Georgian elections: beginning of end for Saakashvili and Turkish-Syria border clash: will NATO interfere?- interview
Hello Rick. How are you?
Very good John.
I’d like to speak with you a little bit about the latest developments in Georgia... and with NATO... and with Turkey and Syria of course. IF could start out with the parliamentary elections in Georgia. They look like maybe the beginning of the end for Saakashvili. In your opinion if he goes and relations are normalized with Russia, how will this affect NATO’s long-term geopolitical plans in the region?
That’s an interesting proposition, I certainly hope that better relations with Russia will ensue with the departure of Mr. Saakashvili who has been a disaster both for his own country and the region. However, I would temper our enthusiasm right now and of course you are referring to the fact that the opposition Georgian Dream party garnered 55% in the parliamentary election which is a handsome victory, they really trounced Saakashvili’s party. And the individual Saakashvili will eventually depart as president not immediately evidently as he is refusing to step down until the presidential election but his likely successor, the head of Georgian Dream political party, or coalition I guess it is, Bidzina Ivanishvili has announced today that his first stop, when he does become president, his first visit will be the United States. So, I don’t think we are going to see a qualitative difference in foreign policy orientation even with the change of political parties at the top in Georgia right now and of course the head of Georgian Dream has also announced that he is sustaining or maintaining his country’s commitment to joining both the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. So, time will tell but I wouldn’t be overly optimistic about a dramatic transformation.
So, you think NATO’s plans, and their integration or drawing in of Georgia, into the NATO fold... That will remain unchanged?
It will remain unchanged from the point of view of Brussels and certainly of Washington, which has invested, as you indicated in an article 2 days ago, has invested so much in Georgia, that it is not going to allow the change of a president, or the replacement of the current president to affect their geopolitical designs in the South Caucasus as a whole, but certainly in Georgia in particular.
What do you think about the opinion of the Georgian people, I mean, if they decide that they don’t want this?
This is an encouraging aspect, I mean, it is clearly a referendum on Saakashvili and he clearly was rejected by a handsome majority of the Georgian electorate which is an indication of what many people inside and certainly outside of the country suspect which is that Saakashvili has ruled through fair means or foul, usually foul, and that he did not have the mass support, as was evidenced by the parliamentary vote, you know, that he always claimed to have, and that his contentions or his boast in that respect of course being echoe dutifully by western leaders, US, in the first place. And I am not quite certain if the west puts all of their eggs in his basket and has now had them broken or if the West was not instrumental in supplanting him with his successor. It is a matter of speculation to this point. But the question you raised about better relations with Russia is something that has been pledged by the presumed next president of the country and that will probably be more on the economic front, John, than it would in terms of Georgia’s relationship with the Pentagon and with NATO.
Now... Speaking of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen just had his term extended and he said his main goal is ending the so-called "mission" in Afghanistan. How does this coincide with plans by NATO to keep bases in Afghanistan for the "very" long term?
I think, as you're intimating, part of the logic perhaps in extending Rasmussen’s post as Secretary-General of NATO is to not change horses in mid-stream, if you will, to have the same person in place, the head of the military alliance which runs the International Security Assistance Force, through the so-called draw-down or transistion period scheduled for 2014. Not that he's going to be there in 2 years. But that, ahem, to make a change at this point would be disadvantageous to the west in terms of US plans to maintain major air bases and other military facilities in the country, and we are talking about the
Last time we talked about NATO’s silence and the fact that they were probably planning something, most obviously an invasion of Syria comes to my mind. Last night Turkey attacked Syria in retaliation for supposed attack, which killed several citizens of Turkey. With all of the mercenaries and terrorist ammassed on the Turkish and Syrian border can we be sure that this was the Syrians that did this? And... anyway... what's your view? Do you think this will be the catalyst, that NATO apparently wants, to invade Syria?
It could well be, but it's certainly a marked escalation of provocations that have been occurring since last summer. We recall of course the Turkish warplane that violated the air space of Syria in June and was shot down by Syrian air defenses, and then towards the very end of July-beginning of August, Turkey deployed troops, tanks, armored personnel carriers and missile batteries to within 2 kilometers of the Syrian border ostensibly in pursuit of fighters in the Kurdistan Worker's Party. So, there has been a steady escalation of provocations and what appear to be, you know, attempts to bait or to provoke Syria into some sort of military response, which would then be portrayed as an active aggression, permitting Turkey once again, as it did last night (Brussels time), and as it did in June which is going to NATO headquarters in Brussels convening a meeting of what's called the North Atlantic Council, that is the Ambassadors of the 28 NATO member states, and pledging their collective support to Turkey in any mlitary confrontation with Syria. So in the very least what has occurred...
Incidently, so I don't forget the point:There’s no definitive proof right now that the mortar shell that landed in the Turkish village, resulting in the tragic deaths of 5 civilians and the wounding, I believe of 8 others, it has not been established that this was fired by Syrian government forces, and as you indicate the fact that there are ragtag groups of insurgents fighting for, ahem, and we don’t even know the nationality in many instances, but, with different political orientations and different agendas, gives us reason to believe that the mortar shell or the explosion could have been caused by them, by the rebels as well as by the Syrian government. However, I think it’s imperative that we recall that just the preceding day there were 2 terrorists bombings in the Syrian city of Aleppo that killed as many as 50 people, killed as many as 50 people, wounded as many as 122, by recent accounts I have seen. This is a city very close to the Turkish border. And, ah, you know, it defies logic to, ah, to not take into account the fact that these terrorist atrocities could well have been committed by individuals who have been allowed free passage across the Turkish border.
We have to recall that no other country would tolerate this sort of armed attack from a neighboring state without some kind of action.…
Rick gives example of US War of 1812...
…but this is something countries do: they defend their borders! And to suggest that Syria has no right to do that is evidently, as the West maintains, is first of all foolhardy and is another example of double standards.”
I don’t think the issue was that they were defending. They’re saying that Syria bombed first apparently.
Nobody in their right mind is going to suggest that the Syrian government intentionally launched mortar attacks inside Turkey.
The very worst thing the Syrian government can be accused of doing is miscalculating and accidentally firing a mortal shell across the border. This is something entirely different than a planned act against the neighboring nation.
The NATO Council met last night and they have come out warning Syria to stop its “aggression against Turkey”. What do you make of this statement?
“This was an emergency meeting of North Atlantic Council, it is one of the few occasion where it has met at night, to underline the urgency of this. And the actual NATO statement includes the following passage, and this verbatim:“In the spirit of indivisibility of security and solidarity deriving from the Washington Treaty, that is the founding treaty of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the Alliance continues to stand by Turkey and demands the immediate cessation of such aggressive acts against an Ally.” That’s part of the statement. And Anders Fogh Rasmussen was also quoted, stating, his concerns about events, and I am quoting him here: “On our South-Eastern border.” That is the Turkish-Syrian border is now officially proclaimed as NATO’s South-Eastern border. Suggesting strongly, that NATO sees this as an attack against the entire military alliance as well as against Turkey….
….What was discussed at the meeting was the so-called Article 4 provision in the Washington Treaty, or what’s actually called the North Atlantic Treaty, the founding document of NATO: which states, “The parties that are NATO member states will consult together whenever in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the parties is threatened.” That certainly suggests that NATO once again reserves the right to respond collectively in alleged defense of Turkey.”
Would you agree that they’re just waiting for the right chance to invade Syria?
“That’s exactly it. What’s remarkable is the very day before, whatever the nature of the incident is that resulted in the deaths of the Turkish civilians near the border, the Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia, Genady Gatilov warned reporters of potential NATO intervention against Syria! The quote from him says, “In our contacts with our partners both in NATO and in the region we’ve called upon them not to look for pretext in order to carry out a military operation.” That’s a quote from the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister. And, ah, a paraphrase of his comment stated explicitly that some provocation could occur at the Turkish-Syrian border that may give NATO the green light to intervene in Syria, so, within 24 hours or perhaps less precisely such an event occurrs.
Hypothetical, if you will: What if Bashar al-Assad comes out, he condemns the deaths of the five Turkish citizens and initiates an investigation? Would that stop NATO, do you think?
The Syrian government has already expressed regret over the deaths of the Turkish civilians without being able to establish the cause of those deaths. And, ahem, my assumption will have to be at this point, that the “fix-is-in” and that no matter what the Syrian government says or does, Western plans – that is plans of NATO nations and their Gulf Cooperation Council allies in the Persian Gulf, they’re not going to back down. They are nothing if not relentless, we have seen that demonstrated repeatedly in the recent years in Yugoslavia, in Iraq, in Libya, and now Syria. And whatever the Syrian government can issue, and probably already has issued statements that should defuse the crisis but everything rides on how Turkey chooses to respond. We know that they’ve already launched artillery attacks inside Syria and according to Today’s Zaman, one of the leading newspapers in the country in Turkey, tanks, missile batteries and other military hardware have been moved up to the Syrian border again as it was at the end of last July.
RecepTayyip Erdogan said that any military equipment belonging to the Syrian armed forces which were to approach the border would be seen as a threat. Does that mean that Syria does not have the right to protect their borders?
Evidently that is what Erdogan means and what his western backers, his NATO allies intend which is to say that Syria has no right to protect its own borders from cross-border insurgent and terrorist attack, but that Turkey reserves the right to strike inside Iraq at will, to move, as we talked about a couple of times, fairly massive military formations up to the Syrian border, but that Syria doesn’t have a reciprocal right to protect its own border. Keep in mind Syria is a country under siege, not Turkey.
Yesterday the Iraqi government mentioned for example that they are going to hold a vote in the parliament about rescinding the right of foreign troops to be stationed in Iraqi territory and that’s direct allusion to Turkish troops that are in the northern part of the country in the majority Kurdish area of northern Iraq, and have been there since 1995. So, Turkey reserves the right to station troops inside bordering countries even with the opposition of the central government, reserves the right to launch airstrikes and infantry attacks and so forth inside neighboring countries but disallows Syria the right to protect its own territory.
Very good point.
What is your prediction, I am very interested to know, where do you think this is going to go? What do you see happening in a week or two?
You know, there is an optimistic perspective and there is one that’s been kind of tempered by experience. And the second suggests that the fact that Turkey has directly struck inside Syrian territory intentionally and as we’ve discussed a moment ago, it is uncertain who fired the mortar round that caused recent deaths in Turkey but even for the sake of argument, if it was Syrian military, it was certainly, almost definitely, not a conscious and deliberate attempt to fire inside Turkish territory. So, the fact that Turkey has launched a deliberate military strike inside Syria given the situation in that country over the past 18 months, is again an escalation of this conflict to a hitherto unprecedented dangerous level, and that’s what is important to note. What NATO, the United States and Turkey plan, we could speculate but I would say, you know, the comments you eluded to by Erdogan and by other Turkish officials are extremely bellicose at this moment and certainly suggest that they are willing to threaten Syria if not act further against it.
Thank you very much Rick, anything else you'd like to finish up with? We're almost out of time.
Yes. This isn’t immediately related to Syria though on one instance it actually is. I am going to cite 2 examples. There were reports in the last few hours of demonstrations in the Iranian capital of Teheran that are allegedly motivated by economic factors including the fact that, if the story is true, that their currency, the real. has been devalued by 1/3 because of the crippling sanctions instituted, enforced by the United States and its NATO allies in the first place. There may be efforts to destabilize the situation, or at least distract the attention of Iranian government preparatory to a Turkish-NATO attack on Syria. There is also, and this is not so far-fetched as it may sound on the surface, there is also an upcoming presidential election in Venezuela. And the preferred method of the United States to undermine and ultimately overthrow the handful of governments in the world that still have an independent foreign policy orientation have to be seen not strictly in relation to Syria, but the fact that: if successful in Syria, the US would be further emboldened to step up with regime change and possibly even military intervention plans for nations like Iran and Venezuela and others after them.
Thank you very much, Rick, I really appreciate it.
Yeah, and I hope you get some sleep, John.