fighting force which it enjoyed before the Erdogan government began purges of its ranks, beginning in 2011.  Indeed, the Turkish president is trying to convince opposition parties to support a constitutional amendment which would have the military and security forces to report directly to him (

Erdogan is also organizing his security forces in such a manner that they will exercise tight oversight of the Turkish armed forces.  Indications are that he will use the Iranian Revolutionary Guard model whereby "commissars" loyal to him will attempt to "coup-proof" the AKP regime ( .

The undermining of the quality of the military can be sees in structural efforts to organize the branches of the military in such a way as to encourage competition between them.  By dividing the reporting structure of the chief of staff  (to Erdogan), the army, air force, and navy (to the minister of defense) and the gendarmerie, police and coast guard (to the minister of the interior),  the organization of the security sector promotes inter-service rivalry, while placing security forces under more direct AKP control.  Indeed, following the coup attempt, generals sympathetic to NATO and "Atlanticistrs" have been fired, and those with Islamist and "Eurasian " proclivities have been promoted.

When the Justice and Development Party (AKP) first came to power in 2002, expectations that it would try to put Turkey on a road to an authoritarian form of Islamist rule did not occur.  After initial optimistic projections that AKP Islamism would try and resolve the 30 year conflict with Turkey’s Kurdish population, led by the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), the situation changed.   

Once the left-leaning Democratic People’s Party (Halkların Demokratik Partisi), founded in 2012, attracted support, especially through creating a coalition between secular Turks and Kurds, Erdogan viewed this development with great trepidation and threat to continued AKP rule. If Turks and Kurds could find common ground, and outside AKP Islamism, which sought to bridge the Turkish-Kurdish divide, Erdogan might be outmaneuvered (

Compounding the problem were the elections of 2015 which demonstrated the power of the new coalition when it won a significant number of seats in national parliamentary elections. Even though the Democratic People's Party's support declined once violence between the central government and the PKK erupted once again, Erdogan always distrusted the negotiations which took place between 2013 and 2015 designed to find a peaceful solution to the violence.  

What most observers have failed to note is the role state corruption played in the efforts to find a solution to the 30 year old war with the PKK. The investigation, which began in 2013 into alleged corrupt practices of AKP officials in the Erdogan government, particularly when it implicated the Turkish leader’s son, Bilal, and the weakening of the Turkish economy, exacerbated Erdogan's anxieties, making him much less amenable to making concessions to Turkey's Kurdish community which would end the conflict.

The Turkish economy's decline in 2009 undercut Erdogan’s image as a leader who was bringing prosperity to Turkey.  Much of the economic development fostered by the AKP was concentrated in real estate and was speculative in nature, namely not built on a strong foundation. The corruption scandal of 2013 cast aspersions on the “Islamic” character of the AKP.  How could a party of devout Muslims be stealing from the public purse?
Highways pass towers under construction in Istanbul's Zincirlikuyu district  
Another outcome of the coup and Erdogan's response to it will be to create further impediments to Turkish economic growth.  Foreign investors will be much more cautious about investing in an unstable political environment and Erdogan's post-coup rhetoric and behavior has further dampened economic ties between Turkey and the European Union.

Recently, Erdogan apologized to Russia for Turkey's downing of a Russian air force jet near the Syrian-Turkish border in November 2015.  But will Turkey be able to reestablish the trade relations with Russia - the main supporter of Bashar al-Asad's Ba'thist regime - and will Russian tourists return en masse to Turkey?  Because Iran is likewise a strong support of al-Asad, it is not easy to see how Erdogan can turn to Turkey's historical geopolitical rival in the Middle East for economic support.
In a subsequent post, I will analyze the broader issues suggested by the current political crisis in Turkey.  The core questions relate to how the citizens of Turkey, and many other countries around the world, define their sense of political identity and community.  Unless secularists and Islamists, Turks and Kurds, and Sunnis and Alevis, just to name some of the cleavages confronting Turkey, can be addressed in a non-confrontational manner, we can predict increased political and social instability in a country which was, just a few years ago, seen as on the road to a transition to democratic governance and the MENA region's emerging superpower.