Monday, December 17, 2012

Morality disease in Turkish foreign policy

Personal political wrangling is running so high between Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, with the latter bringing down the level so down that even news agencies had to censor the offensive remarks. The debate is all about morality and the shocking news is that the entire theatre is all redundant.

Unable to find an agenda item to slam the government, Turkey’s main opposition party, with strong links to the Turkish version of Alawites, has put Turkish main foreign policy maker Davutoğlu on the target in the hope of scoring domestic political gains. Davutoğlu is one of the few politicians in Turkey who holds a PhD degree and is regarded as a very intellectual man. His command of the Turkish language is perfect and I would say he is one of the best among politicians in speaking a good deal of Turkish. But according to Kılıçdaroğlu, brain of a bird is better than his.

Davutoğlu also deserves the blame. He has put too much emphasis on his government’s foreign policy being “moral” and “principled.” He always confronts arguments and criticisms levelled against his government that are accusing his foreign policy establishment of being hypocritical behaving differently for various situations. In an attempt to be consistent, Davutoğlu and co. were very good in twisting any situation to sound moral and ethical. For someone who claims (and, sadly, believes) that the country’s foreign policy is putting “human at the center of the foreign policy-making,” being hypocritical, inconsistent and supporting non-democratic regimes elsewhere is a suicide.

I have a small tip to both politicians: Quit petty talk. No foreign policy-maker needs to be moral in his/her conduct of the foreign policy. National interest must be at the center of the country’s behavior abroad and with other countries. A diplomat or a foreign minister cannot sacrifice nation’s interest just to be consistent and “principled.” Sometimes world events push politicians to be ruthless and force them ignore many abuses of human rights and dignity because this is what state interests require.

It is easy to be an activist advocating a certain agenda. But a good politician is the one ready to flip and flop as his/her country’s interests shift.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Anti-Islam sentiments in Egypt counterproductive to healthy transition

Fall and power-sharing struggle among a unified opposition that orchestrated a revolution is inevitable almost after all massive political transformations. What would be devastating for the future of a country is that the power struggle in the post-revolution period becomes violent and one party comes out victorious.

Emboldened by tandem electoral victories and enjoying a simple majority, Islamists in Egypt feel that they should be the one commanding the terms in writing the country’s permanent constitution. Egypt’s draft constitution, which will be put on referendum on Sunday, is far more democratic than the one it is replacing despite serious shortcomings. But Egyptians in Tahrir didn’t risk their life just to replace Mubarak-era constitution with the one that contains vague articles that are open to various interpretations.

Egypt’s draft constitution, which will most likely be approved in today’s referendum, does not include a clear set of rules on civilian oversight of the military. It is a move by Islamists not to irk the military in their delicate strides to complete the painful transition process.

For weeks, opponents of Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi protested the draft constitution, the president’s now-defunct immunity decree and even what they call possible “Islamization” of the country in the future. Protests met with demonstrations by supporters of Morsi, a rare occurrence.

Damaging the entire anti-Morsi movement is their blatant anti-Islam sentiments. Members of their group often cite “former Islamists” or “pious Muslims” confronting Morsi as an indication that the movement is not an anti-Islamic group. When they accuse Morsi and his supporters of turning country into an Islamic state, they alienate those who would otherwise be protesting against the president if the movement was not about staging open attacks against Islam’s larger representation in public institutions and in laws.

For conservative Egyptians, the struggle against Morsi is not about more freedoms or rights but a fight of those who fear of being in a disadvantageous position once Morsi finalizes the “Islamist” transition period. The result would be the Islamist president, Islamist parliament, a military backing an Islamist establishment and slowly Islamization of the country. These fears were exactly the experiences of the Muslim Brotherhood under the iron fist of Mubarak for decades. When they have a chance, they want to use it.

Islamists will make horrible mistakes on the way of writing new rules of the country. But when accusations are made on grounds that they are marginalizing secular people and non-Muslims deliberately, then the Morsi camp will be getting bigger by the addition of all who think the criticisms are not against Morsi and his circle’s anti-democratic measures but against him being conservative president.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Does Russia matter in Syria anymore?

Desparate world powers, in an attempt to behead the Syrian regime, tried many ways they considered effective in nudging Syrian president Bashar al-Assad into quitting. All of them failed miserably.

Diplomatic overtures to end the bloodshed in Syria could be regarded as one of the most laborious, multi-lateral and the longest diplomatic talks to halt a civil war in the history. Initially, the European Union, particularly the U.S., held direct consultations with the Assad regime earlier last year, with U.S. Congressman Dennis Kucinich visiting Damascus to urge Assad to unclench his fist while responding to mass protests across the nation.  Then the duty fell on the shoulders of regional countries, mainly Turkey. While intense negotiations were under way, Ankara was angered by Assad’s what it said “blatant lies” and hence dumped the Syrian president. The Arab League took the flag but gave it up by February this year after failing to achieve any tangible progress. Then joined the United Nations, appointing its former chief Kofi Annan. That initiative, too, ended in failure.

In the course of the failing Syrian diplomacy, when the U.S., Arab nations and Turkey refused to hold dialogue with Assad, they then turned to states who threw weight behind the Assad regime and considered them effective actors with tremendous leverage in Syria. Neither of them had success in ending the 20-month violence in Syria. 

Today’s fashion is to pin hopes on Moscow. Many states, particularly Turkey, fixed their gaze on Russia, saying that, in the words of Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Russia holds the key to the Syrian crisis. Ankara reiterated its position on Russia’s role earlier this week, asserting that it is Russia, not Iran, what mattered most when it comes to Syria.

One reason why Turkey is too hopeful that Russia’s involvement could change things on the ground is because Russia veteod several UN Security Council resolutions it deemed biased against the Assad regime. It was partly because Russia felt fooled by the Security Council members when they endorsed a resolution last year that eventually swept Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi out of power.

I don’t want to think that Turkey naively believes that the UN Security Council will bomb Syria the next day after Russia changes its mind and votes for the Syria resolution. But there is no indication to think otherwise.

Another sign that Russia is not a hope at the end of the tunnel is the latest U.S.-Russia talks on Syria. The U.S. and Russia held talks this week to find a way to resolve the Syria crisis but Russia was too skeptic, with its foreign minister saying that there was only a slim chance that the leaders could come out with something that would wind down the escalating conflict in Syria.

Instead of pinning hopes on Russia, spending too much energy on proding Moscow to change its position that will only make it feel emboldened, Turkey should divert its attention to elsewhere if it wants to see Assad leave soon.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

What if Iran goes nuclear?

Political wrangling between the U.S. and Iran over the latter’s suspected nuclear program has become less visible than a debate between those who believe a clear cut red line should be drawn before Iran and those who think Iran’s threat is hyper-inflated.

Henry Kissinger reinforced with his recent op-ed in the Washington Post calls on the U.S. government to take the Iran’s alleged rapid drive to acquire a nuclear bomb seriously as it will have profound consequences in the region that are detrimental to interests of the U.S. and its allies. He said the result of Iran going nuclear will cause an “essentially uncontrollable military nuclear proliferation” throughout a region.

He added that countries within the reach of Iran’s military but lacking a nuclear option would be driven to reorient their political alignment toward Tehran. Another setback, according to Kissinger, would be that the reformist tendencies in the Arab Spring would be submerged.

Stephen M. Walt is on the other side of the camp, favoring to cool down the rhetoric against Iran, which he thinks could be key in urging the Islamic Republic to abandon its suspected nuclear program.

He says nuclear proliferation in the region as a response to Iran’s possible development of a nuclear bomb is not what history teaches us would happen. He brings the example of Israel, South Africa (which gave up its small nuclear arsenal later) and North Korea, whose neighbors did little, if any, to go nuclear as a response.

He also dismissed Kissinger’s arguments that countries adjacent to Iran would surrender to Iran’s emboldened clout with nuclear weapons and will choose bandwagon. His example was from the Cold War, when Soviet’s nuclear threat only made NATO allies more cohesive.

Walt also believes that possessing nuclear weapons won’t prevent “reformist tendencies” to disappear as the Soviet Union's huge nuclear arsenal did little to crush massive, tandem uprisings in Eastern Europe, which eventually also brought down the Soviet Union itself.

Kissinger is right to suggest that Iran’s nuclear weapon would trigger mushrooming of nuclear weapons in the region. Realists wouldn’t be surprised to see other nations trying to re-establish their deterrence capability by developing weapons similar to what their adversaries have. The reason why Japan and South Korea didn’t attempt to build a nuclear bomb is because they are already under the nuclear umbrella of the U.S. North Korea’s building of the nuclear bomb was not an aggresive but a defensive step to protect itself from the U.S.

The case of India and Pakistan was also misleading. India’s nuclear bomb was perceived by every state in the region to be solely against Pakistan. But Iran’s case is different. Iran is not only trying to equalize its military power with Israel but also sees Turkey and Sunni Arab states as its adversaries. No state is assured of Iran’s incentives. Turks and Arabs won't consider Iran's nuclear bomb to be only aimed at Israel but to their countries as well.  

Kissinger made a wrong argument when he said some states, particularly Bahrain, could bandwagon if Iran goes nuclear. Possessing nuclear weapons does not mean that Tehran will make nuclear threats to make its neighbors bow to its pressure. Taiwan is one shining example.

Theoretically Walt is correct that regional states won’t bandwagon Iran. But his example suggesting that NATO’s European allies balanced against the Soviet Union instead of succumbing to the looming Soviet threat is misleading at best. States usually bandwagon to save their country from being occupied and destroyed or to save the regime it is being ruled by. None of them would be possible if European countries chose to stay in the Soviet camp. Few Soviet allies were ruled by non-communist leaders but they still were strictly socialist, militant authorities with anti-Western agenda such as Syria and Iraq.

For the last argument regarding the reforming tendencies of the Arab Spring, my pick would be Walt. International politics is being run by rational actors (although Walt indicated in his previous blog post that uncertainty among states remains a powerful factor defining the international politics) not by masses. Grassroot movements and uprisings would not shun from doing what they think is right just because another state in the block has a devastating weapon.

I believe the primary issue here is not inflating the threat or ignoring it but how Israel, Arab states and Turkey are free riding America. It is not difficult to predict that Arab states and Turkey would be number one adversary of Iran once the U.S. stops efforts to contain Tehran. At a time when the U.S. needs to shut down expensive adventures abroad, sharing costs with allies would be a smart way to go.