“No Military Solution”

August 9, 2021

In the past decade, the phrase “no military solution to the conflict” became a diplomatic cliché.

In November 2013, speaking to the BBC  about the situation in Syria, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad said that there is no military solution

In September 2016, addressing the 71st Session of the United Nations General Assembly, President Obama said,

“… in a place like Syria, where there’s no ultimate military victory to be won…”

In July 2019, after meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, President Trump said, “There is no military solution in Afghanistan…”

Also in July 2019, the governments of Egypt, France, Italy, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States issued a statement on Libya. It said they said “… There can be no military solution in Libya.”

In March 2021, “He [Antony Blinken] highlighted that the US supports a unified, stable Yemen free from foreign influence and that there is no military solution to the conflict,” State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement.

In July 2021, after meeting with Indian External Affairs Minister Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar in New Delhi, Secretary Blinken said, “… I think we largely see Afghanistan in the same light. We’re both committed to the proposition that there is no military solution to the conflict that afflicts Afghanistan…”

Yet, the wars in Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, and Yemen continue and will continue, now mostly through proxies.

On July 8, 2021, in remarks on the drawdown of US forces in Afghanistan President Biden said:

“As I said in April, the United States did what we went to do in Afghanistan: to get the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 and to deliver justice to Osama Bin Laden, and to degrade the terrorist threat to keep Afghanistan from becoming a base from which attacks could be continued against the United States.  We achieved those objectives.  That’s why we went.”

Actually, Osama Bin Laden was killed on May 2, 2011, during a raid at a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. But the US and allied forces remained in Afghanistan for another decade after that hoping for a military solution. They failed.

On July 8, President Biden also said, ”Do I trust the Taliban?  No.  But I trust the capacity of the Afghan military, who is better trained, better equipped, and more competent in terms of conducting war.”

But many Afghan translators, interpreters, and troops who  trust neither their government nor the Taliban are now leaving the country and heading towards the west to create another refugee problem for Turkey and eventually Europe.

Due to its total disregard for the public’s right to information, its contradictory statements, and endless bravado, analyzing Ankara’s foreign policy  in the dark corridors of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (JDP) government’s secretive diplomacy is worse than a puzzle. What was agreed at the Biden-Erdogan summit of June 14, 2021, remains a mystery. Only contradictory public statements offer some clues.

On August 2, Secretary Blinken announced the “Refugee Admissions Program Priority 2 (P-2) Designation for Afghan Nationals”.

On August 3, 2021, Spokesperson of the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs Tanju Bilgiç, in response to a question regarding the announcement the “US Refugee Admissions Program for Afghans and Families Working for the US” said that Turkey was suggested as a possible application spot. He continued with the following:

“This announcement will cause a major refugee crisis in our region and increase the misery of Afghans on the migration routes. Instead of looking for a solution among countries within the region, seeking a solution in Turkey without our consent is unacceptable.

“Hosting the highest number of Refugees for the last 7 years, Turkey does not have the capacity to bear another refugee crisis for another country. We do not accept the US’ irresponsible decision taken without prior consultation. The US may directly transport these people by plane. Turkey will not take over the international responsibilities of third countries and will not tolerate abuse of our laws by third countries for their own purposes under any circumstances. The Turkish Nation cannot bear the burden of refugee crises resulting from the decisions undertaken by third countries.”

On August 4, US State Department Spokesperson Ned  Price responded to his Turkish counterpart. He said:

“… We did not direct anyone to a specific country, and that includes to Turkey. We do regret the concerns that statements have raised regarding the potential travel of Afghans to Turkey. And we reiterate our gratitude to Turkey for its substantial humanitarian efforts in hosting over 4 million refugees – more than any other country in the world – who have fled any number of countries. And that includes Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, and elsewhere.”

The exchange between the two spokespersons reflected disagreement over Secretary Blinken’s response to a question during his remarks to the press on August 2, on the “Announcement of a US Refugee Admissions Program Priority 2 (P-2) for Afghan Nationals” and the fact that applications for P-2 status can only be made from third countries. Below is the relevant passage from Secretary Blinken’s remarks:

“QUESTION:  If I may follow up on my colleague here from Afghanistan, how do these people under the P-1 program even get to third countries?  You’re asking that Turkey and other neighboring countries – Iran – open their borders.  How can they get from here to there past Taliban checkpoints?  They’ve got targets on their backs.

“SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Yeah.

“QUESTION:  And if I might follow up also on the Mercer fleet, how do you interpret this action that you are attributing to Iran?  If this is correct, do you view this as an indication of the new government’s policy?  What action is going to be taken either by us, by Israel, or in some way a combination?

“SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks, Andrea.  So with regard first to Afghans who seek to leave the country and seek to avail themselves of the refugee programs, et cetera, you’re right:  This is incredibly hard….

“And so, as we see again and again, people have to do very difficult things to make sure that they can find safety and security, and we will do everything we can to help them, including making these different avenues of arrival to the United States for this group of people possible.  We are also dedicating very significant assistance, humanitarian assistance, not only in Afghanistan itself, but to neighboring countries to enable them to support those who come to their countries, again, seeking potentially, refugee status somewhere or immigrant status somewhere.”[i] (emphasis added)

Clearly, Turkey was mentioned as a “neighboring country” which it is not, and Secretary Blinken did not object. He did not say, “We do not direct anyone to a specific country,” as Mr. Price did two days later.

Finally, on August 5, President Erdogan said, “If there are 4 million mostly Arab and Kurdish refugees in Turkey, if they are under our protection, then Turkey is not a weak country. Turkey is taking these people under its protection on its own  because it is strong and manages the financing of their protection successfully. We shall continue to take the necessary steps by managing the financing of this effort properly. We have no inhibitions. Because Turkey is a strong country, and we extend a helping hand to those in trouble…”

In a recent post, dated August 2, I said that the increasing number of Afghans crossing into Turkey from Iran leads one to question whether the Kabul subcontract is just about the airport or more. In the light of President Erdogan’s statement, I am inclined to believe that the subcontract also covers an understanding regarding Afghans seeking P-2 status to come and “wait” for the process in Turkey. What happens if their applications were to be rejected?  What about those not eligible for P-2 status to start with? They stay, and Washington extends some financial support for Ankara to continue “successfully managing” its refugee problem.

How would a new wave of refugees impact Turkey’s national identity? What would it do to Turkey’s internal peace? If we do not care, why should Washington?

It seems that the safest bet for the Kabul subcontract would be to wait another 22 days for the completion of the US withdrawal provided that the Taliban does not  force them to leave earlier.

Ataturk’s motto was “peace at home, peace in the world”. The first part of the motto was a dictum; the second part a noble ambition, an aspiration which started with our neighborhood. Thanks to the JDP’s “New Turkey”, we now enjoy neither.

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[i] https://www.state.gov/secretary-antony-j-blinken-remarks-to-the-press-on-the-announcement-of-a-u-s-refugee-admissions-program-priority-2-designation-for-afghan-nationals/

About Ali Tuygan

Ali Tuygan is a graduate of the Faculty of Political Sciences of Ankara University. He joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in January 1967. Between various positions he held in Ankara, he served at the Turkish Embassy in Brussels, NATO International Staff, Turkish Embassies in Washington and Baghdad and the Turkish Delegation to NATO. From 1986 to 1989 he was Principal Private Secretary to the President of the Republic. He then served as ambassador to Ottawa, Riyadh and Athens. In 1997 he was honored with a decoration by the Italian President. Between these assignments abroad he served twice as Deputy Undersecretary for Political Affairs. In 2004 he was appointed Undersecretary where he remained until the end of 2006 before going to his last foreign assignment as Ambassador to UNESCO. He retired in 2009. In April 2013 he published a book entitled “Gönüllü Diplomat, Dışişlerinde Kırk Yıl” (“Diplomat by Choice, Forty Years in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs”) in which he elaborated on the diplomatic profession and the main issues on the global agenda. He has published articles in Turkish periodicals and newspapers.
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