As I write, only one day has passed since there was yet another bombing in Ankara. As of yet, no one has taken responsibility, but that is of little importance. It is clearly the work of a terrorist organization, be it the PKK, its affiliates or DAESH. Who did it is important of course, but the very fact that terrorists target military and civilians in the heart of a busy city at rush hour puts yet another aspect into an already complicated situation. It focuses the spotlight on what is going on in Syria close to the Turkish border. The clearest voice speaking out lately on what is going on in Syria, much to my surprise, has been U.S. Senator John McCain
At the 52nd Munich Security Conference, held in Munich (of course) between Feb. 12 and Feb. 14 this year, there were a number of speeches. Here there are two that stand out.
The first was made by the former candidate for U.S. president and current senator, John McCain. To find myself speaking in appreciation of a member of the American Republican party is something that sits uneasy on me. I am neither Republican nor Democrat, but have more sympathy with the latter. The bleeding heart on my sleeve writhes as I write these lines. But kudos - he spoke well and he spoke sense.
What did Senator John McCain have to say? As one would expect from a Republican who supported most aspects of Ronald Reagan's foreign policy, including the hardline it took against the Soviet Union, McCain focused on Russian aggression, and what this means for the Middle East and the West.
McCain started by speaking about the recent agreement on cessation of hostilities in Syria. He stated that although many of his colleagues see the agreement as a breakthrough, he does not.
"I want to be wrong, but I fear that I am not. My skepticism rests simply on the nature of our adversary's ambitions, and the basic realities of power and commitment in the world today. Let's be clear about what this agreement does. It ... permits the assault on Aleppo to continue for another week. It requires opposition groups to stop fighting. But it allows Russia to continue bombing 'terrorists,' which it insists is everyone, even civilians."
Moreover, this agreement forces the U.S. to stand back; but not just that, the U.S. has to coordinate with Russia now, something it has so far resisted doing.
McCain goes on "And if Russia or the Assad regime violates this agreement, what are the consequences? I don't see any. Mr. Putin is not interested in being our partner; he wants to shore up the Assad regime, he wants to re-establish Russia as a major power in the Middle East, he wants to use Syria as a live fire exercise for Russia's modernizing military, he wants to turn Latakia province [the location of an important Russian air base] into a military outpost from which to harden and enforce a Russian sphere of influence, a new Kaliningrad or Crimea, and he wants to exacerbate the refugee crisis and use it as a weapon to divide the Transatlantic Alliance and undermine the European project. The only thing that has changed about Mr. Putin's ambitions is that his appetite is growing with the eating. "
Senator McCain underlines how Russia has targeted civilians (since he spoke hospitals have also been targeted) and the moderate opposition groups. U.S. intelligence has clearly stated that Russia's intervention has not targeted DAESH, but has rather helped to stabilize Syrian leader Bashar Assad's regime. It is the Assad regime that lies at the heart of the Syrian war and the refugee crisis.
The Syrian refugees are not fleeing DAESH. They are fleeing Assad. Assad has made their lives unbearable - no one has any doubt of this.
McCain reminds us that what Russia is doing is nothing new, nothing novel. It has all been done before- their "annexation" (read invasion) of Crimea, the way they acted in Ukraine. To quote McCain "Russia presses its advantage militarily, creating new facts on the ground, uses the denial and delivery of humanitarian aid as a bargaining chip, negotiates an agreement to lock in the spoils of war and then chooses when to resume fighting." Indeed, we must not forget the Crimean referendum in which only 30 percent of the population turned out, but in which Sevastopol was reported as having a turnout of 127 percent. Playing with numbers is the most innocent of their ruses. Russia forced the Crimean Peninsula to "opt" to join Russia. It changed the facts on the ground, using tanks to block the leader of the Crimean Tatar National Movement, Mustafa Cemilev Kirimoglu, from entering the peninsula. Subsequently, an announcement was made that he had been banned from entering Russian territory for five years, although the Russian Federal Migration Service claimed to have no knowledge of such a ban. These are examples of the most innocent methods the Russians employ to change facts on the ground. In Syria they have used firepower to destroy the opposition and to bolster the Assad regime.
McCain tells us: "This is diplomacy in the service of military aggression and it is working because we are letting it. The only deterrents that we seem to be establishing are over ourselves..."
McCain goes on to state how the world is beginning to see the indecisive Western stance as a weakness and how allies in the Middle East feel that the U.S. is untrustworthy and "feckless." This, he says, will lead to more deaths, less Western influence and an increase in refugees.
"Don't we see what is happening? Do we care? What would our predecessors think if they were here today? Would they think we are succeeding? Do we?
The world order that we built, our dearest inheritance, is coming apart. It is not inevitable that this would happen. It is not occurring because we lack power or influence or options to employ. This comes down to our judgement and resolve. And in this vital aspect my friends cannot change course soon enough. "
I, as a student of Soviet Studies, as someone who grew up finding Reaganism and Thatcherism repugnant, harsh, unfeeling, find myself seeing sense now in taking a strong stance. At that time, in the post-Brezhnev era, the Soviet Union was barely a threat. The people were on their knees and the government was not far behind. However, today things are different. Is it not interesting that a terrorist group which claims to have roots in Marxist-Leninist traditions is being backed by a state that has roots in Marxist-Leninist traditions? And this same group shows scant concern for human life, not only targeting and killing civilians, bombing homes and hospitals, but also kidnapping teenagers to serve in its "army." Is this really a group that the West wants to support?
As I have said on numerous occasions, we have seen this play before....The West (or the U.S.) supports a group who is fighting the bigger enemy only to find that the supported group becomes an even greater threat. Indeed, is this not what led to the creation of DAESH?
What McCain says merely backs up the Turkish position in Syria. Turkey has refrained from sending land troops over the border and refrains from becoming involved in the fight. However, the routing of the opposition forces in Azaz by the Democratic Union Party's (PYD) armed wing People's Protection Units (YPG) (blatantly backed up by Russia) is unacceptable. They are ostensibly on the same "side." The number of civilian installations that were targeted by the Russians and YPG make such actions impossible to ignore. The proximity to the Turkish border makes it impossible to ignore.
The YPG/PYD has clear links with the PKK. This has been written about a number of times. But what must be remembered is that the PKK laid mines, positioned snipers and targeted schools and homes in Turkey's southeast. The PKK is a terrorist organization. As such it does not worry about differentiating between civilian or combatant life. All deaths are seen as a positive. Much as DAESH targets civilians and the military, the PKK and the YPG target military/police installations, hospitals and schools, having little regard for civilian life.
McCain speaks for rationality. He speaks for standing up to those who transgress the rules. He speaks for maintaining the rules.
Rules are there for a reason. They are not there to make life harder. They are there to ensure life is fair. They are there to ensure that the bullies do not win. But if no one obeys the rules, or worse, if no one cares about the rules, what then? Where do we go from there?
Turkey cannot afford to stand back and see what happens on the other side of the border. It does not have the luxury that Europe and America have, the luxury of distance. What is happening is happening on the border. What is happening is only 8 kilometers from Turkish sovereign space.
What must be remembered is that by supporting the YPG, either in word or deed, those in the West are merely supporting another terrorist group that will stop at nothing to get what it wants. The YPG may help reduce or eliminate the threat of DAESH for now, but what happens if they succeed? Who will stop the YPG and the PKK from trying to destroy Turkish sovereignty? From spreading throughout the territory? The report issued by Amnesty International which states that the YPG has been committing war crimes against minorities, including Armenian and Assyrian communities, and Arab populations must not be forgotten.
Since Sept. 30 the Russians have made 8,000 sorties in the region; they have not discriminated between civilians or combatants, taking the lives of women, children and the elderly.
The PKK and the YPG do not represent the Kurds. They represent a left-wing faction of the Kurds. It is for this reason that the YPG recently opened an office in Moscow. Not in New York, in Moscow. To say that the YPG represents the Kurds is the same as saying that DAESH represents Muslims.
And thus to another speech given at the same conference in Munich. The Saudi Foreign Affairs minister, Adel Al-Jubeir, again another office I never thought that I would stand up and applaud, spoke about DAESH. He was asked a question, in the form of a quote from Graeme Wood in the Atlantic; Al-Jubeir was asked to respond. First let me give the quote:
"'The reality is that the Islamic State [DAESH] is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.' I invite you to comment."
"Every religion has perverts and psychopaths who try to hijack it. ISIS is as much Islamic as the KKK is Christian. Don't they have a cross? Don't they do everything in the name of religion and Christ? Don't they believe that Christ compels them to lynch and kill people of African descent? Can one really say that the KKK is a Christian organization? There are other groups that one can point to. There are other massacres that were committed in the name of keeping certain countries or regions clear of non-Christians. There are people like this also in the Jewish faith that have nothing to do with Judaism. There are people like this in the Hindu faith that have nothing to do with Hinduism. For anyone to argue that DAESH is Islamic is preposterous. In the Islamic faith the Quran reveals that you have your faith and I have my faith. You are free to practice your faith and I am free to practice mine. What greater sign of tolerance and acceptance do you have than this? In the Islamic faith it says 'He who kills an innocent soul is as if he has killed all of humanity. And he who saves an innocent soul is as if he has saved all of humanity.' What better example of compassion and mercy do you have than this? So if you look at what DAESH says and say 'it is in the scriptures' doesn't the old testament say 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth'? If somebody did that today would you say that they were Christian or that they were Jewish? I caution people, because it seems to have become almost...the flavor of the day to try to read things into DAESH or into Islam that are not there. The Islamic religion and Islamic civilization was the civilization that preserved the history of Greece and Rome and passed it onto the West. Western civilization would not exist without the Islamic Arab civilization. The Islamic civilization was the civilization that connected China with Europe, so it was global... If Islam was intolerant and DAESH represented Islam would Islam have preserved Aristotle and Socrates and passed it onto the West? Would Islam have connected Eastern civilization with Western civilization? Of course not. I urge you, all of you, to be careful when it comes to making generalizations or accepting generalizations when they have no basis in fact. Thank you."
What we need to remember in these days of confusion is that a terrorist group never represents an entire people or religion. A terrorist group represents those people who want to achieve something at all costs. To do this they abandon ethics and morals, thus removing themselves from any religion or national culture. We must not equate DAESH with Muslims. We must not equate the PKK with Kurds. We must not equate the YPG with Kurds. DAESH in no way represents Islam or Muslims. The PKK and YPG in no way represent Kurds. Rather these last two terrorist groups represent a small section of the Kurdish population in the region; they represent those who want to achieve the unachievable at all costs. They are being supported by states that want to increase the chaos and confusion. Those states that want to support world order need to move now. If the YPG/PKK, if Putin, if Assad are allowed to succeed, all that will be achieved is greater chaos, greater oppression and greater bloodshed.