Turkey, a fourth front against Israel?

June 7, 2010

“By gnawing through a dike, even a rat may drown a nation.” – Edmund Burke

Turkey has long been held up as an exemplar of a model Islamic state; secular, moderate, democratic, and collegial. Nonetheless, the inherent contradictions of an “Islamic republic” may be coming home to roost in Anatolia – putting the lie to secular, moderate, and collegial.

Ankara, a NATO “partner”, has been backsliding for some time now; indeed, ever since the Islamists achieved power in democratic elections. The so-called “freedom flotilla” which attempted to run the blockade to Gaza a few days ago is the latest symptom of the march backwards. The convoy, masquerading as humanitarian relief, originated in Turkey with a political cargo of 700 pro-Hamas activists – spoiling for confrontation. The agitators got the fight they were looking for, and predictably, Israel is now vilified for defending its borders against hard core Islamist Turks and a small mixed bag of “progressive” nitwits.

Lest there be any doubt about Turkey/Hamas nexus in this contrived confrontation at sea, it should be noted that the unrealized port of debarkation in Gaza was festooned with Turkish flags and a gargantuan portrait of Recep Tuyyip Erdogan, Turkish Prime Minister. The Turkish sponsor of the Gaza flotilla is the IHH (Isani Yardim Vakfi), a radical Islamist organization registered In Istanbul with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood (al Ikhwan) and the Union of Good (Itilaf al-kahayr), a collective of Islamist funds which supports Hamas.

We might also note that Hamas itself is a militant step-child of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, a network now operating in over 40 countries. The Brotherhood is illegal in Egypt where it has been responsible for countless assassination attempts and gratuitous acts of terror for nearly a century. Nonetheless, Hamas is held up as the people’s representative in Gaza. Never mind that the Hamas insurgency split the Palestinians into two irreconcilable factions. Yet, somehow Israel is supposed negotiate a two state solution with two groups of Arab fanatics, who can’t share the same tent, no less a country.

Caroline Glick’s 15 Oct piece in the Jerusalem Post ”How Turkey was Lost”, sounded an early alarm about the Turkish malignancy, a cautionary tale about confusing elections with democracy. She described Ankara’s back sliding since the election of Erdogan, head of the formerly outlawed Islamist AKP. Since Erdogan came to power in 2002, Turkey has given Hamas a reception usually reserved for heads of state, eliminated the visa requirements for Syrian travelers to Turkey, and now cancelled air exercises with Israel and begun joint military maneuvers with Syria. Glick seems to believe that the Turks have cast their lot with the Shiite Crescent. If what she suggests is true; we now have an Islamist fox in the NATO henhouse – and Turkey’s campaign for membership in the European Union has hit the hard rocks of reality.

The irony of elections in a country with a Muslim majority is that it often represents the camel’s nose under the tent; opening the door for religious opportunists to hold the one election that could be the last. On this score, Algeria evokes hot flashes of déjà vu. Islamists might be fanatics, but they’re not morons; they will use Western institutions to undo apostates and infidels. Such are the vicissitudes of democracy. And such is the dilemma also in Afghanistan; where the choice is between the corruptible Karzai and the incorruptible Taliban, Mullah Omar. Not too many good options in this neighborhood. If Omar ever ran in a UN supervised election; he might win in a landslide.

The big problem with Afghanistan, like Iraq before, is its potential for distraction. The only accomplishment of elections in Iraq was to reverse the sectarian poles – and assist Iraq in becoming the second Shiite nation in the Crescent, another potential ally for theocratic Tehran. Over time, American good intentions have managed to do to Iraq what the ayatollahs could not.

Land-locked Afghanistan is not an immediate, or should we say proximate, threat to America or Israel. Afghanistan has six neighbors; five of which are Muslim states, all with a vested interest in neutering the Taliban and al Qaeda.  As Bernard Lewis has reminded us so many times; Islamic fundamentalism is more of a threat to dar al Islam (the Muslim world) than it is to the West.

Elections in Turkey, Iraq, and Afghanistan could be meaningless. And another UN supervised circus proves nothing. Nation building might better be done by the natives. If we can’t influence electoral probity in Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, or the Emirates; why do we think we can do it in Kabul?   With Turkey now backsliding, the European Union pandering, and the White House apologizing; someone might ask why another American kid should die in any Muslim backwater to underwrite another election.  Indeed, the larger question should be: why does the West need to save Islam from itself?

The difference between the Bush and Obama brands of Islamic illusions are negligible. The Turkish slide to the theocratic side drops one of the last veils covering the “moderation” myth. Turkey, on a larger scale, is similar to Algeria; Islamists will use elections to come to power, but their objective is not pluralism, moderation, or any notion of democracy as we know it.

The exposure of Islamic irredentism in Turkey may be a blessing. Turkey was long thought to be a progressive influence in the Muslim world, a bulwark against the worst instincts of Islam. Indeed, Turkey was thought also to be a friend and ally of Israel. The Turkish attempt to break the Gaza blockade is a signal event; non-state Sunni actors in the terror campaign against Israel are giving way to Turk and Persian state sponsors. Ankara and Tehran may now take the lead in the jihad against Israel and the West.

Indeed, the Turkish flotilla fiasco opens a fourth front against Israel. Shiite and Sunni terror groups torment Israel from three directions on land; and now an unapologetic Muslim state sponsor agitates on the high seas. Arabs and Persians make common cause when it comes to Israel and now the Turks have joined the anti-Semitic axis on a sea-going front. These “freedom” flotillas have a lot more to do with intimidating Israel than they have to do with assisting Gaza.

The seismic signals from Turkey may provide some incentive for America and its allies to reexamine alliance membership and strategy – in the war “we are not having with Islam.” Ankara’s NATO participation was long thought to be a reward for modern democratic institutions. Now, other questions need to be answered; did we let a Muslim democracy into NATO or has the Western alliance been suborned by a theocratic 5th column? More importantly, if and when the Israeli navy meets another “freedom” flotilla off Gaza, this time with a Turkish naval escort; what’s the NATO battle plan?


American Intelligence; Too Big to Succeed?

June 5, 2010

“Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” – Abraham Lincoln

The top Intelligence job in the national security arena has claimed another victim. Dennis Blair, Director of National Intelligence (DNI), titular head of the Intelligence Community (IC), has announced plans to retire. Pundits suggest his departure was not voluntary. Blair is seen as the fall guy for a string of recent Intelligence “failures,” the most recent of which was an attempted bombing of Times Square on 1 May. Ironically, Blair has no line or budget authority over any of the 16 disparate intelligence agencies; and, as a former military officer, he doesn’t have any political cover either. More culpable line officials like Leon Panetta (CIA) and Janet Napolitano (DHS) are both well-connected Democrats and thus less likely to be called to account.

A number of potential successors for Blair have surfaced, the most prominent of which is James Clapper. A former Air Force officer, Clapper is the current Undersecretary for Intelligence at DOD. Like Robert Gates, General Capper is a holdover from the Bush years and as such may not be a slam dunk for the job.

If credentials and experience mean anything, Clapper is well prepared. He began his military career as a Marine Corps grunt, transferred to ROTC at the University of Maryland and received a commission in the Air Force. He began his career as a signals (SIGINT) officer and he has favored the technical side of Intelligence ever since. He served as a combat aviator in Vietnam and rose to command a wing at the National Security Agency (NSA). He went on to become the chief of Air Force Intelligence and director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).

Clapper’s distinctive contribution to the Intelligence business is the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency. This little known technological wonder is the digital brains behind the American capability to locate, analyze, and target the enemy in real time. Indeed, this geo-strategic identification and strike capability is the new “gold standard” – a unique American intelligence capability.

Officers like Clapper are known as “mustangs,” soldiers with pedestrian blood lines who rise through the ranks. He was a former enlisted man, he did not go to an elite university, and he did not graduate from one of the prestigious military academies. In short, he is not a “ring knocker,” not one of those military academy graduates with a sense of entitled promotions. Jim Clapper is a classic American success story; and unlike most of his contemporaries, a genuine Horatio Alger.

So why in the name of rationality would he want the worst job in Washington? The DNI has no real line authority and no budgetary means to control events in subordinate Intelligence agencies.

General Clapper’s motives will be examined in detail if he appears before Congress for confirmation. Beforehand, the long knives on the Hill and in the Press are already evident. Several politicians have already suggested that they would prefer the likes of Leon Panetta – or some other well-wired party loyalist. Those who argue for politicized managers seldom mention the fiasco cooked up by the ever sentient former CIA Director, George Tenent, for the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq; an “analysis” that was later used as the basis for Colin Powell’s disastrous and disingenuous presentation at the UN in 2003.

A faux controversy over DIA (1992-1995) is already evident.  In the early 90’s Clapper tried to reorient the analytical focus from area studies to more technical intelligence concerns, e.g., weapons systems. Consistent with his background, Clapper presumed to think that Intelligence ought to focus on the things it does well. If he believes that geo-strategic navel gazing and wishful thinking are better done elsewhere; he is probably right and politically incorrect at the same time. Recent NIE’s on Iraq and Iran provide more than ample evidence to support any skepticism about geo-political analysis that Clapper might have had. He may not have made poor decisions at DIA, but he did make enemies.

The analytical controversy is sure to accompany Clapper to his confirmation hearings if and when he is nominated. Critics hail from an agency that was formed from the detritus of the military intelligence agencies; four stovepipes that DIA was supposed to supersede. Yet, the Service intelligence agencies and DIA survive today – not without rancor. From the beginning, DIA was known within DOD as a “mushroom” factory, a moniker consistent with the original work space in the basement of the Pentagon. When most employees moved to Bolling AFB, cynics rechristened DIA as the “death star,” an  allusion to the fate of some careers and the black glass monolith which serves as the new workspace. Fools may be suffered gladly at DIA, then as now, but change was seldom among them.

If and when Clapper takes the hot seat on Capital Hill a host of challenges other than petty critics await: centralization of Intelligence authority, analytical competence, redundancy, duplication, community size, politicization, and the growing sense that the Intelligence Community just doesn’t work – a leviathan too big to succeed.

Jim Clapper is known to be an advocate of centralized line authority and an enemy of bureaucratic duplication. He favors focused analysis and the challenge of making heretofore disparate factions come together synergistically. Although he is known as a chap who plays well with others, Clapper’s ability to swim with political sharks like Panetta, Napolitano, and John Brennan (White House homeland security advisor) is still a cipher. Beyond loyalty, none of the latter three have shown any flair for national security performance other than party lines and political correctness.

In many ways the Intelligence Community is the product of Lincoln Log engineering, each crisis or failure seems to generate more spending, more bureaucracy. With no political axes to grind, Jim Clapper could deftly wield a stiletto and reshape a leaner and meaner national security community, where competence, not size or spending, becomes the dominant idiom.

The appointment of a new DNI is also a test for the administration, a test to see if the White House is serious about improved performance. The White House may offer line and budget authority as an incentive for the next candidate, knowing that only Congress can deliver on such a promise. Many on the Hill harbor reservations about Intelligence “czars” and more than a few opposed the idea of DNI to begin with.

If General Clapper is nominated, he will do so as a mustang, a scrapper who made the most of modest beginnings. He knows the business and he is not afraid to rock the boat. He has the street credentials, integrity, and independence to remold institutions sorely in need of diet and sharper focus. If he takes the job with no assurances of getting line and budget authority, he will, unfortunately, go down in history as just another gelding coursing through the Intelligence Community, an inscrutable “wilderness of mirrors.”

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The author is the former Director of Research and Russian Studies (aka Soviet Awareness), Bolling AFB; he served under General Clapper when Clapper was the Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence, HQ USAF. The author also served two tours with DIA.

(This essay was originally published in the 02 June 10 edition of American Thinker.)