Friday, October 10, 2014

Bad Ally or Bad Editing

Jonathan Schanzer wrote a piece for Politico on Turkey entitled "Time to Kick Turkey Out of NATO?" which I called both histrionic and inaccurate.  Indeed, I went on a bit of a rant last night on twitter, as this piece is pretty awful.

First, many members of NATO vary in how reliable they are.  We could start with the US in 2003 and what its invasion of Iraq did to both the alliance and to the interests of allies in the Mideast.  We could discuss how Germany and Poland (and others) opted out of the Libyan mission entirely, requiring some to withdraw their ships from the NATO fleet in the Mediterranean (whose day job is to do counter-terrorism).  We could start with France that pushed its allies into the Libyan campaign.  We could start with Greece, which has never given much to any NATO effort of note.  We could start with Hungary, which is becoming NATO's only authoritarian state (and was so lame in Afghanistan that the short-handed New Zealanders would patrol in Hungary's sector since ... Hungary did not [see chapter seven]).

Second, the piece uses Turkey's 2003 reticence as part of the claim about unreliability.  Given how stupid the US was in 2003 in so many dimensions, including not trying to seal the deal with the Turks until the war was imminent, can you blame Turkey for this?  Much of the alliance sat out that ill-conceived, poorly executed war, so one cannot really fault Turkey for that.

Third, I don't know about the legalities attached to the base at Incirlik, but this assertion "it  [Turkey] cannot restrict the NATO activities on the base in an approved operation" ignores the reality that the wars in Syria and Iraq are NOT NATO approved operations.  There has been no decision by the North Atlantic Council to bless the air campaigns.  It might be due to Turkish opposition (that would be the best bet), but the point here is that this guy does not understand NATO.  And regarding Article V, which has not been invoked by NATO but was cited by Schanzer, does not require any country to do anything: each country responds "as each deems necessary."

Fourth, Schanzer mischaracterizes Turkey's participation in ISAF as "logistics and training and refused to take part in combat."  Turkey was not alone in refusing to engage in offensive operations (Germany was similarly restricted until 2009).  Turkey was a major force provider, engaged in patrolling, and, most importantly, a particular kind of training.  One of the big differences among the allies were between those who were willing to do OMLT-eering--embedding trainers in Afghan combat units--and those who did not.  This was dangerous as it involved combat, and these trainers would have to depend on the Afghan National Army soldiers around for their defense.  Turkey ran two Provincial Reconstruction Teams, which was one more than most participants, and these PRTs were seen as a key element of the effort to improve the government and economy of Afghanistan (the hearts and minds part of COIN).  By leading in Kabul, Turkey allowed other countries to do more of the heavy lifting elsewhere.   Sure, Turkey was among the most restricted contingents in Afghanistan, but that didn't make the contribution irrelevant or Turkey all that distinct. 

Fifth, Turkey has complicated issues in this current conflict.  Yes, ISIS is a threat, but so are the Kurds and so is Assad.  Turkey did not get much support from NATO when Assad's armed forces attacked across the border.  Turkey has to worry about what happens if the Kurds become well-armed and if they gain sanctuaries in Syria.  So, it is hardly surprising that Turkey is not entirely enthusiastic about the ISIS fight.  Now that the fight has come closer to the its border, Turkey is starting to take steps that support the larger anti-IS effort.

To be sure, I am not a fan of Turkey's decisions, especially when it comes to the Kurds and to the increased role of Islam in domestic and foreign policies.  I don't think Turkey could have done much more in Afghanistan, but I do think Turkey can do more here.  But ignoring the realities of the situation--that NATO has not been that reliable of an ally to Turkey, that Turkey faces significantly more cross-pressures than nearly anyone else, and so on--is just not helpful and a poor place to start a conversation about Turkey's role in this conflict.

I am not sure why Politico published this piece except to gain clicks.  And I fell for this click-bait.  I feel stupid for having done so, and I feel even more stupid spending any time on thinking about this piece that should never have made it past the editors.

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