Turkey & the New Ottoman Empire

The tomb of Suleiman Shah, located on a dog-leg of the Euphraste River about 30 miles inside Syria, is designated by a 1921 treaty as an extraterritorial  sovereign enclave of Turkey. As the existence, or even reverence of the burial site, expressed in architecture, is contrary to the tenets of Sunni Islam, the “theology” of ISIS demands its destruction. Opposing this, Turkish pride appears to be wrapped up in the structure. Even though the lives of the sixty or so guards are in danger at the hands of ISIS, it would be a miniscule addition to the toll of the region. Since Americans think in terms of real estate, not shrines, we must look to the beheading of the Western hostages for analogous emotional impact.

As someone whose mind has been dulled by watching too many CNN implosion videos, (they are better than “strange creature washes up on beach”), I had to remind myself of how saner members of our species regard such things.  In Portrait of India,  author Ved Mehta gives account, in the chapter “The Holy Hair of the Muslims”, of how in 1963 the theft of a single relic hair from the head of a Very Holy Person, from the Hazratbal Mosque in Kashmir, set off a civil rebellion of such scope, involving almost all the inhabitants, that the Kashmir conflict almost exploded again. The catastrophe was averted only when the Indian Government “found” the hair, and it was certified as genuine by a Very Holy Man.

If you have succeeded in twisting your personal calibration knobs all the way over to the right, perhaps the seriousness of the tomb is now clearly in focus. It is so serious that, just about now, “President Erdoğan dismissed the claims that ISIS has encircled Suleiman Shah Tomb…”. In the psychology of the region, Erdoğan would be culpable if, on his watch, danger has been allowed to even approach the tomb. It would  be better for him to feign ignorance.

It has been apocryphally observed that “A person usually has two reasons for doing something: a good reason and the real reason.” When detection  of  purported and real reasons is claimed, it is usually highlighted by the opposition in terms of conspiracy and duplicity. “Misleading the public” is a commonly phrase. Particularly when the case for war is being made, both pro and con become rapidly embellished by every politician with an axe to grind.

One of the tricks of my “detached little man” is that he watches and analyzes this theater, with complete disregard for any personal feelings about the outcome. Major international re-orderings are almost always accompanied by deception, except in rare cases, such as Pearl Harbor, when the enemy does it all for you. In all the other cases, where sales has a more active role, it is incumbent on the open source analyst to carefully dissect the real from the fabrication, take careful notes, and drop the organs in jars for careful histological examination.

A particularly good example of a complicated sales job was the deposing of Saddam Hussein by force.  Perhaps it could have been justified by a need to disrupt his ascent on the scaffold of history, which in 2003, did not have clear limits. But this would have required a public that could appreciate the power of an abstract idea fueling a dangerous drive. Victor Hugo aside, the public has little appreciation of the power of ideas. But it is impressed by concretion of little facts.  So the war  was justified by a complex set of lesser arguments based on alleged facts, and some clear fabrications, all undermined by the later report of the Iraq Survey Group.

I am personally very curious if the “two reasons”  ever existed discretely in the minds of the authors of the 2003 Iraq War. Sadly, this knowledge is now buried under the volcanic ash of failed foreign policy. But the current situation allows us a Paracutin view of the birth, or rebirth of — something. It may be the Ottoman Empire.

The post, “Gaming Iraq’s future; methodologies”,  partitions the problem space in various ways, leaving as a question whether the four views,

  • Individual players?
  • Cabals?
  • Tribes?
  • “Peace of Westphalia constructs”, with political maps populated by men wearing western business suits

can be integrated to a useful problem view. The original intent of a follow-up post was to play with each problem view separately, as a constraint puzzle. With each of the four views the constraints result in, at best, frozen conflict.

As a Westphalian approach, the U.S.  “One Iraq” policy satisfies one of the definitions of a mental disorder called perseveration, which is the continuation of a behavior when it is no longer an appropriate response. CNN reports that, on September 25, another Iraqi Army rout occurred, the details evidencing continued and conspicuous absence of a command-and-control structure, or even, a sense of responsibility to the soldiers of the line. Iraq is not a nation; it is composed of groups who may fight vociferously for the land of their local possession, and no more. This cannot be changed.

Other countries, with markedly different tool sets, can perform manipulations that would not occur to us, and, if they did, be completely unacceptable. Imagining the eventuality of a southern Iraq that is a satellite or actual possession of Iran, we might wonder: How will the Iranians  handle the pesky Sunni tribes in the middle?

In the history of Islamic expansion, it was common to provide economic incentives to conversion. Iran’s solution would be a mix of incentives for religious conversion to Shi’ism, incentives for pacification, a certain degree of tolerance, and murderous punishments of transgression, all of a spectrum with hues and colors unknown to the Western eye.

What happens to the rest of Iraq? The current map of the Middle East is primarily the result of dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, a relatively short period of colonial presence, followed by a hasty exit, with much of the modern map drawn by Winston Churchill. There is some historical testimony to the effect that the map of Iraq was drawn to make it internally unstable, with a possible eye to the kind of influence asserted in Iran by the Russians and the British.

The late Ottoman Empire (deceased, 1918), of which all this was a part, was actually a kind of confederation, with notable elements of democracy, albeit with very limited suffrage. It is frequently cited as an example of prolonged disintegration, a headless state, (See Pascali’s Island, with Ben Kingsley, for a delicious portrayal), but does that sound so bad right now?

Perhaps the Turks would like to try their hand. Since Erdoğan has asserted that Assad must go, Syria, with a complete governmental vacuum, would be  most tightly bound to the New Ottoman Empire. Further regions, including Kurdish, could be part of a loose confederation, with the incentive of Turkish transport of Kurdish oil, and Turkish industrialization. The Sunni tribes are at least religiously compatible,  the Sunni region serving as the economically useless borderlands between the the New Ottoman Empire, and Southern Iraq.

What do we get out of it? We get to get out. The place is no good for us. Even arguments based on oil avarice don’t work. It has a power vacuum that we can only fill at great cost. For us, it’s like a Trump casino, that, losing money, should become another CNN implosion video. And if southern Iraq becomes an Iran satrapy? Modest efforts to prevent this are reasonable, but not more. Since 2003, the risk/reward ratio has spun out of control.

I wonder if a Shriners fez will pass for travel?