A Marine in Syria: Silhouettes of Beauty and Coexistence before the Devastation

He who has not lived in the years before the revolution cannot know what the sweetness of living is.    

—Talleyrand, via Bertolucci, from the 1964 film Prima della Rivoluzione

IRAQ, LIBYA, SYRIA… Countries ripped apart through sectarian and political violence in the aftermath of cataclysmic external interventions: American invasion and occupation in Iraq, NATO intervention in Libya, and international proxy war in Syria. Mere mention of these countries conjures images of sectarian driven atrocities and societal collapse into the abyss of a Hobbesian jungle. And now it is commonplace to just assume it’s always been so. Increasingly, one hears from all corners of public discourse the lazily constructed logic, “but they’ve always hated each other”… or “violence and conflict are endemic to the region.” But it was not always so — I found a place of beauty, peace, and coexistence in a Syria that is now almost never acknowledged, and which risks being forgotten about. But Syrians themselves will never forget…

Read the rest of “A Marine in Syria” at Medium.com

ISIS on the Border: Which Way Turkey?

Editor’s Note: With Turkey and Kurdish issues coming to a head in Kobani, we are re-posting LR writer Terry Cowan’s excellent “Which Way Turkey? — A Personal Reflection.”  Last week, The Daily Mail (UK) published a story based on leaked footage , “Oh what a lovely war! Remarkable video shows ISIS fighters strolling right up to Turkish border checkpoint for a relaxing chat with guards.” Turkey has, since the start of the conflict in Syria in 2011, been on a new and dangerous trajectory. How will Turkey respond to the encroaching crisis along its borders and within its territory (a crisis it created in pursuing regime change in Syria)?

Which Way Turkey? by Terry Cowan

hanTurkey is somewhat in the news these days–and not in a good way. A recent New York Review of Books article considers three books on the current state of affairs, and particularly the fraying relationship between the Gulen movement and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. I have only the most superficial understanding of the Gulen movement and the intricacies of this struggle for leadership among Turkey’s Islamists. Plots and conspiracies abound within this whirlwind, aided in large part by a complicit judiciary on one side and a police community on the other, each willing to do the bidding of their particular faction. And in probably the most important story that you didn’t read in this last week’s news cycle, a video caught high-ranking Turkish government officials planning a false flag attack on Northern Syria. Add to that the fact that the Turkish economic miracle may be fading. And of course, many still recall the demonstrations in Taksim Square from last summer.

I am a great lover of Turkey and recall my first exposure with great fondness, stumbling into the country in 2003, almost as by accident. On a whim, I decided to interrupt an exploration of Bulgaria and take the Balkan Express to Istanbul for a few days. (This was also the occasion of perhaps my personal best as a traveler–making my reservations for a sleeper in mangled French–the only language common to me and the clerk in Sofia.) I first sat foot on Turkish soil at Kapipule, at 2:00 in the morning, as we piled out of the train and made our way, bleary-eyed, across the tracks to the dumpy little border crossing. The train was about to leave by the time I figured out that I must purchase a visa in one building before having my passport stamped in another. In my confusion and haste, I actually boarded the wrong train. But after a momentary panic, I retraced my steps and found my car. The following morning, I disembarked at Istanbul’s Sirkeci station–quite literally the end of the line in Europe. If someone at age 48 could still be described as wide-eyed, then that was my reaction to the city. The bustle of Sultanahmet–and the East–beckoned me in the same way it has captivated other Western travelers through the centuries.

I returned time and again, in and out of Turkey six or seven times by 2011. In the course of these travels, I visited most every major region of the country, save for the southern coastline around to Antakya. For someone with an appreciation of history, the Anatolian countryside yields new discoveries around every corner. And along the way, I came to love the open hospitality of the Turks themselves. To educate myself further, I read Orhan Pamuk, and followed the commentary of Mustafa Akyol. Louis de Bernierres’ Birds Without Wings remains one of my favorite novels (an incredibly powerful narrative of the tragedy–for it is that–of modern Turkey).

Back home, I become an enthusiastic advocate, if not apologist, for Turkey. In 2003, the atmosphere here could only be described as feverish. We had just shocked and awed Iraq, and Turkey’s refusal to allow our bombers to fly-over still rankled in people’s minds. At least in my uninformed part of the country, the Turks were simply part of the unintelligible Muslim other, no different than any other over there. And so, I talked a lot about Turkey, even to the point of joining the crackpots who wrote letters to the local newspaper. I would explain–with mixed success–the all-important differences between Turk and Arab and Kurd and Persian, and that the Sufi-influenced Islam of Anatolia had perhaps always been more moderate than elsewhere.

I often related the anecdote from an acquaintance in Izmir. He told me of wealthy Saudi tourists arriving at the Izmir airport, destined for the Aegean beach resorts. The women would shed their head-coverings in the airport lobby and toss them in the nearest trash bin as soon as possible. So you see, I pleaded, Turkey was different. The most common question I would receive had to do with whether I was “safe” over there. This is, of course, laughable to anyone who has traveled in the region. I assured them that I never once worried about safety until my plane touched down in Texas.

Istanbul 2007(2) 207

My more informed acquaintances questioned the Islamist faction of the new ruling AKP Party. I reassured them by making a comparison to our own Republican Party. Just as the GOP contains social conservatives, or Movement Conservatives as they are called now, as well as traditional business interest Republicans, so the AKP contains both conservative Islamists and the rising entrepreneurial middle class, both long frustrated by the Kemalist stranglehold on power. In each situation, the two factions have their own particular agendas, which may very well conflict with the other at times.

Certainly some of my Turkish acquaintances fell into this latter category–young, ambitious, educated, western-oriented and not particularly religious. But Istanbul is not really Turkey in the same way that New York City is not really America (and I write this as someone who loves both cities). A foreign visitor to our largest city can be forgiven for not comprehending that a more representative sampling of this country might be found, for example, at the truck stop I recently patronized on Interstate Highway 40 between Memphis and Nashville. And so, even at the first, I sensed that my cool friends in their nice cars might not be the full story of this new Turkey. At Topkapi Palace (not my favorite Istanbul “must-see”), we foreign visitors were probably outnumbered by Turkish tourists from the conservative hinterlands of Anatolia. These sturdy Turkish women, heavy and broad, identically dressed in thick, drab, monochrome gray overcoats and scarves, quite literally elbowed and man-handled me away from a display case in the museum. It seems I lingered too long examining some hairs from the beard of Mohammed.

To my Orthodox Christian co-religionists, I suggested that the AKP, in their supposed piety, might actually be loosening the noose ever so slightly on the Greek church there. Some signs indicated that the continuing persecution of the Church came more from the entrenched judiciary than from the Islamist faction of the AKP. I encouraged friends to travel to Turkey. I developed travel itineraries with tips to make the most of their time there, while avoiding the usual scams.

Even from the first, however, some aspects of the Turkish mindset irritated me to no end. I bristled at their pervasive Turkocentrism–smug and unquestioning. Perhaps this is merely their variation of our own equally unrealistic American Exceptionalism. If so, it is equally unappealing. The Turks have a mythic view of themselves, as we all do, I suppose. Theirs, however, often seems more detached from real history. In all things, we would do well to understand that they consider themselves Turks first, Muslims second, and Sunnis last.

Beyond this, one often finds an indifferent attitude to their past, dismissive and obtusely ignorant of the civilizations that preceded them in Anatolia, or recognizing that Turkish culture itself is greatly derivative of that which went before (my good friend Turan being a notable exception to this). History begins with the Seljuks (if not the Ottomans), and nothing much matters before then. I have found Turks to be notoriously thin-skinned when it comes to criticism of their past. This unquestioning of history is not unique to the Turkish nation, but the skepticism which many Americans have come to view our own past seems largely absent in Turkey. On the other hand, they seem unusually susceptible to the wildest of conspiracy theories.

Turks can display a deft ability to ignore or deny real history. The Armenian Genocide is, of course, the best example of this mindset. In 2006, I endured a tour of the Museum of the Turkish Genocide in Igdir. The Turks have concocted an alternative history in which the poor Turkish peasants were the genocidal victims of the Armenians, not the other way around. The museum and monument is visible from the Armenian border, replete with lurid, cartoonish murals depicting crazed, gun-toting priests leading the Armenians against the noble Turks. So there is that.

None of these concerns prevent me from returning to Turkey, however. In fact, I will be in the far eastern reaches of the country in May of 2014. But my enthusiasm for all things Turkish has waned. My defense of the AKP has come to an end. Broadly speaking, the ruling party displays the same authoritarian bent as the former regime. The judiciary seems no less corrupt. In countless sundry ways, the particular religiosity of the AKP base is making its presence known. The recent ban on the sale of alcohol after 10:00 PM, for example, will be noticeable to even the casual Istanbul tourist.

Hopes of resolving long-standing issues with the Greek Orthodox Church have withered. The cat-and-mouse game between the Patriarchate and the Turkish government regarding the return of Halki Seminary has turned out to be just that, a game. In the 1990s, the government looked the other way while Kurds undertook the ethnic cleansing of the Suriani Orthodox Christians in the Tur Abdin. And there seems no outcry within Turkey today as their judiciary completes that operation, confiscating the 1,400 year old Mor Gabriel Monastery, one of the last Christian enclaves in the region (visited by this writer in 2006).

For political reasons, the exquisite Hagia Sophia Church–the jewel of the Trapezuntine kingdom–has now been converted into a mosque though Trabzon hardly lacks for Muslim worship venues. And this brings us to the current discussion of doing the same with the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. In the past, this would have been unimaginable, and I would have dismissed such as wild conspiracy talk. In the new political realities of Turkey, such an outcome looks more like a distinct possibility. Robert Ousterhout, the respected Byzantine scholar, calls this the “litmus test” of conservative members of the ruling party. We know how such litmus tests proceed in this country, and so the slow strangulation of any non-Turkish element in society continues apace. Indeed, the cosmopolitan air of old Constantinople has been largely just a memory for a long time now. For better or worse, Istanbul will be–must be, apparently–a thoroughly Turkish city.

One detects a strong sense of national insecurity in all this. Why must any remembrance of the pre-Ottoman past be extinguished? Why cannot their minorities be allowed to flourish? The new Turkey will be a duller, sadder, and even more melancholy place.

The 100-year anniversary of the Armenian Genocide rolls around next year. You can count on the official government’s response/repudiation/rejection to be rather ugly in tone. One can also depend on the unofficial reaction among Turks in general to be even uglier.

And now we have evidence of Turkey’s messy involvement in the Syrian Civil War, as well as their deep level of support for the insurgents. At first, these actions seemed incomprehensible to me. Turkey certainly managed to stay out of the Iraqi war on their border. If so inclined, they could do the same with Syria. But by stepping back a bit and taking the long historical view, their actions are more understandable. By the time we gained our own independence, the Ottoman Empire was already the “Sick Man of Europe,” and would remain so until its death in 1919. But they were not always sick. For some time now, Turkey has communicated its desire to take a larger–indeed, its historical–role in the region. Perhaps the best summation of their behavior in this matter is that they are simply Turks being Turks once again.

In examining my own growing disaffection with the new Turkey, I realize the problem lies more in our own expectations. We warmed to the western-oriented Istanbul, where supposedly casual Islam accommodated nicely with modernity. We were charmed by its exotica, and somehow expected its religion to be of the emasculated variety which would not jar our secular sensibilities. This now appears more wishful thinking than reality. As realists, we should face the Turkey that is, not the people we imagined them to be.

TERRY COWAN is an East Texas businessman. He also teaches History at Tyler Junior College and the University of Texas at Tyler. Terry travels extensively in the Balkans, the Levant and the Caucasus nations.

Updated: The Goal Has Always Been Regime Change in Syria

syrian-revolutionMost Americans think the current war plans are really about war on ISIS. The long game continues to be regime change in Damascus. Americans should simply pay closer attention to what the top command is saying in very plain terms.

Hagel couldn’t have been any clearer in his Senate Armed Services Committee testimony Sept. 16:

As we pursue this program, the United States will continue to press for a political resolution to the Syrian conflict resulting in the end of the Assad regime. Assad has lost all legitimacy to govern, and has created the conditions that allowed ISIL and other terrorist groups to gain ground and terrorize and slaughter the Syrian population. The United States will not coordinate or cooperate with the Assad regime. We will also continue to counter Assad through diplomatic and economic pressure.

As many other commentators have said before me, bombing ISIS inside Syria (without Syrian approval, which amounts to an attack on a sovereign state) is but a Trojan Horse backdoor attempt to accomplish the regime change Obama pushed for a year ago.

Plans for regime change in Syria were discussed very publicly in Washington going back to the 1990’s (esp. PNAC and the neo-cons), and again in the early 2000’s (immediately after Saddam was toppled).

Understand that plans for the current bloodbath in Syria were made long ago in Washington. Read the following Time Magazine article from 2006 entitled “Syria in Bush’s Crosshairs.”

Current war plans leave even the likes of academic Syria experts baffled. Joshua Landis expressed in frustration on his Twitter feed today: “HAGEL SAYS END OF ASSAD REGIME IS U.S. GOAL IN SYRIA & political solution?! How would this work? Makes no sense me.” No one should assume that the people in charge of the White House’s Syria policy actually care about people in Syria or Iraq.

Last year, the White House decided it was time to push for direct military intervention against Damascus, using as a pretext the August 21 chemical attack incident. If you still believe “Assad gassed his own people” please read this article I wrote based entirely on mainstream admissions concerning CW usage in Syria (the United Nations final report, establishment media outlets, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the major defense tech. contractor Tesla Labs).

A lot has been invested in the three year long push to oust Assad. For the Gulf states, the U.S., Turkey, Israel, Cameron’s Britain, it is inconceivable that the Syrian state overcame the plot and still endures intact.

So now plan B is in effect…

I hope that I am wrong, but here are my predictions of what we’re about to see:

1) The U.S. will bomb ISIS sites inside Syria.

2) Washington will continue to warn the Assad regime not to interfere while coalition jets fly over Syrian territory.

3) Either ISIS or a so-called “moderate” Syrian opposition group will use one of the many MANPADS now in their hands to down a U.S./Western military plane. (Both ISIS and Syrian rebels have every incentive do this! See #4)

4) Downed jet incident will be pinned on the Syrian regime, and U.S. will respond (as promised) by simply expanding the scope of its campaign to bombing Syrian government facilities.

5) U.S. will attack by air both ISIS and Syrian government sites while claiming to wage “war on terror” on two fronts

6) U.S. equipped/trained Syrian opposition rebels will attempt to move in to bombed out government facilities

______________________

UPDATE: My colleague Charles Johnson provides some excellent and insightful analysis—

Obama’s current plan is so unlikely to succeed that surely it won’t even be attempted: Apart from the grave challenges of shifting alliances between ISIS and the moderates and Syrian forces, even if a “moderate” rebel force could be trained and armed well enough to combine with air power to bring Assad down, 5 or 10 thousand are far too few to prevent ISIS from controlling large areas. It’s doomed to fail militarily and/or generate a colossal catastrophe for civilians.
It may not be obvious now, but if it does happen it will be deemed obvious or at least likely. American voters are jaded enough (thank God) by the combined ineptitude of Bush and Obama that they wouldd react with unprecedented fury if they perceive sufficient care was not not taken to avoid those outcomes.  Our politicians are astute enough to realize this.
Therefore the eventual plan will either be to figure a way to send in large numbers of American troops, or else  be content with destroying Assad’s air defenses alone, thus leaving him in power.  But the latter is intolerable to the neocons, therefore I predict the former. But it will take a lot more than a downed U.S. plane or two to move public opinion that far.
Now there are new calls for a no-fly zone in Syria.  First we invade Syria’s sovereignty by unilateral air strikes.  Now they’ll be forbidden to operate in their own airspace?  Why not just go ahead and ask Syria to turn its entire military over?
The call for a no-fly zone is clearly designed to prevent the Syrian regime from defending itself from our proxy army (the “moderate” rebels) there.  It made sense that Syria didn’t employ its air defenses against U.S. planes.  But they will surely not accept a no-fly zone.  Surely they will respond militarily, which may present the provocation the U.S. is looking for.

A Statement from Levant Report Writers: SYRIA and the PEOPLE’S FOREIGN POLICY

Interventions MapIn late August, early September 2013, the United States nearly went to war with Syria. According to veteran investigative Pulitzer Prize journalist, Seymour Hersh, the Obama White House set September 2 as the date for a “monster strike” on Syria, which was to include devastating bombing raids of military and civilian infrastructure by B-52 bombers and other aircraft. This planned strike, which never materialized yet which has since been kept “on the table” by the administration, was Obama’s response to the two-and-a-half years long civil conflict which had engulfed Syria in a seeming endless cycle of death and destruction.

This planned “humanitarian intervention” or “humanitarian war” was given justification as “Assad is killing his own people.” Specifically, the White House accused the Assad regime of carrying out the August 21 large scale chemical attack against civilians of Ghoutta, on the outskirts of Damascus. The argument for war, based on the supposed crossing of the chemical weapons “red line” previously set by President Obama, would by the end of August hinge on Assad’s alleged use of “Weapons of Mass Destruction.”

That the world was about to witness, once again, a U.S. led intervention against a Ba’athist government based on charges of WMD was an irony not lost on many commentators. The untold story of why Obama backed down, while deferring to a Congress which never even got to the point of holding a vote, was the American people’s taking to the streets in defiance of the White House’s logic of “Assad must go” via overwhelming strike power of the U.S. military.

In this moment—the first such moment going back to the Vietnam War, the common people brought Washington’s war plans to an abrupt halt. This in spite of mainstream media’s preparing the people and rallying the public for war with the non-stop airing of images of what was said to be Assad’s unique brutality against women and children, and the frequent parading of pro-intervention pundits on news shows declaring the moral outrage of “doing nothing.”

The Washington war machine failed as the people, for even a brief moment, took back the republic’s foreign policy. This was a moment of triumph for what Senator Wayne Morse called “the people’s foreign policy.”

Senator Wayne Morse of Oregon, a lone voice of caution during a decade of war hysteria, spoke on a Face the Nation episode circa 1964, about his voting against the Gulf of Tonkin resolution and general opposition to entering Vietnam:

Questioner: Senator, the Constitution gives to the President of the United States the sole responsibility for the conduct of foreign policy-

Morse: Couldn’t be more wrong!  You couldn’t have made a more unsound legal statement than the one you have just made.  This is the promulgation of an old fallacy, that foreign policy belongs to the President of the United States, that’s nonsense-

Questioner: To whom does it belong, then, Senator?

Morse: It belongs to the American people, and our Constitutional fathers made it very, very, clear.

Questioner: Where does the President fit into this in the responsibility scale?

Morse: What I am saying is under our Constitution all our President is, is the administrator of the people’s foreign policy.  Those are his prerogatives, and I am pleading that the American people be given the facts about foreign policy-

Questioner: You know, Senator, that the American people cannot formulate and execute foreign policy.

Morse: Why do you say that?  Why, you’re a man of little faith in democracy if you make that kind of statement.  I have complete faith in the ability of the American people to follow the facts if you’ll give them.

Questioner: It isn’t a lack of faith, Senator-

Morse: And my charge against my government is we’re not giving the American people the facts.

Now, in September 2014, the United States stands ready once again to bomb inside Syrian territory. The stated objective continues to be the bringing down of the sovereign Syrian state. As Senator Morse demanded decades ago, the American people must have the facts.

Bomb ISIS as Syrian Intervention Plan B: The Goal Has Always Been Regime Change in Syria

syrian-revolutionMost Americans think the current war plans are really about war on ISIS. The long game continues to be regime change in Damascus. Americans should simply pay closer attention to what the top command is saying in very plain terms.

Hagel couldn’t have been any clearer in his Senate Armed Services Committee testimony Sept. 16:

As we pursue this program, the United States will continue to press for a political resolution to the Syrian conflict resulting in the end of the Assad regime. Assad has lost all legitimacy to govern, and has created the conditions that allowed ISIL and other terrorist groups to gain ground and terrorize and slaughter the Syrian population. The United States will not coordinate or cooperate with the Assad regime. We will also continue to counter Assad through diplomatic and economic pressure.

As many other commentators have said before me, bombing ISIS inside Syria (without Syrian approval, which amounts to an attack on a sovereign state) is but a Trojan Horse backdoor attempt to accomplish the regime change Obama pushed for a year ago.

Plans for regime change in Syria were discussed very publicly in Washington going back to the 1990’s (esp. PNAC and the neo-cons), and again in the early 2000’s (immediately after Saddam was toppled).

Understand that plans for the current bloodbath in Syria were made long ago in Washington. Read the following Time Magazine article from 2006 entitled “Syria in Bush’s Crosshairs.”

Current war plans leave even the likes of academic Syria experts baffled. Joshua Landis expressed in frustration on his Twitter feed today: “HAGEL SAYS END OF ASSAD REGIME IS U.S. GOAL IN SYRIA & political solution?! How would this work? Makes no sense me.” No one should assume that the people in charge of the White House’s Syria policy actually care about people in Syria or Iraq.

Last year, the White House decided it was time to push for direct military intervention against Damascus, using as a pretext the August 21 chemical attack incident. If you still believe “Assad gassed his own people” please read this article I wrote based entirely on mainstream admissions concerning CW usage in Syria (the United Nations final report, establishment media outlets, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the major defense tech. contractor Tesla Labs).

A lot has been invested in the three year long push to oust Assad. For the Gulf states, the U.S., Turkey, Israel, Cameron’s Britain, it is inconceivable that the Syrian state overcame the plot and still endures intact.

So now plan B is in effect…

I hope that I am wrong, but here are my predictions of what we’re about to see:

1) The U.S. will bomb ISIS sites inside Syria.

2) Washington will continue to warn the Assad regime not to interfere while coalition jets fly over Syrian territory.

3) Either ISIS or a so-called “moderate” Syrian opposition group will use one of the many MANPADS now in their hands to down a U.S./Western military plane. (Both ISIS and Syrian rebels have every incentive do this! See #4)

4) Downed jet incident will be pinned on the Syrian regime, and U.S. will respond (as promised) by simply expanding the scope of its campaign to bombing Syrian government facilities.

5) U.S. will attack by air both ISIS and Syrian government sites while claiming to wage “war on terror” on two fronts

6) U.S. equipped/trained Syrian opposition rebels will attempt to move in to bombed out government facilities

 

The 28 Pages and the War on Terror

28 PAGES.ORG (9/14/14) – Today more than ever, Americans are struggling to unravel the Gordian knot of overt and covert alliances that comprise the Middle East’s geostrategic landscape. As they do, politicians and pundits constantly remind them that reaching the correct conclusions about the region is imperative if we are to thwart the menace of terrorism and prevent the next 9/11.

As if a thicket of misinformation, hit-and-miss journalism and competing propaganda didn’t make the challenge daunting enough, the American people face an even more formidable barrier in their attempts to reach informed and rational conclusions about U.S. policy in the Middle East: the classification of a 28-page finding on foreign government support of the 9/11 hijackers—classification that continues over the objections of the chairman and vice-chairman of the 9/11 Commission and the former senator who co-chaired the inquiry that produced the 28 pages.

Preventing a hypothetical “next 9/11″ starts with a clear understanding of what enabled the actual one—yet, even as the U.S. military prepares for the next chapter in the seemingly perpetual War on Terror, Americans continue to be denied critical knowledge about how the September 11 attacks were planned and funded. Reflecting on that disconnect, Kentucky Congressman Thomas Massie recently told Slate, “Until we know what enabled or caused 9/11, we shouldn’t be talking about starting a third war to prevent another 9/11.”

Continue reading here…

Anti-tank Weapons: From USA to ISIS… Thank You CIA “Vetting Process”