Why Doesn’t Turkey Intervene?

The Kurdish town of Kobani, bordering on Turkey, is on the verge of falling to ISIS. So most of us are wondering, why don’t the Turks move in? With parliamentary approval, and what was once the second largest army in NATO, shouldn’t it be a walkover?

Sadly, this is not the case. All of the armies in the world, with the exception of the U.S., and a select few others, have cavernous hollows in their structures, resembling more the brains of Alzheimers victims than competent military forces. In these other countries, armies are regarded as cultural refuges of manhood, and jobs programs for weapons that cannot be used as intended because so many anatomical parts are missing. A partial exception to this is the U.K., which, while exhibiting highest levels of competence and professionalism, had severe logistical problems in the Falklands War. Though a dated reference, they still don’t keep enough munitions on hand to fight a war.

The Business Insider has some figures. The 2014 budget for the The budget for the U.S. military is $612B. The Turkish budget is $18.2B. And out of this, Turkey has to pay for food, shoes, coats, underwear, and colorful flags. And let’s not forget spare tires, gas, oil changes, R&R, and patching the barracks roofs.

After all this is taken care of,  there is the minor question of weapons. Having decided to become self-sufficient in arms (against who, one might ask?), Turkey now makes a whole array of second-rate weaponry in vulnerable factories, with high foreign parts content, because it’s a jobs program. Lest it may seem that Turkey is singled out for criticism, the Typhoon “Eurofighter” was an even worse jobs program, a sinkhole of top gun delights and the pride of airshows, but nothing more.

During the Cold War, Turkey fielded an enormous army against the Soviet Union, but these were “static troops”, with logistics and maneuverability adequate for defense. Now we have a problem of “force projection”, in which the Turkish military have no experience at all. Tanks are not what they used to be. Turkish tanks are vulnerable to RPGs (rocket propelled grenades), a problem faced by all armies.  The most modern armies constantly remanufacture their tanks to mitigate evolving hazards, while the U.S. Army battle doctrine constantly evolves as well.

You don’t get this on $18.2B a year. Nor do you get the kind of “logistical tail” that transports tank fuel by helicopter. If the Turks send their tanks into Syria, they may have trouble keeping them fueled, unless they maintain the kind of continuous line that renders them vulnerable to asymmetric warfare.

Nor do you get the kind of military and management science that trains the rest of the free world. They take home their course notes, and then what? They cannot actualize.

So there may be a lot of hand-wringing going on in Turkey right now. Erdoğan may be asking questions of his military such as the above discussion implies. He may not be getting the answers he wants. One could hope that the General Staff of the Republic of Turkey has implemented crash courses in target designation, so that the full panoply of American air power can be brought to bear.

All of this is a mire of details, created in equal measure by nationalistic pride and the fear of losing,  which, for a small-budget military that is more about jobs than force projection, is a real possibility.



Air Power in Iraq and Syria; Divining the Political Map

The comments by Senator Linday Graham on CNN video, to the effect that air power without U.S. ground troops cannot defeat ISIS, may be true. But since the media, in their typical muddled fashion, have provided little useful info on how modern air power works, this is just to get you started.

The terms “strategic bombing”, and “tactical bombing”, have been part of the historical lexicon for many years now, so it’s pretty well understood that strategic bombing is a nuclear activity, while tactical bombing involves airplanes flying low, and tipping their bombs into small areas.

But this isn’t correct. The above  image of tactical bombing comes straight from the Vietnam War, when gravity bombs, unguided after release, were dropped by aligning the flight path of the airplane with optical sights, not unlike gun sights, with respect to targets that the pilot could actually see.  This old image of tactical bombing also includes detailed aerial reconnaissance, visual examination of maps, and correlation with other intelligence information, now modernized with  GPS coordinates. But this is not “real time.” We see the target; it moves; we bomb; it wasn’t there. The BBC article, “Why UK warplanes have a ‘difficult’ Iraq mission”, continues in some detail with this, and alludes to the newer, “smart bomb” model that has completely revolutionized tactical bombing since the 1991 Gulf War.

 The power of the new smart weaponry was comprehensively demonstrated when a motley alliance of pro-Western elements defeated the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001. The pro-Western elements were arguably more competent than the Shiites of southern Iraq, but not so compared to the Kurds, whose Afghan analogy was the  Northern Alliance.

Gary C. Schroen’s book, First In, provides an invaluable picture of how that air war was conducted, which will serve you well to interpret future events of the current conflict. You’ll understand that

  • The “bomb truck”, which, when extreme intensity is required, may be a B-52, can fly so high, the bombardier can’t see the target, and the target can’t see the plane.
  • The accuracy of these weapons is stunning, but requires “target designation.”
  • Some of the best weapons to support a firefight require real time target designation by a laser beam.
  • Target designation, in real time or otherwise, is provided by a United States Air Force Tactical Air Control Party, a group of specialists possessed of advanced and prolonged training in a highly technical field, where a single slip can destroy a platoon. It is not feasible to train indigenous troops in the entire scope of competence of this specialty. If you’d like to train, go here: 6th Combat Training Squadron (Nellis AFB).

Unless or until these teams are in place, or indigenous elements acquire the rudiments, the tactical air actions reported in the media will have the elements of “throwbacks” of military technology. This is why the casual observer may have the impression of futility. Given the caliber of Iraqi troops, this may be so, but neither have we seen a full deployment of U.S. air power.

In Vietnam, ARVN, the army of South Vietnam, sold ammunition to the North Vietnamese. This activity has been supported in Iraq also. Full deployment of U.S. ground air controllers requires conditions on the ground that ensure that these specialists won’t be sold to the highest bidder.

Now you, the open source intelligence analyst, can use reports of highly successful airstrikes, bearing the fingerprints of precision guided munitions, to infer a political map of U.S. alliances (or the absence thereof) on the ground.

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?







Egypt influences Turkey’s Coalition Decision

The posts, “Did Egypt Bomb Libya”, on August 24, preceded by “El Sisi, the Next Ataturk” on August 1, are part of the process of accumulation by which open source intelligence proceeds from the apparently trivial collection to actual prediction.  “Did Egypt Bomb Libya” was a scoop on the media, but by itself, the bombing was merely curious; a few bombs on undistinguished militia positions.

But the picture builds, piece by piece. “El Sisi, the Next Ataturk”, is a speculation strengthened by the Libyan bombing, which, to use a hackneyed phrase, takes on a symbolic importance. Hackneyed it is, but in that part of the world, a few bombs is like the handshake of a serious bargain.

In a CNN article published today,  “Egypt offers military training to Libya, cites Islamic State threat”, the Libyan “renegade general”, on whose behalf Egypt bombed militia positions, is mentioned almost as a footnote. Quoting,

Aside from offering to train pro-government Libyan forces, Cairo is also willing to do business with former Libyan army general Khalifa Haftar in order to push back the militants, the intelligence official said.

The article maximizes El Sisi’s approach to the Libyan government in Tobruk, while minimizing Haftar’s prominence, although it is Haftar to whom El Sisi has provided actual military assistance.  But the composite view corrects this journalistic sleight-of-hand. It also displays something else. Egypt’s foreign policy is firing on all cylinders: diplomatic, covert, and even in the progressive interpretation of the nation state.

This poses a challenge of pride to Turkey, which since Ataturk, has tried to embody the model of a progressive regional power. The current version of Turkish nationalism attempts to prove that Islam,  modernity, and even a “secular state” (which a Turkish government website claims it is) is viable and prosperous. But economically backwards Egypt, in the early stages of a similar evolution, is now a moral rival.

Moral rivalry by itself counts for nothing  in the international domain, but with ISIS, it is merely icing. In very particular circumstances that always have to do with survival, nations are vulnerable to embarrassment by the argument of “do your share.” Historically, these have been the grand coalitions of warfare, for example, against Napoleon and Germany. Now is such a time.

El Sisi’s offer to Libya comes as Turkey’s parliament debates participation in the coalition, which, as has been extensively discussed elsewhere, would be a break with the “Zero Problems with Neighbors” policy that has greased the wheels for Turkey’s economy.

El Sisi’s timing may not be a coincidence. Normally, this kind of demonstrative act would have no effect on Turkish politics. But every once in a while, when in a parliament or legislature, things hang by a thread, when some mental gear is hung up by nostalgia, it can make a difference.

That Turkish tanks have already moved to the border suggests that some organs in Turkey have anticipated parliamentary approval.  It must be obvious to many Turkish parliamentarians that “zero problems” needs a revision, yet it is a precious bauble, dear to their hearts, emblematic of economic prosperity. The side-effect of El Sisi’s Libya offer, as weak as it is, may tip the balance of their sentiment.

In this case, the passive collection of an open-source mosaic has resulted in an actual prediction, that Turkey will shortly become an active member of the coalition.