The Three Faces of Turkey

By W. Robert Pearson – January 6, 2016

Washington and Ankara are in yet another difficult phase in a relationship cycle that runs from very good to very bad. American public opinion about another country forms slowly, but persists through time once set. As Turkey changes, we keep trying to fit new evidence into the old paradigm. At some point, the contradictions are too obvious to explain away, and the new narrative emerges. Right now, Americans are caught in that dilemma regarding Turkey. Unless we have a better idea of which Turkey we are dealing with, we are certain to make bad choices.

The first Turkey—conservative, constitutional, westward facing—is the one that belongs to NATO. Western oriented, highly educated Turks were heirs to the Ataturk revolution and the Turkey that rose from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire. Many Americans, especially those in the armed forces during the Cold War and up to 2003 were proud of their ally in a tough neighborhood. This Turkey anchored the West in volatile geography and risked nuclear retaliation to defend Europe. The image of this Turkey has led the United States more than once to embrace a false consensus theory and presume that Ankara would follow U.S. lead on important issues. The Incirlik air base has been the metaphor for this view of Turkey. The United States has invested heavily into this base, risking an over reliance on it and Turkey as a critical component of U.S. policy in the Middle East.

The second Turkey—liberal, pro-EU, aspiring to be democratic—began to emerge after the Cold War, but only fully flowered in the early 2000s as the pro-Islamist AKP captured power. This is the Turkey that led the Gezi Park demonstrations in 2013 for greater democracy and the Turkey that formed the rainbow coalition in 2015, allowing the left-leaning, pro-Kurdish HDP to enter parliament for the first time. This is the Turkey that, in the June 2015 elections, briefly obstructed President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ambitions to expand his power.

The third Turkey—authoritarian, populist, religious and ideological—rests on a political philosophy largely unseen or ignored by Western observers of Turkey. That approach draws on the tenets of the Muslim Brotherhood: distrust of Western institutions, and belief in the power of the community of supporters to make decisions for society. Constitutional divisions of power, protection of individual rights against the state, and freedom of press all are subject to majoritarian choice. In other words, popular election results trump all such restraints.

Thus, the AKP has steadily ignored or marginalized Turkey’s western-inspired institutions—judicial, media, education, military—in order to consolidate power domestically and to project an image of Islamic Sunni religious leadership and political prominence regionally. Many believe that Erdogan always had these goals in mind; others believe he moved to more extreme positions in recent years in reaction to his growing election majorities and resistance by Turkish institutions to his rule. Even as his actions continue to polarize the country and his foreign policy mistakes mount, there are still no indications that he will change course or that the opposition will weaken his power.

These three faces of Turkey complicate the issue of dealing with the country. The traditional American coalition that supported Turkey—U.S. military and veterans groups, defense companies, Congress, and Jewish groups—is losing cohesion. The American Turkish Council, long a bastion for strong Turkish-American ties, no longer wields its accustomed clout. Those who saw a liberalizing Turkey have postponed their hopes in the wake of the November 2015 election landslide for the AKP. An illiberal authoritarian Turkey has not completely eliminated these older realities, but it is increasingly apparent that American policy makers cannot rely on those historic perceptions in dealing with Turkey.

Events of recent years only add to the challenge. Since the Arab Spring, Turkey has weakened its ability to control events as its pro-Muslim Brotherhood and pro-Sunni sectarian approach has led it into political cul-de-sacs. It sacrificed its leverage with Israel by championing the Palestinian cause instead of acting as a mediator. It continued to back Mohamed Morsi in Egypt even as the Morsi government drafted an Islamic constitution with dictatorial powers. Repeated intelligence reports indicate that Turkey for an extended period did little to prevent ISIS recruits from entering Syria from Turkey. On the Syrian border, when Kurdish forces emerged as one of the few effective forces fighting ISIS, Turkey refused to help in any substantive way.

Turkey exploited the August 2015 agreement between the United States and Turkey for increased use of the Incirlik air base to mount massive raids against the PKK and very few against ISIS. In the November shoot down of a Russian fighter jet, Ankara did not even know the rules of engagement for its pilots, precipitating a long-term economic and political setback in relations with Moscow and complicating its aims in Syria. When Turkey overplayed its hand in northern Iraq by sending additional forces, it was forced in December under Iraqi and American pressure to withdraw. Domestically, the AKP government’s steadily rising violence against the PKK is raising fears of a civil war and the spread of attacks by the PKK into western Turkey.

How might the United States best approach Turkey at this point? First, Washington should not regard Turkey as an indispensable player in every circumstance. Ankara is much more interested in tactical gains—supporting its chosen factions in Syria and preventing the rise of Kurdish power and influence. Defeating ISIS is not a Turkish priority. Second, as a logical flow on, the United States should focus its strategic attention elsewhere and enhance cooperation with Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states and Egypt. Turkey will have little influence on these countries regarding Syria.

If 2015 was a year that saw Washington and Ankara drift further apart, 2016 might be the year the United States shapes its view of the Middle East with less reliance on Turkey. Without a better acceptance of what Turkey has become at present, the United States will continue to encounter frustration and disappointment in its dealings with Ankara.

-W. Robert  Pearson served as U.S. ambassador to Turkey from 2000 to 2003.  He was Director General of the U.S. Foreign Service from 2003 to 2006, repositioning the American Foreign Service to meet the new challenges of the 21st century. Ambassador Pearson spoke to the NSF on Turkey and President Erdogan in Reno last year.


Subsequent to the original commentary, W. Robert Pearson sent us this update:

Vice President Biden’s trip to Turkey January 22 – 23, 2016, highlights this choice.  This trip by the Vice President was more difficult than the one he made in November 2014. After hours of meetings between the Vice President and President Erdogan, there was no joint press conference between the two afterwards.  Turkey refused to permit the strongest fighting force the U.S. cooperates with, the PYD, to attend the Syrian Peace Talks except as an ally of Assad’s.  During the visit, Turkey announced no concrete or immediate steps to close the Syrian-Turkish border Jarabulus gate still controlled by ISIS.  Turkey rejected Biden’s criticism of Ankara’s press freedom crackdowns and condemned his meetings with indicted journalists. As a result, Incirlik airbase in southeast Turkey, heavily relied on by the U.S., is now even more of a hostage to Turkish wishes.  Washington is allowing itself to be compelled to accept what Turkey will permit, and Turkey knows how to drive a hard bargain.  What is puzzling is why Washington makes this choice if it really intends to destroy ISIS.

Zika Virus May Represent a Bigger Threat

to Public Health than Ebola

Special Report for the National Security Forum

with UNR Professor Dr. James Wilson

Colleagues: As the NYT reported, “The World Health Organization rang a global alarm over the Zika virus on Thursday, saying that the disease was ‘spreading explosively’ in the Americas and that as many as four million people could be infected by the end of the year.  The global health agency met today and declared that the Zika outbreak now is considered an ‘international emergency’. It is moving swiftly to combat this outbreak after widespread criticism that it had allowed the last major global health crisis, Ebola, to fester without a coordinated, effective strategy.

An estimated 3-4 million people have already come down with the virus, including here in the Americas, where it is now exploding exponentially. We face the prospect of a disease never seen before in the Western hemisphere taking hold permanently.

We asked UNR Professor and noted expert on disease intelligence, Dr. Jim Wilson, to provide more insights on this significant threat to public health. Here is his response:

“As you all have no doubt seen in the media, we have yet another exotic public health threat on the radar: Zika virus.  While the vast majority of people infected either experience minimal symptoms, many develop dengue-like symptoms of rash, fever, and joint pain.  Worse, pregnant women who are infected are experiencing between an 18-50% rate of birth defects known as microencephaly (“small fetal head”).  Microencephaly may lead to a child with neurological issues such as cerebral palsy.  We have also noted paralysis (Guillain Barre Syndrome) in a limited group of 20-30 year old adults, where the case fatality in this group is as high as 50%.

Zika virus is a national security issue because in Brazil we estimate as many as 1.3 million infected, with 4,000 cases of microencephaly.  At one single hospital, they reported nearly 100 cases of paralysis in adults, of whom half died.  There is no vaccine or anti-viral medication.  Zika has spread explosively in the tropical belt of the Americas, and now the expected media hyperbole has arrived.

It is believed that Zika virus is transmitted in a primate-mosquito cycle similar to dengue virus.  However, we are not 100% sure of this, and we have called for studies to examine whether this virus is capable of infecting birds.  Our threat assessment for the nation will be dramatically different if the virus spreads in a similar manner as West Nile versus dengue.  West Nile is ecologically established, with locally acquired cases reported here in the United States every year.  Dengue, on the other hand, does NOT transmit locally but in occasional circumstances and in very focal areas of California, Texas, and Florida.  But many cases are imported yearly.

The World Health Organization has drawn comparisons between the current Zika crisis and the Ebola disaster.  The two situations could not be more dissimilar.  Ebola was associated with an approximate 70% case fatality rate and 15,216 confirmed cases as of January 20th for all of West Africa.  Recall there was great concern at the time of virus mutation leading to a more transmissible form of Ebola.  It turns out this was not the case.  And CDC’s forecasts of over a million cases in West Africa were not realized.

Zika virus infection estimates so far are as high as 2 million cases across 18 tropical American countries, with more than 4,000 birth defects documented.  Fatalities have been rarely reported among patients with sickle cell disease.  It should be emphasized that Zika was not the only Africa-origin exotic virus to recently be introduced to tropical America: Chikungunya was also introduced two years ago and spread rapidly as well.  The difference is the impact: Zika has been associated with birth defects.  So, to compare Ebola and Zika is truly not appropriate: it is apples and mangoes.

Many in the global public health community have embraced a public communications tactic of frightening politicians to action.  It is unfortunate the community feels the need to take this path.  However, repeated hyperbole associated with public communication has badly eroded credibility of the entire global public health enterprise.  Careful balancing of what is / is not known in context that avoids hyperbole is recommended.  That said, WHO is under heavy fire right now due to the perception they are again slow to respond.

Our bottom line assessment is this: Zika virus will cause great disruption in the tropical belt of the Americas.  We will see imported cases of Zika to the US in multiple states, including Nevada.  It is highly UNLIKELY to see sustained epidemic transmission of Zika in the US.  Here in Nevada we do not have the appropriate mosquito species to support transmission.  We are advising all men and women of child-bearing age to avoid unnecessary travel to the tropical Americas until herd immunity has been established given the significant risk to the unborn.  The key tool for our clinicians in the state of Nevada is access to laboratory testing.  And our State Public Health Laboratory will soon have this test available.

Saved the date for this most timely and interesting program on….

The Radical Right in Europe and America


Dr. Leonard Weinberg

The Ramada, Thursday, February 18, 9:00 a.m.

Partly in response to concerns over the surge in immigration from Muslim countries, there has been a sharp rise in the popularity of far right parties in Europe—East and West. This includes the National Front in France, the Golden Dawn in Greece, and the now ruling Fidesz Party in Hungary and Law and Justice in Poland. The anti-EU and immigration Danish People’s Party captured the 2nd largest percentage of Denmark’s votes in June, and the extreme right Sweden Democrats, a party that started as a white supremacist group, has risen steadily in the polls. They all share “Euroskeptic” and anti-immigration platforms.

UNR Professor emeritus Leonard Weinberg will focus on the growing popularity—and danger–posed by radical right-wing populists on both sides of the Atlantic. The countries involved are now experiencing a “politics of backlash”, resulting from the challenges these democracies face as they confront large immigrant populations from the Middle East, North Africa, and elsewhere.  This backlash is not confined to the polls, but also includes mass protests as well as violence and terrorism.

In addition to violent attacks staged by such groups as the National Socialist Underground in Germany, there are widespread worries about the revival of anti-Semitism in France, Greece and Eastern Europe more generally.

Here in the United States, there has been a sharp shift to the right on our political spectrum, with Tea Party groups increasingly popular.  In addition, there has been a rise in threats represented by “militias, neo-Nazis and sovereign citizens” extremist groups.

To be more specific: the United States and the other western democracies have recently experienced a series of shocks: economic, social and political. Fears about the effects of the globalization of business enterprises,  worries about the flood  of immigrants from the war torn Middle East, and repeated deadly terrorist attacks carried out by agents of  the Islamic State and al Qaeda have undermined  the feelings of personal safety enjoyed by most Western citizens since the end of World War II. One major consequence of these shocks has been a backlash. Radical right groups on both sides of the Atlantic have risen in popularity, advocating reversing these trends and restoring an older, more stable order.

Dr. Leonard Weinberg is Foundation Professor Emeritus at the University of Nevada. Over the course of his long teaching career he has delivered lectures at the US Marine Corp University, the US European Defense Command, National Counter Terrorism Center, the Rand Corporation Insurgency Board, the George C. Marshall Defense Center, and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. His published works include The Emergence of a Euro-American Radical Right (with Jeffrey Kaplan) and Right-Wing Extremism in the 21st Century (eds. with Peter Merkl).  His newest volume, The Role of Terrorism in 21st Century Warfare (with Susanne Martin) is scheduled to be published this spring by Manchester University Press. 

No need to RSVP now—we will have a full announcement out a week before the event.

This is the final announcement for this most timely presentation on….





Dr. John Scire and Dr. Gerald O’Driscoll

The Ramada, Friday, January 29, 2016, 9:00 a.m.

The world is suddenly awash in oil and the global price of crude has rapidly declined. Dr. John Scire will discuss what the global and US oil situations were before Saudi Arabia and OPEC abandoned their quotas and increased production of crude oil, starting in the fall of 2014. He will look back at the predictions of where the price of oil would be by the fall of 2015, and why those predictions were way off (predictions of $65/barrel oil predominated). He will examine current projections for both oil production and price points for 2016, especially given that in the absence of a major conflict (e.g., Iran versus Saudi Arabia), there is little expectation for supply constraints or price surges. In fact, one respected observer said this:

As storage fills, prices can be expected to drop to a very low level–less than $10 per barrel for crude oil, and correspondingly low prices for the various types of oil products, such as gasoline, diesel, and asphalt. We can then expect to face a problem with debt defaults, failing banks, and failing governments (especially of oil exporters).”

Indeed, the glut of oil and rapid decline in global prices have unevenly impacted many countries already, including the U.S. Obviously, the more a nation depends on exports of crude oil for its wealth, the greater it has suffered; conversely, the more dependent a country is on imports to satisfy its oil requirements, the better they have done both economically and in terms of security issues. The United States has benefitted both from lower balance of payments deficits and the security implications of being less dependent on oil imports from volatile parts of the world. Domestically, however, some states have been winners—the major energy consuming ones—while major producers such as Alaska, Texas and North Dakota have suffered. Globally, the list of losers from low energy prices is long and growing—Iran, Venezuela, Russia and Saudi Arabia are all deep in the fiscal hole. China, in contrast, has been a major beneficiary, despite a slowing economy and growth rates (it could be worse—does the current Chinese economic decline suggest major structural weaknesses?)

Most importantly, even if oil were to rise to $65 a barrel, no major energy exporting country can restore fiscal balance at that point. Indeed, almost all are at risk for a severe fiscal crisis. Economic instability breeds political instability, and 2016 could be a “year of reckoning” for a number of nations—and that list is led by Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iran and Venezuela.

Dr. John Scire teaches US Energy Policy and US Foreign Policy at the University of Nevada, Reno. He has thirty years of military experience, first as a combat infantry officer in the Marine Corps, and then as a Psychological Warfare and Intelligence Specialist in the US Army Reserve. Dr. Gerald O’Driscoll is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, and a recognized expert on international economic issues. He was formerly the Vice President and Director of Policy Analysis at Citigroup, and, before that, Vice President at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

Please join us for what will be a very interesting discussion. A full breakfast will be served ($15 Members, $25 Non-Members, and $10 for students with ID and military personnel in uniform; free for WWII Veterans). We recommend that you arrive by 8:30 to enjoy some breakfast, coffee and conversation.

You are encouraged to RSVP by clicking HERE. You may also RSVP by e-mailing Just a reminder, after the forum, we will be accepting new and renewal membership applications for the July 1, 2014 – June 30, 2015 period. Forms will be available at the forum, though you can also access the application form by clicking HERE. For your convenience, we accept cash, check and credit card payments for both the breakfast and membership fees.

Summary of the Presentation and Discussion on….

Air-Sea Battle in the South China Sea


Kevin Cole (COL/USAF-ret)

And comments by Admiral Scott Conn

Tensions are rising in the West Pacific, particularly in the South China Sea, as Beijing creates new “islands” and claims a 12-mile sovereignty around them.  China has become more assertive in the region, following two decades of impressive economic growth that, in turn, has allowed the PRC to exponentially expand its military forces.  While China denies having any territorial ambitions in the region, CoL Cole (and his co-authors) noted in a recent article that “recent territorial claims and aggressive actions in the South China Sea represent…. acts that threaten regional security”.  This includes, according to the authors, growing “and more robust power projection capabilities”.

The U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM), particularly its air component, the Pacific Air Forces (PACAF), have been developing capabilities to respond to a “powerful adversary” in the region.  The planning has focused on modernizing “Air-Sea Battle” concepts into doctrine and operational tactics as a counter to more sophisticated air-to-air and air defense capabilities that the potential adversary forces have generated.  The plans are directed towards securing unimpeded military actions, “regardless of the domain”.  This translates into having capabilities to conduct defensive operations in a range of areas- air, sea, space and cyber- that Pacific Command calls “A2/AD operations” (“Anti-Access & Denial”).

The Problem at Hand: Opposing a great power is a means of asserting one’s own power, and several countries aspire to be great powers regionally if not globally. One expression of power is the ability to deny access or disrupt operations, and many countries seek to strengthen their anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities as a means of asserting regional control and influence.

Tensions in the Pacific: In its 2010 white paper on national defense, the PRC says that it “will never seek hegemony,” that it “opposes hegemony and power politics in any form,” and that it “pursues a national defense policy which is defensive in nature.”

More importantly, to assert these claims, the PRC has built a robust, power-projecting A2/AD capability that could be brought to bear against the United States, its allies, and its partners.

One way China is achieving its long term goal is by “creating artificial lands” in the middle of the ocean. For instance; the Spratly Islands have become unique construction site. Submerged reefs are now artificial islands. They have created more than 3.9 SqMls of new land on seven sites across an archipelago whose total land area had been 1.5 SqMls. Fiery Cross Reef (which was submerged at high tide  when first occupied in 1988) now has a land mass of 1.1 SqMls, a 10,000 foot runway and a 155 acre harbor. It is now many times larger than Itu Aba, the largest natural island in the Spratlys.  China had created 1.5 SqMls and 5.6 SqMls at Subi Reef and Mischief Reef, respectively, and these numbers are still growing

With respect to China’s strategy, the PRC is pursuing a strategy derived from Sun Tzu’s Art of War: This is usually called, “Preparing for Winning Without Fighting.”  The overall objective is to gain control of the South China Sea, but not through large battles.

Rather, China wants to achieve its objective through activities that create new facts on the ground (and the water), set up the playing field and psychologically change the strategic calculus of other nations.

The underlying logic of this strategy is to shift the propensity of things in favor of Chinese dominance by maneuvering the strategic configurations of the region.

From the PRC’s six-decade long involvement in the South China Sea three “imperatives” emerge:

The first imperative is to avoid large battles as much as possible; clashes can be initiated, but only to exploit an existing favorable situation

The second imperative is to control the most strategic positions in the area

The third imperative is to develop these positions into strong points of control, robust hubs of logistics and effective bases of power projection

For the U.S. the “Bottom Line” is “ Anti-Access /Area Denial (A2/AD)”

The US Response (“Strategic Guidance”), laid out in June 2012, specifically tasked the US military to project power despite A2/AD. To deal with the A2/AD problem, the US Department of Defense (DOD) has turned to Air-Sea Battle (ASB), putting concepts into practice.

United States Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) is working through United States Pacific Command (PACOM) to evolve ASB concepts into doctrine and operational action as a counter to A2/AD practices and as a means of prevailing in the face of informationized warfare.

ASB is a modern combined-arms (joint warfare) concept that takes into account the prevailing geographical domains in the Asia-Pacific—air and sea along with the domains of space and cyber.

One way PACAF trains to the ASB concept is thru exercises; specifically Northern Edge and Valiant Shield. Northern Edge is held in Alaska in odd Years while Valiant Shield is held on Guam in numbered even Years. The goal is to build on each other and create new tactics.

Another way PACAF seeks to influence the region is with the CBP, or “Combined Bomber Presence”. Based on Andersen AFB Guam, the CBP consists of B-1, B-2 and B-52 aircraft, coming to the Pacific on a rotational basis. CBP aircraft accomplish regular training and exercise participation, advance and strengthen alliances and long-standing military-to-military partnerships, and ensure continued access to the global commons for all.

CBP missions commonly integrate with U.S. and allied fighter and support aircraft, including the Royal Australian Air Force, Japanese Air Self Defense Force, Republic of Korea Air Force, Royal New Zealand Air Force, Royal Malaysia Air Force, Philippine Air Force and more.

In sum, PACAF is working diligently to ensure US presence in the Pacific region stabilizes the region and supports our allies.

Colonel Kevin Col  has served in Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom campaigns. He logged 140 combat flying hours during Desert Storm, commanded the 13th Expeditionary Air Support Operations Squadron in Ramadi, Iraq, during Iraqi Freedom, and headed up the USAF security teams providing protection for the first free elections in Afghanistan. He holds MBA and MS degrees from Embry-Riddle University.  The link to his PowerPoint is below.

Air-Sea Battle and the Pacific PowerPoint


Observations on COL Cole’s presentation by Admiral Scott Conn:

I very much appreciated being invited to the NSF that covered Air Sea Battle and how it relates to the South China Sea.  I thought Kevin did a great job of painting the landscape, while at the same time identify some of the key challenges we will face.  China is clearly making investments in increasing the size of their force, as well as investments in key technologies that mirrors the same types of effort we see in other places across the globe: the proliferation of precision and range.   The bottom line here is that the United States no longer holds a monopoly on advanced warfighting technology.

That said, shooting weapons at great ranges against moving targets poses significant technical challenges in and of itself.  There is a difference between the kinematic capability of a weapon (how far it can fly) and the operational reach of sensors and networks to provide queuing with the proper latency (time), to a weapon.  In a near peer, or peer competitor engagement ordnance will go two ways: from us and at us.   

Other than those brave Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines who had boots on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States has not seen this type of Warfare since Vietnam.  We must be in a position to master the electromagnetic spectrum in order to build sufficient sanctuaries in time, space, and spectrum.  Our job is to, first, preserve peace.  Then, if we must, to fight and win major combat operations against a peer or near peer competitor.  The Navy refers to this aspect of mastering the Electromagnetic Spectrum as Electromagnetic Maneuver Warfare.

Finally, Kevin talked about the various domains that will come in play in the South China Sea: Space, Air, Surface, Subsurface and Cyber.  One domain, however, that I think often gets overlooked is the Human Domain.  We have the best trained Joint Force in the world. Period.  We must continue to make the investments in our training environments that will afford us to learn faster while preserving this asymmetric advantage in the future.

Rear Admiral Scott D. Conn is the Commander, Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center at the Fallon Naval Air Station. He has flown over 100 combat missions and has accumulated over 4,700 flight hours and 1,000 arrested landings. He was the recipient of the 2004 Vice Admiral James Bond Stockdale Inspirational Leadership award.