Erdogan Comes to Washington: a Turkish Lesson in Democracy

Posted May 17, 2017 on 8:11 pm | In the category Erdogan, TRUMP, Turkey, Uncategorized | by Jeff

So President Erdogan came to visit his soulmate D. Trump and the meeting went without incident although Erdogan might have been a tad upset over Trump mistakenly demoting him to Foreign Minister in his remarks. But Erdogan made up for it by introducing his concept of free speech and democracy to Washington DC. Seems Erdogan brought some of his Turkish Storm Troopers with him and when Kurdish activists carried signs outside the Turkish embassy we got schooled in free speech Turkish style. In an incredibly ugly scene Turkish security staff attacked peaceful demonstrators AND DC police – all to protect the name of an Islamic thug who Trump fawned over hours before in the White House.

Two weeks in Turkey a couple of years ago instructed me in the dangers that Erdogan presented in Turkey – and by extension to NATO and the U.S as America tried to cooperate with the Turks in the fight against ISIS on Syria. But all is naught when your erstwhile ally turns out to be an arrogant, authoritarian, dictator with absolutely no commitment to human rights on the most basic level. Hate to say I told you so, but there it is in politicsandpress.com

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Trump and Erdogan: A Conspiracy of Bullies?

Posted May 15, 2017 on 2:04 pm | In the category Erdogan, Human Rights, TRUMP, Turkey, U.S. Foreign Policy, Uncategorized | by Jeff

Later this week President Donald Trump will meet with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in what could be an opportunity to examine policy differences in the two countries. But given Trump’s need for positive feedback means there is some likelihood for it to turn into a celebration of phony mutual respect.

Erdogan will no doubt question Trump about the U.S. decision to provide arms support to America’s Kurdish allies in the fight against ISIS in Syria. Erdogan has clearly vocalized his displeasure, given Turkey’s long standing view that all Kurds are terrorists, based on a series of deadly bombings in Turkey by a radical Kurdish group within Turkey. This is a complicated issue but one in which each country’s view of its national interest inevitably lead to differences, which in this instance is complicated by Turkey’s important role in NATO.

An issue that resonates in the U.S. is Erdogan’s predilection for throwing anyone who disagrees with him into jail. This has included a large part of Turkey’s nominally free press, teachers, academics, judges, military officers, totaling an estimated 50,000 individuals. In addition over 120,000 public servants have been summarily fired. The fact that Trump’s DNA seems to harbor a deep authoritarian streak makes it likely that this will go unmentioned in their meeting- in fact Trump must be envious of Erdogan’s unrestrained power to imprison the press rather than merely crying “fake news” with every negative news report. In any case Erdogan’s disastrous human rights record in recent years offers an opportunity for Trump to take the high road – an unfamiliar route for him and one he is likely to avoid.

Erdogan also brings with him an historic hatred of a fellow Turk, Fehtullah Gulen, who is in self exile in Pennsylvania and who is, according to Erdogan, responsible for virtually everything that goes wrong in Turkey. Erdogan’s anger boiled over last summer after an attempted coup in Turkey for which Erdogan blamed Gulen. The Obama administration resisted Turkey’s calls for extradition of Gulen but the issue is likely to come up in this week’s meeting and Trump could choose to change that policy.

It is important to know that Trump’s erstwhile, very temporary, National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, served as a paid advisor to the Turkish government last fall while advising Trump. Flynn met with Turkish officials and former CIA Director James Woolsey in September to discuss Gulen’s possible extradition. According to Woolsey in a Wall Street Journal piece, the Turkish Ministers in attendance (incl Erdogan’s son-in-law) suggested a clandestine operation that would amount to kidnapping Gulen and taking him back to Turkey. Woolsey reported that he reminded Flynn and the Turks that this was illegal and then had his staff inform Vice President Biden of the meeting. It is impossible to know what Trump knows about this incident but it is easy to remember that Flynn was a major advisor to his campaign, was considered as a running mate and that Trump left him in the position of National Security Advisor for over two weeks after Acting Attorney General Sally Yates informed him of Flynn’s work with the Russians.

It seems likely that Trump will be told by staff to be careful dealing with Erdogan but Trump and Erdogan are in too many ways birds of a feather. Each desires authoritarian power, loathes the free press, questions the role of the courts and has a tenuous connection to the truth. If their meeting follows the pattern of past Trump meetings with foreign leaders, he will have made a tremendous new friend, they will share very great plans for the future and back in Pennsylvania, Fehtullah Gulen will be looking for a high powered immigration lawyer. Stay tuned.

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TRUMP IN CONTEXT

Posted March 10, 2017 on 5:24 pm | In the category Europe, Germany, Politics, Press, TRUMP, Turkey, Uncategorized | by Jeff

“Liberalism itself has failed, and for a pretty good reason. It has been too often compromised by the people who represented it.”
― Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72

So, is Donald Trump just the tip of the iceberg? Elections coming up in Europe might help tell us whether the age of Western liberal democracy is heading towards the exit.

While we rightly pay a lot of attention to the national disaster known as Trump it may be that he is only the first among many. The first clue that the West was heading into stormy weather was the UK’s Brexit vote – a vote that forced the Prime Minister out of office, replaced him with a pale imitation of Margaret Thatcher and has proven to be a first crack in the European Union. Then came Trump’s surprise win which has produced the beginnings of a major make-over of America’s economic and social reality, and not for the best.

But obsessing on Trump allows us to ignore a trend that has been developing for some time. Recent or upcoming elections in France, Hungary, Turkey, the Netherlands, and Poland have all indicated that Western liberalism is in decline. Poland now has a nationalist government with a shaky relationship to the EU; NATO member Turkey has effectively eliminated a free press while it heads toward a major policy conflict with the U.S. over Turkey’s unwillingness to accept American collaboration with Kurdish fighters in Syria; France is looking at a national election in which the National Front’s right-wing candidate Marine Le Pen is almost surely going to be one of the two finalists for President with a serious opportunity to win; The Netherlands’ parliamentary election this month is very possibly going to hand a victory to Geert Wilders’ extreme right-wing Freedom Party; and Hungary has already elected a Prime Minister who has turned the country against much of what have been Western values. Add to these, the strong arm tactics of Netanyahu in Israel, the rise of Russian influence in Serbia, and the rising risk to Merkel’s reign in Germany and we have the approach of a new world order.

There has been considerable press discussion of the role of Russia in all of this but the press might better put its efforts into exploring the failures of the West to develop and maintain working economies that provide jobs and benefits to restless, discouraged populations. There are exceptions – notably Germany and Canada – but by and large the West has produced an environment in which the gap between the rich and everyone else is growing, the opportunities for high quality lives have diminished for most people and economic growth is almost non-existent.

While Trump’s electoral victory no doubt hinged on many issues, in the states where it was decided, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Michigan and Wisconsin – the economy rose to the top. Whether Trump has the solution is highly questionable but a moot point. Probably he does not, but the Clinton campaign managed to largely ignore the issue and the people who felt it the most. This issue may also be playing out in France, the Netherlands, the UK and the rest of Western Europe. “It’s the economy, stupid” was the mantra that Bill Clinton ran on successfully in the 90’s; it may still reflect the dominant issue that affects the most people throughout the world and that determines the winners and losers of elections. So investment in defense grows while investment in production declines and the quality of the lives of the people our defenses protect remain in the background. Go figure.

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One last chance for Cyprus

Posted January 13, 2017 on 8:35 pm | In the category Erdogan, Europe, Greece, Turkey, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago and the always somewhat fragile agreement between Northern Ireland, part of th eUK  and the independent Irish Republic there is only one place left in Europe where a dividing line separates parts of what had once been a united country: Cyprus.    A Nomansstrip runs through the capital city of Nicosia, and beyond, that divides the country into a northern part, with an ethnic Turkish population, occupied by Turkish troops from the mainland, and an independent southern part populated by ethnic Greeks.  Previous attempts to unite the two parts have failed but once again discussions are going on.  Much depends on the approval of the Turkish government in Ankara, which is by no means a certainty, as well as agreement on land exchanges, and a method for organizing a single government for the entire island, built on two somewhat autonomous provinces.  There are many problems to be resolved, but also much to be gained if agreement can be reached.  It would in particular  be a very welcome development for the European Union, to which the southern part belongs – and the newly united one would  presumably enter – as it would be a demonstration of trust in the future of the EU despite the unwitting British effort to demolish it.  Stay tuned!

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Turkey: The Rise and Fall of Secular Democracy

Posted February 23, 2014 on 2:13 pm | In the category Erdogan, Europe, International Broadcasting, Public Diplomacy, Turkey, Uncategorized | by Jeff

Abdullah Gul, President of Turkey, has signed into law a government proposal designed to give the government extraordinary powers of censorship over the Internet, including blocking of specific sites viewed as a threat to the Turkish government and collecting the histories of web searches of individuals’ computers. This is Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s latest attempt to eliminate free speech in a country that until recent months had served as a model of secular democracy in the Muslim world.

While Turkey’s economy and its people’s overall quality of life had flourished for 11 years under Erdogan, the very personal nature of his leadership had for some time been moving the country toward a less democratic culture in which religious Islam began to play an increasing role, personal and political corruption began to flourish, and freedom of expression began to suffer. The root of the problems is a competition between Erdogan and his brand of Islam and that of Fethullah Gulen the leader of a Sufi-based brand of Islam. Gulen, a former ally of Erdogan operates a large Turkish social, political and educational enterprise from his current home in Pennsylvania. He became disillusioned with Erdogan’s personalized Islam-centric approach to leadership which at best can be characterized as arrogant; at worse as megolamanic.

Political moves by Erdogan during the past year have placed the country’s commitment to secular democracy as well as his power at risk. It began with a public demonstration against Erdogan’s move to replace a public park in Istanbul with a shopping mall but it was clear that much of the demonstrators’ incentive was Erdogan’s increased authoritarianism. The demonstrations grew in size and led to a brutal police crackdown that was abrupt and violent, leading to at least 7 deaths and thousands of injuries. Erdogan’s response included a clumsy attempt to blame the U.S. and Israel for inciting the demonstrations. What followed included street riots, and police arrests of Erdogan allies for crimes of vast public and private corruption. Erdogan responded with take-overs of the police and judiciary, censorship of news, arrests of journalists and academics for speaking out, and the new restrictions on access to Internet content. All of this has contributed to a decline of the Turkish economy, and the erosion of the Turkish model of a secular democracy into a state with two Islamic sects fighting for power while secularists struggle to regain influence.

While most of the damage done to date is to the Turkish people and their democratic state, Turkey’s importance to the West raises the international stakes. Turkey’s geography, its importance for stability in the Middle East, and its unique ability and position to blend secular democracy into a 99% Muslim population with a rich history of power and influence lends it an importance beyond the merely symbolic. It has benefitted from a successful, growing economy, a commitment to education for all (including women), a thriving tourist industry, an agricultural output that is the envy of its region, and the second largest military among NATO members.

While its efforts since the late 1980s to become a full member of the EU have been rebuffed, that became less of an issue as EU countries’ economies have suffered through years of an ill-advised austerity while Turkey’s thrived. There is, in fact, little incentive or interest now in Turkey in becoming an EU member. As a further indication of Erdogan’s movement away from the West, he gave a contract to China to build its missile defense system, provoking alarm among fellow NATO members – especially the U.S. – while signaling his desire to shift turkey’s interest away from the West and towards greater influence in Asia.

Western democracies have held up turkey as a model of what can be accomplished in a Muslim country committed to secularism and democracy. As Erdogan continues on his current path that model may cease to exist. While the future of turkey lies in the hands of its people the West needs to do whatever is possible to short circuit Erdogan’s autocratic limits on free expression. The U.S. has begun to play a small role in that effort by supporting various “pirate” radio stations run by Turkish expats dedicated to providing a free flow of information currently being kept out of Turkey’s tradional press and media. While clearly premature for the U.S. to add Turkey to its official international surrogate broadcasting efforts the time for a Radio or TV Free Turkey may well be approaching. The European Union also needs to take a hard look at Turkey’s limited membership role in the Union and begin to apply pressure for the return of basic human rights, including a free press and unfettered access to social media and the Internet in general.

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Bush’s Foreign Policy: The Perfect Storm

Posted November 8, 2007 on 11:41 am | In the category Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Middle East, Pakistan, Turkey, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

President Bush continues to wallow in the consequences of his own arrogant miscalculations. The situation America finds itself in can be traced to his and Cheney’s so-called tough guy approach to the world, as evidenced in the insane war in Iraq. Among what “Shock and Awe” and “Mission Accomplished” missed were the ripple effect consequences that followed and that continue to arrive.

Turkey asked that the U.S. avoid invading Iraq for reasons of its own security and their recognition of the likely bloodbath to follow, but agreed to work with the U.S. in providing staging areas for U.S. troops. At the same time it warned of the potential difficulties with the Kurds, a warning of which the U.S. apparently took no note. So having considerable responsibility for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis AND the increased power and influence of Iran in the region (incl. Iraq) the U.S. now has the problem of a possible micro war between two of its allies – the Iraqi Kurds and the Turks. Bush is saying that he will help Turkey flush out the PKK (Kurdish rebels) but that is clearly an empty promise given our incompetence and unwillingness to put the thumbs to the Iraqi Kurds, who will at least passively support the PKK. It is a dog’s breakfast.

Pakistan has been presented as the bulwark of our “war on terrorism” which is beginning to sound a bit like the help that our friends in Saudi Arabia have given us leading up to and following 9/11. Pakistan is a nuclear power led by a dictator who views himself as the country’s savior while the majority of his citizens seek the democracy that Bush has presented as his foreign policy’s grandest wish. We continue to provide massive defense aid to Pakistan while it allows al Quada to operate more or less unfettered within its borders, the Taliban to operate out of its borders into Afghanistan and its peoples’ dream for democracy to wither and die. It is impossible to know what would happen in Pakistan without Musharraf but the best long-term hope is for a true democracy to develop while finding a way to ensure that Pakistan’s nuclear arms remain out of the hands of extremists. So, does the U.S. continue to support Musharaf or pull the plug and risk democracy? There are echoes of what the U.S. did in Iran by shoring up the Shah, providing massive military aid, turning our eyes from the Shah’s human rights abuses and getting pretty much what we deserved – a belligerent Iran with whom we continue to squander diplomatic possibilities to a point where it might be too late. Another dog’s breakfast cooked up by this administration.

Afghanistan is the place that might have been a success for the administration but that too is being pissed away largely because of our Iraq folly. Pakistan passively provides cover for the Taliban which continues to operate at considerable strength in the South and increased strength elsewhere in Afghanistan while most of the U.S.’s troops are spinning their wheels helping to build a stronger Iraq which will probably eventually ally politically with Iran. Were it not for the Canadians, the British and the Dutch, Afghanistan might very well be lost already (no thanks to the Germans, French, Spaniards and Italians who hide their troops in the relative safety of the North). Defense Secretary Gates commented on this as recently as 25 October speaking to a group of unimpressed European generals:

”A handful of allies are paying the price and bearing the burdens,” he said in remarks that were notably critical of European governments. He spoke hours after leaving a two-day meeting of NATO defense ministers in the Netherlands, where he pressed for more troops for Afghanistan. There were no promises. ”If an alliance of the world’s greatest democracies cannot summon the will to get the job done in a mission that we agree is morally just and vital to our security,” he told the European generals, ”then our citizens may begin to question both the worth of the mission and the utility of the 60-year-old trans-Atlantic security project itself,” meaning NATO, which was created in 1949. His remarks drew little reaction from the generals, who applauded politely when he finished.” – AP

Clearly the U.S. will need to step up its commitment to Afghanistan but cannot do so as long as it is mired in an endless war in Iraq – that is, as long as G. Bush is president and no one with Rudy Giuliani’s views is elected in his place.

That leaves every president’s greatest challenge – the Middle East. Bush has all but ignored the Middle East for seven years – barring the talk of a “roadmap to peace” (remember that one?), his refusal to accept that the democratic election in Palestine was valid because the people elected the wrong guys, and of course his support for Israel’s disastrous bombing of Lebanon. Secretary Rice is now spending more time in the Middle East than in Washington and according to David Brooks in the NY Times – not exactly an objective observer – she is putting together an anti-Iran alliance, which would include Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the Palestinians and the U.S. He goes on to say that:

“It’s slightly unfortunate that the peace process itself is hollow. …But that void can be filled in later. The main point is to organize the anti-Iranians around some vehicle and then reshape the strategic correlation of forces in the region.”

This alliance will then face off against the alliance that will include Iran, Syria, Hamas, Hezbollah, and – in all probability – Iraq. This is a hope and a wish but certainly not a foreign policy based on reality.

1/20/09 – that is the key date – the time when sophisticated, intelligent people can begin to dig us out of Bush’s Perfect Storm created from a rare combination of American incompetence, arrogance, ignorance, and naiveté.

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