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How to Lose Friends and Alienate People

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It is amazing yet somehow impressive how Washington manages to make so many countries irritated and resentful. There’s an art in it, really. Take the case of Turkey, Pakistan and pilot training.

Following an attempted coup in Turkey last year its air force ran short of pilots, which wasn’t surprising because several of them flew their aircraft in support of the rebels and were promptly punished after the uprising collapsed.  680 pilots (of a total 1,380) were dismissed in President Erdogan’s post-coup purge.  So it became necessary to train more pilots to fly the Turkish Air Force’s 240 Lockheed Martin F-16 multirole strike aircraft that it bought from the United States.

Irrespective of whether we consider Erdogan to be an admirable pillar of righteous freedom or a malevolently vicious near-dictator, the fact remains that Turkey is a member of the US-NATO military alliance whose Secretary General, the internationally important Jens Stoltenberg, has said that “Turkey is a key ally for many reasons, but especially for its strategic geographic location [being] . . . close to Russia in the Black Sea.”  That partnership appears to be especially valued by the rabidly anti-Russian Stoltenberg, but perhaps not so much by the United States, whose recent refusal of cooperation in provision of Turkish Air Force pilot training was a diplomatic disaster.

According to Turkey’s Hürriyet newspaper, “the United States has refused to send F-16 warplane trainers to Turkey after Ankara requested them in order to fill the gap in the number of Turkish jet pilots.”  So Turkey asked Pakistan to send three instructors, but “the US objected to Pakistan sending F-16 jet pilot trainers to Turkey, based on the agreement that US-origin equipment’s purchase, sale, maintenance and training between third countries needed approval from Washington.”

Why deny approval?  Here are two countries, both of which have ties to the US and operate US-supplied F-16 aircraft and they want to get together and help each other in training pilots to fly these planes.  What’s the problem?

Surely the provision of three flying instructors to a NATO country by Pakistan, a country that was declared a “Major Non-NATO Ally” in 2004 by no less a figure than President George W Bush, can’t be controversial?  After all, the designation of “Major Non-NATO Ally” is a distinction “given by the US government to exceptionally close allies.”

But this “exceptionally close ally” whose own air force has 70 US-supplied F-16 aircraft is not permitted to send three F-16 instructors to train pilots of US-supplied F-16 aircraft in an air force of a country that is a major member of the US-NATO military alliance.  That is bizarre.

In May 2017 President Trump declared that it was “a great honor to welcome the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to the White House.”  Relations were obviously cordial.  And Mr Trump had been even more effusive about Pakistan’s corrupt (and since dismissed) Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, just after his election, when he said in a phone call that “you are a terrific guy. You are doing amazing work which is visible in every way. I am ready and willing to play any role that you want me to play to address and find solutions to the outstanding problems . . .  Your country is amazing with tremendous opportunities. Pakistanis are one of the most intelligent people.”

But times change, and the fantasy world of Trump Tweet has taken over US policy. Pakistan is now, according to Trump, an outcast nation that has “sheltered the same organizations that try every single day to kill our people. We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting.”  Pakistanis are no longer considered to be “one of the most intelligent people.”

But the United States has been waging a worsening war in Afghanistan for sixteen years and wants desperately to escape, and Pakistan can help it get out of its catastrophic disaster.

The US needs Pakistan as an ally, not an enemy.

As to Turkey, it is doubtful that Trump understands the intricacies of its politics and especially its relations with its Kurdish population and diaspora. As put so well by The Atlantic on August 23, there is a “thicket of competing interests that characterizes one of America’s most important military partnerships. At the center of the difficulty is American efforts in Syria, which rely fundamentally on a collection of local forces among whom are actors Turkey considers terrorists.”

This is an extremely complex and sensitive situation. It demands most careful and circumspect diplomacy, fine-tuned to achieve the US objective of defeating Islamic State while furthering trust and cooperation with Turkey.

The US State Department declares that “Turkey is an important US security partner [and] has been a valued North Atlantic Treaty Organization Ally since 1952 . . .”  In other words, Turkey is a vital cog in the US war machine that has geared up for ultimate confrontation with Russia.

The Pentagon doesn’t admit it has nuclear weapons in Turkey, but as the Washington Post recorded last year, “US officials are loath to discuss the location of nuclear weapons, but Air Force budget documents state that ‘special weapons’ are stored in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey. That’s a delicate way of saying nuclear weapons . . .”

It is hardly a secret that the weapons in the bunkers at Incirlik air base are B-61 nuclear bombs intended for delivery by US F-16s.

Incirlik has an interesting history, and the USAF writes that “the base was the main U-2 operating location until May 1960, when Francis Gary Powers’ U-2 aircraft succumbed to a volley of Soviet surface-to-air missiles over Sverdlovsk.” You would think from this statement that the U-2 flew from Incirlik on its illegal spying mission over Russia.  But it didn’t.

It flew from an airbase at Peshawar in Pakistan, a valued US ally in the Cold War, and an important partner in all sorts of US initiatives. For example, it was used by Henry Kissinger to disguise his epoch-making trip to China in 1971 which had been facilitated by Pakistan’s President Yahya Khan who had gone to Beijing and “secretly discussed a future visit to China by an American envoy.”  The level of trust between China and Pakistan remains a major factor in international affairs, as does that between Pakistan and Turkey.

Nevertheless, Washington is now in the process of tearing up Pakistan and throwing it away, and there’s nothing Pakistan can do about it.  But Turkey has reacted firmly to US fandangos and on September 12 the BBC reported that Turkey “signed a controversial deal with Russia to arm its forces with Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missiles. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said a deposit had already been paid. The deal is thought to be worth $ 2.5 billion.”

We are now in the realms of Alice in Wonderland when the Cheshire Cat told her that “If you don’t know where you are going any road can take you there.”

The United States has nuclear weapons stored in a country that is a partner in a military alliance that is strategically directed to the military defeat of Russia. And Russia is about to supply Turkey with weapons for national defense, including that of the base at which these nuclear weapons are stored.

But all that the Generals trying to run the Trump administration can do is to alienate yet another country by jabbing a silly pinprick.  US diplomacy is foundering on the rocks of ignorance and arrogance, and Washington is losing friends and alienating people at an alarming rate.

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Brian Cloughley writes about foreign policy and military affairs. He lives in Voutenay sur Cure, France.

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