Many, including the German government, suspect that this week Donald Trump will announce his intention to withdraw the United States from the JCPOA, also known as the Iran nuclear deal. Even before Donald Trump called the JCPOA an ’embarrassment’ at the United Nations, his negative feelings about the deal were well known.
The perfect storm of hatred for Barack Obama, under whose watch the deal was agreed, apparent subservience to Trump’s “good friend” Benjamin Netanyahu and an irrational hatred of Iran that many US Republicans have held since the Reagan era, have conspired to make Trump the perfect mouthpiece for latent anti-Iranian sentiments within Washington and part of the so-called right-wing of the neo-con base.
Interestingly, the Pentagon is widely thought not to share the anti-Iranian views of the Washington neo-cons. This was affirmed when US Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis recently told Congress that he does not feel Iran is in breach of the JCPOA.
However, what the Pentagon does fear is when a NATO member develops good relations, including and especially in the defence and security sphere, with a NATO adversary. To this end, Turkey, which maintains the second largest standing army in NATO, is actively developing military and security cooperation initiatives with Iran and this is what irrationally frightens even some of the less overtly Hawkish anti-Iranian figures in Washington.
Turkey’s disagreements with the United States have their roots in events which took place prior to Turkey’s open embrace of Iran and even before Turkey’s full rapprochement with Russia. This event was of course the 2016 attempted coup against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, led by mid-level military officers whom Turkey accused to acting under orders of the exiled, US based cleric, Fethullah Gulen.
It was Russia which tipped Erdogan off about the coup, something that is generally credited with saving Erdogan’s life and allowing him to regroup and rally his supporters against the insurgents. At the same time, the US only vaguely condemned the coup and refused to acknowledge responsibility for sheltering and apparently being friendly with Fethullah Gulen, even though this very serious charge was levelled at Washington multiple times, by Erdogan and his colleagues.
Since the beginning of 2017, the schism between Ankara and Washington has turned into a fully fledged row. It started with the US heavily arming PKK aligned Kurdish militants in Syria and has culminated in the US shutting down visa issuing services in Turkey, in a move virtually identical to what the US has done with Russia and a move similar to the Trump travel ban which covers well known US adversaries including Iran, Syria, North Korea and Venezuela.
While the deterioration of US-Turkey relations cannot be viewed through the prism of a zero-sum game, one can point to a single moment which both at the time and especially in hindsight, functions as a proverbial ‘point of no return’ for Washington and Ankara.
In August of 2017, Iran’s military leader, General Mohammad Baqeri, met with his Turkish counterparts as well as President Erdogan in Ankara. It was the first such meeting between Iranian military figures and their Turkish counterparts since the Islamic Revolution of 1979.
At the time General Baqeri said,
“There have been no such visits between the two countries for a long time, but considering regional developments and security issues — border security and the fight against terrorism — there was a need for such a visit”.
From the point of view of the global control-freak establishment in Washington, the idea that a powerful NATO member would engage in any form of military and security cooperation with Iran is something of a sin. Furthermore, as Iran’s world-renowned engineers are known to take apart and aptly reverse engineer any piece of NATO hardware that accidentally slips into their hands, this is all the more reason for Washington to panic, according to their own dubious threshold for such things.
With President Erdogan cooperating with Iran, the US fears that Turkey may allow NATO military equipment as well as NATO’s strategic plans to slip into Iran’s hands.
While the US has panicked over this, Russia has taken the opposite approach. Russia has been busily selling traditional adversaries including Turkey and Saudi Arabia, the world-renowned S-400 air defence system. This dovetails with what geo-political expert calls Russia’s “nuclear diplomacy”, whereby Russia wins trust and even partnerships with countries of all geo-political alignments through the shared use of peaceful nuclear technology. Russia is increasingly doing the same with military technology.
While some Russian commentators remark that it is wrong for Russia to sell its hi-tech military weapons systems to countries that are still technically part of western alliances, this underestimates the very real geo-political attraction that Russia and her ‘eastern’ partners have for countries like Saudi Arabia and Turkey. While many doubt Turkey and especially Saudi’s pivot, similar things were once said of Pakistan’s warming relations with Russia. Now, few could deny that Pakistan, a new member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, hasn’t fully pivoted to the ‘geo-political east’.
Sceptical thinking in respect of the Turkish and Saudi pivot, also ignores the very real strategic win whereby, if (and it is a big ‘if’) Turkey and Saudi ‘revert to form’, Russia will have more knowledge about their defensive weapons systems than ever before. What better way to anticipate a potential enemy’s abilities than to know the exact weapons which are at their disposal and furthermore, with a level of knowledge that literally is as complete as possible? In this sense, Russia’s best case scenario is that Turkey and Saudi’s geo-political pivot is genuine. Even in the worst case scenario of Turkey and Saudi becoming open military adversaries to Russia (an unlikely event in any case), Russia will have a knowledge of the military systems at their disposal, rather than have to rely on intelligence about such nations’ use of less familiar NATO hardware.
So while the US panics over Turkey sharing ‘NATO secrets’ with Iran, Russia has simply profited from the sale of its own technology to traditionally western backed countries. Russia is the clear strategic winner here. Russia is winning new geo-political friends, making money in the process and tearing down the wall of secrecy between Russia and countries that once relied heavily on US and European military hardware.
Beyond this new reality, the US has backed itself into a corner over the Turkey-Iran partnership. Since the US seems hellbent on degrading relations with Iran even further, Turkey is going to be an obvious victim of this unnecessary, but seemingly unstoppable process. If the US cannot live with an Ankara-Tehran partnership, Washington has little choice but to undermine the Turkish government.
In this sense, Erdogan has been correct when warning of Washington’s all too close relationship with Gulen and his terrorist group. While such connections were casually dismissed in 2016, now the US doesn’t even respond to such allegations. Instead, the US defends its consular workers who have been arrested for ties to Gulen’s terrorist organisation. All of the sudden, the claims of a US-Gulenist alliance seem all too realistic and even likely.
President Erdogan is 63 years of age, while Gulen is a fail looking 76 year old. The US may well be banking on a Gulenist insurgency (political, military or a combination of both) against Erdogan in the hope that the elderly Gulen may soon be out of the picture and replaced by a less experienced leader who can be more easily manipulated by outside forces. Erdogan by contrast, is comfortable in his position and has recently amended the Turkish constitution in such a way that could see Erdogan in power, ostensibly for life.
But if the US thinks meddling in Turkey is going to be easy, it is mistaken. Erdogan has been surprisingly successful in purging his deep state and military apparatus not only of secular Kemalist rivals, but also of Gulenists. Those who are accused of being Gulenists are usually dealt with in the harshest manner possible by the Turkish state.
Furthermore, while some in traditionalist Russian circles doubt the sincerity of Turkey’s newly warm relationship with Moscow and some even more old fashioned Russian thinkers doubt Russia’s partnership with Iran, the fact is that Washington believes both partnerships are very much real and will act accordingly. This will have the effect of forcing Turkey, Iran and Russia closer together, in spite of some whispers of scepticism from all sides.
Realities on the ground are pushing Russia, Turkey and Iran closer together, just as they are pushing Turkey ever further from the United States. This gives Russia, Iran and Turkey a clear upper hand against any would be US aggression or meddling against any of the aforementioned Eurasian powers. The only pity is that some in Russia, as well as in Iran and Turkey, do not seem to realise this new reality as much as the Pentagon, which has already accepted it as the new status quo.