eyes on the U.S.

Turkey, An Impotent Player Amid Middle East Chaos

Turkey is a NATO ally of the United States, but American officials have summarily dismissed its input about airstrikes in Iraq, even with Turkish lives on the line. Why Turkey needs to clarify itself in so many ways.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and U.S. President Barack Obama
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and U.S. President Barack Obama
Cengiz Candar


ISTANBUL — The United States is the target of tough criticisms for making a mess of the Middle East, then simply up and leaving — chiefly in Iraq. But at the same time, the U.S. is castigated for not caring enough about the Middle East during President Barack Obama's administration and failing to provide necessary leadership.

What the president of the world's "sole superpower country," the "leader" at the center of the "one axis" international system says at this moment — what he thinks and how he perceives the future of the Middle East — is very important. This is true despite the fact that the American military is returning to Iraq just for airstrikes and not for ground combat.

So The New York Times" recent interview with President Barack Obama holds serious significance. “We do have a strategic interest in pushing back ISIL," the president said, referring to the terrorist organization also known as ISIS, or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

"We’re not going to let them create some caliphate through Syria and Iraq, but we can only do that if we know that we’ve got partners on the ground who are capable of filling the void," the president said. "So if we’re going to reach out to Sunni tribes, if we’re going to reach out to local governors and leaders, they’ve got to have some sense that they’re fighting for something.” Otherwise, Obama said, “We can run ISIS off for a certain period of time, but as soon as our planes are gone, they’re coming right back in.”

The president also said he doesn't want to be “in the business of being the Iraqi air force” or the Kurdish air force either. But it's worth noting that this return to Iraq happened after developments such as ISIS becoming a risk for Erbil, the Kurdish Iraqi oil fields also being in danger, and the threat of genocide against the Christians and the Yazidi people.

So here is what we know: The security of Erbil and Iraqi Kurdistan is now in the hands of the U.S. Washington will not allow the creation of an "Islamic State" on Syrian and Iraqi soil. The U.S. would try to act together with the Iraqi Sunnis, Shias and Kurds to fill the vacuum ISIS would leave behind. Regarding Syria, the stances of Russia and Iran would be closely monitored.

But where is Turkey, a NATO ally of the United States, in this picture?

We don't seem to be on its radar. Turkey was against American airstrikes against ISIS while the terrorists have Turkish diplomats as hostages. Ankara didn't want an operation that could endanger the hostages, but the U.S. proceeded anyway.

Moreover, Ankara was reportedly not even briefed about the attacks in detail. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu at a late hour on the eve of the actions. Foreign diplomatic sources say that Kerry did not offer any detailed information at that time.

That night, Iraq and the ISIS advance was discussed at two meetings held at the Foreign Ministry Residence and the Prime Minister's Residence. “The operation orders mentioned in Obama's statements would be limited to defending the American diplomats and civilians and distributing humanitarian aid,” a high-ranking government official told the Turkish daily Cumhuriyet. But this prediction proved to be wrong.

Our neighborhood, meaning the Middle East, is obviously chaotic and troubled. Turkey has undergone a tough period already, and is transitioning to a new kind of leadership with the election of Recep Tayyip Erdogan as president. Unfortunately, Turkey cannot fulfill the role that is expected of it in the Middle East.

In order to determine its Middle East policy, Turkey needs to clarify its position on ISIS. Of course, Turkey needs to understand and communicate its own identity before doing so. If Turkey doesn't do what's necessary, the already tough coming days may be even more agonizing for the country.

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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