Posted tagged ‘turkey’

The Second Phone Call

October 16, 2019

The now famous “whistleblower” gave us an insight into President Trump’s phone call with the Ukrainian President.  From the whistleblower’s report, a number of released emails, and further testimony by present and former Administration persons before select House panels, the public knows how the crass (and mafia-like) President Trump tried to extort the Ukrainian President.  Trump’s goals were information intended to discredit Hillary Clinton and his potential opponent in the 2020 Presidential election, Joe Biden.  

This week the public has learned of a second phone call, this time with the President of Turkey.  The public does not yet have the details of this second call, but the evening news is delivering the sad consequences.  Turkey has invaded northern Syria and is attacking Syrian Kurds who previously had been US allies in the effort to destroy ISIS.  President Trump’s decision to stand back, and by default, allow Turkey to have its way, was against all professional advice news reports are telling.  Slowly there is speculation forming about what the telephone conversation with President Erdogan contained.  And the speculation is not pretty.

One school, let’s call it the “innocent” version goes as follows.  The President initiated a call against the advice of his aides.  As normal for President Trump, the President was unprepared for unexpected developments.  President Erdogan told the President that Turkey was prepared to implement a “buffer zone” in norther Syria along Turkeys border with Syria.  President Trump accepted the proposal and said US troops would not interfere.  President Trump is said to have laid down no conditions or consequences if Turkey went too far.  End of call.

The second school of thought, let’s call it the “Trump, Inc” version opens with the President thanking President Erdogan for attending the recent opening of a new Trump property in Istanbul.  President Erdogan reminded the President that “Trump, Inc” also has several other properties in Turkey and that Turkey was an important country for “Trump, Inc”.  President Erdogan than transitioned to Turkey’s plans to invade Syria and that it would be wise for the US to withdraw as soon as possible, etc, etc, etc.

Most likely the actual conversation combined both versions.  President Trump’s highest interests involve his properties and their financial value.  President never prepares for important meetings and so why would one expect that he prepared for his Erdogan call?  And, as “Mr Transactional”, why would anyone expect President Trump to see further than how the deal impacts the President now.

As a narcissist, a lazy thinker, and an outmatched participant in the international big leagues, why would anyone expect President Trump to suddenly act Presidential and attempt to deal with the best interests of America first?  

Should the details of the second call begin to be leaked, President Trump could be looking at wholesale abandonment by his up to now Congressional Republican firewall.  What a hoot that discrediting Joe Biden doesn’t bother Congressional Republicans but messing with the Middle East would.  Go figure.

Human Rights In A Time Of Popularism

March 13, 2017

Over the past weekend, news headlines featured the reports that Turkey wanted to send diplomates into the Netherlands in order to campaign before Turkish residents living in the Netherlands. The diplomates purpose was said to be aimed at gaining votes for a change in the Turkish Constitution which would increase current Turkey President Erdogan’s power. By US standards, this request seems off base and should be denied. Hmmm.

American’s gut reaction, however, is based more on our sense of isolationism, that is the American public square is off limits to other nations’ political squabbles. Americans do not expect other nations to have an opinion on US politics and for sure, do not want any interference in our internal affairs (for example, the rumored Russian activity in Trump’e election). But what if a foreign country only wish to “spin” their local politics in the US press and attempt to raise favorable sentiments? Who cares?

The Dutch situation, however, is different. The Turkish intervention was aimed at convincing Turkish citizens who were living and working in the Netherlands to vote (absentee) in a Turkish elections. What’s wrong with that?

Popularism is flowering across Europe and in the Netherlands, right leaning politicians are taking every opportunity to remind Dutch citizens that Turkish guest workers are taking Dutch jobs. Post World War II a number of countries, the Netherlands and Germany in particular, invited guest workers from Turkey to come and work. For a complex set of reasons, the guest workers did not assimilate into the greater society. Go along and get along seemed to be the accepted way of life and today there are second and third generation Turkish residents in both Germany and the Netherlands who do not speak their host country’s language. Hmmm.

Popularism, itself, is a bag of many things. Xenophobes, bigots, and religious extremists often live comfortable under this umbrella. Promote discontent, label a minority as the trouble maker, and then promise (without proof) you will fix this mythical problem, and voila, a politician might get elected. Sound familiar?

But in Europe, there is a much more subtle problem under the surface. Turkey wants to become an EU member and gain full entry to the common market. For Turkey this would give their economy a great boost and would enable even larger numbers of Turkish citizens to move freely into other EU countries and compete for jobs. Oh, and by the way, if the Turkish citizens did not find employment right away, they could claim social benefits in their host country. Hmmm.

Most current EU member States have not had much concern when the migrating workers carried Spanish, Italian, Polish or even a Lithuanian passports. A Turkish passport is something else again. Why?

No surprise, most Turks are Muslim.

The Muslim religion presents a different theology, of course, and for religious intolerants, this is sufficient enough. But there’s more.   Muslims bring with them a different sent of customs, including Sharia law, dress codes, and sharply different views on women’s rights (as seen by Europeans).

Most Western people also consider religious freedom to be a core human right. Most modern western people consider woman’s equality and suffrage a human right. So how exactly does one reconcile these two opposing views? How does a country have laws which grant women the right to wear what they wish (within broad standards of decency) and turn an eye the opposite direction when another women is told she must wear a certain religious garb whether she wants to or not?

In times of plenty, a tolerant society would find ways to accommodate Islam. Genital mutilation, stoning, or multiple wives, however, represent a step to far in most tolerant Western societies. While these societies might allow relative free exercise of religious freedom, these practices would be banned.

But, in times of slow growth or decline, the idea of someone from another country coming in a taking work from another citizens is too much to expect. Turkey as an EU/Common Market member has its supporters (those who see gaining access to Turkish customers), but the realities of local country economics when framed in the conflicts of religious customs, it becomes a piece of cake for populists politicians to short circuit any dialog and pitch secular muslims as the same as fundamentalist.

It would be wise not to look down ones nose and say that would not happen in America. Think about the demonization of Mexicans who don’t follow Sharia law, don’t have different rules for women, and dress for the most part indistinguishable from other Americans. And worse, Mexicans are good workers, family oriented, and are church going people. Isn’t that what the idealized American is?

Populist politicians are pickers and choosers. They are also close to rudderless and pick issues which will yield the most votes. And while that might sound great to someone if the issue fits their hot button, one must remember that this populist leader will jump upon a new issue in the future if that serves their purpose better.

Your populist leader may not be your friend for long.  Hmmm.

It Could Be Worse

July 4, 2013

Congress seems hopelessly divided and for all intense purposes, dysfunctional.  Members appear far more interested in defending or expanding their personal financial status than exercising the important duties of their elected office.  They spout platitudes designed to sound genuinely constructive and then find ways to thwart any progress towards a resolution.  Fortunately, no Congressional action is often better than action accompanied by unintended consequences.  My worry is “what could this Congress do if it really needed to do something?

We also see in several States, legislative action designed to restrict woman’s access to abortion procedures, or new laws calling for strict voter photo ID laws (when no evidence of voter fraud exists), or implementing actions to curtail the expansion of Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act.  If the current state of events really represented serious problems, one would expect those States to have also debated and then enacted legislation which made safer abortion procedures readily available (not just harder to obtain), or created additional procedures to enable those without drivers licenses to easily obtain acceptable photo ID (not just have to figure out another bureaucratic hurdle), or substituted some other method of affordable healthcare insurance in place of Medicaid (instead of leaving the poor without coverage).  The absence of these alternatives is a clear indication that these legislatures were not interested in solving the problems, but were interested in asserting their social view.

Egyptian President Morsi is possible wondering today whether there were any steps he took (or should have taken) that distanced him from those who elected him a little over a year ago.  During his brief staff in office and the military coup that has disposed him yesterday, Morsi seemed to worry more about advancing religious/ideological causes over clearly thought through measure to help the poor and the economy.  Hmmm.

The good news is that the US’ economy is significantly stronger than the Egyptian one.  A direct analogy on government effectiveness is not appropriate.  Hmmm.

We both have governments which seem concerned about other matters than building or maintaining a strong economy.  And we both seem to have factions who wished to promote their religious or social views and force them on others.  In Egypt or Turkey, women should be able to dress modestly but it is not clear why they should think they can force others to abandon western secular dress?  In the US, no one is (or should be) forced to undergo an abortion and it is just as mind boggling why some should try to make it difficult for others to electively undergo this procedure.

There is a lot of room for reasonable people to debate how best to grow the economy.  Fiscal discipline or the ever helping hand of government can not be judged in isolation.  Economic cycles often demand more liquidity or drastic tightening measure at other times.  Even more perplexing, government interacts with the private sector at many points.  Many who champion government spending do so because the government will buy from their friends.  It is the “difficult to find” balance that our elected officials should be seeking, not the 100% win at all costs.

Today the sun is still shining on America.  Barbecues, beer, and flags galore will mark this fourth of July.  As we think how great the day is, just remember it could be lot worse quite easily.

Erdogan’s Problem

June 12, 2013

Fighting for front page attention are the demonstrations and the Turkish government’s response.  Protesters have been driven from Taksim Square after riot police applied sufficient force.  Erdogan has not been asleep while Tunis, Libya, Egypt, and now Syria enjoyed the Arab Spring.  Erdogan is not going to let these protests get out of hand.  Or have they already?

The Turkish cause is much different than that of those other uprisings.  Erdogan caused this one and he can fix it.

Turkey lies between Europe and the Middle East.  Within its borders reside very wealthy, very poor, Christians, Muslims, educated, not educated, progressives, and conservatives.  A true mixture and probably not a melting pot.

Strategically, Turkey is an important US ally.  It’s secular history (since the founding of modern Turkey) brings needed balance to the more conservative Islamic States which lie nearby.  Turkey has also maintained a supportive position towards Israel unlike its neighbors.

So why all this fuss?

Prime Minister Erdogan has been democratically elected three times and seems to want to be elected again.  Unfortunately along this path, he has appeased the conservative Muslim faction (in return for votes) with “small step by small step” hoping to reintroduced Ottoman Empire relics.  Each step seemed insignificant but in total are threatening to swallow the secularness of modern Turkey.

Last August, following Ramadan, during the two day national holiday, I witnessed in Istanbul, modern Turkey.  Everywhere one went, thousands of citizens, dressed in their best, were out and about.  Mosques, museums, parks, the Golden Horn, and public transportation were flooded with holiday enjoyers.  Dressed neatly in both western garb and traditional modern ethnic Muslim coverings, the Turks I saw were polite and respectful.  They were able to enjoy the holiday and demanded nothing of me or any other Western visitor.

The ironic aspect of Erdogan’s pro=Muslim policies (like with alcohol limits, dress, and women’s rights) is that in secular Turkey, 99% of the citizens are Muslim.  No one is required to drink alcohol or wear western dress (even though most men do).  Traditional dress for women, long skirts or pants, kerchiefs, and modest blouses and coats can be seen everywhere.

It is one question why, as a personal choice anyone would seek to reintroduce ultra conservative muslim dress, but the more telling question is why would Turkey step back in history by allowing Islamic clerics to specify what others should wear?

If Erdogan is to be remembered as a great leader, he will take this Taksim Square demonstration as a wake up call.  Young, modern, and entrepreneurial Turkey is saying “enough”.  Supporters (and there are plenty) tend to be the far less educated.

The loss of secularism will deal Turkey a severe economic blow and cement Erdogan as the anti-Mustafa Ataturk anti-hero.

The King of Thailand, Turkey, and Mitt Romney

June 4, 2012

Thailand arrested Surapak Puchaisaeng and charged him with insulting the King of Thailand.  This is considered a serious offense and Puchaisaeng comments on face book brought swift government action.  Puchaisaeng, surprisingly is not unique in Thailand where this charge is handed out like candy.

Fazil Say is an international know pianist and composer.  However, to Turkish authorities he is a criminal who crime is insulting Islam.  (How does one insult an inanimate religion?)  Say has been formally charged and awaits trial.

In a land with no royalty and plenty of religious pluralism, these cases seem weird if not outright backward.  Hello, this is the 21st century.

But are these cases just examples of rejecting modernity or do they represent something else?

Mitt Romney is making a run for President on the basis of rejecting every thing President Obama says or has done.  During the primaries, Mitt endorsed every fundamentalist religious view regardless the potential impact upon women, immigrants or homosexuals.

Why has he done that?

The answer is not clear.  My suspicion is that like Thailand and Turkey, when things get tough, some people do not stand tall.  It is much easier to pander than to move forward. The world is a tough place today and global leaders cannot always see the high road from the low one.

The economies of Thailand, Turkey, and the US (as are just about every other country in the world) are struggling.  While none of these economies are the stuff civil violence is made of, they are weak enough to make the population question whether their current government is fit to continue in control.  And one thing about government leaders around the world, no one likes to get kicked out of office.

Stage set, enter the political red meat for the masses.

In Thailand the King is still revered.  Charging someone with insulting the King (and Thailand has charged lots of people recently) is like giving the people “cake”.  The only trouble is that this type of “cake” cannot be eaten.  It is, instead, food for the emotions. The intent is to distract the really hungry citizens.

In Turkey, there are more problems than the economy.  The Kurds, the Syrians, the Israelis, and the usual feuds with the other neighbors have the makings to present situations where second guessing the government is easy.  For the government, playing to the religious masses seeks a quid pro quo.  The Government gives one to the Muslim clerics and they tell the people to vote for the government.  Hmmm.

Romney is caught in just as difficult a spot.  He is trying to unseat the incumbent by trying to make the last four years a referendum on President Obama.  Romney is saying the Obama Presidency has been a failure. On that basis alone, he, Mitt Romney should be elected.

The world is in a sorry state (of course this is relative, but it is less so than during World War II).  The Israli-Palestinian situation is stalemated.  Iran seems still on a path to developing nuclear weapons.  Iraq is a mess and on the verge of getting worse.  Afghanistan will surely return to pre-9/11 status once the US pulls out.  China is becoming a strong Far East power, the first to emerge since WWII.  And at home, the economy is sputtering.  Congress is like a dysfunctional and greedy child.  And according to Romney, this is all the fault of Obama.

As the Presidential campaign grinds through the summer and heats up in September, the spot light needs to be on “this is how I will fix things”.  That applies to both the President and his challenger.  We need not listen to charges like “insulting the Catholic Church” or “attacking religious freedom.

Similarly, “repeal and replace” is not good enough.  “Replace with what” and “at what cost” should be the focal points.

If a good case is made, then maybe Mitt will become President Romney.

What Does Peace Mean?

January 9, 2009

All those wringing their hands over the current Palestinian (read Hamas) – Israeli conflict are calling for a cease fire and a road to peace.  What do you think that means to them?

Does it mean that the Israelis should stop shooting and the Hamas faction should stop their rocket firings?  Is that peace?

And in a cease fire period, is it peace where one sides lives prosperously and the other side slowly wastes away in poverty?

Or is peace the situation where the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank become a State (with questionable means to survive) and the Palestinians living in Lebanese refugee camps are not allowed to return to the lands they once occupied because those lands are within Israel’s boarders?

I think that most people who are calling for a cease fire and peace really mean they do not want to see on their televisions or in their newspapers pictures of dead or dying children.  They do not want to see pathetically equipped hospitals unable to provide 21st century care.  They do not want to hear any more of suicide bombers or rocket firing extremists.  They want somehow to put the lid back on the Middle East mess and just have it go away.

I am afraid that this form of peace is not good enough.  It is truly putting a lid on the situation and simultaneously setting the conditions for an even larger conflict the next time.  The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a conflict between these two parties and also a surrogate for other neighboring countries to express their national interests.  Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, Iran, and even Iraq all have a dog in this fight.  If by magic, there could be an agreement with these countries and the US, the funding that supports the arm purchases could evaporate.  The atmosphere would then be ripe for a full negotiation of all the issues supporting free Israel and free Palestinian states.  

The US is not a neighbor but since it is the largest supporter of Israel and since Israel can not reasonably expected to win over the neighboring states who were all once sworn enemies, the US must step forward and work to gain the cooperation of these neighbors and the commitment of Israel to negotiate fully and fairly.