Massenbach-Letter.NEWS 3.3.17

* Carnegie Europe: Turkey’s Domestically Driven Foreign Policy *


    * Carnegie Europe: Turkey’s Domestically Driven Foreign Policy* 

Ankara faces a number of foreign policy challenges, from the war in Syria to relations with the West. In each case, Turkey’s options are determined by domestic priorities.

As citizens of Turkey head to a crucial vote on April 16 on whether to adopt a new constitution, the country’s leadership is facing multiple challenges on the external front: Syria, Russia, the United States, NATO, and the EU. Typically, each of these challenges is closely linked to Turkey’s tense domestic political situation.

With Operation Euphrates Shield, Turkish armed forces are involved in Syria in a rare expeditionary combat mission. Albeit geographically limited (no troops or armor are more than 19 miles from the Turkish border, meaning all resupply, maintenance, and rescue operations are completed within hours), the mission has already taken a substantial toll on soldiers and equipment.

Euphrates Shield is officially designed to fight troops of the self-styled Islamic State and push them away from the Turkish border. This goal has been partly achieved, including through Turkey’s proclaimed capture of the Syrian town of al-Bab on February 24. But the actual aim of the mission is to prevent Syrian Kurdish forces (the People’s Protection Units, or YPG) from reuniting their Kobane district, east of the Euphrates River, with their westernmost district of Afrin, as that would give the Syrian Kurds control of most of the Syrian-Turkish border. Ankara’s narrative is that both branches of the Syrian Kurdish organization—the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the YPG, its military wing—are mere subsidiaries of the Kurdish separatist movement of Turkey, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

This is where foreign policy blends with domestic politics. To succeed in its current domestic strategy of crushing both the pro-Kurdish political party in Turkey, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), and the insurgent PKK to win the upcoming referendum, given the Kurds’ opposition to the proposed constitution, the leadership in Ankara needs international support. That implies convincing Russia and Western powers to drop their support for the Syrian Kurds.

But the reality on the international scene is very different. Both Washington and Moscow crucially rely on the YPG to advance on Raqqa, the so-called Syrian capital of the Islamic State. The YPG troops are remarkably effective and have received military supplies and operational support from the United States and other Western countries. They are also supported by Moscow.

More importantly, in the current proxy war against the Islamic State, the YPG forces are by far the most battle ready and the most successful in combat. Retaking Raqqa without the YPG, as Turkey is demanding, is next to impossible. Neither Washington nor Moscow is likely to risk mixing Syrian Kurdish forces with Turkish troops, a recipe for inevitable trouble and possible failure on the ground.

Ankara is replicating its request on the political front and wants to exclude the Syrian Kurds from the international talks on Syria that have just restarted in Geneva. This, again, is almost impossible, as Washington has consistently argued in favor of their involvement for the sake of lasting peace in northern Syria. Ankara is probably betting on a policy reversal by the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump—although, as with other U.S. foreign policy choices, the White House’s next move is anybody’s guess.

In addition, Turkey will face Moscow’s opposition, because Russian President Vladimir Putin clearly stated in September 2015 Russia’s desire to see the Syrian Kurds as one of the pillars of a political settlement. In other words, Ankara faces two major challenges in Syria: a military and a political one.

Yet, Turkey repeatedly boasts about its military operation on Syrian territory and its participation in direct talks on Syria with both Russia and Iran. Turkey has consistently aimed at restoring close cooperation with Russia since a Turkish fighter jet shot down a Russian Sukhoi aircraft in November 2015 and an off-duty Turkish policeman assassinated the Russian ambassador to Turkey in the heart of Ankara in December 2016. This reconciliation has been achieved in part, allowing Turkey to break the diplomatic isolation that followed the extensive repression after the July 2016 failed coup and entertain a proud nationalist narrative internally.

However, seen from abroad, Turkey’s foreign military operation and its diplomatic successes are rather limited and offset by risks taken along the way. In particular, the question arises of whether Ankara has become a pawn in Moscow’s vast chess game aimed at systematically undermining both NATO and the EU, especially in defense and energy.

The Turkish minister of defense declared on February 22 that discussions on the purchase of Russian S400 missiles for Turkey’s antimissile defense were progressing well, which was revealing of the country’s current foreign policy conundrum. If Ankara were to build its entire missile defense architecture around Russian systems, it would associate itself with Moscow and strike two major blows to NATO’s policies: first, by introducing Russian-made systems and accompanying experts into NATO’s second-largest conventional army; and second, by leaving a gaping hole in NATO’s own missile defense shield, to which Turkey has repeatedly committed itself.

One can easily comprehend Ankara’s tactical appetite for such a move, but its strategic implications would be of unfathomable depth, especially if a yes vote in the upcoming referendum gave Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan almost unlimited powers until 2029.

In comparison with these strategic stakes, Turkey’s relationship with the EU now looks almost benign, although greatly significant on the economic and rule-of-law fronts. With the state of emergency imposed after the failed coup, Turkey’s rule-of-law architecture has been so degraded that no progress on the country’s EU accession talks can realistically be expected. Similarly, steps toward visa liberalization—a mutually desirable objective—are impeded by Turkey’s firm priority to keep its antiterrorism law as it is.

Again, a yes vote in the referendum is likely to result in an almost permanent state of emergency and minimal rule-of-law standards. That is nothing that would worry Moscow much, but it would bring the EU-Turkey relationship to a transactional rather than a strategic level. A modernized EU-Turkey Customs Union is likely to become the only flagship project between Turkey and the EU.

All politics are local: Turkey’s current foreign policy choices are dictated by domestic political imperatives. Ankara’s foreign military operations and postures, as well as a key defense decision and deliberate backtracking on progress toward EU membership, are only parts of an internal power drive. The likely winner: Putin, more than Erdoğan.





* Putin says wants to stabilize Syria’s ‘legitimate’ power* 

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that Moscow’s goal in Syria was to “stabilize the legitimate authority” and strike a “decisive blow” against terrorism.

“We have no plans to interfere in Syria’s internal affairs,” he told a group of naval officers returning from Syria, where six years of war have killed more than 310,000 people.

“Our task is to stabilize the legitimate authority in the country and strike a decisive blow against international terrorism,” said Putin, whose administration is a key ally of the regime of President Bashar Assad.

Putin said the naval force had fulfilled its objective of helping to “create the conditions for pursuing peace talks between the Syrian government and the armed opposition.”

He also said that Russia’s Syria intervention had “contributed directly to Russia’s security.” According to Russian intelligence services, about 4,000 Russian citizens and 5,000 citizens from the former Soviet Union are fighting alongside the Daesh in Syria, Putin said, posing an “enormous risk” for Russia.

Putin’s comments, broadcast on Russian television, came as UN-backed peace talks were opening in Geneva between opposition and government delegations.

“The sooner the country reaches a political settlement, the better the chances for the international community to put an end to the terrorist plague on Syrian territory,” he said.

Russia began its military intervention to bolster Assad’s forces in September 2015, turning the tables on the battlefield just as rebel forces were strengthening their hold on key areas.

Russian bombardments helped the regime retake rebel areas in the east of the northern city of Aleppo after four years of fighting.

Sen. John McCain, one of President Donald Trump’s harshest critics, made a secret trip to northern Syria to visit US forces stationed there and discuss the campaign for defeating the Daesh, his office said Wednesday. The Arizona Republican’s visit to the war-torn country occurred as a major battle nears to oust the militants from Raqqa, the capital of the Daesh’s self-declared caliphate. A statement from the senator’s office did not give the dates of his travel, saying only that he made the visit last week.

“Senator McCain’s visit was a valuable opportunity to assess dynamic conditions on the ground in Syria and Iraq,” the statement reads. It says the president “has rightly ordered a review of US strategy and plans to defeat” the Daesh and McCain looks forward to working with the administration and military leaders “to optimize our approach.”

McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has voiced escalating concerns with Trump. He recently declared his administration in disarray and expressed concern over how national security decisions are being handled. During a speech Friday at the Munich Security Conference, McCain delivered a withering critique of Trump’s worldview as he lamented a shift in the US and Europe away from the “universal values” that forged the Western alliance 70 years ago.

McCain on Monday welcomed Trump’s selection of Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster to be his national security adviser, calling the pick an “outstanding choice.”

McCain also quietly traveled to Syria in 2013 to meet with rebels fighting President Bashar Assad’s forces. That visit took place amid meetings in Paris involving efforts to secure participation of Syria’s fractured opposition in an international peace conference in Geneva. It is unusual, however, for members of Congress to visit Syria, which has no diplomatic relations with the United States.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, generated a backlash when she visited Syria in January and met with Assad. Gabbard, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, is an outspoken opponent of what she’s called “our counterproductive regime change war” in Syria.

But Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Illinois, an Air Force veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Gabbard gave Assad credibility by meeting with him.

Lawmakers have accused the Assad government of war crimes and even genocide as the number of people killed during the violence in Syria continues to mount. The war, now in its sixth year, has killed hundreds of thousands of people, contributed to Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II and given the Daesh room to grow into a global terror threat.


*From our Russian News Desk. (The views expressed are the author‘s own.)*







 US Senator Lamar Alexander (Tennessee) about Obamacare.

I’d like to share with you some of what I’ve been working on in Tennessee and Washington recently. The committee that I chair held nomination hearings for Betsy DeVos to lead the U.S. Department of Education and Dr. Tom Price to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. Both Mrs. DeVos and Dr. Price were confirmed by the Senate in February.

I also chaired a hearing on addressing the Obamacare emergency in the individual insurance market and invited Tennessee state insurance commissioner Julie Mix McPeak to testify. McPeak in August described the Tennessee Obamacare exchange as “very near collapse” – in two thirds of our counties, Tennesseans have only one insurance company, and this year Tennesseans are paying 44 to 62 percent more in health insurance premiums. I look forward to working with President Trump, Vice President Pence, and Secretary Price to begin the process of repealing Obamacare and replacing it simultaneously with concrete, practical reforms that give Americans access to truly affordable health care.

Working to rescue Americans trapped in an “Obamacare emergency”

There is an Obamacare emergency in Tennessee. Humana just announced last week that it is pulling out of all Obamacare exchanges for 2018 – meaning that 40,000 Knoxville residents on the exchange may have zero options for health insurance next year. They have an Obamacare subsidy, but it’ll be like holding a bus ticket in a town where no buses run. And Tennesseans just went through an enrollment period where 171,000 of them had to pick new plans because United and Blue Cross Blue Shield TN reduced offerings for 2017.

The news from Humana should light a fire under every member of Congress to work together to rescue Americans trapped in the failing Obamacare exchanges before they have no insurance options next year.

In January, the Senate took the first step toward building better health care systems by voting on a budget resolution that provides the tools necessary to begin repealing Obamacare. I have proposed a three-part plan for repealing and replacing Obamacare simultaneously and concurrently, as President Trump and Speaker Paul Ryan have suggested. To me, ‘simultaneously’ and ‘concurrently’ mean Obamacare should be finally repealed only when there are concrete, practical reforms in place that give Americans access to truly affordable health care. The American people deserve health care reform that’s done in the right way, for the right reasons, in the right amount of time. It’s not about developing a quick fix. It’s about working toward long-term solutions that works for everyone.

If a local bridge in Tennessee were ‘very near collapse,’ the first thing you would do is send in a rescue crew to repair it temporarily so no one else is hurt. Then you would build a better bridge—or more accurately, many bridges— to replace the old bridge. Finally, when the new bridges are finished, you would close the old bridge.

Similarly, we will first send in a rescue crew to repair temporarily a collapsing health care market so no one else is hurt. Then, step by step, we will build better systems that give Americans access to truly affordable health care. We will do this by moving health care decisions out of Washington, D.C., and back to states and patients.

Finally, we will repair the damage that Obamacare has caused millions of Americans. We will do that by replacing Obamacare with better, lower-cost alternatives and repealing the parts of Obamacare that have caused the damage. While we will vote to repeal Obamacare this year, the repeal will take effect when concrete, practical alternatives are in place.

I wrote more about my plan on Medium. ( )

Following my recommendation, the Department of Health and Human Services last week released a proposed rule on market stabilization to help rescue Americans from the currently collapsing Obamacare individual market.

This action by Secretary Price is a good first step towards rescuing the health care market that Tennessee’s insurance commissioner says is ‘very near collapse.’ Without this course of action, many of the 18 million Americans in the individual insurance market may have zero choices for insurance next year. Congress will act in the next few weeks to help provide a stable situation for the next three years while Congress and the administration work to replace and repeal Obamacare and give Tennesseans and all Americans more choices of lower cost insurance

It’s time to stop acting like the Hatfields and the McCoys over Obamacare — Tennesseans expect the new Congress and administration to work together to quickly fix the Obamacare emergency in our state.

*Restoring Tennessee classrooms to Tennessee communities*

 On January 31, the Senate education committee, which I chair, sent the nomination of Betsy DeVos to become the next Secretary of Education to the Senate floor. Mrs. DeVos was confirmed by the full Senate on February 7, and I attended her swearing-in ceremony at the White House afterward.

I supported Betsy DeVos because she will implement the new law fixing No Child Left Behind the way Congress wrote it: to reverse the trend toward a national school board and restore local control of Tennessee’s public schools. Under her leadership, there will be no Washington mandates for Common Core, for teacher evaluation, or for vouchers. She has been a leader in the movement for public charter schools – the most successful reform of public education during the last thirty years. And she has worked tirelessly to help low-income children have more choices of better schools.

Mrs. DeVos believes in the law we passed in December of 2015, with 85 votes, that restores to states and classroom teachers and local school boards the responsibility for making decisions about standards, about tests, about how to help improve schools, and about how to evaluate teachers. That law passed because people were so sick and tired of Washington telling local schools so much about what to do.

In a Medium post on January 24, I urged my colleagues to confirm Mrs. DeVos. She has spent more than three decades helping children from low-income families choose a better school.—– 


 Retired generals cite past comments from Mattis while opposing Trump’s proposed foreign aid cuts

02 27 17 retired generals cite past comments from mattis while o pposing trump s propo

(Washington Post) Now is not the time to slash U.S. foreign aid, more than 120 retired generals and admirals said Monday in a letter to lawmakers, while citing past comments from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to buttress their case.

02 27 17 fy18 international affairs budget house senate





France, Europe and the apocalypse

By Prince Michael of Liechtenstein 

These days, the possible victory of the National Front and its leader Marine Le Pen in the forthcoming French elections is considered the fiercest Horseman of the Apocalypse, hell-bent on destroying the European Union and the continent’s cohesion.

Ms. Le Pen’s triumph would certainly be bad for France and Europe. Although her promised referendum on whether France should remain in the eurozone and even the EU is likely to fall short of endorsing such momentous change, her socialist economic program will continue the ongoing destruction of the French economy, its competitiveness and public finances. This is dynamite to Europe’s cohesion.

Such a scenario would, however, only accelerate a disaster that was already looming. The present government’s socialist policies, which have shied away from reform and preserved France’s oversized public sector, will eventually bear the same results.

Mr. Macron’s pronouncements indicate an adherence to the Keynesian economic policy approach at the EU level

Alternatives to Ms. Le Pen are the politically conservative and economically liberal Francois Fillon and social democrat Emmanuel Macron.

Mr. Fillon’s economic program could, over time, balance the French budget and stimulate the economy by reducing overregulation and introducing a more efficient tax system. It could also help to shrink the oversized state sector. However, this candidate’s chances to win have been diminished by allegations that he had employed his family in public posts. Such practices are not illegal in France, but claims have been made – it is hard to ascertain how well-grounded – that Mr. Fillon’s wife did not actually perform work while in public employ. According to polls, this has undermined the candidate’s position in the race. Similar charges brought against Ms. Le Pen do not appear to hurt her nearly as much.

Socialist mirages

This leaves us with Mr. Macron. He claims that he will bring France’s budget deficit below the European benchmark of 3 percent. The promise is based on current government projections, which have already been contested by the country’s official auditing body. The candidate’s plan also does not appear plausible in light of his intention to further increase government spending.

Mr. Macron’s pronouncements indicate an adherence to the Keynesian economic policy approach at the EU level. According to him, Europe should end austerity and introduce a growth model in which additional spending – on top of the already lavish outlays planned by European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker – ought to be implemented. The Macron policies boil down to more state and more EU centralization. At the heart of the scheme is the creation of a European Ministry of Finance and Economy, an all-powerful body to plan and monitor the EU economy.

Hence the candidate’s demand that Germany spend more. As a consequence of Mr. Macron’s plan, Germany would in the end need to supply the bulk of the additional spending on the European level, which would ultimately result in a further expansion of the system of “transfer payments.” This way, France’s current economic and fiscal misery would become a fixed part of the EU system.

Europe faces a sad dilemma. Marine Le Pen in power is likely to bring dynamite-like disruption to France and Europe. Emmanuel Macron intends to continue treating the French cancer with aspirin and transmit the disease to Germany and the rest of the EU, while demanding that they pay for France’s subsistence in the meantime.

The difference between the calamities that these two candidates can bring on Europe lies mainly in the speed of the events to come. The third contender, Francois Fillon, appears to be damaged goods, as possible criminal proceedings loom. Sadly, he is the only one to have put forth a sustainable economic agenda.,2145,c.html#



*Southern Gas Corridor’s dubious contribution to energy security*

Advertised by the EU as the silver bullet that will free Europe from its dependency on Russian gas, the Southern Gas Corridor (SGC) is highly unlikely to ensure energy security and might in fact end up channelling Russian gas, warns Xavier Sol.

Xavier Sol is director of Counter Balance.

While proudly presenting the “Second report on the State of the Energy Union” earlier this month, European Commission Vice-President Maros Šefčovič did not forget to mention the so-called strategic importance of the Southern Gas Corridor. The 3,500 km long chain of pipelines that would stretch from Azerbaijan to Italy is the EU’s largest energy infrastructure project.

But in light of recent developments, the rhetoric around this $45 billion project increasingly looks like a heap of blatant contradictions.

In the latest example of the Commission’s relentless commitment to this controversial project, yesterday (23 February) Šefčovič attended in Baku the third meeting of the SGC Advisory Council alongside the Azeri president, a group of EU ministers and executives, US officials, and representatives from the public banks involved.

Yet, the Commission’s narrative lies on very unstable ground.

A first red flag arrived when in October 2016 Russia and Turkey signed an agreement on the so called “Turkish Stream” and many foresaw Gazprom’s intention to connect this new pipeline to the SGC.

Indeed, while expected to bring more Russian gas to Turkey through the Black Sea, the Turkish Stream‘s placement appears quite strategic: the last section of the pipeline would run up to Ipsala, just opposite the town of Kipoi, across the Greek border, where the Trans Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP) and Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) – the two main sections of the SGC – are planned to connect.

Gazprom itself confirmed the experts‘ guess, when its deputy chairman Alexander Medvedev officially announced the possibility to channel their gas through TAP on the occasion of a conference in Vienna in January 2017.

Thus TAP combined with the Turkish Stream could be just the piece of infrastructure that was missing in order to secure an extra delivery of Russian gas to south-east Europe, as further validated by the words of Michele Mario Elia, TAP‘s country manager for Italy, in an interview for RAI3’s Report on Italian TV.

Ironically, the SGC has been primarily promoted as a strategy to emancipate the EU‘s gas supply from Russia and improve “energy security”.

A Bankwatch report from as early as January 2015 already warned that the SGC simply cannot be the solution to Europe‘s dependence on Russian gas. When presented with such incoherence during a press briefing related to the second State of the Energy Union, Šefčovič chose to switch to a brand new narrative, according to which the EU “should be less worried [about Gazprom] than in the past”.

But the energy security angle is not the only one where the European Commission’s justification for the SGC is at odds with EU policy priorities. In front of the European Parliament, the Commission’s vice-president also insisted on his determination to foster “the transition to a more modern, low carbon economy” with the “ambition to move away from an economy dependent on fossil fuels”.

This should be materialised, he argued, through the development of essential infrastructure which would be supported “only if in line with the long-term energy policy of the European Union, avoiding stranded assets and carbon lock-in”.

It is really hard to imagine how the Southern Gas Corridor can ever fit into this picture. How can building such a gigantic gas pipeline not contribute to a fossil fuel lock-in?

In fact, the Commission, which often prides itself for leading the global effort to tackle the climate crisis, has recently admitted that no assessment has been done for the climate impact of the project.

In addition, a recent study of the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies showed that the future of the pipeline does not look too bright. Specifically, the gas supply available at the Azeri field for the SGC until 2030 is considerably smaller compared to previous forecasts.

This would mean that Azerbaijan would not be able to deliver the expected quantity of gas to the pipeline. Hence, even in economic terms, the feasibility of the project looks shakier than ever and the SGC is likely to become a stranded asset.

But perhaps this is also why at least two shareholders of the Trans Adriatic Pipeline – the SGC‘s western leg – “would welcome“ Gazprom also using the pipeline to ship gas to Europe.

At the backdrop is the decrease of European gas demand – even according to the Commission’s own figures – which questions the need for building additional gas infrastructure, a finding that has been underlined in the study “Energy Union Choices” published in February 2016.

To conclude, the Commission should reconsider its support to the Southern Gas Corridor. Europe cannot build a pipeline meant to diversify gas supply away from Russian gas, only to allow Russian gas through it.

Putting billions of euros via the European Investment Bank into a project which both contradicts the Paris Agreement and risks becoming a stranded asset is neither the best use of EU taxpayers money nor the kind of investment that will drive Europe towards a just energy transition.


*Republican governors divided on Obamacare replacement*

THE BIG IDEA: Donald Trump has learned that repealing and replacing Obamacare is “an unbelievably complex subject” since he became president. “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated,” the president mused to a group of 46 governors at the White House yesterday.

Except everyone in his audience has long known exactly how complicated this issue is. Health care eats up a huge chunk of their budgets. Republican chief executives struggled for years with the politically-thorny question of whether to take federal money to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. (for more see att.)



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*Herausgegeben von Udo von Massenbach, Bärbel Freudenberg-Pilster, Joerg Barandat*

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