Thursday, 31 December 2015

OPINION: President Buhari on Boko Haram being “Technically Defeated”

Flag of Boko Haram until 2015

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent comment made during an interview with the BBC that the Islamist terror group Boko Haram had been “technically defeated” has unsurprisingly brought a high level of criticism – not least in the light of the massacre of 80 people shortly after.

Some have been quick to draw analogies with US President George W. Bush’s now infamous victoriam declarationem aboard the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln on May 1st, 2003 that brought an end to what he said would be “major combat operations” in Iraq. His televised address, dubbed the “Mission Accomplished” speech was of course followed by a Sunni insurgency which claimed many civilian and military lives. Twelve years later with the rise of several Islamist insurgent groups including al-Qaeda in Iraq and the so-called Islamic State, that country has defied attempts at being militarily pacified.

Buhari was referring to the re-conquest of Nigerian territory acquired by Boko Haram. The distinction is a subtle one and affords little comfort to the relatives of those who have lost their lives in the recent terror outrages.

It is instructive to remember that given the inherent dynamic related to asymmetric warfare, many insurgencies, including those which were successful in destroying the will of a national army or an army of occupation, have not had the goal of territorial conquest. The goal is often to sap the will of the opponent -politically, militarily and morally- in order to extract the relevant concessions among which ultimately would be the ceding of power. Thus Britain withdrew from Palestine in the face of unceasing attacks from the main Zionist terror groups: the Irgun and the Stern Gang.

Buhari may need reminding that the damage capable of being inflicted by a determined guerrilla movement which does not acquire territory is no less of a challenge than one attempting to challenge a national army for territory.

‘Strong ideologies’ such as those which are religiously motivated cannot be defeated without a coherent plan aimed at counter-acting the ideology and merely by the re-conquest of land or the disruption of the activities of the group’s cells.

There needs to be something more tangible in terms of ‘winning the hearts and minds’ of the population in the north east of Nigeria, especially among the disenchanted youth who form the recruiting fodder for Boko Haram.

The Nigerian military may have recaptured land ceded to the insurgents and may have muted, to use Buhari’s words, their ability as an “organised fighting force” in the battlefield, but it is only when there is demonstrable progress in the civic, psychological and economic spheres of counter-insurgency that Buhari should mention the word “defeat” albeit that it is presently qualified by the term “technically.”

(c) Adeyinka Makinde (2015)


Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Monday, 28 December 2015

Bacardi and Coke

A can of Coca Cola and a bottle of Bacardi
It would be verging on the pretentious of me to speak of apƩritifs and digestifs since I know too little of either. Didn't listen much when my father spoke of the former. I mean I had to watch 'From Russia, With Love' to understand the distinct matches between red wine and white wine with meat and fish respectively.

But on this point there is dissent.

Slavish insistence on such distinction alongside an attitude condemning the non-conformist to the disapprobation of 'right-thinking' members of society culminating into social ostracism may safely be said to be the sole preserve of utopian pedants and incorrigible mystics.

I indulge little with alcohol save for irregular bouts of wine drinking, but during the festive season I have tended to be partial to the consumption of a rudimentary mixture of Bacardi and Coca Cola.

For me, I guess, it serves as an apƩritif, a digestif and an in-between meal drink over the festive period. It goes down well with home cooked Christmas turkey, servings of cold chicken left-overs and New Year's Day's lobster feast.

Here's to festive drinking alongside the choices of cuisine during the holiday season. ((CLINK)).

(C) Adeyinka Makinde (2015)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Tales of Food and Travel - Gelato

Gelato

Lest we forget the event-capping dessert we often take after indulging in our preferred cuisine. There is much to recommend about gelato, not least of which is that it contains less fat than conventional ice cream and has a greater proportion of whole milk.

It is, of course, another Italian-created gift to the world, and always reminds me of the aftermath of finishing a basic lasangne meal I had at an ordinary eaterie near Stazione Termini in Rome when I was waiting for a train to take me to the airport.

The waiter asked me what I wanted for dessert and I replied, "Do you have any Haagen-Dazz ice cream?" My longstanding affinity to this ostensibly European ice cream which is actually American originated got the better of me.

The waiter looked at me with a mixture of pity and despondency etched on his features. Maybe he was also a little angry and frustrated about what he might have perceived as ignorance on my part or even as impertinence.

Here I was after all in a place visibly well-stocked with all manner of gelato, semifreddo and granita in assorted flavours and colours ornately laid out with accompanying fruits and syrups; a foreigner in Italy, the fantasy land of ice cream, and I was requesting a recently invented and much hyped North American concoction of ice cream.

Shamed by his reaction and the inexorable logic behind it, I quietly took hand of the dessert menu he had handed me and soon after sheepishly asked for a Strawberry-Vanilla combo.

Viva gelato!

(C) Adeyinka Makinde (2015)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England

Tales of Food and Travel - Grilled Sea Bream

Grilled Sea Bream at Leitao a Bairrada on Avenida da Liberdade in Lisbon

A group of American musicians were playing a bluesy set at a nearby restaurant.

Some gentle, lilting Fado music might have better aided the digestion - although I did go to the other venue afterwards for a few drinks!

(C) Adeyinka Makinde (2015)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England

Tales of Food and Travel - Linguine al Cartoccio

"Linguine al Cartoccio" at Bellini, Ristorante e Pizzeria on Via Costantinopoli in Naples 2012

Five things to mention:

1. First picture that I took of food in a restaurant after years of stating I would not indulge in that form of "social media vulgarity."

2. Extreme hunger derived from indulging in tourist activities on an extremely sunny day. Therefore was seeking an exotic seafood mix with the proviso that I was going to be filled up. It consists of Linguine Pasta, Giant Tiger Prawns, Mussels, Plum Tomatoes & assorted Peppers.

3. The dish is typically served in paper or tin foil. It was 'well-ordered' but took on a 'messy' appearance soon after unwrapping it.

4. Located in Decumani, the historic centre of Naples and fittingly close to the Museo Archeologico Nazionale.

5. The restaurant is named after Vincenzo Bellini, the famous Italian opera composer, whose statue stands not too far away.


(C) Adeyinka Makinde (2015)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England

Tales of Food and Travel - Bouillabaisse

Bouillabaisse

Scene from the film ‘Our Man Flint’ (1966)

James Coburn (Flint) to Lee J. Cobb (Cramden) after forensic analysis of a poisoned dart is completed:

“Well sir, the usual proportion of garlic to buttered saffron and fennel (in bouillabaisse) is two cloves of garlic, to a pinch of buttered saffron, to a dash of fennel. Now only in a certain small section of Marseilles are these three condiments prepared in these proportions. Now whoever handled that dart was in Marseilles within the last 24 hours.”

The place and the menu - culinary excellence combined with the aesthetic associated with the location are sometimes experiences which one may be weary of attempting to duplicate.

For instance, having a Calamari & Octopi-filled Fritto Misto lunch on the island of Capri by the blue waters of the Gulf of Naples.

Or gently devouring Sea Bass stuffed with minced Langoustine and Sea Urchins while imbibing the gentle ocean breeze emanating off the Tamariz Beach in Estoril.

Would I get the same level of high a second time around? Perhaps yes with a different menu or location Perhaps not.

I aborted a late arranged trip to Marsailles last summer with one pre-planned pleasure being the consumption of the local gift to the national cuisine: Bouillabaisse.

I made do with the same fish stewed meal -minus the lobster- at a decent French restaurant off High Street Kensington.

But here's to making good on a dream of consuming a sumptuous and well-crafted portion of Bouillabaisse in its place of historical origin on a darkening summer's evening by the Vieux-Port eased down with a full-bodied white Burgundy.

(C) Adeyinka Makinde (2015)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England

Sunday, 6 December 2015

COMMENTARY: Hilary Benn’s Speech – High on Emotion and Elocution but Flawed

Hilary Benn

Praise for the speech delivered by Hilary Benn, the shadow foreign secretary of the opposition Labour Party at the recent Parliamentary debate on whether to commence air strikes targeted at Islamic State insurgents in Syria, was quick to come through the media.

The Spectator magazine referred to it as an “extraordinary speech,” while Sky News intoned that it had been a “truly historic speech”. For the Daily Telegraph, the speech was the speech of a “true leader”. Many sources were prone to describing it as having been “electrifying” while others spoke of it as “politically elevating” him and being the “speech of a generation.”

And truth be told, it appeared to be an impressive oratorical combination of emotion and elocution backed by reasoned out arguments.

His speech was replete with intellectual justifications predicated on the inherent internationalism of the ideology of socialism and of taking the fight to the avowed enemy of fascism. He presented legal justifications first through United Nations Resolution 2249, paragraph 5 which calls upon member states to take all necessary measures to redouble and co-ordinate their efforts to prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed specifically by ISIL and to eradicate the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Iraq and Syria, and secondly, on the grounds of national self-defence via Article 51 of the UN Charter which enable nation states to engage in self-defence, including collective self-defence, against armed attack.

There were also emotive references to the brutal executions that have become the trademark of Islamic State, as well as to the sexual bondage into which the group has placed many Yazidi females.

The group had declared war on the Western world and was guided by an immutably draconian ideology with values antithetical to those which the British parliament and the citizens it serves have long cherished and have defended by resort to force of arms against the likes of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.

Benn retreated from the despatch box with cheers echoing around the chamber.

It was a triumphal moment. But whether he made a substantive case for British intervention is extremely doubtful. There were missing facts and there was a profound disconnect from the overriding context of the promulgation of the Syrian conflict and the means by which it has been sustained. There was no outlining of a clear strategy towards achieving both victory and a lasting peace.

Furthermore, the situation regarding the internal affairs of Benn’s party and the use of the debate as an opportunity for those to the right of the party to assert themselves and destabilise the leadership of the recently elected leader Jeremy Corbyn cannot be left out.

The calling for the debate was of course controversial in itself given the fact that Prime Minister David Cameron had two years earlier failed to secure enough votes to get the go ahead to bomb Syria.

That particular vote had been prompted by a chemical attack on Ghouta which the Western powers and its allies in the Middle East had sought to blame on the forces of President Bashar al Assad. Cameron’s recalibrated cross hairs prompted the charge of rank opportunism; of picking a changing enemy as it suited him.

The object of a proposed bombing campaign in 2013, in fulfillment of US President Barack Obama’s earlier declared “red line” would have been to “degrade” the capability of Assad’s military infrastructure.

Had Parliament consented and the US congress given the go ahead to its president, the result would have led to a sustained campaign by NATO conducted along the lines as it had done in Libya with the objective being to overthrow the legitimate government of a country which has taken a foreign policy stance that is independent of that of Washington’s.

And as was the case in Libya, Syria would have fallen into the hands of Islamist groups, the most prominent of which at the time was the al Qaeda-affiliated al Nusra Front. In other words, without any discernibly united, preferably secular and democratic opposition party or coalition of such parties, Syria would most likely be in the chaotic condition that Libya is in today: a lawless cesspit of warring militias, some of who now bear allegiance to Islamic State.

Benn’s rationale about focussing on the threat provided by the Islamic State as a group of “fascists” is flawed. He is seriously ill-informed if he is not aware that the 70,000 or so rebels mislabeled as 'moderate’, including the aforementioned al Nusra Front, are guided by the same form of ideology. He surely must have heard of the admission by a senior US general about the “four or five” US-trained moderate rebels who represent the sum total of a 500 million dollar programme.

The credibility of Benn’s case is flawed in one fundamental aspect: its failure to take into account the role of Turkey in this conflict. His calculations cannot be taken seriously if on the one hand he (correctly) mentions the porous border between Syria and Iraq, but at the same time fails to ponder the state of affairs in existence on the border between Turkey and Syria.

The Islamic State cannot be defeated if Turkey, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, is permitted to continue allowing Islamic State insurgents to traverse its border at will. The border is used to transport illicitly acquired Syrian and Iraqi oil to Turkey where it is then traded at knock down prices for arms and ammunition.

It will not be defeated if political figures within NATO member states such as Benn fail to acknowledge and probe the admissions of US army generals such as Wesley Clarke, the former supreme allied commander of the alliance and Michael Flynn, the recently retired director of the US Defense Intelligence Agency, that the Islamic State was created by US intelligence in combination with other intelligence agencies to enable Sunni extremists to overthrow Arab secular regimes as well as to fight Hezbollah and destabilize Iran.

For Clarke speaking to CNN in February 2015, Islamic State was started by the funding provided from “friends and allies” of the United States who needed Sunni jihadist recruits as the only highly motivated force that would be capable of taking on Hezbollah. Marginalising Hezbollah and by extension, Iran, could only be achieved by the destruction of the Baathist government headed by Assad. Flynn, for his part stated that US policy makers made a “willful decision” to enable the rise of Islamic State.

Benn spoke about “extending” the US-led bombing campaign in Iraq to Syria in order to counter the Islamic State, but failed to assess its level of impact on the strength and capacities of the Islamic State. It has not nearly had the effect on the re-conquest of Islamic State taken territory as has the co-ordinated efforts of Russian air strikes and ground action by the Syrian Arab army.

The coalition of US and Arab air forces operating in Iraq cannot hope to significantly debilitate Islamic State in that theatre of operations when the number of sorties taken are far lower than NATO’s intensive bombardment of Serbia back in the 1990s. A commentary in the Wall Street Journal in October 2014 noted that that while NATO strike sorties averaged 138 per day, the figure amounted to seven against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. It was the columnists concluded an “unserious air war.”

The Russian action, backed up by statistical evidence referring to total sorties undertaken as well as of re-taken Syrian territory, has clearly exposed the US effort as not seriously aiming for the defeat of Islamic State. At most, it had an objective of containment; this in keeping with a Freedom of Information Act-released Pentagon document circulated in 2012 which specified the desirability of the creation of a Sunni Islamic state in Eastern Syria.

Benn was also flawed in his confident assertions relating to the legality of British military force on Syrian territory that is held by Islamic State insurgents. The considered opinion of international law experts, Dapo Akande and Marko Milanovic is that the unprecedented provision of paragraph 5 of Resolution 2249 falls short of being a stand-alone authorization for using force against Islamic State in both Syria and Iraq.

The reason for this is that both assess that most Security Council resolutions which authorise the use of force have certain recurring features. First, they have a preambular paragraph which specifically invokes Chapter VII, that is, the powers the Council has to maintain peace. Secondly, they use the words “decides” as the active verb in the paragraph that authorises force, and thirdly, they use the term “all necessary means” or “all necessary measures” as the jargon for authorising force.

Paragraph 5 does not contain the first two features but has the third –“all necessary measures.” The conclusion by Akande and Milanovic is that that the paragraph does not intend to serve as the stand-alone authorisation for the use of force against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

The vote was of course arranged under the cloud of a speech given behind closed doors to the Conservative Party’s 1922 Committee by David Cameron who asserted that Jeremy Corbyn and anyone supporting a stance of non-intervention were “terrorist sympathisers”.

It was an unfortunate comment which perhaps was in keeping with Cameron’s propensity to resort to name-calling and bullying when he is confronted by compelling counter-arguments and is threatened with not getting his own way.

It is Cameron who after all suggested that those whom he termed as “non-violent extremists” including persons who question and contradict official government narratives on events such as 9/11 should be designated as threats to society every bit as dangerous as the threat posed by members of Islamic State.

While Benn did begin his speech by stating that the leader of his party “is not a terrorist sympathiser” and called on Cameron to apologise, his critique of the British prime minister fell far short of what could reasonably be mustered when Cameron is in fact on record as having given aid to terrorist militias in order to achieve certain objectives.

Cameron, by virtue of his active support for NATO intervention in Libya, not only succeeded in reducing the nation with the African continent’s highest standard of living to the wretched state of lawlessness and deprivation that it is today; causing in the process a third of its population to seek refuge in neighbouring Tunisia, he has also created the conditions for Libya to become a terrorist enclave and a repository for battle experienced jihadists who were transferred to Syria via Turkey for a further endeavour aimed at overthrowing a another secular Arab government.

It was Cameron who in 2011 ordered the Special Air Service (SAS), a British Special Forces unit, to support the al Qaeda-affiliated Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) towards the end of achieving the overthrow of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

Cameron’s choice of words are also ironic given the fact that an Old Bailey case involving an accusation of “participating in terrorist activities in Syria” in the middle of 2015 against one Bherlin Gildon, collapsed because a trial would have revealed embarrassing information about British security and intelligence service support for so-called rebel groups including the supply of weapons and ammunition.

Given that rebel groups other than Islamic State have murdered civilians in Syria and that Islamist militias have done the same in Libya, the case for ascribing Cameron with a counter-label and even a legally accurate designation as an accessory to the commission of acts of terrorism would not be an inaccurate one.

The plot to overthrow Assad under the pretext of the Arab Spring predated Cameron’s coming to power and was apparently heavy with British involvement. The revelation by the former French foreign minister, Roland Dumas,that he invited to join such a plot by British officials is something Benn and others within the British political establishment have failed to acknowledge.

Benn’s insistence on legal propriety, as evidenced by his reference to Resolution 2249 and Article 51 of the Charter, while no doubt predicated on the memory that he voted in support of the illegal war that toppled Saddam Hussein, is nonetheless compromised by his silence and therefore acquiescence to his country’s complicity in an illegal enterprise to overthrow the legitimate government of a sovereign state.

The “major airlift” of arms from Zagreb in Croatia to Syrian rebels as reported by the Daily Telegraph in March of 2013 was a transaction paid for by Saudi Arabia at the behest of the United States. The shipment also included arms which were either “British-supplied or British procured.” It was carried out in contravention of an embargo on arms sales by the European Union. It is against the norms of international law to supply weapons to terror groups in an endeavour to overthrow the legitimate government of another nation state.

Even at this stage of the conflict, it was clearly the case that such weapons were getting into the hands of Islamist groups such as Ahrar al-Sham and not to purportedly nationalist and secular-minded groups promoted as the so-called ‘Free Syrian Army’.

It is also clear that at this time, British military officers were among a contingent of NATO military personnel stationed in countries bordering Syria and offering training to rebel leaders and former Syrian Army officers.

Benn’s reference to the Vienna peace talks as being the best hope of achieving a ceasefire “that would bring an end to Assad’s bombing” and lead to transitional government and elections gives a clue as to his tacit understanding of the deceit behind longstanding British policy towards the government of Assad.

What interest, after all, does Britain have in securing the overthrow of an admittedly dictatorial government? Hillary Benn can hardly be ignorant of the fact that the secular make up of Syria guaranteed the protection and integration of the country’s long-standing Christian population and other minorities. An earlier removal of its Baathist government would have precipitated its fall into the hands of Islamists and the removal of the Assad government now would lead to the same result.

Christian Roland Dumas offered the following explanation:

It is important to know that this Syrian regime has a very anti-Israeli stance. Consequently, everything that moves in the region- and I have this from the former Israeli prime minister who told me that “we’ll try to get on with our neighbours but those who don’t agree with us will be destroyed.”

At the heart of Western policy toward the Middle East one which is geared towards ensuring the survival and protection of the state of Israel. This is a central plank notwithstanding the overlap of issues such as the interests of the Saudis and the Sunni Gulf States in establishing Sunni supremacy in Syria and Turkish ‘neo-Ottoman’ initiatives that seek to achieve the same sectarian objective.

And while the Syrian conflict may also have been stoked by the preference of the Assad government for an Iranian natural gas pipeline route to Europe to an alternative one proposed by Turkey and the Gulf Cooperation Council, the overarching policy aimed at breaking up the Syrian nation state is one which has been stage-managed by the United States.

It has for long been Israeli geo-strategic policy to balkanise the Arab nations -particularly those such as Iraq and Syria which were led by strong military governments with nationalist ideologies- in order to maintain its regional hegemony. It is also the policy of the United States to achieve a reorganising of national borders as part of a strategy for securing the energy resources of the region.

It is clear that NATO powers such as France and Britain, sensing the possible pacification of Syria by a concerted effort by the Russian Federation along with the Syrian government have taken the opportunity to involve themselves more directly in Syria in an attempt to place themselves into a position where they may be able to achieve the goal of removing Assad and effecting the desired geo-political objective of Israel and the United States: the division of Syria.

But a concomitant of this policy has been the fomenting of sectarian divisions during an envisaged ‘long war’ during which the United States strategy has been to aid Sunni Islamist groups against the forces of the Shia world. This state of affairs was clearly set out in a United States Army-funded report by the RAND Corporation in 2008 entitled Unfolding the Future of the Long War: Motivations, Prospects and Implications for the U.S. Army.

Britain has played an integral part in the germination of the state of affairs. The point is that prior to British involvement in NATO’s overthrow first of Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq and then of Gaddafi in Libya followed by Britain’s connivance in fomenting a largely imported Sunni Islamist insurrection against the government of Bashar al Assad in Syria, there was no al Qaeda or al Nusra or Islamic State causing mayhem in those countries or attempting export terror to the streets of Britain.

Benn’s argument for supporting airstrikes is fundamentally flawed for the reason that it is embarking on a battle which the defence minister, Michael Fallon admits will be a long and protracted one without any coherent plan. It risks plunging Britain into a quagmire of the sort that involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq did.

It also risks serving as a rallying point for further recruitment to Islamist militias. Even Tony Blair has forced to admit that the germination of the Islamic State is a direct consequence of the invasion of Iraq.

By asking whether “we can really leave to others the responsibility for defending our national security when it is our responsibility”, Benn clearly indicated that he subscribes to David Cameron’s position that Britain cannot “sub-contract” its security to other nations. The retort to this by Peter Ford, a former British ambassador to Syria is Britain should not make itself the “hostage to others.”

Putting British planes into action in the overcrowded Syrian skies leaves the possibility of unfortunate incidents in future operations in terms not only of the unintended deaths of civilian populations on the ground, but also of a clash with the Russian military who claim that they have the overriding legal justification for intervention given that the Syrian government requested Russian support.

Benn emoted over socialist and other political Left support for the lost cause of the Spanish Republican coalition against General Franco's military rebellion comprised of a coalition of nationalists. He fails to grasp that action against Islamic State will prove futile given the present circumstances dictated by the United States.

Simply put, the Islamic State insurgents are but the latest in a line of Islamist assets used in the service of promoting a range of geo-political agendas of its ally, the United States. These have included foreign adventures in Soviet-era Afghanistan, Kosovo and Libya.

While Benn has impressed many with his recourse to emotion, it would be useful to remember a wise saying that while emotion may serve as an excellent petrol it is, after all things are considered, a rather poor engine.

It will only get you so far.

(c) Adeyinka Makinde

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

COMMENTARY: Turkey - A Study in Geo-Political Malevolence


The recent shooting down of a Russian military plane by Turkish air force jets has brought a great deal of media focus on the role of Turkey in the Syrian conflict. Knowledgeable observers of the four year-long civil war have been aware of Turkey’s role from the outset as a conduit for the infiltration of Syrian territory by Islamist militants who have had training camps provided for by the Turkish Army High Command.

However, a wider spectrum of the global audience to the Syrian tragedy has become more acquainted with the allegation of Turkish logistical support for and financial relations with the so-called Islamic State. The reason for the Turkish taking down of a warplane which posed no threat to its security can only be based on the premise that Turkey is worried about the success of Russian airstrikes and the gains made by the Syrian Arab Army in reclaiming territories lost to insurgent Islamist militias and sought to punish the Russians for their role in this inconvenient turn of events. Further, the conduct of the Turkish government in the immediate aftermath of the incident by calling for a meeting of members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, appears to have been an attempt to draw the military alliance headed by the United States into direct opposition to the Russian Federation.

When Russian president Vladimir Putin condemned the Turkish action as a “stab in the back by the accomplices of terrorists” he was not only enlightening the world about that nation’s role in the creation and sustenance of the Islamic State, he was also giving insight into the modus operandi of those operating at the helm of the Turkish state; one that has fashioned Turkey into an untrustworthy operator in international affairs - both  as a partner within a military alliance and as an ostensibly friendly neighbouring state.

The deep irony is that the government led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan is one which predicated its regional outlook on a much vaunted ‘Zero Problems with Neighbours’ stance. Far from this, his foreign policy demarches; seemingly a recurring series of conspiracies, attempts at entrapment, blackmail and betrayals have set Syria ablaze with death, destruction and displacement. The unruly hand of Erdogan has at specific junctures risked escalating the crisis into a full blown regional war along sectarian lines, and even more direly threatened to edge the conflict towards a confrontation between the nuclear armed powers of NATO and Russia.

The background to Turkish involvement in the Syrian crisis is one which has its roots in an historical rivalry between both nations and is nurtured by a confluence of geo-political objectives of the present leadership in Turkey with those of the nations with whom it is formally allied; that is, the United States and NATO, as well as its informal alliance with the conservative Arab monarchies that comprise the Gulf Co-operation Council. This extends to an arguably symbiotic relationship that Turkey has with the state of Israel.

Antagonisms between Turkey and Syria go back to the aftermath of the First World War when following the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire, both modern Turkish and Syrian states were created. Right from the outset, mutual animosities festered over the twin issues of territorial and water rights.

Despite the secular framework undergirding both states, this rivalry was maintained during the era of the Cold War with the Turks becoming full-fledged members of NATO while the Syrians maintained a close relationship with the former Soviet Union.

The relationship was not helped by Turkish cooperation with Israel, a state to which Syria remained resolutely opposed. A low point was reached in 1998 when both nations came to the verge of all out war over Syrian support for guerrillas of the PKK, the Kurdish separatist organisation.

However by the late 2000s a rapprochement between both countries had developed to the extent that Syrian President Bashar al Assad described Turkey as “Syria’s best friend.” Erdogan for his part referred to the Syrians as “brothers.”

Those sentiments, given the present circumstances, have long been buried.

Under Erdogan’s leadership, Turkey has developed a foreign policy that aims to project Turkish influence within the Middle East and beyond. Regardless of the accuracies or inaccuracies attendant to descriptions of it as ‘neo-Ottoman’ in nature, it is clear that it is characterised by its assertiveness. Turkey’s initiatives consistently display a bold and ruthless approach whether the Turkish state is functioning as an intermediary, a facilitator or as a provocateur.

For instance, it was at Erdogan’s insistence in 2008 that the Syrians reluctantly began tentative talks with Israel. A few years later, Turkey served as the conduit through which Jihadis, fresh from NATO’s successful expedition in overthrowing the government of Muammar Gaddafi, were transported to Syria to wage the present insurrection against Assad’s government.

The Turks cherish the idea of serving as the “ultimate energy bridge between east and west”, hence the proposition made to Assad prior to the conflict that he accede to a plan by Saudi Arabia and Qatar to build a natural gas pipeline from the Gulf to Turkey which would supply Europe with natural gas. The offer was made by Erdogan to counteract a plan to deliver Iranian gas to the same destination through a pipeline which would extend through Iraq and Syria. Assad rejected this offer.

It sits on what is reputed to be one of the world’s largest water reserves and in 2014 did not hesitate to cut off the water supply to the River Euphrates by effecting a gradual reduction in the pumping of the river. This led to a drastic fall in the water levels of the man-made Lake Assad.

More recently, Erdogan is using the plight of refugees from the war he has helped create in Syria as a bargaining chip to “re-energize” talks on Ankara joining the European Union as well as to ease visa restrictions for Turks visiting the bloc.

Seeking the fracture of the Syrian state is a clear geo-political objective of Erdogan, and Turkey’s involvement in this endeavour fits neatly in with other nations with similar aspirations.

The United States for one unveiled its ‘Greater Middle East Project’ during the administration of George Bush which proposed an overhaul of the political map of the Middle East of a kind not envisaged since the region was carved up between France and Britain, the victors of World War One.

It was a plan which was a logical expression of the Wolfowitz Doctrine which called for the untrammelled use of American military might in shaping the post-Cold War geo-political landscape.

Such thinking had been put to paper by a policy document prepared by the now defunct Project for the New American Century, a neoconservative think tank which called on the United States to “challenge” regimes which were hostile to its “interests and values”. Among those on the list was the Syrian state.

Syria was on the list of seven countries to be taken out over a five year period according Wesley Clarke, the retired US army general who had served as supreme commander of NATO.

The balkanisation of the Middle East has always factored in the foreign policy objectives of the state of Israel. The policy plan devised by Oded Yinon in the early 1980s emphasized the vulnerability of multi-faith and multi-tribal Arab nations created by European imperial powers with Syria been assessed as “fundamentally no different from Lebanon except in the strong military regime which rules it.”

The thinking behind A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm, a policy document prepared in 1996 for Benjamin Netanyahu during his first tenure as Israeli prime minister was to work in concert with its allies Turkey and Jordan to “contain, destabilize and roll-back” those states posing threats to all three. The strategy as with the PNAC document specifically mentions the “weakening, controlling and even rolling back” of Syria.

While the rejection of Turkey’s natural gas pipeline proposal may likely have played a decisive factor in turning Erdogan against Assad’s Syria, the insurrection was begun under the cover of the so-called ‘Arab Spring’. Recruitment and financing of Sunni Islamist insurgents came from the Sunni powers of the Gulf Co-operation Council.

Arms supplies such as a “major airlift” of “3,000 tons of weapons” from Zagreb as reported by London’s Daily Telegraph in March of 2013, found its way to Syrian rebels through Turkey.

The sectarian nature of the conflict is evident and the imposition of a Sunni-led replacement to Assad’s government is a goal shared by Erdogan. Erdogan leads what is termed the ‘soft Islamist’ Justice and Development Party which has nonetheless sought to modify the secular creed of state established by Kemal Ataturk. Erdogan’s sectarian motives are implicit in all his political manoeuvrings Assad ruefully noted during an interview he granted to a Turkish newspaper journalist in 2012.

It was for long an open secret that the Erdogan government was complicit in the rise of Islamic State. The formidable Turkish army which has dutifully kept a lid on any military threats emanating from the de facto Kurdish state in northern Iraq did nothing to help crush the militias of the Islamic State when they emerged as a force following the infamous blitzkrieg in Iraq back in 2014.

And even allowing for the plausible excuse of wanting to avoid the potential complications associated with intervening in another country, Turkey deliberately failed to close its porous borders to Islamist volunteers.

Last year, Sky News Arabia reported the discovery of official exit stamps administered by Turkish border control on passports seized by Kurdish fighters indicating that foreign militants seeking to join Islamic State had entered Syria with the full knowledge of the Turkish authorities.

This open border policy so far as the insurgents were concerned extended to trading in illegal oil garnered by the Islamic State from oil wells it seized in Northern Syria. It is a lucrative trade in which members of Erdogan’s own family including his son Bilal, are intimately involved.

The bombing of these trade routes and crossing points during raids conducted by the Russian Air Force along with the more general turning of the tide gains by the Syrian Arab Army against insurgents doubtlessly influenced the decision to stage the dangerously provocative act of shooting down a Russian warplane.

The Sukhoi Su-24M tactical bomber aircraft by the reckoning of the Turkish government had traversed its borders for a period of time amounting at most to 17 seconds. The Russians denied that their plane entered Turkish airspace or that its crew had been given 10 warnings in five minutes.

Whatever the truth of this matter, Erdogan’s rank hypocrisy was clearly on display when he claimed that his country’s F-16 fighter jets “shot down the Russian plane in line with Turkey’s rules of engagement”.

Back in June of 2012 he had furiously denounced the Syrian decision to down a Turkish F-3 Phantom fighter jet for violating Syrian territory. “A short-term border violation can never be a pretext for an attack”, adding, “Even if the plane was in their airspace for a few seconds, that is no reason to attack. It was clear that this plane was not an aggressive plane. Still it was shot down.”

When a Russian warplane had admittedly temporarily violated Turkish airspace which the Russians attributed to the Russian pilot’s evasive action after a Turkish jet had ‘locked on’ to his plane, the Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had spoke the following the words:

We’ll warn any country that violates our borders in a friendly way. Russia is our friend and neighbour. There is no tension between Turkey and Russia in this sense. The issue of Syria is not a Turkish-Russian crisis.

The downing of the Russian fighter plane appears to have been the latest in a number of incidents which the Turkish government have cynically sought to manipulate as a means of drawing the United States more directly into the conflict; this through the mechanism of invoking Article Five of the North Atlantic Treaty which states that an attack on one Ally shall be considered an attack on all allies.

The willingness and even desperation of the Turks to involve the United States as an active participant mean that some observers do not rule out the Turks staging a ‘false flag’ attack, i.e. facilitating or directly participating in an act of war or a war crime and then blaming it on another party in order to discredit them and, if necessary, to justify a military response.

It is claimed by some that Islamist rebels based in Turkey had access to sarin gas prior to the Ghouta Chemical attack which opponents of the Assad government sought to blame on his forces. President Obama, reluctant to approve direct involvement by the United States, had earlier announced that the use by the Assad government of chemical weapons would constitute the crossing of a red line.

Seymour Hersh, the Pulitzer Award winning investigative writer, claimed to have seen a classified US Defense Intelligence Agency document which referred to “chemical facilitators” based in Turkey and Saudi Arabia “were attempting to obtain sarin precursors in bulk, tens of kilograms, likely for the anticipated large scale production effort in Syria.”

In March of 2014, a tape recording was released of a conversation said to have been between Hakan Fidan, the Head of Turkish Intelligence, Davutoglu, then the foreign minister and other high-ranking officials discussing the possibility of launching an attack on the tomb of Suleyman Shah, the grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman Empire which is located in Syria.

Davutoglu is heard to say that “the prime minister”, meaning Erdogan, said that “in current conjecture, this attack (on the tomb) must be seen as an opportunity for us”.

To this Fidan replies, “I’ll send four men from Syria, if that’s what it takes. I’ll make up a cause of war by ordering a missile attack on Turkey; we can also prepare an attack on Suleyman Shah Tomb if necessary.”

The response from Turkey’s foreign ministry said that the tape had been “partially manipulated” and was a “wretched attack” on national security.

Such deceptions are not unknown in Turkish history. It is a nation rich with high level intrigue and manufactured violence. The Istanbul Pogrom of 1956 or Septemvriana, which saw the slaughter and displacement of ethnic Greeks, was orchestrated by the government of Adnan Menderes.

This involved getting a Turkish usher at the consulate in Thessaloniki to plant a bomb that would damage the building acknowledged as the birth home of the revered Attaturk. Although the man was arrested and made a confession, the Turkish press remained silent about this and announced that the consulate had been bombed by Greeks.

The rise of Erdogan and his ‘soft-Islamism’ which has implemented economic policies that have succeeded in increasing the level of the nation’s prosperity ostensibly offered a break with the murky past.

For decades, Turkey endured successive military regimes which were brought to power and sustained by the use of NATO’s secret army unit known as ‘Counter Guerilla’ as well as associations with fascist groups such as the ‘Grey Wolves’. It was during this period that the Derin devlet, literally meaning ‘deep state’ became an entrenched feature of its governance.

But while Erdogan’s rule has introduced reforms and seen the purge of many in the military, it has failed to do away with the negative hallmarks of the corrupt state including the country’s reputation as the conduit for the supply and distribution into Europe of Afghan originated heroin.

His handling of foreign affairs has left much to be desired even when taking into account the amorality frequent in the conduct of the relations between nations. His defiance of international law, conventions and opinion has included the creation of a buffer area with Syria resulting in the advancing of Turkish borders by eight kilometres.

Meanwhile, there is no word from his government condemning the apparent war crime committed by Turkman guerrillas in either killing a defenceless pilot parachuting to earth or lynching him on his landing.

He has attacked Kurdish militias when have taken the fight to Islamic State and even his declarations about carrying out a military operation against the Islamic State in the “near future” are treated with disbelief and merely create the suspicion that he will use any purported operation as cover to wage war against the Kurds.

Such duplicity and such hypocrisy are, of course, not the sole preserve of Erdogan. The Western powers at the helm of which is the United States insist that they are fighting a war on terror, but arm terrorists in a conflict which was planned and organised well in advance of the cover provided by the so-called Arab Spring.

The creation of the entity now termed Islamic State by covert manipulation of United States intelligence agencies is admitted by retired US General Wesley Clarke as well as by the recently retired director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lt. General Michael Flynn.

The still frequent recourse to the term ‘moderate’ rebels by US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron is baffling in the extreme given the evidence from a welter of disparate sources which confirm that the overwhelming majority of those Syrians who have taken up arms against Assad are guided by a Sunni Islamist ideology, the same ideology that fuels the foreign jihadists who have descended on Syria, many of them routed through Turkey.

It is an ideology to which Erdogan, who rejects the term ‘moderate’ or ‘soft’ Islamism as insulting Western constructs, subscribes. For all his protestations, this view may tend to offer confirmation that he is sympathetic to the tenets espoused by the Islamic State.

But it is of course conduct that speaks louder than words. His failure to close the borders with Syria, the provision of training camps, the existence of trade routes and supply lines along with evidence of constant communications between militants and Turkish officials speak of an active and sustained collaboration with the Islamist militants who seek to overthrow the secular government of Bashar al Assad.

The pages of an objectively written history will not likely be kind to Recep Erdogan’s role in fomenting and prolonging the unmitigated catastrophe that is Syrian Civil War.

(c) Adeyinka Makinde (2015)


Adeyinka Makinde is a London-based Law Lecturer with an interest in geo-politics.