On June 28, 2016 shots were fired into a crowd of unsuspecting travelers at Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport, followed by the detonation of suicide bomb vests. Thus far, at least 36 people are dead and 150 or more injured. Despite the fact that people are unsure as to whether the attack was conducted by the Islamic State (though, IS tends to attack soft targets like airports) or the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), the fact is that Turkey’s foreign policy has played a significant role in this horrific terrorist attack. What follows is an assessment of Turkish policy toward the Middle East, its relationship with the Kurds, and the state of the campaign against the Islamic State. It is important to understand that this piece is not seeking to blame anyone other than the perpetrators of the attack (whether it be IS or the PKK or another, as yet, unnamed group), this piece is to provide you, the reader, with some context as to why such a heinous act has occurred. Also, unfortunately, it is to alert you that more heinous acts, such as this attack, may soon follow.
The Decline of the Ottoman Empire
Much of the modern history of the Middle East (as well as Northern Africa) has been defined by the events that followed the First World War. In World War I, the Ottoman Empire, the Caliphate that spanned most of the Muslim world and was ruled from modern day Turkey, collapsed. The Ottoman Empire had long been considered the “sick man of Europe,” and most assumed that it was destined to fail. Yet, for various political reasons, the European powers managed to help the storied Islamic empire survive and limp on for over a century longer than it should have survived.
That is until the First World War.
When WWI came about, the Ottomans found themselves closely aligned with Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the alliance known as the Central Powers. Of course, the war would end in a defeat for the Central Powers: turning Germany into a broken state with no empire, and consigning both the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires to the dustbin of history. After six centuries of having been the premiere power of the Islamic world, the inheritor of Muhammad’s mantle, the Muslim world was left without the kind of leadership that the Ottoman Empire provided.
Much of the Middle East today were colonies of the Ottoman Empire. Even during the Ottoman’s reign, the Middle East was known as a perpetual headache for the Sultans and their regime. Revolts emanated from Egypt and modern-day Saudi Arabia. There was continued unrest between the Sunnis and Shiites. Problems with Persia (modern day Iran). Chaos in Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq). Headaches in the Levant (modern day Syria and Lebanon). Basically, things were as troublesome in the Middle East then for the Ottomans, a great Muslim empire, as they are for us meager Infidels today. Yet, at the end of the day, the Ottoman Empire was still an Islamic power and, as such, was probably the only external force capable of bringing a semblance of order to the Middle East.
“I meant to make a new nation, to restore a lost influence.” – T.E. Lawrence
During the First World War, the British and French concluded that a great way to fight the Ottomans would be to gin up all of that disunity and disorder in the Ottoman-controlled Middle East, and turn that resentment against the Ottomans (who, despite being fellow Muslims, were still Turks, not Arabs). This is where T.E. Lawrence, popularized by Peter O’Toole’s performance in Lawrence of Arabia, became famous. As an Arabist (an expert on the Arab world) in the British Army, Sir Lawrence fundamentally understood the sectarian divisions that existed in the Middle East (though, to be sure, the roughly 1 million British troops fighting the Turks undoubtedly played a truly significant role in defeating the Ottomans). He also understood that by agitating the various bedouin tribes in the Arabian desert against Ottoman rule, the British could stoke a major uprising in the Middle East, at a time when the decrepit Ottoman Empire was attempting to fight the Allies elsewhere. Through irregular warfare, Sir Lawrence led the Arab Revolt in the desert and successfully destabilized the Ottoman Empire’s tenuous grip on power. This sparked the beginning of the end: in exchange for the Arab tribes supporting the Anglo-French war effort against the Ottomans, after the war, the European powers would grant independence to the Arabs.
Or so, that was what the Allies promised the Arab tribes.
Yet, when it came to implementing this deal, there was some pushback from the European powers. During the war, the English and French governments decided upon a postwar Middle East order that resembled nothing like what they had promised the Arab tribes. The Europeans were going to split the Ottoman territories apart, redraw their borders to comply with European whims, and disavow the whole notion of total Arab independence. This agreement, which became known as the Sykes-Picot Agreement (named after the British and French diplomats who negotiated the arrangement), would be the defining aspect of any postwar order for the Middle East. Under the terms of this secret agreement, Britain would be granted Palestine and Mesopotamia. The French would be given Syria and Lebanon. This agreement is why, for instance, you see Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds forced to live together in the borders of Iraq. It’s a key reason why the world has also had to contend with the problems in Syria, Lebanon, and Israel (the region that the British formerly referred to as the “Palestinian Mandate”).
Meanwhile, the Arab tribes did not make it any more difficult for the Europeans to take the Ottoman Empire’s position as a colonizer. Despite their yearnings for freedom from the Ottomans, there were as many divisions and hatreds between the various Islamic subgroups, as well as tribal animosities among the various Arab tribes, that any hope of a unified Arab land replacing the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East quickly evaporated (if it was ever there at all). Within days after having successfully evicted the rule of the Ottomans, and before the British and French could even implement their dreaded Sykes-Picot Agreement, the Arab tribes were soon turning on each other. By the time that the Paris Peace Conference rolled around in 1919, European control seemed justified.
The Treaty of Lausanne: The Birth of Modern Turkey
After the Ottoman defeat in WWI, Anatolia, the region that we know today as Turkey, was occupied by the Allies (the British, French, Italians, and Greeks). Its two largest cities, Constantinople (modern day Istanbul) and Smyrna (modern day Izmir) were partitioned and occupied accordingly as well. This was one of the lowest points in Turkish history, as the Allies sought to partition Turkey in such a way that the Turkish populations would be divided in their own land. It was at this point that a mid-level, nationalistic, and disgruntled former Ottoman military officer by the name of Mustafa Kamel Atatürk, would gain notoriety.
Since his early years, Atatürk was a fiercely anti-monarchist and stringent Turkish nationalist. While he ultimately ended up fighting in the Ottoman army, he was by no means a devout follower of the Sultan. Indeed, by the time of the Allied Occupation, he had become quite convinced that the Sultan was the wrong man to lead them. While still an officer in the Ottoman army, in the summer of 1919, he was assigned to assist in the reorganization of the Ottoman military to comport with the stipulations that the Allies had imposed upon the defeated Ottoman Empire. Instead, Atatürk used his position to begin fomenting anti-Allied and pro-Turkish nationalist sentiment. Within a month of his reassignment, Atatürk had successfully organized a sizable opposition element to the Allied occupation. Within a month of this occurring, Atatürk resigned from the Ottoman military. His subversive activities were soon discovered, prompting a warrant for his arrest to be issued, followed on by his being condemned to death in absentia.
This only heightened the young nationalists’ appeal to the people. Within a year, Atatürk was leading a major national resistance movement. By 1920, as the Ottoman Grand Vizier signed the Treaty of Sèvres which finalized the partitioning of Turkey, Atatürk led his National Army to war in opposition to this treaty. Soon, the National Army warred against the Armenians in the East and the Greeks in the West. After the Battle of Marash, in which the remaining Armenian population in Turkey was expelled, the Grand National Assembly, which supported Turkish independence, would be based in Ankara. From there, the ruling Ottomans would be dispossessed of power and the nationalists would become the leaders in the new country. Ultimately, Atatürk’s push for a Turkey that was free and independent from foreign influence would be successful.
It was in this context that the Treaty of Lausanne was negotiated and signed in 1923. Atatürk was a modernizer. He did not seek empire. He was also an atheist who was quite opposed to Islamic rule. For these reasons, he opposed both the rule of the Sultans as well as the concept of an Islamic Caliphate, such as the Ottoman Empire. Atatürk claimed to want to make Turkey a modern state, like the European ones that surrounded it. He believed that it was only through modernization that Turkey would be able to secure itself from future invasion, as well as to make itself competitive in the world. Atatürk’s rule as Turkey’s first president (from 1923-1938) was instrumental in establishing the modern state of Turkey. It was, as Atatürk conceived it, a land for the Turks, of the Turks, and by the Turks.
Yet, despite this nationalistic fervor, Turkey still retained some minority groups within its territory. The Kurds, who inhabit lands that reside in southern Turkey, northern Iraq, and northern Syria, are a large subgroup in Turkey. They are also widely despised by the Turks and have been for some time.
Also, regardless of whatever Atatürk had envisioned, the fact is that by the 2000s, Turkey’s politics had changed considerably. After Atatürk’s death in 1938, Turkey had progressed considerably. However, its basic socio-cultural makeup remained relatively unchanged. Islam was still a dominant force in the country’s politics, despite Atatürk’s rabid secularization of the country (one cannot eradicate the influence of a religion that has reigned for hundreds of years in a land in a mere decade’s time, after all). What followed his reign was a succession of military strongmen, beginning in 1960, until the rise of an Islamist political movement, in the form of the Justice and Development Party (AKP). in the 2000s.
The Kurds were a sizable minority population of the former Ottoman Empire. Following the First World War, the large Kurdish population began to take seriously calls for their own national independence. Yet, this was not to be. Instead, the Kurdish population would be split under the control of the new states of Turkey, Syria, Iran, and Iraq. In all four areas, the Kurds have been marginalized, brutalized, victimized, and oppressed. This was particularly true in Turkey following the rise of Atatürk.
As I elucidated above, the rise of Atatürk brought with it not only the end of empire, but also the increase in rabid Turkish nationalism, as well as strong opposition to Islam–or any religion, for that matter. The Kurds were both Islamic (mostly Sunni) and non-Turks. For centuries, under the Ottoman Empire, the Kurds were generally left alone to conduct their affairs according to their own ways. In Kurdish culture, for instance, tribal chieftains hold great sway in local affairs. However, the new Turkish republic was insistent upon modernization and secularism. In order to ensure that its agenda was enacted, it sought to increase the power and influence of the central government. Furthermore, it sought to empower ethnic Turks above any others within the territory of Turkey.
Soon, the Kurds found themselves prisoners in their own lands. Their madrassas, newspapers, and religious groups were immediately shut down by the government. What’s more, their entire culture was essentially outlawed by the Turkish government–folklore, dress, and language of the Kurds was expressly forbidden by the Turkish national government. Enforcement was severe. Indeed, many Kurdish areas found themselves under the harsh martial law of the virulently anti-Kurdish Turkish military. In this context, a new Kurdish nationalist movement was birthed. Even still, the Kurds living in Turkey, for the most part, remained committed to resolving these differences through legitimate, democratic means.
However, the military juntas of Turkey were disinterested in handling the qualms of Kurds in their territories. Also, the Turkish government was viscerally opposed to granting Kurds their wish of being made independent, as that would cost Turkey a sizable amount of territory. Turkish territorial integrity was the raison d’êtat for Atatürk’s successful nationalist revolt in the first place. There was absolutely no way that the Turks were going to cede such a large chunk of land to a new state, such as the one that proponents of a free Kurdistan called for.
From then on, the Kurds had come to believe that the Turkish government would never work to resolve their differences democratically. As such, many Kurds took up arms against what they perceived to be unjust Turkish rule. In the 1980s, countless Kurds joined the Kurdish Nationalist-Marxist revolutionary movement known as the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (KPP). From 1984 to 1999, the PKK waged a violent guerrilla war against the Turkish military. While several laws were eventually enacted that began to liberalize the Turkish position toward the Kurds, the animosities remain, as Turkey has never fully stepped back from its repressive policies toward the Kurds living in its territory.
The Kurdish Angle of the War on the Islamic State
Today, despite the cooling of tensions between the PKK (please understand that the PKK is not the only Kurdish independence group in existence) and the Turkish government (an armistice was signed in 1999), the rise of the Islamic State has complicated relations between the Kurds and the Turks once more. Since the Islamic State has risen in Syria and taken large chunks of Iraq since 2014, it is the Kurds living in northern Iraq and Syria who have bore the brunt of the Islamic State’s rage. The Kurds of northern Iraq, with their gallant Peshmerga fighters have fought well against the savagery that the Islamic State employs, yet, the Kurds need assistance from the West.
In order for the U.S. and other Western powers to provide assistance in fighting the Islamic State, Turkey needs to play a key role. Indeed, Turkey has been committed to involving itself in the affairs of its former colonies of late. Therefore, Turkey has been committed to actions such as the toppling of Libyan dictator Colonel Muammar Gadaffi and deposing Syrian strongman President Bashar al-Assad. In this context, it has given support to various rebel factions in the Syrian Civil War, all in an effort to topple the Assad Regime. Yet, the one indigenous group that has been most effective in combating the Islamic State, the Kurds, has been the one group that the Turkish government has done almost nothing to help.
The reason for this is simple: the Turkish government fears the pall of Kurdish nationalism far more than it fears the threat posed by the Islamic State. As such, the Turks will gladly assist the U.S.-led coalition in its efforts to stem the Islamic State’s advance in Iraq, as well as to defeat the Islamic State in Syria, so long as that U.S. assistance does not empower the Kurds. While the Turks undoubtedly realize that any degree of U.S. assistance in the fight against the Islamic State will be of assistance to the Kurds, they have attached conditions onto the assistance they are willing to lend the U.S. and its coalition partners. One big caveat they have attached is that the U.S. may not conduct operations in its war against the Islamic State that would benefit the Kurds from U.S. bases in Turkey. Now, Turkey is a key strategic partner in this endeavor especially because of its fortuitous geography: as NATO partner, it has the ability to lend significant military aid to the U.S., and the fact that it is on the border of the states (Syria and Iraq) affected by the Islamic State, an efficient war effort can be mounted. Yet, because of the Kurdish issue, the war against the Islamic State is complicated.
The Turkish government fears what a resounding victory over the Islamic State would do for the Kurdish independence movement. Already, the Kurds in northern Iraq have been living in a quasi-independent state since the mid-1990s. The Kurds on the other side of the border in northern Syria (in places like Kobane), have been subjected to the worst terrors that the Islamic State can impose. As such, the Kurds operating out of northern Iraq have tried desperately to deploy their fearsome Peshmerga forces into Syria, in order to render aid and assistance to their brethren. These operations have been consistently complicated by Turkey’s meddling.
Also, as the northern Iraqi Kurds move to wage war on behalf of the northern Syrian Kurds, the Kurds of Turkey have been getting involved as well. This kind of coordination on the part of the separate Kurdish communities has sent the Turkish leadership into spasms. In their view, a quick and speedy end to the Kurdish-Islamic State War would herald a major movement to separate northern Syria and Iraq away from their home countries, cleave a sizable portion of southern Turkey away from Turkey, and create a new state in the region: Kurdistan.
This, more than the terror of the Islamic State, is what the government of Turkey fears most. It is why their assistance in the war against the Islamic State has been tepid. It is why the Turks ostensibly permitted the Islamic State to occupy the strategic city of Kobane–because IS control of that city would complicate Kurdish war efforts. Also, it is why we see pictures of battalions of Turkish soldiers sharing cigarettes with Islamic State fighters, as the Islamic State slaughters Kurds left-and-right.
Islamism & Neo-Ottomanism in Turkey Today
By the early 2000s, the secularists’ control over the government of Turkey was fading. Indeed, after fifty years of autocratic, wildly unpopular secular leaders, an Islamist countermovement had cropped up and gained popularity. In 2002, the “moderate” Islamist party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), overwhelmingly won the election and was swept into power. By 2014, the founder of the AKP (and former Prime Minister), Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was elected into office. Erdogan is a conservative Muslim, who seeks to rule Turkey in a way that comports with the cultural and political expectations of a conservative interpretation of Islam, yet, he also favors economic liberalization. What’s more, since his earliest years in government office, Erdogan has made comments indicating his adherence to a political ideology known as Neo-Ottomanism, or someone who seeks a return to the Ottoman Empire.
As President of Turkey, Erdogan has spent a considerable amount of time cracking down on elements of his own military (as the military is where the most amount of secularists emanate from). From 2009-2011, Erdogan sought to bring about a degree of reconciliation between the Kurdistan Worker’s Party and the Turkish government. In a bizarre twist, in 2011, President Erdogan ordered the destruction of a monument honoring the Armenian victims of the Turkish-backed 1918 Armenian Genocide. Erdogan is stringent denier of the Armenian Genocide. As President, Erdogan has moved to increase the power of the central government–specifically his power.
Indeed, President Erdogan has spent the past few years constructing some of the most ostentatious palaces in the Islamic world. Most notably, he ordered the construction of the Ak Saray palace. This was a wildly unpopular move that ultimately led the Turkish courts to declare it an illegal act. Reporters soon revealed that Erdogan and his people were engaged in rampant acts of corruption during the construction of the palace. Yet, despite being ordered by the Turkish courts to stop the construction of the palace, Erdogan continued its construction. Upon its completion in 2015, he moved in to the posh palace–in blatant defiance of the law.
Many have claimed that President Erdogan is intent on reestablishing the Ottoman Empire. Indeed, in recent years, he has committed significant Turkish investments into rebuilding the old imperial architecture that once linked the Ottoman Empire together. He is also known to use antiquated Ottoman words when referring to official government titles. And, Erdogan is fond of putting on the ornate Ottoman greetings for fellow Muslim leaders–greeting ceremonies that have not been seen for almost a century. When pressed of his desire to be a new Sultan, Erdogan informed the press that he does not seek to be like the Sultans of old, yet, he does seek to be a royal figure. There is little doubt, given the level of corruption, his commitment to rebuilding the Ottoman economic infrastructure that once ruled the Middle East, and Erdogan’s newest palace, that there is some truth to the claim that Erdogan seeks to rebuild the Ottoman Empire. This rings especially true when his devout, conservative interpretation of Islam is factored into his worldview.
The most egregious violation came in 2014, when it was revealed that Erdogan and senior members of his government were deeply involved in financial transactions with the leadership of the Islamic State. Once this news was reported, the Kurdish population in Turkey broke out in protest, as they assumed that the Turkish military allowed the Islamic State to capture Kobane and slaughter their Kurdish brethren in Syria. In one protest, 43 Kurds were killed by government forces. In order to quell the unrest, Erdogan announced that Turkey would involve itself deeper in the fight against the Islamic State.
In the summer of 2015, the Turkish military bombed some Islamic State sites. At the same time, however, they also destroyed key Kurdish Worker’s Party bases in Iraq.
Just as Islamism has come to dominate the domestic political structure of Turkey today, it has also come to permeate the culture and society of Turkey far more openly than it has in the last century, since the rise of Atatürk and his nationalist government. Indeed, recent polls of Turkish attitudes toward the Islamic State indicate that a disturbing–and growing–number of Turks sympathize with the Islamic State. Even as the Turks seek to impose a blockade on their southern border designed to stem the flow the refugees moving from Syria and Iraq into Turkey (as well as to prevent Kurdish forces from freely flowing into Turkey), the Turks are desperate to prevent scores of their citizens from pouring across the Turkish border, into Syria, in order to join the Islamic State.
Recently, President Erdogan applauded his people for having such a youthful population. Recognizing the importance of fertility rates for economic development, Mr. Erdogan insisted that Turkey must seek to maintain a largely youthful population and, as such, the Turks must have an average of three children per family. This, at a time, when Turkish unemployment levels have stayed consistently in the low double-digits. The economy in Turkey is struggling, particularly if you are a young Muslim male. Not finding any hope in the Turkish economy, being inculcated in Turkey’s newfound conservative Islamic political structure, and believing the Islamic State’s propaganda that theirs is the final Jihad that all holy Muslims seeking salvation must wage, many Turks may be seeking to join the ranks of the Islamic State.
I have to stress here that I am not saying that Turkey is pro-Islamic State. I am not saying that a majority of Turks are clamoring to take up arms for the Islamic State. What I am saying, however, is that Islamism is playing a significant role in the politics and worldview of Turkey. I think that the underlying message (salvation through Islam) and goal (rebuilding the Caliphate) of the Islamic State resonates deeply with a large number of Turks. Indeed, it likely has a resonance with the leader of Turkey, whose entire political career is predicated on his devout Islamist worldview coupled with his yearning to rebuild the Ottoman Empire–the last great Caliphate–of old.
Turkey Rebuilding the Ottoman Empire in Syria?
It might seem shocking to you, but what if I told you that the real, or at the very least, a compelling reason for the Russian intervention in Syria had little to do with the United States, the West, or Mr. Putin’s undying love for Bashar al-Assad? What if I told you that a key motivator for Putin’s intervention in the Syrian Civil War was out of fear that the Turks were reconstituting the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East? Well, don’t be surprised. That’s what I’m saying!
As I outlined in my previous post, “Putin Eyes the Pacific,” the Putin Regime is dedicated to rebuilding the Russian Empire in the form of the Eurasian Economic Union. In order to accomplish this task, President Putin must prevent any anti-Russian coalition or power from taking hold on his periphery. This explains why Putin is dedicated to the dissolution of the European Union and NATO, it explains why he is trying desperately to cleave as much of the Baltic States away from the West as he can, why he is trying to make a tenuous alliance with the Chinese, and why is serious about resolving the 70-year Kuril Island dispute with Japan. It is also why Putin is dead-set opposed to Turkey increasing its influence over its former Middle Eastern territories, or vilayet.
Syria was always a traditional holding of the Ottoman Empire. Once, long ago, it was the seat of the Abbasid Caliphate, then it became a conquered territory of the Ottomans. It was a highly valued and strategic holding for the Ottoman Empire. After the First World War, when the Sykes-Picot Agreement tore the Ottoman Empire asunder, Prince Faisal I, the Arab who led the Arab Revolt in the desert alongside T.E. Lawrence, was named ruler there. He was a Hashemite. The Ottomans had traditionally mistreated the Hashemites. Even after the monarchy in Syria was deposed and the former Ottoman lands fell into chaos and tyranny, the new nationalism and secularism of Atatürk’s Turkey meant that the Turks cared little about what happened in their former holdings.
The rise of Islamism in Turkey has brought with it a degree of revanchist, Neo-Ottoman, goals. Today, with a relative power vacuum opening up in the Middle East following the mismanaged U.S. Global War on Terror and the Arab Spring–and with the rise of Iran at hand–Turkey has decided to reinvigorate its efforts at rebuilding its old sphere of influence. Having supported the toppling of the Gadaffi Regime in Libya, I believe, Erdogan sees a pristine opportunity to topple the Alawite leader of Syria, Bashar Assad, and increase his influence there by placing Islamist rebels in charge of the country. This explains why Turkey has been so keen to fund, train, and equip a litany of Islamist rebel groups operating in the Syrian Civil War. It was why they insisted that, in exchange for increasing their involvement in the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State, the U.S. must dedicate itself to Turkey’s cause of toppling Assad.
To a man like Putin, obsessed with shoring up his own borders, this was a clear-and-present danger. Thus, when it seemed as though Assad would be unable to rebuke the growing opposition forces, despite Iranian assistance, the Russians intervened directly. This is why the Russians targeted all major Islamist opposition groups in the Syrian Civil War–the ones that America was supporting–because these were also groups that the Turks had identified as friendly to their interests. What’s more, Erdogan’s personal politics lend themselves to such an attempted power grab in the former Ottoman realm. It explains why Erdogan has been so emphatic about the removal of Assad, it also explains why Turkey shot down a Russian jet fighter last fall, and why Turkey has also been willing to work with the Islamic State.
The Airport Bombing on June 28, 2016
Within this context, the terrorist attack on the Atatürk International Airport in Istanbul occurred. The Islamic State is an ultra radical Sunni Muslim terror state. They view anyone who takes up with Jewish or Christian infidels as apostates. What’s more, they have proven their willingness to strike back at any state that joins the U.S.-led coalition against them. Regardless of whatever moral sympathy that many Turks may have for the Islamic State, despite the apparent Islamism of Erdogan and his government, and irrespective to the fact that many young Turks have joined (and still many may seek to join) the Islamic State, the fact is that the Turkish government has taken up arms against the Islamic State. As such, they will find themselves increasingly targeted by IS–especially with IS feeling the squeeze against both the U.S.-led coalition, as well as the parallel coalitions that the Russians, Syrians, and Iranians have established in Iraq and Syria. Turkey’s physical proximity to the region as well as its government-type (still technically a secular democracy aligned with the infidels of NATO) make it a primary target in the Islamic State’s ongoing war on civilization.
Over the past few years, Turkey has tried to play all sides against the middle. The June 28 Airport Bombing, I think, was the middle deciding to pack up and go home. At the same time that Turkey sought to increase its influence in the former Ottoman lands, it had to contend with increased Russian militarization at their border. While that was occurring, in their endeavor to overthrow Assad, the Turks found themselves lending aid and comfort to a retinue of Islamist groups–including the vile Islamic State. Also, as it sought to preserve its territorial integrity by not empowering Kurdish nationalism, the Turks found it easy to tacitly support the Islamic State. It also found that the Islamic State was an effective force against Assad, as well as against Iranian allies in Iraq, so Turkey did not mind giving a degree of backing to the Islamic State. Even as Turkey was finally cajoled into action (only after fear that inaction against IS during the Siege of Kobane would lead to the very Kurdish separatism that Turkey was seeking to hinder) by the U.S. and others, the Turks took tepid action against the Islamic State whilst blasting the hell out of the PKK forces in Iraq. Again, the Kurdish forces being the most effective indigenous fighting force in resisting the Islamic State’s seemingly ceaseless advance.
All of this has led to a degree of strategic confusion on the part of the Turks. It has also infected the U.S.-led war effort and has drastically decreased the efficacy of the war. Turkey is a vital component of NATO. It sits atop a geostrategically vital part of the world. Indeed, there was a reason that the long-running Ottoman Empire was based out of modern day Turkey. Turkey does not benefit from a chaotic Middle East. Yet, its desire to rebuild the Ottoman Empire along Islamist lines has caused a great deal of problems for the Turks. The bombing that occurred yesterday was the result of the Islamic State feeling the squeeze and looking for a target of opportunity. No one in the Turkish government should be surprised that the rabid dog of the Islamic State turned and bit the hand that fed them. As time progresses and the Islamic State is allowed to continue existing on–always avoiding that final, decisive hammer blow, in part, because the U.S. and Turkey are not on the same page–the Turks should expect more vicious terrorist attacks.
The fact of the matter is that Turkey sits at the crossroads of civilization: it is a geographical and cultural nexus of the West, the Islamic world, and the East. As I mentioned above, Turkey is a long-time member of NATO. It is also a country that seeks membership into the European Union. Turkey, as a hub of three civilizations, is a bustling zone of commerce and travel. The Atatürk International Airport is the third busiest airport in the world. Because of these facts, Turkey will continue to be in the crosshairs of the Islamic State. It is simply too tempting a target.
The U.S. needs Turkey in its fight against the Islamic State. What’s more, the Middle East needs a strong Turkey. President Erdogan needs to stop trying to play both ends against the middle and realize that he will have to take actions that may ostensibly assist the Kurdish liberation movement, in order to squelch the Islamic State now. Kurdish independence is a problem for tomorrow. As the Airport Attacks demonstrate, Turkey has to lend its considerable capabilities in defeating the Islamic State, if it is to have any chance of having a peaceful existence.