Powerplay in the Middle East: Turkey is not alone – by Matt Roggo
What follows is power politics. I want to give a larger perspective. The assumption is that it is of historical significance to have a strong Turkey between Europe, other Muslim nations, and Asia. Historically, the balance of power between the Ottoman Empire and the Russian Empire played a central role in European foreign policy. It was a political and a cultural equilibrium that allowed the Ottomans to expand their empire westward, while Imperial Russia was looking east and south. The world changed after two world wars. Since then the West tries to impose its ways onto the rest of the world. Western supremacy is the rule of action for Americans and Europeans. The world responds accordingly. The argument is that Western supremacy is self-explaining and self-legitimating, based on “better people” and a “superior culture.” Former empires like Russia and Turkey don’t accept this postcolonial ideology. But the central fact that should draw our attention is the rise of China, impacting all of Asia, with Russia, Central Asia, the Indian subcontinent. Asia begins in East Istanbul. That’s the larger perspective for Turkey. Now let me take up three bullet points and briefly comment on them:
(a) Keeping the West out of Muslim countries, except for cultural exchange and fair trade relations. No soldiers, no mercenaries, no terrorist friends of the West supported by NATO and Western governments.
(b) Avoiding confrontation with the Russian Federation, finding common ground with Moscow in the Middle East, in Central Asia, in North Africa.
(c) Adapting to the requirements of the emerging China Bloc: nations that want, or are forced to collaborate with the communist government in Beijing. China is the shaping force that can’t be ignored anymore.
Arab nations should insist on the first point (a). Arrogance, double standards, and twisted media narratives on the Mideast have to be marked as “signs of disrespect” and unequal footing. No respect no trust. This simple principle is also known in Chinese culture. (The Chinese are right to insist on it.) Islamophobia that amounts to what I call “international xenophobia” has to be a disqualifier for negotiations with Western countries afflicted by it. Muslim leaders need to stand together. An effort is required to overcome tribal thinking and special interests “against” regional peers on the world stage. Through UN institutions Arab nations need to confront Western governments with crude facts and demand excuses, reparations, and favorable conditions in the future. Mideastern nations or “regimes” do not dissolve and collapse “just so,” because the West doesn’t want to speak about reasons. They are – or they were – under attack: meddling, interventions, set-ups, killings, embargoes. The crimes are many. No country has the right to humiliate another country. For that we need a stronger and less corrupt UN. In this context Turkey could play a role as a mediator. Turkey is more credible than any Western actor because the nation is itself partially emancipated from the West, which is good.
Going next to (b) it has to be stressed that disregarding Russian interests and gratuitously participating in NATO efforts to make Russia an “impossible” place with an “illegitimate” government (something Americans now have to get used to) that needs to be “neutralized” will only serve the forces of yesterday, thereby perpetuating the old colonialist patterns that spell disadvantage and dependence for world regions outside NATO, geographically speaking. The forces of tomorrow are located on and around the Asian continent, like it or not, and the Russian Federation is a part of it. That’s the best chance history has to offer in the 21st century. Not the best of worlds – nobody pretends that -, but a noticeable change of direction that deniers will ignore at their own risk.
Point (c) stands for realism in understanding the economic, diplomatic and military spheres, and how they overlap. Realism is the method of assessing the relative strength, and possible mutual benefits, of nations B and C from the perspective of an interested actor A. Pragmatic actions following that assessment may be positive or negative in their consequences. That will depend on the ability and courage of decision makers. Ideology and the Religion of Marxism in the West (egalitarianism, thought control, the belief in an “elite” savior class: Big State and Big Business) are what they are: religious attitudes conducive to oligarchic interests “against the simple people.” Interestingly, China does not take the cheap “radical” and “progressive” cue from the West in order to use it for its own purposes. China seeks to be a distinguished player, in front of and above all others. Eastern supremacy, not Western supremacy. That’s remarkable, and a testimony to the high abstract intelligence of the Maoist leadership. Progressive ideology is not progress, it’s surrender – and an easy win for monopolists and oligarchs.
Now back to Turkey. If we consider points (a) to (c) we can see a potential conflict within NATO, an organization with questionable legitimization – a constant provocation to Russia, and now also to China. It’s not a secret that NATO is defining Russia and China as its enemies, dangers to be contained by deploying military capacity on land and on sea around the Asian continent and on the doorsteps of the Russian Federation. NATO is an anachronism, an absurdity conjuring up the political situation prior to WW I. President Trump had the right instinct about it, and about other topics like domestic crime, and the Iraq wars (except the Assange case). Eventually, he had to take one or two steps back and play the game of the unpopular American establishment. Compromise seemed necessary, but it turned out to be extremely difficult. You can’t compromise with liars, leakers, grifters, and war mongers. That’s Washington against the American people.
Commenting more on (c) I would add that it is a big mistake to decouple Russia and Turkey from the Western world, but that’s what is happening. Both “vertical democracies,” Turkey and Russia, are heirs of former empires, something we have to bear in mind. Apart from that, every nation / state has vital interests, be they economical, political, demographic, or strategic. Every state, not only modern Turkey. The question is if President Erdoğan is the right man to augment the national prestige and the economic power of the Turkish Republic. Unfortunately, that’s a rhetorical question.
Then there is the US / UK agenda to draw a new map of the Middle East (the worst hawks would even want to break up the Russian Federation). This plan is a typical Anglo-Saxon blunder – too simple and very dangerous. One Israel is not enough. America needs a second Israel, and that would be a new U.S.-sponsored Kurdish State on an ethnically cleansed territory. The history and claims of different groups of the Kurdish people are outside of this text. The point I want to make is that a “second Israel” working for American interests would stand against the interests of all other actors in the region, not only Turkey: against Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Iran, against Jordan and Egypt. Their common interest is stability for trade and tourism, promoting their national interests, and also reinforcing a positive image of Islam (which is urgent in our age of immorality, materialism, and Neomarxism). The repercussions of such a landscape change after proxy wars fought with mercenaries, terrorists, and rogue military units would be felt all over Muslim countries. It would drag the West further down the path of failed adventures into utter irrelevance.
In view of these developments Turkey’s membership in NATO should be open for discussion. I would predict that Turkey’s membership in NATO becomes untenable, and frankly speaking, uninteresting for Ankara. If a polite, formal “downgrading” of Turkey’s status at NATO is possible, it should be done, and soon. Clear lines are better for all players involved. What Ankara is not sufficiently aware of is that a NATO-controlled Black Sea is a real disadvantage for Russia’s defensive and offensive capabilities. In case of a global conflagration a Western alliance could invade parts of the Russian Federation via its vulnerable western heel: the Black Sea controlled by the enemy, with three coasts enemy territory, and U.S. facilities in Ukraine and around Belarus. That eventuality was reason enough to take back Crimea after 60 years. President Putin did it for prestige reasons, and more importantly for the strategic advantage in case of war. President Erdoğan knows that, how not. Turkish politicians are not French or German politicians living in a plush world. That’s why he poses as a champion of Ukraine, in the same way as he poses as a champion of Palestine. It’s show, or personal self-aggrandizement. In the end, his posturing doesn’t change anything.
With all sympathy for the noble Kurdish people – the time for a Kurdish State has not come. Such a state should be legitimate in the eyes of its neighbors, and above all, multicultural like Christian and Muslim societies in general. Discrimination, ethnic bullying and cleansing are crimes and should not be accepted by anyone under any pretext. The more a new Kurdish State would be perceived as a “second Israel,” the more terror and military activity would come out of it. The creation of a sovereign Kurdish State should be made “interesting” to other Muslim nations ceding populations and territories in the process. A new Kurdish State would be doomed if perceived as yet another Western colonial entity representing foreign interests in the region. Now is the time to end wars, not to start new ones. Peace for the next generation. Peace for the humiliated populations of Palestine, Syria, and Yemen. Peace in the name of God, if that’s possible, and deliverance from Western colonial interests. (1)
China’s increasing influence is the new reality, also in Africa. China is on the rise, and Turkey and Russia have no other choice than to jump on the rolling train. The West doesn’t offer any alternatives. Two former empires with most of their territories intact are supposed to be nations without strategic interests – something that doesn’t exist in the real world. Vladimir Putin brought Russia back to world power status. That’s why he is an important figure in Russian history books. A fact that NATO and Washington behind it have a hard time to grasp. Another sign of the inherent weakness of the Western alliance: not accepting reality, and replacing realism with ideology (abstractly insisting on principles, and old Western supremacy and overbearing).
The grand picture looks like this: The powerplay in the Middle East and in large regions of both hemispheres will take place between communist China and its partners and allies (the China Bloc, as I say) and nations and organizations in various kinds of conflict with the China Bloc. China will change the game entirely. With a weak and messy EU, America in free fall, and Canada and Australia without the least political weight (and flirting with totalitarianism), Beijing will completely take over. On the paper they are already the wealthiest nation on the planet. This is real. A new era in the Middle East and beyond is approaching. Export, transport, trade and the concomitant political order – without kinetic warfare, and without exporting communist ideology. Incredible but true.
What China is ushering in will be the greatest power structure since the British Empire. In that informal economic empire (not cultural, not military, unlike American aspirations), cooperation and conflict will happen “discreetly,” without official proclamations, and with a customary asymmetry in favor of China. The CCP will solve problems in its own interests before adversaries have a chance to do anything about it. In times of negotiations and diplomacy the factual “tributary states” to China and Asia will consult and agree on their own as long as the UN is not evolving into a more serious organization, hopefully in the second half of this century. What a former philosophy professor wrote will happen automatically:
“The Belt and Road Initiative (…) the countries connected in this way will also have to harmonize and coordinate their political arrangements.” (2)
That’s the immediate effect of Belt and Road and other integration formats involving China. The two levers of Chinese power are sheer mass and incredible speed. This is not a pro-China statement. It’s my effort to put Turkey in the picture of the coming political reality: a bridge nation, a power broker, a healthy example of multiculturalism (Istanbul), and a market place of ideas where Muslim scholars have a voice. That’s the future that appears on the horizon. What the French and the Germans say is irrelevant. On the perceived aggression of China I should say this: As an empire state China protects and expands its interests. That’s not surprising. It’s really not difficult to understand that the two empire states Russia and China don’t wan’t American military on their doorsteps. The human rights record of the Chinese Communist Party is what it is in a dictatorship, but that doesn’t make any difference in the power struggle between East and West. Those are two different types of discussions.
Here’s another voice that is close to my own outlook: China will change the game (add the African continent to it). There’s no way back. The Republic of Turkey and the Kurdish people do not stand outside of this evolution, they are aspects of it:
” (…) China certainly eyes further expansion deeper into the Middle East and eventually develops a direct territorial link with Europe. Therefore, with China’s massive economic presence in the region, it will emerge as a new balancer between rival regional powers, replacing the U.S. Since the primary nature of Chinese interests and presence is economic, it is unlikely to ignite flames of military conflicts. With China as the new balancer aiming to chart a new geography of trade and bringing the ancient Silk Roads back to life, the logical outcome in the light of progressively reducing U.S. presence and meddling is most likely the redefinition of bilateral relations in the region.” (3)
Emerge as a new balancer – astounding. A new geography of trade – not new nations, new borders, and endless conflicts. How can we better understand this formidable rise to power? The Chinese system is based on Maoism, but from a Western perspective it seems more useful to speak of “state capitalism.” State capitalism as practiced by the People’s Republic of China is politics for economy and economy for politics – a new form of mercantilism with a sinocentric bent. It’s a circle that turns hitch-free and lifts the entire system skyward. To add another voice I would like to mention a book by Howard W. French on “China’s Push for Power” (2017). Prof. French said the following about power and realism in world affairs, in line with my Machiavellian approach in political philosophy:
“I think that a lot of China’s present-day behavior can be understood in classical state power terms. Political scientists would probably resort to the term ‘realist’ – that China as a leading power (…) is beginning to express ambitions that come with a rapid rise in the world, and that you can see this at various other stages of history with lots of other examples.” (4)
(1) When we are critical of the government in Ankara we are not being “turkophobic.” When we are critical of the government in Jerusalem we are not “antisemitic.” When we understand the Kurdish question but don’t have a solution for it, we are not against the Kurdish people.
(2) Quote from a book review by Dr. Hans Sluga (a good example is Central Asia, see my other NAT article):
(3) S. R. Sheikh’s article in New Eastern Outlook (slightly corrected by me):
(4) There is something like “Chinese supremacy” at play, too. Interview with the former journalist and Columbia University professor on the continuity of China’s identity and history:
Written exclusively for NAT by: Matt Roggo
Matt Roggo, Ph.D. is a Swiss intellectual, a new conservative, and an occasional fiction writer. He studied Philosophy and Sociology at Berne, Basel and Geneva universities. He shares his ideas on the Swiss Portal of Philosophy and is active on Twitter. He considers himself a modern Machiavellist in political philosophy. Readers are welcome to contact the author on Twitter & Facebook: M. C. Roggo @SwissFederalist
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