Friday, May 10, 2002

Blogger Kaus mentioned in the Economist

The Economist's pay only article on Senator John Edwards includes a brief reference to Mickey Kaus:

all too often, as Mickey Kaus, an on-line pundit, points out, the enemy is not “them” but “us”.

The Turkish Cheese Ship and the European Union

Semih İdiz of the Turkish News has summarized the Turkey/EU situation pretty accurately. There is a widespread conviction that the EU will never admit Turkey as a member because it is 99% Muslim. While this no doubt creates opposition, Idiz rightly points out that at least as much of the problem comes from Turkey itself.

Even if every Mosque in Turkey was turned into a church overnight, the EU would be leery of having a member country where the politicians are accountable to the military rather than vice-versa, where religious expression is suppressed, where violent oppression of ethnic minorities is considered acceptable, and where brutal torture is a standard practice of the unaccountable police.

The Turkish Parliament has made a number of changes to the consitution to accomodate the EU's admission requirements, but held back on the most crucial ones, to do with religious and press freedoms and human rights. But passing a series of laws in order to check off a list of "reforms" supplied by the EU is a superficial act.

I mentioned the other day how the conversion of the occupied Islamic Ottoman Empire to the secular Turkish Republic, led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, succeeded because it was an internal effort. The rest of the Ottoman Empire was divided up between England, France, and other allies, which tried to impose Western democratic systems onto them. These included Iraq and Saudi Arabia, among others. Turkey may not be perfect, but it is far more progressive than any of the former European colonies in the Middle East, with the point-proving exception of Turkey's ally Israel.

Political change must come from the community itself; a paternalistic foreign power can't impose a democratic society from the outside. Unfortunately, I don't think even most progressive-minded Turks realize this. Pro-EU people I meet often express the hope that if Turkey joins the EU, the EU will force it to become a better country, ridding it of corruption, stabilizing the economy, etc. Similar hopes are held for IMF plans and the like. Turkish people don't have the faith in themselves, and certainly not their leaders, that they need to build the nation they want.

Some pro-EU members of the government are calling for a mad dash for membership; this is partly a reaction to the perception that the EU is becoming increasingly xenophobic (Le Pen, Fortuyn, etc.), and so the doors may snap shut. It's also due to envy of eastern European countries which are poised to join, and the fear that Greek Cyprus may be admitted.

But it will be to Turkey's advantage to wait. If Turkey rushes to join, they will be rejected: Islamophobia aside, the country hasn't met the requirements for joining, and won't no matter how many laws they pass in Parliament.

The bottom line is that Turkey won't become a strong, prosperous country by joining the EU; instead, it will be able to join the EU once it becomes a strong, prosperous country. It needs to figure out how to become that country on its own.

Michael Kinsley on Democracy vs. WOT

Slate's Michael Kinsley reacts to Thomas Friedman's column on the perception in Indonesia that the US is giving struggling democracies the cold shoulder in the favor of terrorist stomping dictators. Like me, he found it compelling, but he goes on to consider whether the administration is really as uncompromising as their rhetoric.

In short, circumstances matter. They may not matter morally, but they matter in terms of what you do about it. This fairly obvious point—which the Bush administration clearly believes, though it cannot say so—undermines the very concept of "terrorism," which is based on the premise that circumstances do not matter. The axiom is that terrorist tactics are uniquely evil and uniquely threatening to civilization and demand an uncompromising response.

I'm not sure the Bush administration uniformly believes this, and is avoiding saying so. It seems more like some people in the administration do believe it, and think letting Sharon stomp the Arafat and the Palestinians is the right thing to do since Arafat is "harboring terrorists". But others, in particular Colin Powell, are aware that if the US really wants to be a force for stability in the Middle East, it needs to show a more even hand with Palestine and Israel.

Link found via flit.

The absurdity of partisanship

I've mentioned my dislike of political partisanship before. Lying In Ponds tracks the partisanship of newspaper pundits, and also mentions a few of my favorite blogs. I like the overall mission, and although I'm not really that interested in newspaper pundits, looking at their bias has merit since they do help to shape the political landscape. Found via Virginia Postrel.

Fox News was briefly available on cable here, and I would occasionally watch 5 minute snippets - my tolerance level was too low for much more than that. One of those snippets was a discussion of the NYC mayoral primaries. I was disgusted that one of the commentators was criticizing a losing Democrat for not supporting the party's nominee.

This pissed me off; democratic elections are not suppsed to serve political parties, they are supposed to serve the community. You should support the candidate who you believe will best support your community, their party should be irrelevant.

The American party system has created the idea that elections are nothing more than a tribal war between two parties. If you voted for Nader or Buchanon, you betrayed your party. This mindset serves the interests of both parties, of course, because it ensures their duopoly over our political system, ensuring a steady flow of money to help secure that monopoly. This is why they wouldn't let Ralph Nader into the debates.

I'm a fan of campaign finance reform, even if it is flawed and only shifts the way in which money distorts the democratic process. The last major bill put limits on individual campaign contributions, which caused a shift in power to the parties, since they weren't limited and so had a bigger impact on an individual candidate's campaign. The most recent reforms may break this.

The reform can be criticized in that groups will still be able to raise money and use them to promote candidates. The thing I like is that, if political parties are no longer the dominant source of financial support for a campaign, their influence over individual office holders should be weakened. So our elected representatives may have more incentive to vote for their constituents' interests, rather than their party's.

Thursday, May 09, 2002

Safire strikes again

When a writer reaches William Safire's level of stature, logic isn't required to be published in the New York Times. In his latest piece of drivel, he declares that there is a CIA conspiracy to discredit the story that Mohamed Atta, alleged leader of the September 11 attacks, met with an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague.

According to Mr. Safire, the CIA is trying to discredit the story because they are "worried about exposure of the agency's inability to conduct covert operations". He doesn't explain this very well; maybe he means their inability to turn up proof of the meeting is embarrassing them, but that seems like circular reasoning on the part of our esteemed opionist. Especially since proving the meeting took place wouldn't require so much covert operations as, well, investigation.

I've read somewhere - I wish I could remember where so I could link it - that the FBI turned up evidence that showed Atta was in the US at the time of the supposed meeting. It was in a story about Atta meeting with his al-Qaeda contact in Spain.

Even if Atta did meet with an Iraqi agent, the appalling part of Mr. Safire's piece is this:

If the report proves accurate, a connection would exist between Al Qaeda's murder of 3,000 Americans and Iraq's Saddam. That would clearly be a casus belli, calling for our immediate military response, separate from the need to stop a demonstrated mass killer from acquiring nuclear and germ weapons.

So in William Safire's mind, all that is needed to go to war with another country is to find that "a connection exists" between that country's government and al-Qaeda. We're not talking about proving Saddam supported the 9/11 attacks in any way, or even knew anything about them, but that one of his guys met with Atta. What they talked about is irrelevant, having met with Atta is tantamount to having blown up the World Trade Center and part of the Pentagon.

Maybe Atta asked for help, but didn't say what it was for. Or maybe it was for help with a different scheme, such as spreading Anthrax from a cropduster, something Atta's boys looked into. Maybe Saddam's boy said yes, or maybe he said no, or maybe he said I'd love to help, but I can't get my hands on the money/Anthrax/whatever you're asking for.

It doesn't matter to Safire, if someone working for the Iraqis met with Atta, that's license to go to war.

Look, we don't like the Iraqis, they don't like us. If we need an excuse to unleash the daisy-cutters, we need one with at least a shred of logic behind it. If we don't need an excuse with logic, than why do we need any excuse, let's just fire away.

Arafat arrests Hamas members

The PA has apparently arrested 16 members of Hamas, the group which claimed responsibility for the most recent suicide bombing in Israel. No word on whether the IDF is going to call off its imminent strike into Gaza, but since the AP says none of those arrested are big players in Hamas, they'll probably still go in. Sharon is unlikely to ever acknowledge that something Arafat does doesn't deserve an ass-kicking.

I still think Arafat needs to shut down Hamas. It's easy to say this arrest is a step in the right direction, but we don't know enough about the internal politics to be sure: for all we know, the 16 were hand-picked by Hamas as sacrificial lambs. Hopefully we'll learn more about whether they had anything to do with the attack.

Pakistan and the War On Terror

Longtime Istanblog regular Leon T. Hadar has a new piece published at the Cato Institute, Pakistan in America’s War against Terrorism: Strategic Ally or Unreliable Client?. Mr. Hadar gives a very detailed analysis of the history of America's relationship with Pakistan, and suggests that General Musharraf's support of the War On Terror shouldn't seduce us into thinking they are a reliable ally.

During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan the United States' support of Pakistan allowed it to participate in building the "jihad-international network" of which the Taliban and al-Qaeda were part, and which is still a factor in mainstream Pakistani politics. Pakistan dealt with Taliban Afghanistan as a client state and encouraged the training of anti-Indian militants in Afghani camps.

"In the 1980s, Pakistan got a blank check from the U.S. to combat the Russians, and spent much of the check in building up the Taliban," argues journalist Christopher Hitchens. "Now it is getting another check and brand-new interest-free mortgage in order to pretend that the Taliban is its enemy. It doesn’t get any better than this."

General Musharraf was a major player in the "military-mosque nexus", as Mr. Hadar calls it, and it seems unlikely that he has completely severed his ties with fundamentalist leaders. Although Pakistan is sometimes compared with Turkey, whose secular government is beholden to its powerful military, Hadar's paper points out a significant difference: while Turkey's military establishment is vehemently anti-Islamist, Pakistan's military is strongly bound to Islamist factions.

My nightmare scenarios for WWIII in the Middle East generally center around the overthrow of the House of Saud and their replacement by the powerful Wahhabist fundamentalists. I imagined that Pakistan might follow in its footsteps, placing nuclear weapons into the hand of an Islamist alliance. Now I wonder whether a coup would even be necessary. Musharraf flipped pro-Western when it was clear that it was his only choice. If it became clear that returning to the jihad was his only way of maintaining his regime, he probably would do so if he could get away with it.

So, my revised WWIII scenario is: Saudi coup and Talibanization, Pakistani defection from the American alliance, probably in concert with Iraq, later followed by Iran. America and NATO combined with India would outgun them, but in spite of how easy it was to liberate Kuwait and enable the Northern Alliance to topple the Taliban, this wouldn't be a walk in the park.

Defenders of Pim Fortuyn

I was sorry to hear that Pim Fortuyn was assassinated, not because I agree with his anti-immigration policies, but because, well, he was a human being, and didn't deserve to die. And the silencing of a leading voice in the debate on immigration weakens the entire debate.

I didn't follow Mr. Fortuyn very closely, but he has been getting a lot of attention, and defense, since his assassination. He doesn't seem to have been in the rabid, hate-mongering faction of anti-immigrationists, and many are now pointing this out. Typical of these is Mickey Kaus.

Mr. Fortuyn's position was apparently that allowing too many immigrants to come into the Netherlands from a different cultural background will alter Dutch culture, in particular that Muslim immigrants will erode the Dutch tolerance for gays, not to mention feminism and such.

Dave Kopel wrote an interesting piece on this before the assassination:

In other words, the gay Dutch sociology professor offered complaints about Islam which are quite similar to complaints that some gay American sociology professors (and other American gays) offer about Christianity: anti-gay, sexist, morally imperialist, and premised on the belief that one religion is superior to all others. Now, when American gay activists make such remarks, the AP doesn't work itself into a lather and claim that the remarks reveal "demons" in the American character, because a lot of Americans agree with the criticism of religion.

Mr. Kopel is clearly uncomfortable with the cultural relativism that says that what's evil in the religion which threatens our own society isn't so bad when it comes from misunderstood foreigners. This is the mentality which allows liberals to praise John Walker Lindh for fighting for his beliefs, when his beliefs - that a government which institutionalizes misogny and oppression is the ideal - are in direct opposition to liberal ideals.

The thing that makes Mr. Fortuyn's arguments hard to swallow is that they were used to justify the blanket exclusion of a particular cultural group. As Mr. Kopel's piece points out, the traits which made Fortuyn fear Muslims are traits of Christianity. Of course the Dutch politician was more concerned with Muslims than, say, Southern Baptists, is no doubt due to the greater number of Muslims immigrating to Holland than rednecks.

While Mr. Fortuyn's motivations were understandable and defensible, it is his chosen solution that is objectionable. It's difficult to ensure that immigrants which ensure they share or will adopt core cultural values. Excluding immigration based on country of origin could have some success, but is a clumsy approach which ignores the core problem. Rather than addressing the issue of integration, it avoids it.

If filtering immigrants based on their likelihood of integration is desired, a better solution would apply criteria equally to all immigrants, regardless of their origin. Another suggestion would be finding ways to integrate immigrants into the national culture once they're there - this would have the bonus of dealing with the significant immigrant population already in Holland.

Wednesday, May 08, 2002

Early elections in Turkey?

Turkey's Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit was in the hospital over the weekend due to intestinal problems, so speculation is rife that he won't finish out his term. The guy is 80 years old, and is showing his age, so it could happen that he won't serve all the way to 2003.

So why should War fans care? If a new election is called, the party doing the best in polls at the moment is the Justice and Development Party (AKP), who are Islamists.

If Ecevit does step down elections aren't a certainty. His party is one of three which runs the country in a coalition government, and the leaders of the other two are itching to grab his chair, although they are publicly poo-pooing such talk at the moment. The three parties must agree on a replacement to maintain their coalition. If they can't, maybe a different coalition of parties can be formed which will have a majority of the seats in Parliament. But a new coalition would still have squabbles over who would get the top job. If no majority coalition can be made, they'll have to call a new election.

An election would totally change the face of the Turkish parliament. According to polls, not one of the three parties in the current coalition would even get enough votes to qualify for seats. The economy has taken some very bad hits during their tenure, and the parties have spent a fair amount of time pointing out one anothers' corruption, so most people have had more than enough of them.

The Islamist AKP party is polling very well, something like 24% the last I checked. It could be hard for a new Parliament to form a governing coalition without including them.

The Islamists got into a coalition several years ago, in a previous incarnation (the secularist government likes to declare their parties illegal every few years, forcing them to reform under new names), although they didn't get the Prime Minister position. After a few months the military got antsy, and pushed "behind the scenes" for the coalition to be dissolved, and new elections were called.

No doubt the same thing will happen again if the AKP gets into government, but this leaves the question of how a stable government will be formed when the voting public has gotten sick of the available secular parties.

Democracy and the War on Terror

There is always a tension for democratic nations engaged in war, an inherent tradeoff between human rights and democratic expression against achieving military goals. The War on Terror has even more of this tension than others, because the definition of the enemy is based more on their tactics than their ideology or goals. Any group which uses violence against civilians to achieve its goals, no matter what those goals are, automatically falls into the Evil camp.

Thomas L. Friedman is in Indonesia, and is reporting on the worries of people there about the US favoring authoritarian allies over democratic ones. One source says:
Indonesia, instead of being seen as a weak democracy that needs support, gets looked at as a weak country that protects terrorists, and Malaysia is seen as superior because it arrests more terrorists than we do.

If you take a look at our allies, Pakistan is a good guy because they are cracking down on Islamist extremists, and let us chase al-Qaeda inside their borders. Of course, Pakistan is ruled by a dictator who has just delayed democratic elections. The Europeans are wobbly because they ask too many questions about human rights and such. Saudi Arabia is a troublesome ally not because they lack even a shred of democracy, but because they aren't turning over evidence against the 9/11 perpetrators.

The tensions between successful tactics and human rights are worse in this war because our enemies are more like criminal organizations than armies. Civil rights are an impediment to law enforcement, so countries which don't respect those rights can be much more effective in fighting crime.

So if we want to be effective in fighting terrorists, we need allies who disregard human rights in favor of helping our cause, and don't have much time for those who allow civil rights to impede the process. It's not really so clear cut, Germany, Spain, and other countries have been instrumental in uncovering the trail of al-Qaeda. But they've also been hesitant to turn over suspects to the US, fearing that civil rights are being cirucmvented by American authorites (cf. Guantanamo).

In developing countries, where democracy and human rights are shaky concepts and IMF money is desperately needed, we should be careful. We need to continually rethink and reevaluate what it is we're fighting against, and what we're fighting for.

The Turkish Model

John W. Brewer's email to Unqualified Offerings, mentioned below in the post about Istanbul/Constantinople, included a bit I'd like to expound on.
I am skeptical of the uncritical admiration of Ataturkism among many bloggers, since it incorporated many bad elements of bad Western thought (particularly a very French notion that modernity means a dirigiste "scientific" approach to the economy and that modernity means secularism expressed in the form of overt hostility to and suppression of traditional religious institutions), but the fact may remain that however imperfect the Ataturkist model is for moving an Islamic people toward a reasonable economy and political order there does not yet appear to be a less imperfect alternative that has been tried and worked.

For those not in the know, Ataturk founded the modern Turkish Republic on the ashes of the Ottoman Empire, and made some truly astonishing changes to Turkish society. He remodelled the alphabet, education system, economy, political system, and the role of religion in the state. This was after he saved Turkey from being further carved up between the WWI allies than it already was. To the Turks he is George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt all rolled into one man.

For all the good he did for this country, there have been some unfortunate after-effects. Part of these come from the times - when Ataturk was figuring out how to build a nation, the ideas in vogue in Europe, which he looked to as a model, and also in the US, were nationalism and centrally managed economies. Think Stalin, Mussolini, and FDR, and remember that Ataturk died before WWII, so in his time the first two, and Hitler, were at the time widely regarded as admirable for their achievements in modernizing their nations. Nationalism had not yet led to the atrocious acts of genocide which discredited it as an ideology.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk died before World War II, and Turkey wisely sat out the war. Not being in the war, Turkey didn't get the full blast of nationalism and post-war rejection of ethnic politics that Western Europe did. This is a gap between Turkey and the EU which neither side really recognizes, but has a lot to do with the difficulty in addressing the possibility of Turkey joining the EU.

The cult of personality built up around Ataturk and his achievement has done a lot to freeze Turkey's development in the 1930's. "Kemalism" is a political ideology in Turkey which views the state of the nation at the time of his death as the ideal to be adhered to. Ataturk himself was in favor of progress and modernization, and readily looked to the West for ideas. Kemalists, ironically, are the opposite, conservatives fighting against change.

The centralized economy was in large part dismantled in the late 1980's, although the bureaucracy is still huge and politically entrenched. Ethnic nationalism is still a core value of the nation, causing the fear that acknowledging that Kurds are neither ethnically nor culturally Turkish is to encourage separatism, and making racism pretty common.

Is Turkey a model for other nations? It's certainly a model to look at, if not to imitate. Ataturk achieved dramatic change, turning an Islamist nation into a secular republic. But it's a nation which is in many ways mired in the ideologies of the time he changed it: progress has been slow and painful.

It's also crucial to note that Turkey was not secularized by Western intervention. In fact, Turkey was occupied by the British and others, and it was only by throwing the foreigners out that Ataturk was able to remold the country. The changes were not imposed from without, but from within.

If the US overthrows Saddam Hussein, it can try to impose a democratic, Westernized government on it. But models such as Turkey or Germany need to be appied very very carefully: circumstances are always different, assuming that a formula that worked in once set of circumstances will work in another is almost certainly doomed to fail. Ataturk's revolution worked in large part because he was a hero to his people for driving out the imperialist foreigners. It's not clear how imperialist foreigners can duplicate his work, even just over the border.

Istanbul was Constantinople

Jim Henley posted some musings on the "They Might Be Giants" version of "Istanbul not Constantinople", and UO reader John W. Brewer has responded with a chunk of history. It's a pretty good summary, his basic point was that this city was called Constantinople by the Ottomans, only being renamed after the Republic was established by Ataturk. I would add that the city was called Istanbul on "the street", that is, everday Turks called it that from way back.

I hadn't known that the Ottomans officially called the city Constantinople until recently. I always attributed use of the name in recent times as implying a sentiment that the Turks really don't belong here, having conquered the city.

Of course, to imply that the Turks should turn the city back over to the Greeks, or the Italians, or whoever, is to suggest that New York should be given back to the Dutch who built it, before being returned to the Indians. Even if the legendary sale of Manhatten Island for $24 worth of beads is true, the English acquired it from the Dutch by war. And if you think about it, the United States likewise acquired it from the English by war. And all of these events happend centuries after Fatih Mehmet rode into Constantinople, almost 50 years before Columbus discovered Hispanola.

So it really is nobody's business but the Turks. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going back to reading the New Amsterdam Times.

It isn't going to stop

We all knew it would happen, for 3 weeks there haven't been any terrorist attacks in Israel. Presumably the Palestinian militant types had plenty to do fighting Israelis on their own turf, so now that the IDF is wrapping things up they've got the breathing space to go back to their old tricks.

My first reaction is frustration at the realization that the attacks simply aren't going to stop. Even if a peace deal is signed, the Israeli settlements all rolled back, and an independent Palestinian state created and recognized internationally, the attacks will continue.

Hamas, the philanthropic organization which has claimed responsibility for this attack, doesn't want peace with Israel, they want Israel gone. But it goes beyond ideology, for those in charge of Hamas, violence is their only schtick. If Palestine becomes a normal, peaceful modern nation, these guys have no role in society, other than mafia chiefs. They have no place in a country run by bankers and lawyers, so they have no real interest in seeing their homeland become one. (I'm very very far from being a fan of bankers and lawyers, but I prefer them to gangsters).

Of course Sharon, who is no more interested in seeing a Palestinian state alongside Israel than Hamas, is taking this opportunity to declare that the war is back on. No peace now! On the one hand you can see his point - Arafat is unlikely to do anything more than "condemn" the terrorists (and probably not in Arabic), so if the Israelis want to do something about the terrorists, it's hard to see anything they can do other than roll the tanks back in.

But Sharon is himself disengenous. It's true Arafat won't go after Hamas, even though they have publicly admitted to being responsible for the attack. But it's also true that even if he were so inclined, the IDF has destroyed his ability to do anything against Hamas anyway, having decimated his police force.

Arafat should use the political capital he has earned in the past few weeks against Hamas. He should declare them to be working against the best interests of the Palestinian people, and gather together loyalists to punish the Hamas leaders. This would be a challenging task, since many, if not most Palestinians would decide he was being a stooge for the Israelis. Even a leader with courage and ability, two things Arafat doesn't have, would face the serious possibility of failing. But he could do it in concert with peaceful demonstrations against the Israeli forces still in Palestine, to prove that he was still fighting the Israelis. Combined with international pressure on Israel, that could surely be brought to bear if he were to take this path, it could be very successful. Arafat should do this because it's the only way he can win. He won't, because the only way he knows to fight is with violence. Since he's badly outgunned, and out-maneuvered, he will lose.

Two other points: many people, especially in blogville, will most likely talk about how this attack comes after the Israelis have withdrawn. They haven't withdrawn, their forces are still encircling the major Palestinian towns. They've been expecting this to happen, and they have maintained their siege so they can quickly go back in and do some more ass-kicking.

The other point: the IDF has done a hell of a lot of damage to "terrorist infrastructure" in the past few weeks, the justification being that it would stop the terrorist attacks. It doesn't look like it has worked. They may have bulldozed bomb factories, but I can't imagine they have eliminated eery bit of explosive material from Palestine. And they most certainly haven't reduced the number of Palestinians pissed off enough at Israel to go blow up some teenagers.

Maybe smashing some more houses and killing a few more resistors will end the terrorism. Doesn't seem likely.

Tuesday, May 07, 2002

Correction on the cheering of WTC attacks

Below I posted about a meeting of the AKP cheering video of the WTC attacks, and Osama bin Laden. Well, I screwed up. I finally found an account of the story in English, and it turns out it wasn't the AKP, but the SP. Big difference.

No, really, it is a big difference. The AKP is a very popular party with a real chance of getting a big role in national government, while the SP is a fringe group. Both parties split off from the Islamist Welfare Party when it was banned last year, but while the AKP publically embraced democracy, reform, and progress, those who couldn't bear parting with conservative ideals formed the SP (Virtue Party).

So it is a relief to me that I was mistaken in thinking the popular AKP had so blatantly thrown off their mask and revealed themselves to be frothing monsters. Of course many Turks would say the AKP, being an Islamist party, is inherently evil and plotting to overthrow the Republic. The military establishment which has de facto veto power over anything that happens in the Turkish political scene is composed of people who feel this way, which ensures the AKP, even if they are wonderful folks, are unlikely to ever get a real shot at proving their intentions either way.

SP leaders have said the meeting of youths was not about supporting terrorism, that statements were made to the meeting denouncing terrorism, and that many attendees jeered the video rather than cheering it. It's hard to judge from the news coverage I've seen: Turkish news organizations cut their material for maximum impact, so it's hard to say that they didn't conjoin the applause and shots of an enthusiastic audience with the footage of terrorism.

But. Why were they showing large screen projections of the WTC attack and Osama bin Laden in the first place? It's clear that somebody in a position to plan the program for this youth conference thought it would be a swell thing to show, and the protests of party leaders don't really make a strong case that it was to show what a bad thing it was for Islam.

Again, my apologies on inaccurate reporting on the AKP. I hope my original story doesn't get spread around without context: I don't want to propagate the impression that Turkey is on the verge of fundamentalist revolution.

Sharon on rebuilding the PA

Ariel Sharon is saying he doesn't want to deal with Yassar Arafat, and proposing that the Palestinian Authority be restructured. My reaction to the first story was that Sharon is looking to use the excuse of not wanting to deal with Arafat as a way to stave off the peace process.

This view was fueled by this quote from an "Israeli official":

"Everyone knows we're not going to start drawing lines on a border for permanent status and dividing Jerusalem," an Israeli official said today. "That's just a nonstarter today."

Drawing borders, which implies stopping settlement across them, and probably even dismantling them, is a "nonstarter" for Israeli hawks, because they have no reason to give up territory. The worst that can happen is more terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians, which will continue to boost the hawks domestically and internationally.

But the second article paints a more attractive picture, restructing the PA to be more, well, like a proper government. This is packaged to appeal to the West - how could anyone argue with rebuilding the PA using current nation-building buzzwords like "transparent" and "accountable"? But it's hard to imagine that Sharon, who vehemently opposed the Oslo accords, is now going to happily help build a strong, independent Palestinian state, not to mention stop and even undo Israeli expansion onto Israeli land.

A couple of sources have suggested the peace conference will happen here in Turkey, probably Ankara.

Who is Leon Hadar?

Unfortunately, I don't have a blog (although I'm considering setting up one). But you can get access to some of my writings on The Official Cato Institute Homepage, with which I'm affiliated as a research fellow in foreign policy studies and which published my book, "Quagmire: America in the Middle East" (my new policy paper on U.S--Pakistan relationship will be posted there this week on the Cato web site). And I'm also the Washington correspondent for Singapore Business Times Online (my commentary contrasting the approaches towards China and Saudi Arabia of that of Bush I with that of Bush II was posted on the paper's web site on Tuesday).

Remember the Canadian friendly fire incident?

Canadian military guy Bruce R. at Flit hasn't forgotten it, although his blog the only place I'm still reading about it. He's convinced it was a matter of recklessness on the part of the American pilot. It's certainly possible, although I'm not as certain as Mr. R is - he's managing to interpret every new bit of information as confirming his thesis. Of course it's entirely possible he's right, American pilots (and sub captains) are not universally wise and careful. I don't know when/how/if tapes of the pilot's communications, and information about his debriefing, will be made public, but I should hope they will be, if only so Bruce can rest peacefully, either vindicated or satisfied.

Monday, May 06, 2002

Is Turkey soft on Chechen terror?

Russia says it is. Turkey and Russia have never been really tight pals, maybe because Russia has always hankered after Istanbul. Turkey is a member of NATO largely because the Western countries wanted to make sure the Bosphorous Strait didn't fall into Soviet hands. So you can understand why the Turks might not be all that bothered if some of their citizens fight against the Russias in Chechnia.

Russia expressed similar anger in 1996 when Chechen sympathisers hijacked the Russian passenger ship Avrasya as it was leaving the Turkish Black Sea post of Samsun.

The gunmen were later charged in Turkey under common crime laws and not under the tough laws against terrorism used against Kurdish separatist terrorists. The gunmen were subsequently released under a conditional amnesty law and went on to raid the five star Swiss Hotel in Istanbul in April 2001.

This story comes from Turkish News, which seems well written and has a decent content management system.

Whoo-hoo, My First Redesign! ™

If people are going to read this thing, I ought to take a little time to make it look purty. Out goes the bland default template from Blogger, in comes slick CSS, and the obligatory blogrolling on the left.

Next: get archiving to work, since my rambling is making the page unwieldy.

Update: Archiving was a piece of piss. Blogger rocks.

Leon Hadar emails

Leon Hadar responds by email to my comments on his ideas about the Jordanian solution in Unqualified Offerings. Does Mr. Hadar have his own blog? If so, I want the URL, if not, he should.

Re: your comments on the "Jordanian option." There is no doubt that a Jordanian move to control the West Bank (and Gaza, which could provide Jordan with a Mediterranean port), will create many, many risks. But, again, I'm proposing it as an interim solution (after five years or so, the residents of those area will decide whether they want full independence or a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation). And I assume that the Palestinians would prefer to see Jordan returning to the area (they had occupied it between 1948 and 1967) over continuing Israeli rule; that the Jordanians have
a very strong and effective security and military forces; that during those five years, there would be a lot of foreign investment in Jordan, which will the well-educated Palestinians on both sides of the Jordan to prosper and
integrate into the global economy. Finally, as noted, following the expected ousting of Saddam, Jordan would end up being "sandwiched" between two friendly, pro-western states (Israel and Iraq).

Of course, American backing is going to be crucial for occupation of Palestine by anybody, and so far our government doesn't seem inclined to push for something so out of line with what Ariel Sharon wants, which is unimpeded accesses for the IDF.
Electrolite Blog
Patrick Nielson Hayden has put a link to Istanblog on his blog, Electrolyte under "blogs I read". Thanks Patrick!

He describes himself as a liberal, but his views don't seem to fall into the close-minded "Open Minded" Progressive camp, since he seems to like progress and be open minded. Plus he seems to read a lot of the same stuff I do (SF, Patrick O'Brian).

He's been blogging a lot about Le Pen and media corporations vs. media technology, among other stuff. And don't miss the quotes on the right-hand side!
Just in time for the Summer tourist season
So another Chechen asshole with a gun has made a scene in an Istanbul hotel. (Actually, he was a Turk who fought in Chechnya). I used to walk in front of the Marmara Hotel almost every day. They did the same thing at the Swissotel last spring, a month after hijacking a Russian plane from Istanbul. Reports are that all he wanted was to make a statement to the media, and he surrendered readily when the cops showed up. I'm not sure why they keep doing it: it doesn't seem to raise much awareness or sympathy, the public reaction is not generally sympathetic.

I recall the public displeasure over the hijacking last fall: the Saudis killed two passengers in addition to the hijackers, and declared their rescue a success.

Thanks to homegrown terrorism, metal detectors are a part of everday life in Istanbul. Going to the mall? Be sure to take out your phone and keys as you pass through the metal detector. The Marmara Hotel has a metal detector, too, why didn't they catch this guy coming in? I guess they just got sloppy. I bet they, and other big hotels in the area, are going to be a bit more paranoid in the next few months.

Irrelevant note: I always saw the same dog lying next to the entrance to the Marmara hotel. It's a typical Istanbul dog, I don't know what breed they are (if any), but they all look like a barrel with stubby legs, pointy snout, and tail sticking out, and they rarely move from their favorite spot. Watching on the news I saw the same dog, actually standing up, amiably watching the uzi-toting cops, and I had to laugh.
Was Cheney Set Up?
An interesting little snippet from Joshua Marshall on possible machinations inside the State Department. I wish he'd gone into a little more on what the motivations might have been. Mr. Marshall comes up with interesting tidbits from inside the beltway: I may live in the Middle East, but when I meet with diplomatic officials they rarely share inside gossip, although they've been quite helpful in replacing my passport.

Turkish Islamists for Hate

Update: I was wrong, it wasn't the AKP.

I haven't found the story in the TDN, but yesterday I saw a news report showing an Ankara conference of the AKP, the new Islamist party. Supposedly this party has shed its extremist roots, its leader has disowned his nearly decades-old comments praising the Taliban, and is in favor of progressive, democratic involvement in the government. They are currently the highest-polling party in Turkey, not strong enough to get an outright majority in Parliament if an election were called, but strong enough that a coalition would probably have to include them.

The conference revealed that the party hasn't exactly shed its admiration for hatred and death. They showed the second plane hitting the World Trade Center on a big screen, followed by Osama bin Laden. The people were cheering and applauding. I felt sick.

My friends tell me not to worry about it, there are stupid people out there, but most people don't agree with them. From what I've seen, this is true. If the core message of the party, repeated at every rally, press conference, etc. was that terrorism rocks, they would be a fringe faction. This is the case with the Saadat party, which like AKP, was founded from the remnants of the outlawed Virtue Party last year. The Saadat party was composed of those Islamist politicians who wanted a more conservative public agenda.

My friends also assure me that the AKP leaders will no doubt apologize for the disgusting display this week, in order to avoid losing public support and attracting the hammer of the political establishment, which loathes the Islamists and looks for any excuse to throw them in jail and bar them from politics.

But that's exactly what worried me. The AKP presents a very slick front to the country. Their new logo is all over Istanbul, huge banners which, although composed of the same white crescent and stars on red background found on the flag of the Turkish Republic, give an impression of modernity, of dynamic progressivism. Their record in city government in cities like Istanbul and Ankara is good, they have apparently governed more cleanly and honestly than the corruption-riddled mainstream political parties. The only evidence of conservatism they have betrayed is not selling alcoholic drinks in city-owned restaraunts.

But the Ankara conference shows that, whatever the face the party puts on for the public, at heart they admire the darkness and evil of terrorism and intolerance. Say what you will about the dark and evil things the US government has done, cheering the deaths of thousands of people is not one of them.

I don't agree with the methods the Turkish security establishment uses: I believe that repressing free speech, eliminating accountability, and denying human rights make a nation weak, not strong. The Islamist politicians have had their parties outlawed numerous times, their leaders jailed and banned from politics. The fact that they're still here, and stronger than ever, proves the worthlessness of this strategy.

But the display in Ankara this weekend underlines that the limited, broken democracy that exists in Turkey can't be taken for granted. I read that only 3% of the population think that the Shariat is a good idea, but a significantly larger percentage would vote for an Islamist party which claims to support democracy as well as good, moral government. American politicians win elections appealing to very similar sentiments. And once in power, if they thought they could get away with it, would the Islamists really maintain a democratic government? Would they refrain from imposing regressive moral codes by law? Would people violently object if change was made slowly and incrementally? When the regression went far enough that the majority of people had enough, would they still be able to vote the government out, or would they have only violent uprising as a recourse?

As it stands, if the AKP gets into power, the military won't stand for it. One of their predecessor parties became the junior party in a coalition in the late 90's, and was shortly after tossed out and banned from politics. They're stronger now politically.

How the military intervention will happen isn't certain. They may wait for an excuse to pitch the Islamists out. They will most likely use behind the scenes pressure, as they did last time, rather than an overt coup. The voting public will probably not get its nose bent too far by an intervention: they understand why the military feels the way it does, and they trust the military. It helps that the generals have always kept out of the day to day governance, even when they had a coup they turn the reigns over to civilians as soon as possible. This has been the key to maintaining their credibility: the civilian politicians are the ones who govern, so they're the ones who take the blame for screwing things up: the military only gets involved to right the cart when it turns over, so they're always the heros.

But the military big brother weakens the nation. It prevents Turkey from becoming truly democratic, and it prevents the politicians from being truly accountable: if the politicians do anything too harmful to the nation, the military puts a stop to it. The military doesn't put a stop to corruption and atrociously bad governance, so it must be OK. They know daddy's limits, anything that doesn't make him say "No!" is OK.

So the country needs to find a democratic way to deal with the threat of anti-democratic political parties. I wish I could think of a solution, but the fact is that democracies are always vulnerable, authoritarians can always find or create circumstances to persuade people to give them just a little more power. Currently the military serves as the check against this problem in Turkey. But this dependence holds Turkey back from being a freer, more prosperous nation.

Update: I was wrong, it wasn't the AKP.
Whither the Quartet
I raved about Colin Powell's "Quartet" on Friday, and their plans for resolving the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. But as I noted at the end, it all hinges on the cooperation of Arafat, and either the cooperation of Sharon or the muscular support of the US. As Reuters reports, nobody has even mentioned the plan to Arafat, and Sharon is not excited about going to a peace conference with Arafat. So it's probably a non-starter. I will now slink back into dark pessimism.