Monday, February 4, 2013

Who is driving force behind anti-Israelism in Turkey?

As many believe, it is not Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu who is a driving force behind anti-Israelism in Turkey. He is too much intellectual for that.

His recent remarks on Israel where he openly urged Syria to retaliate has been considered as “irresponsible” by some, including Steven A. Cook. Cook said in his latest blog post that Turkish foreign minister’s recent statements regarding Israeli air raid in Syria “are nothing short of irresponsible.” He added that his remarks only increase tension between Ankara and Jerusalem, further removes Turkey from regional diplomacy, and contributes to an unstable environment in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Cook could have saved his valuable time by considering Davutoğlu’s remarks as made by someone who will not miss any opportunity to bash Syria’s brutal regime by pointing out the fact that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s army is only powerful enough to kill defenseless civilians and not confronting Israel.

Cook’s anxiety is needless at best. Today, Davutoğlu is the last person Assad would listen to. Putting this aside, however, there is one thing true in the region today: Most of Turkish leaders’ speeches on Syria and Israel is to give a wake-up call to the world to act against the recklessness of these governments. While speaking, Turkish leaders sound like fundraisers or activists rather than statesmen.

Turkish leaders have already passed that point of being “responsible” in their remarks because they failed to walk their talk for a long time now and whatever they say are not regarded as a policy item. They could not match their rhetoric not because they were ignorant of their country’s clout but for the reason that they had faith in the strength of their soft power. They sincerely believed that they could nudge region’s authoritarian figures into a right direction by talking. They failed. And they got emotional as they had nothing to offer as an alternative.  

In his remarks, Davutoğlu didn’t openly prod Syria to attack Israel (although he would welcome it); he was just trying to emphasize the fact that the army, which is supposed to defend the country, was doing exactly the opposite and committing crimes inside the country.

Davutoğlu is no enemy of Israel. He hosted an Israeli minister in Ankara early in 2010 and had a very close cooperation with Israelis up until the Mavi Marmara incident. He had seven years to lobby Erdoğan to sever ties with Israel but he didn’t. In Turkey, anti-Israel sentiments run high in almost every segment of the society but particularly in the Milli Görüş camp, where Erdoğan is coming from. Although he repeatedly denounced former Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan’s Milli Görüş mentality, there are some traces left and being distasteful of Israel is one of them.

What is good about Erdoğan and Davutoğlu is that they are always open for talks and reconciliation. It just takes some time and of course, some courage. 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Clinton’s legacy

Jonh Kerry will start working on Monday as the top diplomat of the United States and he probably read most of Clinton obituaries published in the mainstream media to see what his predecessor left for the new secretary.

But he obviously wasted his time. Although Hillary Clinton flew nearly a million miles and spent almost three months in the air, she did little tangible that could be pointed as a success. She did not solve lingering Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iran’s nuclear standoff and the Taliban problem in Afghanistan, she could not contain Russia in its near abroad and she could not display a leadership in nudging authoritarian states to open up and become more transparent. In a nutshell, she did little to mitigate challenges the U.S. is facing and achieve a considerable breakthrough in areas that matter much for Washington or its allies.

What she did was keeping the U.S. power across the world from further deteriorating. There were six important foreign policy challenges Clinton faced in the past four years and she did very poor on all these:

1)    Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Clinton’s grade: - 5

2)    Arab Spring. Grade: 1 (For not succumbing to hawks for intervention)

3)    Iran’s nuclear standoff: 1 (For marshalling international sanctions against Tehran)

4)    Relations with China: 2 (For displaying resilience against N Korea’s provocations in 2010 and weaning Myanmar off China’s orbit)

5)    Relations with Russia: -1 (For making matters worse than where they were four years ago)

6)    Afghanistan: -1 (For unnecessary surge)

On the Israeli-Palestinian front, things are worse than where they were when Clinton started her tenure and the prospects for a two-state solution is almost dead for two reasons. First, there has not been any Israeli administration since 1967 that avoided expanding Jewish colonies in the West Bank -- or what the world calls “settlements” -- and agreed to a viable and armed Palestinian state living side-by-side with a secure Israel. Second, realities on the ground make it extremely difficult for the establishment of a Palestinian state. 

With respect to the Arab Spring, Washington did what it should have done. It led from behind in Libya, where interests of its allies were at stake. It took a cautious approach in Tunisia and Egypt and it did not rush to the judgment in Syria and put much of the burden on the shoulders of regional powers such as Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Arab Spring was not an American invention and for this reason the U.S. deserves no credit on that. But Clinton’s virtuoso diplomacy in dealing with the uprisings in the Arab world deserves plaudits.

On Iran, Washington is too weak to face public opinion at home – where diplomacy with Iran means compromise -- in having direct talks with Tehran. This and some other factors put the Iranian nuclear standoff into a standstill while Iran continues with the uranium enrichment and fears of surprise Israeli attack looming large in the offing. But Clinton could boast for marshaling international alliance in putting unprecedented pressure on Iran to give up its suspected nuclear program.

Although Clinton last year announced a new U.S. policy of Asia pivot, hardly she did anything to advance this policy. When North Korea torpedoed a South Korean ship killing several dozen soldiers and shelled an island in 2010, the U.S. stood firm by Seoul and Clinton did a superb job in sending a message to both North Korea and China that U.S. did not abandon its Asian allies. Clinton also was successful in offering some goodies for Myanmar to wean it off from China’s orbit.

Initially, it seemed Washington could clinch a beneficial deal with Russia with US President Barack Obama’s “reset” policy in the face of common interests they share and threats they face. But there are a number of areas where Russia and the U.S. differ. The biggest of them are NATO’s expansive policies, anti-missile program and differences on issues related to the Arab uprisings.

Afghanistan has been a total failure for the Clinton administration as they have achieved nothing by putting more American lives in danger and begging its allies to send more reinforcements. Obama and Clinton's troops surge in Afghanistan could be regarded as one of their biggest foreign policy blunders. It effectively buried any possible peace talks with Taliban and pushed the insurgents to point more guns at Americans and their allies in the war-torn country.

In general, Clinton’s lack of initiatives in a variety of foreign policy issues prevented Washington from losing its interests at a time when US clout around the world is deteriorating. Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, invaded Iraq, alienated Russia and China and took a stricter pro-Israeli line among others that only increased anti-American sentiments around the world and damaged U.S. interests in many places. This is what Clinton administration did not. Advancing U.S. interests in a multipolar world is riskier than it was during the Cold War. And doing nothing -- as Clinton administration did -- is the best option Washington could do.

Friday, February 1, 2013

US embassy bombing: Marxism or Assadism?

Suicide bombing in US Embassy in Ankara is confirmed to be carried out by an extreme left-wing terrorist organization that has been active in the past few months as the Turkish government has stepped out crackdown on the group.

Considering that the organization is part of the a global Marxist resistance front that usually wields violence in its acts, it should not caught anyone with a surprise that they want to make headlines by the latest attack. As a matter of fact, there is a particularly troubling picture in Turkey with respect to the activities of this organization and the security situation could get worse if authorities overlook the threat of this militant group.

In past seven months, the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Front/Party (DHKP-C), the organization that carried out the US Embassy attack on Friday, carried out at least a dozen deadly attacks in Turkey. One of the attacks in Sept. 12 last year killed a police officer in Gaziosmanpaşa district of İstanbul and could make it into US President Barack Obama’s UN speech in September last year.

The organization usually picks members with terminal disease and makes them a suicide bomber. The Ankara bombing bores the exact hallmarks of a DHKP-C attack – a low profile attack, in which a suicide bomber blews himself up at a checkpoint and usually targets security.

One of the reasons why the Marxist organization targeted the US embassy in Ankara could be a violent response to the government’s increased crackdown on the organization. Police detained nearly 100 members of the organization last month and at least 55 members remain in jail pending trial. Police seized documents in raids last month, where they planned assassination of politicians, judges, prosecutors and public figures. And, yeah, what does make bigger news than bombing a US embassy?

The attack also came a day after Syria and Iran vowed retaliation against Israel following its raid on a Hezbollah-bound military convoy on the Syrian-Lebanese border. There is little evidence, if any, to back up this argument but nothing should be ruled out by a regime that desparately tries to remain afloat.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Botched kidnapping: Assad's men in Turkey

Turkey’s state-run Anatolia news agency reported on Wednesday that four Syrians stormed a house in southern Turkish district of Antakya, tied hands of a Syrian opposition figure and attempted to get him back into Syria.

Thankfully, they failed to escape as police clashed with them in a forested area near the Syrian-Turkish border, injuring two and capturing three of them.  

I have no idea why on earth would you risk four of your men to take a dissident lawyer back to the country while there is so much going on inside. Putting this aside, it is surprising how the kidnapping has been done in an amateur way. In such kidnappings, one or two men would do the job. It would be easier if they just knocked the lawyer out instead of tying his hands. In addition, when they left the house, inexperienced Turkish police followed their cars – something they could avoid easily.

Working with Turks on the ground is also dangerous because you never know who could be working for the Turkish police.

If the Syrian regime wanted to get rid of the lawyer, they could infiltrate into Turkey and assassinate him easily, without anyone noticing.

It is amazing how this job has been done in an amateur way. May be the Syrian regime has run out of experienced agents. If not, this is a clear evidence how people loyal to the Syrian regime use brute force to implement what they think is right.

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.