Once the decline starts, it is not easy to stop, it comes back as a stocking ripped. It turned out that US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Staff Mark Milley made two phone calls with Chinese Chief of General Staff Li Zuocheng, assuring him that they would not attack Chine; that means even if former President Donald Trump ordered it. While accepting that he had phone calls, Milley said he did this not on his own, but in coordination with the Pentagon and “interagency” bodies.
This statement has increased the confusion. Trump’s last Acting Secretary of Defense, Christopher Miller, said he had not given Milley such an order, saying the calls to China were “a disgraceful and unprecedented insubordination” and that Milley, who kept his position under Joe Biden, should resign. Trump said it could end in treason. Biden, on the other hand, simply said, he has “confidence” in Milley. Secretary of Defense Austin Lloyd did the same.
If what Milley said is true, who else in the US government structure knew about the military-to-military call to China? Someone in the National Security Agency, the State Department, the CIA, the Permanent Mission to the UN, Congress, who? Did the American “deep state” (if there is one) has stepped in, in case Trump did crazy things to stay in power? So far, the only name in public is Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives. That was when Democrats were not in power and it seems the two talked about the possibility of Trump declaring or agitating war on China. Pelosi’s supporting answer was “He’s crazy, you know”. Let’s see who else will come out?
Was it only China? What about Russia?
I wonder what Chinese President Xi Jinping thought when he received the news from General Li from his American counterpart. I’m really curious about the expression of satisfaction on his face. And when he got the message about the second phone call as the amid POTUS ranting about China?
It seems that Milley made the first phone call to Li, the head of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, on October 30, before the November 3, 2020 elections, and the second on January 8, during the January 6, 2021 uprising, when Trump supporters, stormed Congress to keep the loser in power. It is understood that Milley sought his interlocutor throughout the entire process to appease the Chinese concerns that Trump could order a preemptive strike on them.
Did Xi inform his ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin, of this situation?
Will it also be disclosed that Milley or someone else from Trump Administration assured Russia without the knowledge of the President? Because Trump was also ranting Putin in those days.
We learn all this thanks to our master colleague, journalist Bob Woodward, who previously uncovered the Watergate scandal (with Carl Bernstein) and led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. The pieces from his latest book with Robert Costa), “Peril” which will be on bookstore shelves next week, were enough to create shock waves about the military under strict civilian control. Woodward had also written about the Bush administration that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had to replace a senior official following a silent boycott by the top brass.
Former Turkish President Süleyman Demirel’s answer to our persistent questions about the “deep state” was two simple words: “the military.” He had been toppled by the military twice (in 1971 and 1980) before being elected as President.
The United States of Sanctions and Turkey
As said before, once the decline starts, it continues. In the case of the USA, this is not only about the General’s calls to China, in case the President acts irresponsibly, which has been a scratch on the image of the superpower reputation of the US. Amid the Afghanistan fiasco. The misery of the Trump administration against the coronavirus pandemic was a tragic scandal.
Nowadays, the US sanctions thrown across the world (including Turkey) are seen as weakness and decline. This definition belongs to scholar Daniel Drezner in his Foreign Policy article “The United States of Sanctions – The Use and Abuse of Economic Coercion” in the September-October 2021 issue. Pointing out that there were more than 500 sanctions in the first term of Barack Obama, which was doubled under Trump, Drezner wrote:
• “The truth is that Washington’s fixation with sanctions has little to do with their efficacy and everything to do with something else: American decline. No longer an unchallenged superpower, the United States can’t throw its weight around the way it used to. In relative terms, its military power and diplomatic influence have declined.”
Turkey is not the only example that the US sanctions (ousting from F35 production and seizing of its paid jets against the purchase of Russian S400 missiles) are not working. Because the US Congress declined to sell 2 (two) UAVs to Turkey, Turkey is now building and exporting its UAVs and armed UAVs.
More on Turkey and the US
Like every country that wants to increase its regional power from Japan to India, Brazil to Poland, by diagnosing the relative erosion of the US power, Turkey wants to upgrade its relations with the US, also using its unique geographical advantage. President Tayyip Erdogan seeks “more equal terms”. In the last few years, he proved that Turkey can ruin plans that it was not included; in Syria, Libya, East Mediterranean, the Black Sea, and the Caucasus. Now Ankara offers its cooperation to Washington DC if it wants to stay in Turkey’s neighborhood; not only the Middle East but the Balkans, the Caucasus, and Central Asia, like Afghanistan.
It would be unrealistic to think that the Biden administration will keep the negotiations bargaining doors closed to its NATO ally Turkey, amid the rise of China and Russia, despite anti-Turkish ethnic lobbies in Congress. Especially when the USA is experiencing a loss of reputation in foreign policy and now a crisis of democracy in domestic politics.
On the other hand, the US has the capacity and working mechanisms to confront and solve the problems; the system is functioning. The that erupted with the phones opened to China, and the previous ones are within the executive branch. The fact that Congress still sees itself as the master of the world in vain; is their problem.
But it is the independent courts and free press that help the system work, despite all odds.
The need for independent courts and a free press
Bob Woodward can write freely. What he writes can be published, debated across the national media, and the judiciary, executive, and legislature branches can act accordingly.
That is the difference between the current situation in Turkey and the levels of freedom of the legislature, judiciary, and press in more enhanced, better functioning democracies.
President Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) administration have reached the stage where they will not even allow undesirable questions. They don’t let certain reporters with the potential to ask critical questions attending their press conferences. On September 15, in the Presidential Palace in Beştepe, Ankara, there was a ceremony for press awards. Erdogan delivered awards to two openly partisan columnists, Abdülkadir Selvi and Hilal Kaplan of Sabah, and his Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun for their performances; that was a new low.
Sorry to repeat but, once the decline starts, it continues.
Similar tendencies also exist in the European Union member countries like Poland and Hungary.
They limit the freedom of the press, discourage journalists and writers, and prevent Bob Woodwards from uncovering scandals. That cannot continue for too long. It is possible to suppress people’s right to know only for a while. But the oppressors cannot determine its duration; because it will not last forever.