by Raúl Ilargi Meijer at The Automatic Earth
There are presidential elections in Turkey today, and current prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan looks set to win. Which means the US will have a definitely uncomfortable bedfellow in the Eastern Europe/Middle East region (the borders between the two are not terribly clear) in the coming years.
Erdogan has recently become a very loud opponent of Israel – and all the world’s Jews – , and US relationships with him had already been cooling way before this latest foray into ‘international diplomacy’.
Turkey is a secular state, and as such an indispensable buffer zone between religious spheres. But Erdogan knows he needs the votes of the muslim population in his country, which makes up about 98% of the total 76 million. And now the US will need him, and Turkey as a whole, perhaps more than ever. Obama may have some sucking up to do.
Like Erdogan, his neighbor, Syria’s President Assad, has been an unwanted ally. Last year, accusations of poison gas used in his fight against Al Queda linked rebels backfired on Washington, which managed to save face – but only sort of – when Obama asked Vladimir Putin to convince Assad to give up his chemical weapons. Which he did.
Over the past while, out of the boondoggle US invasion of Iraq, a new group has risen, the Islamist State (IS) – formerly ISIS. Much of their weaponry consists of US arms seized from the Iraqi army.
President Obama last week ordered targeted airstrikes on their positions near the Kurdish city of Erbil, which has a US Embassy, and is not far from the giant Mosul dam.
Today, the president prepared Americans for the fact that this may be a long term operation. Weeks, months. Where have we heard similar things before?
One good look at this WSJ map (click to enlarge) of hotspots in Iraq would seem to make it clear that airstrikes in just one place may indeed not do much of anything.
And besides, Iraq was never a country, only a western invention. The Islamist State are Sunni, then there’s the Shi’ite, and the Kurds the IS are presently fighting, and who also happen to have millions of people just across the border in Turkey. Nice mix, right?
The Islamist State’s main adversary so far – besides the Iraqi army – has been Assad. Now, they have started to threaten Turkey as well. Erdogan earlier this year decided to close the Ataturk dam on the Euphrates River (of Fertile Crescent fame), cutting off the water supply to northern Syria (which includes Islamist State base camp city Raqqa) and, further downstream, large parts of Iraq. Here’s the flow of the 1700 mile-long Euphrates:
And here are the parts of Syria and Iraq presently assumed to be under IS control (the blanks spots are mostly inhospitable terrain, mountains, deserts):
It’s obvious why the Euphrates water is important to the IS. And why they seized control over the Mosul dam (a spot, by the way, that the US cannot risk bombing).
Water is at least as precious in the Middle East as it is in the southwestern US these days.
In a video series made by VICE (see below), an IS member says Erdogan should open the dam or they will conquer Istanbul and do it for him.
Blocking people’s access to water as a warfare tool is something international law frowns upon for obvious reasons. And Erdogan isn’t even at war with the Islamist State. Yet.
Will the US be able to stay out of the war if the IS decide to expand northward, over the Turkish border? It’s certainly not going to be easy.
Meanwhile, America’s main allies are an Israel basher and a butcher with the blood of thousands upon thousands of his own people on his hands. With wrong friends like that …
There is one man in the world without whose – absolutely indispensable – assistance nothing the US come up with, will work.
He’s already helped Obama out of a very tight spot once, and he could do it again. He carries a lot of clout in the region, probably more than anyone else in the world. And knows it better than anyone else.
But that man has in record time gone from one of America’s allies, and an almost-friend of Obama, to the number one public enemy.
Obama, and Washington as a whole, may yet come to regret alienating Vladimir V. Putin the way they have.
There is no way this did not cross Obama’s mind just before he ordered the airstrikes.