The U.S. Helps Reconstruct the Ottoman Empire
by Robert E. Kaplan
May 29, 2013 at 5:00 am
Each of these United States military interventions occurred in an area that had been part of the Ottoman Empire, and where a secular regime was replaced by an Islamist one. So far, the German policy of keeping hidden its leadership role in its attempt to reconstitute the Ottoman Empire has succeeded.
Since the mid-1990s the United States has intervened militarily in several internal armed conflicts in Europe and the Middle East: bombing Serbs and Serbia in support of Izetbegovic’s Moslem Regime in Bosnia in 1995, bombing Serbs and Serbia in support of KLA Moslems of Kosovo in 1999, bombing Libya’s Gaddafi regime in support of rebels in 2010. Each intervention was justified to Americans as motivated by humanitarian concerns: to protect Bosnian Moslems from genocidal Serbs, to protect Kosovo Moslems from genocidal Serbs, and to protect Libyans from their murderous dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
Other reasons for these interventions were also offered: to gain for the United States a strategic foothold in the Balkans, to defeat communism in Yugoslavia, to demonstrate to the world’s Moslems that the United States is not anti-Moslem, to redefine the role of NATO in the post-Cold War era, among others.
Each of these United States military interventions occurred in an area that had been part of the Ottoman Empire. In each, a secular regime was ultimately replaced by an Islamist one favoring sharia law and the creation of a world-wide Caliphate. The countries that experienced the „Arab Spring“ of the 2010s without the help of American military intervention, Tunisia and Egypt, had also been part of the Ottoman Empire, and also ended up with Islamist regimes.
In the United States most discussions of the military conflicts of the 1990s in the Balkans and the „Arab Spring“ of the 2010s do not mention that the areas involved had been part of the Ottoman Empire; these included Turkey, the Moslem-populated areas around the Mediterranean, Iraq, the coastal regions of the Arabian Peninsula and parts of the Balkans. In the areas that experienced the Arab Spring Turkey’s role in every instance has been to support the rebels and quickly recognize them as the legitimate government of the country in upheaval.
Turkish leaders do make the connection between the conflicts in the Bosnia, the „Arab Spring“ and the Ottoman Empire. Harold Rhode, an American expert on Turkey, has reported:
[President of Turkey] Erdogan’s recent  electoral victory speech puts his true intentions regarding Turkey’s foreign policy goals in perspective. He said that this victory is as important in Ankara as it is in the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Sarajevo, under Ottoman times, an important Ottoman city; that his party’s victory was as important in a large Turkish city Izmir, on the Western Anatolian coast, as it is in Damascus, and as important in Istanbul as it is in Jerusalem….
In saying that this victory is as important in all of these former Ottoman cities, Erdogan apparently sees himself as trying to reclaim Turkey’s full Ottoman past.
The occurrence that since 1990 each European and Middle Eastern country that experienced American military intervention in an internal military conflict or an „Arab Spring“ has ended up with a government dominated by Islamists of the Moslem Brotherhood or al-Qaeda variety fits nicely with the idea that these events represent a return to Ottoman rule. Besides being a political empire ruling a territory and its population, the Ottoman Empire claimed to be a Caliphate with spiritual suzerainty over all Moslems – those within its borders and those beyond. Though it might seem strange at first, the idea of advancing the renewal of the Ottoman Empire on two tracks – breaking down the post-Ottoman political structure and promoting a Caliphate which Islamists say they long for – is really quite reasonable.
Just as the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s and the „Arab Spring“ of the 2010s considered in historical perspective suggests that Turkey might be attempting to recreate its former empire, consideration of the Turkish Empire in historical perspective suggests the possible partnership of Germany with Turkey in the project given that, from its creation in 1870, Germany viewed Turkey with its empire as a most valuable client and ally. In the view of the leaders of Germany, Turkey was controllable through a combination of economic intercourse, gifts of educational opportunities, provision of technical expertise and administrative aid, as well as bribes to Turkish officials. Germany saw influence over Turkey as a means of influencing Moslems worldwide for its own interests. Thus as the German scholar Wolfgang Schwanitz has shown, during World War I Germany employed the Turkish Caliphate to promote jihad – riot and rebellion – in areas where Moslem populations were ruled by its enemies Russia, France, Britain and Serbia.
Yet in the 50-odd articles collected in an exploration of the awareness on the part of Americans of a possible Turkish connection with the „Arab Spring,“ I found not a single mention of „Germany.“ Only from a link in one of those articles – to an article on the International Criminal Court (ICC) which, with its indictment of Muammar Gaddafi and issue of a warrant for his arrest, provided the „legal“ basis legitimizing NATO’s bombing of Libya — which gave the rebels their victory and ended the Gaddafi regime – did I find mention of Germany. From that article, „A Lawless Global Court“ by John Rosenthal (Policy Review Feb. 1. 2004 No.123), one learns that the ICC is a project initiated, promoted and, to a considerable extent, funded by Germany. Given this, the idea that the ICC serves Germany’s purposes is common sense. Through the ICC connection, Germany’s promotion of the „Arab Spring“ is clear. Yet it is never or almost never mentioned. This silence calls for explanation.
Later, I did come across an explicit reference to Germany’s role in it — specifically in the war against the Assad regime in Syria — in John Rosenthal’s article „German Intelligence: al-Qaeda all over Syria“ in the online Asia Times — which reports that the German government supports the rebels and their political arm, the Syrian National Council (SNC), against Assad; that the German government classified [made secret] „by reason of national interest“ the contents of several BND (German foreign intelligence) reports that the May 25, 2012 massacre of civilians in the Syrian town of Houla, for which Assad has been blamed, was in fact perpetrated by rebel forces; and that „the German foreign office is working with representatives of the Syrian opposition to develop ‚concrete plans‘ for a ‚political transition‘ in Syria after the fall of Assad.“ So far the German policy of keeping hidden its leadership role in the attempt to reconstitute the Ottoman Empire seems to have succeeded.
Each U. S. military action in Europe and the Middle East since 1990, however, with the exception of Iraq, has followed an overt pattern: First there is an armed conflict within the country where the intervention will take place. American news media heavily report this conflict. The „good guys“ in the story are the rebels. The „bad guys,“ to be attacked by American military force, are brutally anti-democratic, and committers of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. Prestigious public figures, NGOs, judicial and quasi-judicial bodies and international organizations call for supporting the rebels and attacking the regime. Next, the American president orders American logistical support and arms supplies for the rebels. Finally the American president orders military attack under the auspices of NATO in support of the rebels. The attack usually consists of aerial bombing, today’s equivalent of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries‘ gunboat which could attack coastal cities of militarily weak countries without fear of retaliation. The ultimate outcome of each American intervention is the replacement of a secular government with an Islamist regime in an area that had been part of the Ottoman Empire.
Why the government of the United States would actively promote German aims — the destruction of Yugoslavia (both World Wars I and II saw Germany invade Serbia) and the re-creation of the Ottoman Empire — is a question that needs to be answered.
Robert E. Kaplan is an historian, doctorate from Cornell University, specializing in modern Europe.