Friday, April 26, 2002

Hooray for our so-called democracy. Totally disgusting, this is just another way that the two parties rig the electoral system to maintain their control over the government. Remember when the Soviet Union's claims to democracy were ridiculous because their elections only had one candidate on the ballot? Ours, for practical purposes, have two. Woohoo.
Reversing Oslo
It seems likely that the Israeli war on Palestine will take a dent out of the terrorist movement, but it seems clear that the campaign is equally intended to cripple the Palestinian Authority. The Economist details some of the activities of the Israeli forces in the past few weeks:


In Ramallah, the temporary capital of the future Palestinian state, the army appeared to target the sinews of such a state. In a pattern so routine it seemed to observers to be policy, soldiers invaded Palestinian Authority (PA) ministries, denuded land registries of maps, raided courts, broke into banks and stole money, and trashed non-governmental offices servicing health, human rights and commerce.

One example: on April 4th, 150 soldiers went into the Ministry of Education. They took the hard drive from every computer and blasted open a safe, robbing it of around $10,000. The discs contain information on 650,000 teachers and students in 155 West Bank schools.


Note that the Economist is hardly a frothing anti-Semitic publication, but typically has a very clear-eyed view. It's easy to get distracted from the pragmatic issues in a conflict that involves encouraging children to admire suicide bombers. Ariel Sharon is taking advantage of this climate, a climate he did much to foster, in order to roll back the Oslo accords which created the Palestinian Authority, and which laid the groundwork for an independant Palestinian state. Righteous wrath against terrorism provides him a convenient cover for this goal.

Sharon is an ultra-nationalist who has always opposed Oslo, and has actively supported the illegal Israeli colonization of Arab lands for decades. He has said publicly he wished he had killed Yassar Arafat when he had the chance. He hated Oslo, he doesn't like Arafat, and wants to destroy the PA because they are necessary steps for creating a Palestinian state, and creating such a state will prevent the creation of Greater Israel. This isn't conspiracy theory, this is Sharon's stated beliefs, although they're masked now by the War On Terror.

I've seen the text of a pay-only report from Stratfor site, which I haven't looked at in depth, which claims that the Israeli anti-terror war has focused much more on the PA than on Hamas. This is curious, given that Hamas has long advocated the complete destruction of Israel, even as Arafat and the Palestinian mainstream has been at least open to coexistence. It suggests that both Sharon and Hamas share the common goal of eliminating Arafat and the PA, because neither wants compromise.


Blaming Arafat for terrorist attacks is more about politics than military reality. Arafat has significant political and military power, but he does not control the operations of radical Islamic groups. His security services also do not appear strong enough to completely suppress them. The Israeli government has dismissed the arrests of 100 suspected militants by the Palestinian security officers since the bombings, saying few were high-level operatives.

Also Israel's tactics of blockading cities and restricting Palestinian movement actually decrease Arafat's control over his own loyalists as local Palestinian leaders find themselves cut off from Arafat's central command.


So Sharon is pumping up the hatred among the Palestinians, blaming the resulting terrorism 100% on Arafat, and removing his ability to counter it. Not that I believe Arafat has clean hands, he has not made any attempt to lead his people in a constructive direction. I would bet money he has approved of terrorist activities, or at least anti-Israeli activities. My personal, pure-speculation theory is that Sharon has hard evidence of this which he has been showing to US leaders like Bush and Powell. It seems like whenever Bush goes into meetings with Sharon huffing that he's going to get him under control, he comes out having had his head turned against Arafat. So my pet theory is Sharon is whipping out recordings of Arafat ordering some nasty deal or other, or maybe just saying nasty things.

Regardless, Arafat is being played like a patsy by the Israelis. He's like the tightly wound kid who the bullies know will explode if they poke him with a stick - Sharon has been poking and tweaking him and the Palestinian people, and using their reactions as cover to steal his lunch money, and their state.
Friedman
Thomas L. Friedman encourages President Bush to push the Saudi, Israeli, and Palestinian leaders to "face up to what each wants to ignore":


Abdullah wants to ignore yesterday, Sharon wants to ignore tomorrow, and Arafat wants to ignore today.

Supporting evil
The Washington Post ran an excellent opinion piece in which David Bromwich questions whether in some parts of the world, life is more complicated than assumed by the Bush Doctrine. "It neglects the possibility that some may fail to resist because they are afraid, or because they are confused by the presence of more than one evil." While right on, the piece lightly steps over the question of those who root for their neighborhood evil over the evil from outside, not so much out of fear of the local bullies, but from a feeling that, bullies that they may be, the outside evil is a lot scarier. The devil you know, as they say. This situation is a bit more ambiguous than Mr. Bromwich probably wanted to examine, since many people would say the Bush Doctrine works just fine in that case.

This is developing into one of my favorite themes, the strategic myopia of repression. You've got some agitators, terrorists, or whatever breaking your balls, so you stomp the hell out of their neighborhood. This in turn ensures that the neighbors of the agitators will see you as the worse threat, and so side with the agitators, which gives you a reason to whomp them all harder, and we have a cycle that isn't going to end prettily. This works for the repression of religious political parties in Turkey as well as uprooting terrorism in the West Bank, and can work for fighting evil in the Middle East (e.g. bombing Iraq).

As Americans, we often feel that people living in unfree countries should welcome our intervention. We're the Good Guys, we're here to help! This naive belief comes from unconsciously assuming that everyone else in the world grows up with the same rosy view of our country and its foreign policy that we get growing up inside the USA, an assumption reinforced by movies potraying foreigners (the ones who don't hate us for being Good) as all loving America, pining for the opportunity to flee the horrors of foreignerdom to clean toilets in the Land of the Free. Not that many people don't admire America and the democratic values it represents, but they don't all hate themselves, either.

The fact is, US foreign policy places the national interests of the US above the interests of foreign people. That's simply the nature of foreign policy. The battle for freedom and democracy is how we dress it up to feel good about it; hopefully that ideal does modify our behavior somewhat in positive ways. Afghanistan is an example of this: liberating the Afghanis from an oppressive regime was a side effect of pursuing our national interests, but our cultivation of the image of defender of Freedom requires us to make at least a desultory effort at encouraging the creation of a democratic regime in the country.

The problem comes when we start believing our PR and, worse, thinking that other people believe it completely also. American strategic planners had expected Saddam Hussein to be toppled by his own people long ago, because they underestimate the loyalty of people to their own local bully when attacked by an outsider. We expected them to see America as the Good Guys bombing the evil tyrant, but instead they saw us as the Bad Guys bombing their neighborhoods.

This is why we can't simply barge into the Middle East and start knocking over local Bad Guys willy nilly, ignoring the opinions of the local folks. Saddam Hussein may be an indisputably evil man, Iran's government may be unduly influenced by whackos, and the House of Saud may help foster terrorism. But there are a hell of a lot of people out here who don't currently think the US is especially evil. Plenty of people might think we're bit on the big and mean side, but only in an abstract way. But if we start crashing around in the country next door, it won't matter that Mr. Bush is talking to Congress about how we're the Good Guys and we're fighting Evil, to the locals we'll be the foreigners who are bombing the hell out of their neighborhood. The War will get much larger and nastier, and it's hard to imagine the world will be a better place for it.

I saw the Bromwich article via Jim Henley, who found Bromwich's conclusion as compelling as I did:


The fate of many nations depends on our ability to declare no more enemies than we have and to create no more enemies than we must.


I think I'll swipe that.
I read the Economist
The Onion, as usual, hits it dead on with the second part of this point-counterpoint.

Thursday, April 25, 2002

Turkey's Next Government
Although the next elections aren't due until 2004 (I think), the current 3-way coalition government looks shaky, and the opposition parties keep claiming that new elections are needed soon. Well obviously those guys need elections to get back in the game, but Prime Minister's Ecevit is looking his age, and his partners are jockeying for the throne. If the current coalition breaks up, it may force a new election, and none of the three parties in the coalition are polling well enough to get back into parliament at all, much less with enough clout to retain their part in the government.

The Islamists are the most popular party at the moment, but of course the military establishment is unlikely to allow them free reign in government. Just a few years ago they (or more accurately, one of their predecessor parties) got into a 2-party coalition, but the generals noisly cleared their throats a little while later and the government was dissolved. Former PM Tansu Ciller is hot to get her old job back. However, Ciller is the same woman who allied with the Islamists for that same short-lived coalition, and she doesn't have much popular credibility. She was once very promising, but her political capital blew away in the wind, which still blows her in different directions from week to week. There are a few other parties kicking around, but even if they aren't a part of the coalition, they're part of the same corrupt establishment which is not smelling very nice to the voters these days.

The wildcard is Kemal Dervis, the former World Bank VP who is now Special Minister for the Economy. He was hailed as a savior when he returned home to accept the position last year, to ensure that the economic reform process stayed on track, at least well enough to keep the loan money flowing from the IMF. He doesn't get quite the press he used to though, and I haven't seen how well he's polling. His main weakness from where I sit is political: he doesn't have a real power base, other than fickle popular hopes, and doesn't have experience in the cutthroat Turkish political field. The political establishment hates him, because he's trying to dismantle their gravy train. But his apparent refusal to climb aboard their train means he lacks muscle. And having spent many years living in the US and working for the World Bank makes him vulnerable to patriotic demagogery - he is routinely accused of being a tool of the Western imperialists.

My guess is, if the coalition does break up and elections are called, the Islamists will do well enough that any government will have to include them in order to get a majority of parliament. The military may let them have their way for a little while at least, as they did last time around. Dervis will try to throw his hat into the ring, but I don't know how - it'll be difficult to take over an existing party, and forming a new party would be even harder. Maybe he'll get Ecevit's DSP party if the PM steps down. An Ecevit/DSP coalition with Erdogan/AKP? I can't tell, my crystal ball has just locked up, it's time to reboot.
Secularism vs.Religion
Today's big issue in the Turkish news is the continuing campaign of the military establishment to keep Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a leading Islamist politician, out of politics, and maybe even put him back into jail. The military's Chief of Staff (the head of the military, and the security council which oversees the elected government) is pushing a case against him for a speech he made ten years ago. The thing he doesn't like about the speech, which was apparently rebroadcast on TV last week, were comments praising the Aghani islamists who would later become the Taliban, and criticizing the military for sending poorly trained conscripts to fight the Kurds in southeast Turkey. Praising Islamists is interpreted by the Turkish legal and judicial systems as advocating the overthrow of the secular government, and "embarassing the military" or police is also a crime. Erdogan, a former mayor of Istanbul, spent 4 months in jail in 1999 for reading a poem which allegedly "incited hatred based on religious differences".

This is a key example of the problem Turkey has reconciling the secularism vs religion issue with democracy and freedom of expression. On the one hand, as a believer in liberty and democracy raised in the USA, I oppose the repression of political expression, not to mention religious expression. On the other hand, Turkey does have a number of influential figures who would possibly use the democratic process and freedoms to replace those very processes and freedoms with an intolerant religious state. There is no simple solution.

The threat of the religious parties in Turkey may or may not be overrated. Erdogan is very popular these days, and he is saying all the right things, condemning the 9/11 attacks, and publicly changing his mind about the secular nature of the government (not bad after all) and Turkey's NATO membership (A-OK with him). The city of Istanbul is governed by Islamists, and although they don't serve liquor in city-owned restaraunts, they continue to organize dynamic jazz and film festivals. But while the local breed of Islamists may be pretty tame compared with what other countries have, there's no telling what they'd be like if speaking warm and fuzzy didn't keep them out of prison and in parliament.

So I can't say the military has no reason to fear islamists - after all, powerful secularist states backed by the US have been chucked out by religious extremists in the recent past (Iran). But I still believe the principals of democracy are more powerful than the muzzle and the fist. Persecuting the islamists earns them credibility and sympathy. Restricting freedom to criticize the establishment only hurts the country - the best tool for improvement is criticism. More specifically, the current popularity of the Erdogan and the Islamists owes a lot to its persecution, although indirectly.

The current political establishment is very unpopular with the voters of Turkey, thanks to their mismanagement of the economy and endemic corruption. Not storm the streets unpopular, but most certainly throw the bums out unpopular - polls show none of the three parties making up the current coalition would get the votes they need to stay in parliament, much less retain control of the government. The Islamist party is quite popular though, because they are the clean government alternative to the current bunch of crooks.

The clean image of the islamists has a lot to do with their marginalization from the establishment. Since they aren't allowed to play with the popular kids, they aren't tainted with the popular kids' corruption. On top of this, they've done a good job governing several cities, including Istanbul. Most of the modern-minded Turkish people live in the cities, so demonstrating their ability to govern well without breaking the Quran over peoples' heads softens resistance among those most likely to be apprehensive about voting Islamist. A third powerful factor is that the current Islamist party got a fresh start last summer, when the establishment dissolved the old party. Rather than reforming as a single party, the old Islamists split into two groups, with the less repentant extremists forming their own club. This meant Erdogan's Justice and Development Party is composed of warm and fuzzy, mainstream-appealing Islamists, having shed the frothing fanatics. If you're an Economist subscriber, you can read this nice piece from last fall.

Again, I don't have a solution. I don't think squashing the Islamists using un-democratic means is good for the country in the long run, so far that policy has not only failed to eliminate them, it has instead forced them to evolve and improve themselves to the point where they are now the strongest political party in the country. The Republic would be better served if the corrupt mainstream parties were forced to improve themselves the same way. Maybe getting their asses kicked in the next election will force them to evolve a bit too, but I wouldn't count on it.
Lileks
The War is obviously weighing on James Lileks these days, he's been devoting more bleatspace to it lately. Today it's the possibility of an attack on the Mall of America, and I think I'm getting a better handle on why his political stuff gets under my skin (I love the rest of his stuff). What bothers him is the anti-West westerners, and I can see what he's getting at with this:


Those of us in the West who deign to examine the Arab world are accused of “Orientalism” and other racist conceits - but isn’t it peculiar that many of the apologists for terror have no interest in the terrorists’ actual objectives and rationales, but prefer to see them through the prism of their own ideologies?


Right on, I share his sentiment here. It puzzles me that some people praise John Walker Lindh for fighting for something he believed in, when what he believed was that the perfect society required the brutal oppression of women, religious intolerance, etc. I can understand how he might have been attracted to Islam in the first place, it's got a lot of groovy stuff, but the Taliban would have horrified Mohammed in the same way the Inquisition would have horrified Jesus.

What bothers me about Mr. Lileks' commentaries, I see now, is that he seems to address every issue of American policy with criticism of the anti-Capitalism crowd, implying that everything the government does is justifiable because those who oppose it are so unreasoning. He says of the anti-Westerners, "Yes, the people who would make these arguments are small in number - but they clutter the debate, and move the topic off into their own fiefdoms." But Lileks follows them straight into those fiefdoms. Of course, anti-Capitalist targets are easily shred with righteous wit, which makes them attractive, but he's perpetuating the same crime he accuses them of, cluttering the debate.
The clone wars
Virginia Postrel has been covering the ongoing debate over cloning. In this post she provides a very succint explanation of what cloning actually is. This bit is particularly interesting:

The basic technique at issue in today's policy debates is what is precisely known as "somatic cell nuclear transfer." A "somatic cell" is a cell in the body that is not a sex cell (not a sperm or egg). Somatic cells (blood, skin, muscle, nerve, etc.) have the full complement of genetic material, or chromosomes, while sex cells, known as gametes, have only half a set; when a sperm fertilizes an egg, a full set of chromosomes is created.

I'm not an expert in this field, but it seems to me that the only thing new about cloning is that it uses the non-sex cells for reproduction instead of the sex cells. Doctors have been fiddling around with sex cells to create so-called "test tube babies" for a few decades now, manually putting together sex cells to create embryos. Cloning is doing the same thing, but using non-sex cells to create the embryos instead. The crucial difference is that non-sex cells have the full set of chromosomes - both sides of the DNA double helix, both from the same parent, where the sex cells used in old-school test tube baby procedures have only one set of chromosomes. So cloning produces an embryo with all the same chromosomes as its parent, rather than merging two sets, which is the same thing that happens in nature.

Personally, I agree with Ms. Postrel that research in this area is important. It'd probably be best to wait for a while before using these techniques to reproduce people, i.e. to make babies that are genetically identical to somebody else, rather than the old fashioned mix of two people, if only to make sure that the techniques and their consequences are well known. I'm a believer that progress is good, although caution and good sense are required, as they are even when using technologies as old as fire.

Wednesday, April 24, 2002

The Turkish Daily News' reaction to Le Pens overrated showing in France's elections is that the Turkish government should hurry up with its EU membership drive, before the xenophobes close the door. (If that link doesn't work, as it won't in a day or two thanks to TDN's crappy web site, try this). Putting aside whether Turkey should be eager to get inside of a Eurostate dominated by racists, or whether that's even likely to occur, haste is unlikely to achieve anything, and not the course Turkey should be pursuing anyway.

At best, it's going to take at least 2 years for Turkey to get into the EU. And it isn't going to happen that quickly anyway, because both Turkey and the EU simply aren't ready for it. More another time.

Monday, April 22, 2002

Got me an email address, istanblog@yahoo.com.
My first blogging day is almost done. I'm not sure I've expressed my thought the way I'd like, especially the more political rants on the Middle East. I also probably haven't provided much insight that clearly benefits from living here in Turkey. Depending on how much time I get for this, considering I'm getting married next month, I'd like to blather a bit about Turkish politics, in particular the quest for EU membership (they're better off taking it slow, and the EU is not doing a good job of helping them prepare for it), what the mideast conflict and War on Terror look like from here, and the travails of a developing economy. IMF and foreign investment, are there any drawbacks? Plus, an email address so you can tell me what an ignorant f*** I am.
Let me take a moment to give props to some of those blogs I read every day, these having been inspirational in the creation of this blog. Of course, I have zero traffic, so it's not like it matters, but it'll make me feel good (pretty much the whole point of this blog). These are pretty standard fare in the blogging world.

Matt Welch is a classic "War Blogger", a self declared liberal but a war hawk. I dig the guy, although I do feel like he's slipping more and more into the unthinking pro-war mentality. If I'm a good boy I'll back this up with specific examples and counter-arguments at some point. I discovered blogging through his site.

Virginia Postrel promotes "Dynamism", basically a flavor of free-marketism and progressive thought (progressive as in "pro-progress", not as in "orthodox liberal"). A lotta good sense.

Talking Points Memo. As I mentioned below, I only discovered him recently, but I dug his stuff right away.

Flitis a military type fellow from Canada, provides a different viewpoint on the war - not quite American, not quite European.

Tony Pierce is not at all political, but very creative, one of the more interesting blogs that really appeals to me. Be sure to check out his photo essays, they're great, and I'd like to imitate them when I get around to it.

James Lileks is sometimes political, but I prefer his writing on culture and his home life. The guy is a seriously good writer, not in an in-your-face way, just pleasurable reading. His politics seem fairly knee-jerk conservative to me, but not of the frothing Limbaugh school - he seems like the kind of guy I could sit down with and have an interesting conversation, probably finding lots to agree on.

Wil Wheaton, the actor. This isn't a fanboy site, Uncle Willy is a real, geekoid blogger. His site appeals to me because he clearly opens his heart, and because he's close to my age and many of my interests. I can't explain it better than that.

Writing this list and comments I wondered, why do I read these particular political blogs? I'm generally anti-war, I tend to think it's unnecessary, only to be used as the last resort, and very rarely accomplishes anything useful. I can't call myself a liberal though, it just doesn't work for me. I used to consider myself a Democrat, but that was just laziness: the Democrats seemed to have fewer positions that I disagreed with than the Republicans. It's the whole "lesser of two evils" thing, which I've come to loath. Evil is evil. The turning point for me was the 2000 Presidential debates. I stayed up until the wee hours to watch it, being many time zones away from the Homeland at the time. Bush promised to pay us money if we voted for him. He put his hand on his heart and almost tearily proclaimed "I want to give you this money". Truly, totally disgusting. I will never forgive him for that. Al Gore very carefully explained how he had calculated the best way to ensure he could give more money than Bush to middle class voters, those most likely to a) understand what he meant, and b) vote. I turned off the television.

I must confess I didn't register for the absentee ballot, so I didn't vote. If I had, I would've voted for Nader. Although I don't think I would really want to live in the country he would make if he could, he was the only candidate I believed was sincere. He's spent his life fighting for the interests of regular people against big companies, as opposed to the other way around.

I'm not a liberal because I can't suscribe to the full set of beliefs all liberals must subscribe to in order to be certified as "open minded". I dig the free market. I think people should be able to buy what they want, work where they want, and start the businesses they want to start. I don't like the Republican version of the Free Market, which is a sham: they take a lot of money from big companies to pass laws which unsure the market is tilted in their own direction. The Democrats do the same thing, so there's no relief there, voting Democrat to oppose big business is like drinking Diet Coke to lose weight. There's much healthier stuff out there.

Libertarianism has a lot of good stuff, but most Libertarians seem way to dogmatic. They've developed a model for a perfect society that works great as long as real people aren't allowed to interfere with it. Take away the government, except to enforce basic security, property rights, and contract enforecement, and let everyone take responsibility for their own decisions. Sounds great, but governments aren't the only way people group together to tilt life in their own favor. It's human nature. Government is, at least in principle, accountable to the people it governs. But I do think government needs to be kept out of the way as much as possible, it needs to facilitate public services rather than provide them on its own.
My output today is not going to be typical for this blog. I'm going on at such length today because a) I've got a lot pent up steam to let out, and b) I've got plenty of time on my hands today, something not likely to be repeated for months.

Another note, I will put up an email address at some point.
Venezuela

I only discovered Joshua Micah Marshall's Talking Points Memo bog yesterday, but I've added it to my list of blogs to check in on daily. His writing seems very well informed and clear-headed. He's got a great post on the coup in Venezuela which suggests that the US government's involvement has been underplayed.

As usual, ignorant conspiracy theorists have clouded the debate and marginalized discussion of what exacly the US government's involvement really was. By immediately running around claiming that the US engineered the whole thing because of the Oil, without a shred of proof, they've guaranteed that the mainstream will dismiss serious attempts to look at what the involvement really was. As Marshall suggests, the administration's credibility is suspect when they attempt to deny involvement by citing what they told the coup plotters before and during the coup. And the State department apparently knew about money paid to the military leaders who supported coup from a Miami bank account.

It seems unlikely that the US government would have gone to the effort and risk of playing a major role in the coup, much less instigating and planning it. On the other hand, it seems clear that they knew about it, met with the coup leaders, and were well aware of its being supported by someone in th US.

My ill-informed blogpinion on the coup? Democracy good, coup bad. Chavez seems politically inept, economically unsound, dangerously populist. But in a democracy, a bad leader should be removed democratically. Even American Republicans followed democratic form when they tried to oust Bill Clinton, even if they made a mockery of it. The Supreme Court's decision on the 2000 election might be questionable, but no threat of violence was involved. How could our government condone the circumvention of Democracy in another country, something they would never tolerate at home?
America's War on Terror

I promised earlier to explain why ignoring Palestine is not an option for the US due to the War On Terror (WOT). It's not about getting everyone back on board for bombing Iraq, and the fact that this is President Bush's motivation for pushing for peace in Palestine only proves that he's lost the plot. The question we need to ask is why are we in this WOT at all? What exactly is the War on Terrorism?

One interpretation is to take its name literally, which renders the whole thing ridiculous. Terrorism is a tactic, not an ideology. It's fine to say terrorism is a tactic that should be forbidden, as with using weapons of mass destruction, but to engage in wars in foreign countries based on the tactics used by local fighters is fuzzy strategy.

President Bush presents the War On Terror more as a War On Evil. This view is simplistic and cartoonish, suggesting that he sees the enemy as a League of Super Villians, bin Laden and Saddam and Kim sitting around in their headquarters plotting the destruction of Freedom.

Let's remember why America thinks it needs a War On Terror in the first place. It's because some terrorists knocked down the World Trade Center and put a hole in the Pentagon. It wasn't the Injustice League that did this, and it wasn't the Society for the Advancement of Terrorism. It was al-Quaeda. Al-Quaeda isn't an isolated group, it's part of a broad ideological movement, a violently fundamental branch of Islam. It doesn't have anything to do with North Korea, as much as the President may dislike communists. It does have some connections with Iran and Iraq, but these are not the heart of the problem.

The key question is why did they do it? The current school of thought on this is that they did it because they are evil, which quickly came about to combat the first school of thought which was that they did it because we are evil. Both schools are simplistic and ignorant. The "we are evil" school was quickly slapped down by the mainstream, especially bloggers, and did a lot to discredit any attempt to examine the root causes of anti-American militarism in the Muslim world. The "they are evil" school helped us to avoid seriously analyzing the enemy's motivations and get on with the war. Unfortunately, if you don't understand your enemy's motivations you can't reasonably expect victory.

So here's my armchair analysis. Osama bin Laden and his ilk want war, they want the West vs. Islam in a major showdown. The problem is that they are unhappy with the Muslim world as it is today. It's disunified, it's impure. Saudi Arabia, where it is illegal for women to drive or go outside without a veil, is not strict enough for them. They want to go back to their imagined version of the glory days of Islam - not by bringing about a new era of scientific and artistic enlightenment, leading the world in the advancement of knowledge, but by discarding all scientific and cultural advancement that occured after those times. They figure that war with the West is the way to achieve this, since it will unite Muslims against a common enemy, and bring them to realize that the West and its ways are wicked. Everyone will want to throw off Western culture and follow the model of Taliban Afghanistan, where the men were men and the women were cattle.

There were two possible outcomes bin Laden was hoping for from 9/11. One was that we would withdraw from Saudi Arabia and make other concessions, the way we backed out of Lebanon and Somalia in the past after being attacked. The other was that we would go to war against the Muslims, and the Muslims would rally together, looking to bin Laden for leadership. The result was closer to the second option, but didn't work out quite the way he hoped.

I give the President and his people credit for handling the response to 9/11 very carefully and, dare I say it, wisely. They ensured international support, especially among Mulsim nations, and then defeated the Taliban quickly and decisively. They didn't go overboard, and they painstakingly avoided stepping into the role that bin Laden tried to assign them, that of fighting all of the Muslim world.

bin Laden tried to draw the battle lines between Islam and the West, but the US deftly redrew the line well inside the Muslim world. This was a remarkable achievement, and a very good one.

But, to finally get around to Palestine, the US administration is in danger of allowing the line to be redrawn, and achieving the very Islam vs. the West conflict that bin Laden was aiming for when he sent Mohammed Atta to the US. Palestine is a very polarizing issue, it's difficult not to take sides. Both sides in the conflict have done horrible things, so it's easy to get people worked up at the injustices done there by the "other" guys.

The US has to act very carefully to ensure that it is seen as even-handed. Failure to do so will only help to turn Western-friendly Muslims against the US. Someone may want to like America, wear Nike's, eat at McDonalds, and watch Hollywood movies, but if America takes sides against oppressed Muslims, it's a sign that they're never really going to reciprocate a Muslim's pro-Western feelings. It's a common sentiment in the Muslim world that Westerners can never accept them, they'll never let Turkey in the EU because they're Muslims, they'll always portray Arabs in Hollywood movies as terrorists, etc. It's very similar to the sentiment in America that the Arabs are filled with anti-American sentiment and are never going to like us anyway, so why should we care? Bad cycle.

Bush and his advisors know all about the dangers of the Muslim-West divide: they want to avoid that line becoming an entrenchment in the next world war. That's why they send Colin Powell to try to get things going, and even meet with Arafat, that's why they sternly warn Sharon he'd better shape up, or else they'll have to tell him again. I'm disappointed to read that popular sentiment back home is that Bush should stop wagging his finger at Sharon. The consequences of letting the Islam/West divide turn into the battle lines will not be small. As much as the Saudis are fostering anti-American sentiment and encouraging fundamentalism, having at least token cooperation from them is better than letting the monarchy get thrown out, because the Saudi Taliban is eagerly waiting for it. This is/was Osama's fondest dream. If you're still not sure what this would look like, see Iran, but without a Parliament. Oh yeah, and remember that every year millions of Muslims travel to Saudi Arabia on the Haj. The Haj is all about bonding as Muslims, and the fundamentalists already have a big sway over it, but if they were to totally take over, you can be sure every pilgrim would get a thorough indoctrination in the worst flavors of extremism.

Think about Jordan. Think about Pakistan. Imagine an alliance - a real, active, fighting for their existence alliance - between a fundamentalist Pakistani government, with nuclear weapons, and Sadam Hussein.

So what should Bush do? Isn't he already issuing stern warnings to Ariel Sharon to "Get out of Palestinian towns now? I said right now. Well OK, finish whatever it is your doing, but hurry up and get out the second you're done, mister". The problem is Bush isn't convincing. I'm sure he's serious enough, as I said, he knows damn well he needs to keep the Islam/West fissure from widening, and he's probably pretty frustrated that Sharon doesn't get into line and stop making us look bad. But his heart isn't in it, he really does see what Sharon is doing as just a local version of the American War On Terror. And I guess many Americans see it the same way. Of course, it's not the same at all, other than involving the use of terror against civilians (see what I said near the start of this rant).

One big difference is that America's interference in Middle East politics is far more mild than Israel's involvement in Palestine. We aren't colonizing their land, we don't put up road blocks between their towns. Another difference is that our response in Afghanistan tried as much as possible to avoid targeting civilians, as opposed to the Israeli response in Palestine. Sure, many Afghanis were glad to see the Taliban go, so it was easier for us to go nice on their civilians. But that simply underlines that the situation in Palestine is not a cut and dried, black and white battle aganist the forces of Freedom hating Evil.

The US needs to quit thinking that the Israeli government's actions are wholly justified by terrorism. Until the Israelis dismantle their colonies on Arab lands they can't claim the war is just about terrorism. They need to quit coddling Sharon, a man who is indisputably not interested in an equitable peace with Palestine, while shunning Arafat who, while no teddy bear, is still the only creditable representative of Palestine.
Jimmy Carter on Palestine

The former president pulls no punches against either side in his NY Times peace piece. On Sharon:


Ariel Sharon is a strong and forceful man and has never equivocated in his public declarations nor deviated from his ultimate purpose. His rejection of all peace agreements that included Israeli withdrawal from Arab lands, his invasion of Lebanon, his provocative visit to the Temple Mount, the destruction of villages and homes, the arrests of thousands of Palestinians and his open defiance of President George W. Bush's demand that he comply with international law have all been orchestrated to accomplish his ultimate goals: to establish Israeli settlements as widely as possible throughout occupied territories and to deny Palestinians a cohesive political existence.


So of course Liberal Jimmy must think Arafat is the bees knees, right? Wrong:


Even when he was free and enjoying the full trappings of political power, Yasir Arafat never exerted control over Hamas and other radical Palestinians who reject the concept of a peaceful Israeli existence and adopt any means to accomplish their goal. Mr. Arafat's all-too-rare denunciations of violence have been spasmodic, often expressed only in English and likely insincere. He may well see the suicide attacks as one of the few ways to retaliate against his tormentors, to dramatize the suffering of his people, or as a means for him, vicariously, to be a martyr.


He basically wants to the US to push harder for peace, but doesn't offer any ideas on how to get either the Palestinians or the Israelis to accept it while their leaders are fanning the flames of war.
Jenin
I'm a big fan of the Economist, having given up Newsweek in its favor. I dig its practical point of view: it's viewpoint is essentially libertarian (going back 150 years), but with a much more practical bent than most. I enjoy its coverage of American politics in that, although they are essentially pro-American, they are outsiders to the political system and ideologies, so their coverage always seems very sharp to me. Whenever a new news story pops up I look forward to reading their coverage, because I'm sure it's going to be level headed and thorough. A perfect example of such a story is what happened at Jenin, an event which was immediately obscured by commentators taking speculation and assertions as fact.

So when I saw the Economist article on Jenin, I checked it out immediately. As usual, their analysis is bullshit free.

I'm afraid the massacre angle is going to be overplayed, to the point where all attempts to criticize Israeli actions in Jenin are discredited. This would be a shame, for as the Economist points out, it's clear the Israelis did commit real war crimes in Jenin, in particular preventing medical treatment for the wounded. But so much noise is being made to paint Jenin as a major act of genocide that, unless hundreds of bodies are found in pits, shot through the head with their arms bound, women and children, etc., that the noisemakers are going to look stupid. After that, anyone pointing to real crimes by Israel is going to be dismissed as part of the lunatic fringe, in the same camp with the people who will undoubtedly continue to insist that the Israelis carted away all of the evidence.
Israel and Palestine

Whoo-hoo, I'm a blogger now, so I might as well start off by diving into the deep end! The conflict in Palestine is much in my thoughts these days, as it is with most people who keep up with current events. Most commentary on the issues is very polarized: people tend to sympathize with only one side, and to demonize the other. The Palestinians are frothing madmen, culturally insane, or the Israelis are pure evil, akin to the Nazis which slaughtered millions of their own people. Other people just shake their heads and dismiss them all as homicidal lunatics who ought to be left to their own destruction.

My own thoughts on the matter are somewhere in between all three of these positions. Leaving them to their own destruction isn't really a good thing to do, like it or not very few of us live on an island. For the US, which has thrown itself into a War on Terror, ignoring Palestine is simply not an option. More on that later, right now I'll try to outline my basic position on the conflict.

The Palestinian cause, an independent state, is just. It's been acknowledged by pretty much everyone, including George W. Bush, and is backed by international law including multiple UN resolutions. Their means for achieving this, in particular terrorism directed against civilians, is morally wrong, and strategically counterproductive. The deal rejected by Arafat at Camp David may not have been a good one, or it may just have been a hard sell to the Palestinian people, but the retreat into violence was a lazy and stupid retreat by the Palestinian leadership, which has proven itself incapable of constructive, positive leadership. The people of Palestine are suffering from the lack of imagination and guts on the part of Arafat and other leaders.

Of course, a secondary Palestinian cause, advocated by factions such as Hamas, is the destruction of the Israeli state. By the same token that the Palestinian state is a just cause, the destruction of Israel is an unjust one. The legal justification for a Palestinian state comes from the same act which created Israel, so you can't have one without the other. The destruction of Israel crowd, although they may be a minority (I don't have any stats on this, I'd like to see some though), is the Palestinians' biggest liability. They have Arafat too cowed to accept peaceful coexistence with Israel, and they provide Israeli extremists with an excuse to condemn the Palestinians - defenders of Israeli's oppression of Palestine love to use Hamas and the destroy-Israel movement to paint all Palestinians and Arabs with that brush.

I don't respect Yassar Arafat. He had a golden opportunity to construct the foundation of a Palestinian state after the Oslo accords, he had the state within his grasp at Camp David, but he doesn't have the brains or the balls to make it happen. He is not a leader - he never stood up in front of his people and said, "now is the time to put violence behind us and build our nation." Instead of shaping popular opinion with a positive vision, he follows popular opinion, trying to maintain his position by keeping himself as the mascot for whatever populist sentiment is at the moment. So popular sentiment is shaped by extremist thugs, people whose position in their society is based on violence and hatred, people who would never have a place in a prosperous, peaceful Palestine.

OK, now Israel. The Israeli cause of a peaceful existence, untroubled by suicide bombers at their bus stops, weddings, and shopping malls, is a just one. From what I've read, most Israelis don't really want anything more than that. Unfortunately, their leadership does want more than that. Ariel Sharon makes no bones about wanting Palestinian lands to be part of Israel. He has encouraged Israelis to build communities on Arab lands for decades. He opposed the Oslo accords which would require Israel to return land to the Arabs it was taken from. The current conflict has given him the opportunity to destroy the infrastructure of the Palestinian statelet, bulldoze many Arab homes, and push the effectiev borders of Israel well into the West Bank. Even as his forces withdraw from the Palestinian towns they have pulverized, they are only being positioned around those towns. If Sharon gets his way, these positions will harden, and Palestine, as a semi-autonomous entity, will be a series of reservations, pacified into accepting Israeli dominance.

I know this reads as extremist, but it's entirely consistent with Sharon's history and his statements. It's not consistent with mainstream Israeli opinion, which supports the invasion of Palestine in order to get rid of terrorists and make Israel safe, but wants to get rid of the settlements.

From the Israeli point of view, there are two schools of thought as to how to end Palestinian terrorism. One is to remove the sources of Palestinian anger, mainly the settlements, while remaining vigilant and retaining the option to hop over and kick some ass when necessary. The other point of view is that this won't work, because the Palestinians won't stop terrorizing Israel until one side or the other is completely gone, so the only solution is to completely subjugate them. The weakness of the second point of view is that it is an unacceptable solution to the rest of the world. It's illegal, which doesn't much matter on the world stage of course, but it would also be unacceptable to the Arab world which surrounds Israel. The Arabs don't really want to tangle with Israel yet again, if a peaceful settlement were made and the Palestinians put the struggle behind them, the rest of the Arab nations would heave a sigh of relief. Although no doubt anti-Israeli rhetoric would continue, nobody would be likely to fire up the tanks and take another shot at Israel. But if Israel swallows Palestine up, a larger war would be inevitable.

The weakness of the view that Israel should withdraw, dismantle the settlements, and call it a day is that there are those Palestinians who wouldn't give it up. Too many Palestinian leaders owe their positions to hate-mongering and violence. Settling down to build a modern Palestinian state just isn't in their best interests - in a civilized society these people would be crime bosses, not politicians. They're not going to turn over leadership to lawyers and bankers.

What Palestine needs is positive leadership, someone with a vision of progress, education, and overall, peaceful law and order. But with Israel flattening towns, it isn't going to happen.

So I end with despair: the Palestinian people don't have the leadership they need, the Israeli people want peace for themselves at any cost, and the winners will be Sharon and the Israeli extremists who are seizing the opportunity to advance their agenda.
Hello, this is my first post to Istanblog. Currently I'm leaving this on blogspot with an ugly template, but that'll change over time, assuming I keep up with this thing. I finally broke down and made this blog as an outlet for my reactions to what I'm reading in the papers and blogs these days - pretty much the same reason anybody starts a current events related blog. I think my perspective may be a little different from what I'm seeing in most of the sources I read, being that of an American living in Turkey. This is a country which is 99% Muslim, and yet has a stridently secular government, proud of its membership in NATO and alliance with the United States and Israel. This puts the country in a unique position, since it is politically and economically oriented towards Europe and the US, but its heart is Muslim.

My experience of Turkey is not that of a westerner working for a western company: I'm marrying a Turkish girl, being accepted into a Turkish family, and pretty much everybody I know is Turkish. I seldom meet Americans or other foreigners. But although I'm learning Turkish and enjoy the culture, I'm still an American, I have American values and American viewpoints. Living in a different culture is a great way to get a new perspective on yourself and your own society, because if you really try to grok the other culture you start to see the underlying commonalities between all cultures. The differences between people are due to different expressions of the same underlying forces of human nature, which come out differently due to history and the situation people are put into.

So although much of what I may have to say is pretty garden-variety stuff, hopefully I can throw out a few comments and insights which make you stop and think about things a little differently. Enjoy!