Repeating Churchill’s Bungles: Will US Drive Turkey into Joining the Shanghai Pact?

In 1917, the professional head of the British Army, Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson in 1917 explained why the Allies were losing World War I because they kept pouring out lives, weapons and resources on capturing tiny unimportant locations on the Western Front while Imperial Germany conquered Eastern and Southern Europe, invading and occupying one major country after another:

“We take Bullecourt, they take Rumania; We take Messines, they take Russia; We don’t take Passchendaele, they take Italy,” Wilson told Winston Churchill.

Today, Washington is moving heaven and earth to integrate such major world powers as Macedonia, Montenegro and Georgia into NATO to join those vital pillars of world security Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. And at the same time, it is obsessed with imposing ruinous sanctions on Turkey.

Yet Turkey has been a major member of NATO for 63 years. It continues to play a crucial role in US strategic deployments across the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. Its cooperation is absolutely essential to ensure the supply and – if war were ever to break out Russia – the very survival of all US warships operating in the Black Sea.

Feckless, passive and ignorant President Barack Obama allowed US relations with Turkey to deteriorate to their worst ever state.

It is no secret that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is convinced that the US military were involved in the serious coup attempt that nearly cost him his life two years ago. Those suspicions are certainly widely believed among top Turkish policymakers.

Faced with such unprecedented suspicions and strains in the US –Turkish alliance, President Donald Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the US Congress should be working overtime to build relations, cooperation and long-term trust with Turkey.

They are doing no such thing. With stunning insouciance and crass ignorance, both parties in Congress seek out every opportunity to insult Turkey, give aid and comfort to forces traditionally hostile to the country and now are happily supporting devastating new tariffs.

As internationally respected commentator M. K. Bhadrakumar warned on this platform, “The sense of indignation among Turks should not be underestimated, which makes this an exceptional rupture.”

It is not as if Washington could sanely assess that Turkey was internationally isolated. On the contrary, Ankara enjoys excellent relations with Russia, China, India and Iran. US and NATO policies once again are backfiring and isolating their perpetrators, not the countries they target.

It is eerily fitting that neoconservatives and neoliberals worship the deified Winston Churchill so much. For it was Churchill’s personal bungling that that brought the Turkish Ottoman Empire needlessly into World War I on the side of Imperial Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

In August 1914, Churchill, as First Lord of the Admiralty, the political head of the British Navy, ordered the seizure of the Sultan Osman I and the Reshadieh, two state-of-the-art new Dreadnought battleships being built for Turkey in British shipyards (The Turks had already paid four billion pounds sterling for them). Britain did not even need the two battleships. It had a wide margin of maritime superiority over the German High Seas Fleet. But the move was the political and psychological equivalent of telling Turkey today that the United States is not going to sell Ankara the F-35 Joint Strike Fighters it had promised.

Turkey had been a loyal and major British ally at least since the Ochakoff Incident of 1791.But after Churchill’s bungle popular outrage in Turkey was overwhelming. It decisively swung the delicate balance in Constantinople that led the ruling, secular Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) into Berlin’s orbit.

Turkey went to war, cutting off the vital Anglo-French maritime supply route through the Dardanelles Strait into the Black Sea and cutting off Imperial Russia. Toi open that waterway, Churchill pushed the catastrophic and utterly bungled Gallipoli campaign in 1915. It cost the British, Irish, Australians and New Zealanders who fought there more than 140,000 casualties including 44,000 dead. The Turks lost 86,000 dead.

Churchill was sacked from the British government for his bungling. He then devoted the heart of his enormous six-volume postwar memoir “The World Crisis” to trying to pass the blame for his failures off on everybody else.

Today, Washington’s reckless and abusive policies towards Turkey are repeating the catastrophic bungles that Churchill inflicted more than a century ago.

An increasing number of Turks no longer trust NATO: Instead, they fear it. The only other obvious international security body for Turkey to seek protection with is the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which in June pulled off the extraordinary coup of expanding to include India and Pakistan at the same time.

As Arkady Savitsky has noted in this journal, Turkey is already a dialogue partner with the SCO. It is also considering a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). President Erdogan has also made clear he would like Turkey to join the BRICS bloc which, like the SCO includes Russia, China and India.

If President Erdogan decides to leave NATO to join the SCO, and drops Brussels to replace it with Shanghai, even Washington and London will have to sit up and take notice. Yet the logic of the policies and rhetoric being spewed out of the Western capitals can only drive Turkey to that outcome, seeking its own security and survival.