Friday, May 03, 2002

Turkish news in English
One of my biggest frustrations is the lack of quality news about Turkish current events. My Turkish is minimal, so the main Turkish papers are out: and at any rate, 80% of the media here is owned by 2 or 3 whomping big companies, so the range of opion is somewhat limited.

The Turkish Daily News is an English language daily owned by one of these groups, but its quality is not great. The content is fair, somewhat myopic, but its biases are obvious enough to sidestep while reading. The painfully obvious lack of native English speakers on staff is, well, painful, but not crippling. It's fairly easy to parse what the writers mean to say. My biggest gripe is the abysmal web site: aside from being ugly, its navigation is terrible. The URLs of stories change after the day they're first posted, and I've had problems finding them again later. This makes it hard to blog the TDN - I blogged a few stories last week, but most of the links now point to current stories rather than the ones I was talking about.

I vastly prefer stories written by Western journalists about Turkey. The Economist has good stuff now and again, but not enough to fill my need.

Swiss journalist Nicole Pope cowrote an excellent book about Modern Turkey, and apparently had a news site called Turkey Update at one point. But the latest news item is dated June 11, 2001, with an announcement that the site will "return in September". Granted a lot went on last September, but it's been a while - I wonder Ms. Pope is up to.

Yahoo has a page with a list of Turkey-related stories from the wires.

Moreover has a similar summary, but the stories seem to be from TDN, and they seem to have the same problem with moving links that I do.

The Turkish embassy in Washington has a news page, but it's even crustier than Turkey Update.

I'm doing some more Googling, here are some things which look worthy of a deeper browse:

" is the electronic version of Middle East International magazine, a respected source for news, analysis, and commentary on the Middle East since 1971."

Özgürlük (Freedom) provides "Uncensored News About the Democratic Struggle in Turkey".
Colin Powell and "The Quartet" Press Conference
I justed happened to catch this press conference last night. Most of the coverage I've seen so far has headlined it as an announcement that there will be yet another peace conference this summer, but it seems to me that what really happened was that the US, EU, Russia and UN have agreed to take responsibility for rebuilding the Palestinian Authority.

The foreign ministers of these groups (including Kofi Annan for the UN) met in Washington, and is calling itself the "Quartet". Colin Powell was host to the meeting, and did most of the talking for the group. They have drafted up a three-part strategy for settling things down in Palestine.

The first part is security; "security from terror and violence for Israelis and Palestinians. We'll be encouraging Chairman Arafat to rebuild his security apparatus. We'll ask for maximum efforts from the Palestinian Authority to restore calm." It sounds like the Quartet will oversee this, making sure the PA does what it needs to, but they didn't make any noises suggesting peacekeeping forces would be involved. He did mention George Tenet would be involved though.

The second part of our strategy is to address the urgent humanitarian needs and make sure that we get about the task of rebuilding strong, accountable, democratic and market-oriented institutions for Palestinians as the basis for a vibrant Palestinian state. And I'm encouraged by what I've heard from my colleagues here today about their willingness to join in this effort of economic reconstruction and humanitarian relief.

This sounds like money, and hopefully administrative assistance to ensure it doesn't get sucked up by the corrupt "leaders" who have been running the PA in the past.

Note this: "We welcome the commitment of the international community at Oslo last week, on April 25th, to provide over $1 billion in assistance. The United States has over $300 million dedicated to aid the Palestinian people."

Sidenote: I wonder how much Saudi Arabia is kicking in? Any chance that Saddam Hussein will rebudget the money for suicide bombers' families towards the construction of a stable, strong Palestinian state? That was supposed to be funny, but just makes me sad. James Lileks had a rabid rant on this topic yesterday. He completely ignores anything bad the Israelis might have done, as usual, but the stats he gives about Arab contributions to Palestine are sad.

Mr. Powell continues, "And third, we committed ourselves to the promotion of serious and accelerated negotiations toward a settlement." This is the meeting to be held early this summer.

So the strategy that was outlined is really the only sane way out of the mess, but I don't know what kind of cooperation they will get from Arafat and the PA. It sounds like the Quartet has committed themselves to overseeing the process, but they didn't mentioned whether Arafat has signed on. Indeed, Powell repeatedly mentioned that he "hopes" Arafat will wise up and do the right thing.

No longer contained in the Muqata'a, I trust that [Chairman Arafat] will now move in a new direction, a new direction that will allow his leadership position to be used to denounce terrorism, denounce violence, and to say to the Palestinian people and to the organizations within the Palestinian movement that this is the time to find a peaceful way forward.

So far Arafat hasn't done this. He's emerged his captivity hopping mad, raging against the Israelis "terrorists" and "Nazis". And he's been doing this in English. Normally he uses English to say the things the West wants to hear, reserving his harsher stuff for Arabic. Maybe he'll cool off, no doubt he's built up a head of steam bottled up in his little building.

Hopefully Powell and the Quartet have got leverage over Arafat to ensure his cooperation. If he doesn't cooperate, he's got nothing but ruins and pissed off fanatics, which might be enough for him. If he does cooperate, he'll get a rebuilt state, albeit one which has to crack down on the extremists, and he'll end up with a legacy as the father of his nation. The Palestinian people will be the big winners, of course.

I also wonder about Israeli cooperation. Ariel Sharon has dedicated his career to settling the Palestinian lands. He opposed the Oslo Accords which created the PA, and has spent the past few months tearing it down after naming it a terrorist organization. It's hard to imagine that he'll embrace rebuilding it, especially with the significant muscle of the Quartet backing it up, even if it did eliminate terror 100%. But if the PA demonstrably commits itself to the Quartet Plan, he won't have ground to stand on. His own people, most of whom don't share their Prime Minister's vision of a greater Israel, would love the Quartet Plan to come to fruition.

Fingers crossed. I'm cautiously optimistic, fearful that Arafat will botch it up, and that Sharon will be poking him with a sharp stick to make sure he does.
Anti-Semitic Red Cross?
I have been intrigued by the quotes of the International Red Cross president Cornelio Sommaruga comparing the idea of using the Star of David as the symbol for an Israeli chapter to using the Nazi cross. This has been widely portrayed as blatant anti-Semitism, and used to discredit his appointment by Kofi Annan to the Jenin investigation.

Flit's Bruce R., who often comes up with well-balanced counterpoints to accepted common wisdom of the warblog world, provides a wider context of the issue, and Mr. Sommaruga's statement. It appears that the objection isn't that the evil Zionists are the next thing to Hitler, but rather that symbols used by Red Cross chapters shouldn't be nationalist symbols, i.e. identified with a particular nation. My ungut feeling is that the Star of David is the symbol of an international religion as well as that of a nation, and so ought to have parity with the cross and the crescent (both of which are used on many national flags), but given that we're talking about a chapter specifically for Israel, and that I really don't know anything about how the Red Cross works, I won't be going to the barricades on this one.

I still think they oughta let them in to look at Jenin.

Welcome to Unqualified Offerings Readers
And thanks to Jim Henley for the mention. This is my first evidence that the audience for this blog is larger than just myself. He must have gotten a click-through from a real live reader, because I'm not very diligent about testing my links. If people are really going to read this thing I should probably install a traffic tracker.

A note on my anonymity: I haven't put my name on here mainly because I like to critique (constructively, I hope) the government here, which can be a bit dodgy. I doubt I really have much to worry about on that score, being a US citizen has lots of benefits, as does having a miniscule readership. But I'm antsy anyway, as my fiancee's family doesn't have such protections, and there are many small ways for annoyed bureaucrats to inconvenience a foreign resident who can never possibly have every bureaucratic i and t dotted and crossed.

Oh, and I'm not sure who Mary McGrory is, I guess I need to do some research;)

Thursday, May 02, 2002

Safire on Privacy
Safire may be rabid on Arabs, but his pro-consumer privacy writings are redeeming. This week he talks about a practice whereby stores record shoppers (video and audio) for research purposes. He suggests that this information goes into a "dossier on you, available for a fee to advertisers, telemarketers or political opposition researchers."

I'm not sure how accurate his assumption is that the data is tagged to you personally. Although it's possible to tie video footage to those customers who use credit cards or customer loyalty cards, it's not simple, and I'm not sure that's what the marketers are really after. It's more likely that they're looking to sample the shopping behavior of customers in general, which means they wouldn't care who you are, much less sell the data tagged to your identity. But it's not impossible, and is very likely to happen in the future. Certainly the items that get dragged over the checkout scanner are tied to any identifying cards you hand the cashier, and quite likely sold on.

Safire lets President Bush have it for selling out his campaign promise to support "opt-in", whereby consumers must actually give permission for their medical information (for example) to be given out by hospitals and insurance companies to whomever they wish. Mr. Safire is shocked, shocked, that the President caved in to big buck lobbyists who feel opt-in is too "cumbersome".

Safire also lists presidential contenders who are anti-privacy, including Kerry and McCain, and calls for privacy activists to develop an index to track where politicans stand on privacy.

As long as our political system favors big business over the free market and individual, this kind of crap will only get worse.
Arafat's Out
Arafat's loose, big deal. He's not a hell of a lot of help to his people. He's not a leader, he's an opportunist who follows the mob. Having 6 baddies turned over for the Brits and Yanks to watch doesn't help much either, it's a token gesture which does nothing to suggest that what's left of the PA will do anything to curb terrorism. Whether or not US support for axing the Jenin investigation was a quid-pro-quo, it's not a good thing, it just gives more ammo for Islamic extremist propaganda, while affirming Israel's exemption from international law.

So how about that Bush/Abdullah deal? The President will lean on Sharon, while the Prince leans on Arafat. I'm pessimistic (what else is new), since both leaders are held back from getting too tough by domestic support for their respective bad boy. In order to work, both leaders have to make a visibly sincere and effective effort - if either one holds back or doesn't get noticeable results, it won't work.

Plus, Sharon has shown no inclination to listen to Bush, nor has Arafat shown any inclination or ability to lead his people away from terror. A peaceful, independent Palestine will never come about with these two in charge.

Josh Marshall doesn't like Prince Abdullah's gain in international stature, he believes President Bush is Abdullah's bitch. I'm not sure I agree 100%. Given that Bush is politically unable (and temperamentally unable) to take a truly neutral role in the conflict, he needs someone with stature to counter-balance himself. And as much as I dislike most of Bush's foreign policy team (Powell aside), they are a very shrewd bunch, I don't think the President is dancing at the end of the Prince's strings.

Jim Henley has an email from Leon T. Hader of the Cato Institute, who makes a case for Jordanian intervention in the West Bank. Again, my knowledge of the history and political situation of Jordan vis Palestine is vague, so I look forward to reading rebuttals in the next few days. But the main point which made me think the Jordanians were not likely for the job was that its massive Palestinian population could destabilize Jordan.

Mr. Hader's argument suggests that intervening in the West Bank to facilitate the creation of a stable and independent state there would actually prevent that kind of destabilization. If the current war continues, it's likely to drive more Palestinians into Jordan, increasing the domestic problems there. Stabilizing the West Bank could make the King Abdallah a hero to the Palestinians.

The crucial things for an intervention from outside to work would be these:

  • The peacekeepers need the military and political muscle and the will to defend the Palestinians from Israeli incursion.
  • They need to be sincerely committed to protecting Israeli security, by enforcing the rule of law against terrorists.
  • They must actively work towards building the infrastructure of a peaceful, modern state, including solid legal, judicial, and educational systems, and democratic institutions.

    The first point requires American backing, because the US is the ultimate political muscle in today's world.

    The second is the tough part, without it US backing will never come because Israel will fight it tooth and nail (they will anyway, but if #2 is demonstrable, the US can make it stick). It's tough because the Palestinians won't like it, there are too many "leaders" who will spin strong law enforcement as making the peacekeepers the tools of Israel, out to wipe out the Palestinians. Arabs will have the best chance of being able to withstand this, if they have the will to do so.

    The third part is in many ways the toughest of all, just because it's never easy to do this kind of thing right, but it's very easy to do it wrong (cf. colonialism). There's a reason President Bush cowers like a little girl when he hears the words "nation building", it's a damn sight harder to build a nation than to knock one down.

    The Jordanians, backed up by American and Saudi political will, could have a good shot at the first two points. The third point would be hard for them, King Abdallah has enough of a challenge in modernizing his own country. Others would have to be involved. The UN hasn't acquitted itself very well in the area, by all accounts the UN-run Jenin refugee camp was a hotbed of terrorist activity (bomb factories and the like) before the Israelis plowed it under. Anything involving political will is by definition not a job for the UN. The Brits, who are normally much better at this kind of thing than Yanks, have already had their shot at running Palestine, and probably haven't left a warm afterimage.

    Anyway, I'm moderately optimistic that the Jordanian option has possibilities, although I'm skeptical whether it could actually happen.
  • Monday, April 29, 2002

    I like William Safire's linguistic columns, but his political stuff is crap. Today's column is not as bad as usual, but it's still typically braindead. Mr. Safire uses an exercise called Walk Back the Cat to examine a rumor published before last week's meeting between President Bush and Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah. The rumor was that the Prince would threaten withholding oil and expelling American military if President Bush didn't take a harder line on Ariel Sharon, but the Prince in fact said he had no intention of doing these things.

    Mr. Safire concludes that the rumor, which is alleged by a reputable journalist to come from a source "close" to the Prince, signals a rupture within the Saudi government. Our columnist wonders:

    Could it be that a struggle for power in Riyadh is being revealed? Last week's false "expectation" suggests that some royal sponsors of payoffs to terrorists worry most about losing control to bin Laden and rabble-rousers, while others near the throne worry most about losing U.S. military protection and markets if the kingdom pushes the U.S. too hard.

    As a result of the Saudi disinformation campaign, we can no longer be so certain which faction is in charge in Riyadh.

    Even assuming the quote came from within the government, why does Safire assume that dissention within a government means civil war? He suggests that we can't be certain which faction is in charge: does he think a faction represented by an anonymous source is as credible as the one represented by the Crown Prince? Maybe a coup will happen at some point, but an anonymous leak hardly indicates it's already underway. Does Mr. Safire wonder whether the American government is going to collapse, given that anonymous leaks are commonplace, and dissention within the government (see Colin Powell vs. Iraqi hawks) is well known?

    I've sunk to some weird kind of low if I'm posting refutations against William Safire columns. Next I'll be refuting the claims made in spam mails.
    Who should keep the peace in Palestine?
    It's interesting that most of the proposed solutions for the region involve somebody other than the Palestinians to administer their terroritory, or at least enforce security. Jordan, Turkey, the US, the US in cooperation with Russia and the EU, etc. Postrel is a bit naive in suggesting the Israelis do it (not to say it isn't the most likely outcome), but it's safe to say that the Palestinians are, at this point, the last people able to run themselves. This is due in large part to the recent efforts of the Israeli army, which have dismantled the PA. But it's also due to the poor job Arafat and his cronies have done of it, his lack of positive leadership, and the fact that there doesn't seem to be any credible, positive Palestinian leadership in sight.

    So who should have the job? The Israeli government don't want anybody else involved, of course, but that's because they aren't interested in Palestine being put back on its feet. Considering that they're refusing to let a handful of people from the UN come and poke in the wreckage of Jenin, it's hard to imagine how difficult it would be to get peacekeepers into Palestine.

    The US won't do it. Bush doesn't even want to involve Americans in helping Afghanistan, and he won't do anything against Sharon other than talk.

    The UN can't do it. The US would veto it in the Security Council, flat out. See above.

    Turkey wouldn't do it. They might take part in a UN effort as they are in Afghanistan, but they won't go against the wishes of the US, thanks to their addiction to IMF loans. Folks in the region wouldn't be very happy about it anyway, since there's no love lost between the Arabs and their former rulers turned secular cronies of the West. Plus Turkey is buddies with the Israeli government and military, so they wouldn't really be seen as impartial enough.

    Jordan I don't know enough about. Being right next door and having a huge number of Palestinian semi-citizens makes them vulnerable.

    The EU. My outside favorite. They haven't got the muscle for it: politically they're not unified enough, and militarily they haven't got the resources. Peacekeeping in Bosnia and Kosovo already stretches them too thin. But they're in roughly the right place, and their public has sympathy for the Palestinians but wouldn't be likely to tolerate terrorists running around free.

    Who else? It's hard to imagine China or Russia getting into it.

    My crystal ball says Sharon will get what he wants, Israel will end up much larger, Palestinians will have a fate similar to native Americans in the US.
    The Wall
    Lots of ferment in the blogosphere over Steven Postrel's critique of the wall strategy. I like Jim Henley's rebuttal, and don't really have anything to add.

    Then he says the Palestinians "will be able to terrorize Israel," which is not exactly the same thing as saying that they will do this. But he seems sure that they will. That is, he is certain that nothing will, in Brink Lindsey's formulation "induce the Palestinians to get off the warpath."

    Again, I think this claim has more faith than reason or evidence behind it. It requires that a lot of myths be true - that Israel "offered the Palestinians almost everything they said they wanted," that only the Palestinians flouted provisions in Oslo, that the occupation and settlements not be a big deal, that only a powerless fringe of Israeli society was ever reluctant to surrender "Judea and Samaria" in return for peace, that there has not been an important faction in Israeli politics working hard to derail Oslo since it was signed; in short, that there be nothing but bottomless Palestinian hatred behind the collapse of Oslo and the present war.

    Here's a snippet of Mr. Postrel's alternative proposal to the wall, which is occupation and administration by Israel.

    After a few years of this policy, civic opposition to the Israeli occupation will spontaneously develop along nonviolent lines. This opposition will garner great sympathy from the international community and from within the left-to-moderate-blocs in Israel. At that point, the Israeli government will be able to negotiate a land-for-peace deal with leaders whose interest will be in peace, with a people who have something to lose by choosing war.

    The success of Mr. Postrel's plan rests on many assumptions, including the "spontaneous" development of nonviolent opposition. What makes him think opposition would be nonviolent? The other is that the Israeli ultra-nationalist movement would have no role in the administration of Palestine. These are the people who have been building Israeli settlements in Palestine illegally, with the complicity of their government. If their government decides to directly adminster the Palestinian terroritory, what do you think would happen to Palestinian land? Postrel believes the Israelis would be "protecting [Palestinian] property rights, removing the more obnoxious settlements and allowing the Palestinians to spread out, constructing needed infrastructure, etc."

    Postrel's positions reeks of wearing blinders on one side of his head: he sees evil on the Palestinian side, but not on the Israeli side.