Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Follow-Up: Iraq was not Worth it.

I know we're done here, for this class etc. etc. but I just wanted to share a bit of data with everyone. After going on foreignpolicy.com almost everyday and reading their articles, I decided to subscribe to the magazine (you should do it too).

In their December issue, which is also their annual special issue, they once again comprised a list of the 100 top global thinkers of 2010. I am not going to debate the list, but they include a survey they ask 66 of the thinkers.

One of the questions was....Was the Iraq War worth it?

The answer (on pg 41, the participants listed are on pg 39):

81% No, it wasn't worth it
7% Iraq is better of today
6% History will judge
4% Probably
2% Yes, it was worth it

I think the fact that a majority 66 of the top global thinkers of 2010 say Iraq was not worth it, arguably the brightest people in the world today, communicates something about the policy leading up to and the handling of the Iraq War.

Let's do some more math. 7% of 66 =  is 4.62. So about 4 or 5 people, out of 66, said Iraq is better of today because of the worth (not necessarily that it was worth it). About 4 say history will judge. About 2 or 3 said "probably".  2% of 66 is 1.32. So 1 or 2 persons said "Yes, Iraq was worth it". Just 1 or 2 persons of 66. The majority 53.46 people of the top 2010 global thinkers agree that "No, Iraq was not worth it".

I am not trying to "toot my own horn", but c'mon, it says something when my position on the issue is in line with 53 or 54 of the world's top thinkers (which, those surveyed, come from all ideological, ethnic, religious, national, and economic backgrounds).

Not saying that the other side of the argument is wrong, but it certainly goes to show that unilateralism on such a large stage is going obsolete. Multilateralism and cooperation are here.

Happy Holidays.

Friday, December 10, 2010


So yesterday was the final class for International Politics of the Middle East; the reason why I have this blog. This class has honestly been one of the best I've taken so far in my college career. I learned new concepts and certainly have a clearer insight into how the region works than I did beforehand.

The two most important things I drew out of this course, if I had to choose, is the rentier state and the reasons how Islamist groups form in society. These two concepts are interconnected, and largely have to do with the neglect and authoritarianism of the state to its people. With so many rentier states comprised in one region, along with history, resources, and religion, the region is indeed exceptional. In my view the rentier state is a main source of the problem. The global dependency on oil fuels the rentier state. In turn the leaders often don't (or can't) respond to their people's needs; because they don't have to. Islamic grass root organizations fill this gap and win public support.

Once the rentier state problem is fixed/eliminated (look at my rentier state blog post) I think things will change in the region. However with the generation gap we are starting to see in many Middle Eastern states, that change may come sooner than expected.

I've had a great time learning in this class and I thank everyone for taking the time to read my blog. At first I didn't like blogging, but now I just need to find time to keep it up. Hopefully, I will continue posting on this blog on many different topics. Some may be partisan, some may not. I will probably stick to foreign affairs/domestic politics, but I am sure there will  a few different posts too. Thanks again for reading!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Was the Invasion of Iraq it worth it? No, it was not.

In our discussion in class today, the final question Professor Webb presented us was "was it worth it?" The class parted more toward yes, it was worth it. Myself and a few other students thought the invasion was not worth it. I tried to justify why I didn't think it was worth it, but had too many reason spinning around in my head to give a good, coherent answer. Let me preface my whole post, I support the troops, I support their safety, and I thank them for keeping us safe and giving their time for our protection.  I am not going to write a super long blog post here, but I am going to try my best to explain my reasons for why the invasion of Iraq was not worth it.

First, the invasion of Iraq was not worth it because of the way it was done. The Bush Administration had flimsy evidence that Iraq had WMDs and acted upon that evidence like it couldn't have been wrong. Colin Powell went to the U.N. and (essentially) lied. People can twist it any way they like, but the information given to him was not entirely true. One of his aides considered it the lowest point in his life. Even then, the U.N. Security Council did not approve of a resolution to invade Iraq. Some could say that the U.N. was corrupt (and still is), but the U.N. is viewed as a legitimate source  for action by a majority of the world; and that is what really counts. The Bush Administration took a handful of allies, basically said "screw you" to the U.N. and went into Iraq anyway. Now I know there are more details, facts, and other things that I am looking over, and I don't mean them to be less important. However, I am communicating that the Bush Administration use the massive amount of political power they received after 9/11 and basically shattered a careful international order past Presidents Clinton and his father created (see my previous blog post on the Gulf War, I go into this further). These flimsy claims decreased American legitimacy throughout the world. Our potential to do unilateral action when needed, with the international community accepting of it, has been almost shattered. The U.S. has begun to restore our image, but the damage has been done. I firmly believe, that in the modern world, multilateral-ism is key. Technology and the rise of the BRIC countries make the world a uni-multi polarity; the U.S. as the hedgemon, and strong regional actors. If one cannot see multilateral-ism is the function of the world as of now, they are going to have a hard time getting around. So no, Iraq was not worth it.

Another reason why Iraq was not worth it was the chaos it caused to the region. The balance of power in the region was no more balance. On one side, you have Iran gaining influence due to an Iraq no longer keeping it in check. Iraq may have not liked the west, but it certainly liked the west more than Iran. On the other hand, you have Turkey and Syria, who feared for their security due to a large American force so near. Wonder why Turkey did not let pass through in 2003? Because they were scared for their security (see pg 167, under "3."). Friends shouldn't scare other friends. The Kurds are clamoring for a new state, but no one in the region wants to give them one. Saudi Arabia has now stepped into Iraq's places as a rival to Iran, but isn't doing such a good job. The vacuum Iraq left its causing major change in the region. Aren't there enough problems already? So no, Iraq was not worth it.

 In the aftermath of the invasion, there was massive amounts of blood shed. Iraq was on the brink of a religious civil war. Our troops were giving their lives for a war which was not necessary, nor was right to execute. 4,429 Americans gave their lives. Those brave soldiers shouldn't have died in Iraq, as the war was not a necessary war. It was a choice. A choice that ballooned the deficit and cost us billions. I firmly believe that. Deterrence and containment is a powerful thing. We did the same with the Soviets, why couldn't we with Iraq? So many brave Americans shouldn't have died. So no, Iraq was not worth it.

 Some may argue that invading Iraq had benefits. It free an oppressed people, it gave more freedom of the press and other parts of civil society, and it produced a democracy. These are all true and valid points. The costs to get these benefits, however, were too high in my opinion. Too high in every aspect. It destroyed world opinion of us, made the region more unstable, and cost us lives and money. As of now, this is the situation. It could change in years to come, but the costs are facts, and those are written in history. So no, Iraq was not worth it.


Thursday, December 2, 2010

Afghanistan Panel Reflections

So I am a bit late on posting this, but I would like to also put in my two cents about the panel on Tuesday night. Overall, I thought it was very rewarding and very educational. The contrast between "state-building" and "nation-building" was very interesting, especially in the context of Afghanistan and its history. I thought "state-building" made even more sense when presented with anthropological evidence of how Afghans behaved in the past. Many people, including myself, did not know that the complexities between local and state rules, and Afghanistan's intricate foreign policy.

Now I understand that, in Afghanistan, the phrase "all politics is local" really goes home. The traditional way Afghanistan was governed was by locality and the tribal or village head, not a national figure. This would have been good for U.S. diplomats to know when helping form the new more-centralized government of Karzai. Though the west and other societies are used to a federal or semi-centralized nature of a state, that was totally opposite in Afghanistan. The Afghans have their own way of decision-making. This local concept provides a challenge to "nation-building" but not necessarily to "state-building". One can build a strong state, through infrastructure and technology, but not necessarily a strong nation. A nation is a more abstract concept. However, I do feel that the U.S. should take this into account (if they haven't already) and provide more aid locally to promote a higher quality of life in these villages. If "all politics is local", then it is smart politics to stay local.

In addition, I enjoyed the panelists discussion on the power vacuum that would be opened if/when the U.S. leaves. It was interesting to hear that India would step up and take charge. An emerging power, India has been overshadowed by China. However, this would be India's chance to make a stand in world politics, though lets see if it actually happens.

Though I enjoyed the discussion, I feel that Professor Commins should have moderated more, as a majority of the time the speakers spoke for a very long time on one question. I did enjoy hearing their thoughts, but I feel the panel could have hit on more issues as well as more time for questions.

On the questions issue, I personally feel the Clarke Forum should have allotted more time for them. Though 2 of the 3 questions were interesting I thought the 3rd one (something about troop presence) was from someone who didn't completely understand the issues (not to be mean, but really?). There were many people, including myself, which had questions and I am sure understood the situation more.

I did benefit a lot from the speakers, and now I have a more in depth view on a very complex situation.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Star of the Hour: Turkey's Ahmet Davutoglu

Very convenient to what my research paper is on, foreignpolicy.com (FP) has been doing extensive pieces on the "rise of Turkey". In their list of 100 most influential people of 2010, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is ranked #7. To get a deep insight into Davutoglu's mind, here is a piece he wrote explaining his policies.  The magazine also conducted an exclusive interview with Mr. Davutoglu about his zero-problems policy. In addition, there was also a piece published refuting those who say that Turkey is moving away from democracy and the west. It does seem that FP is certainly interested in Turkey, and they should be.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu

My research paper aims to illustrate the reasons for Turkey's new active participation in the world and how it is not a break from the west and Europe. However, the articles FP has released tends to exaggerate how powerful Turkey is as of this moment. Don't get me wrong, through my research Turkey is certainly headed for regional power status if it maintains its course. The BRIC acronym may soon be BRIC(T). However, there are many factors FP tends to over-emphasize purely because this is new behavior for Turkey. Yes Turkey has changed its relationships with its Middle Eastern neighbors, but it is still close with Europe on multiple issues.

However, it should be noted that Turkey, with its strong economy, stable politics, and democracy has embarked on a soft power campaign in an effort to change the nature of its Middle Eastern policy. Being snubbed by Europe in EU negotiations, Mr. Davutoglu has led Turkey to turn its head and use its power for further participation in world affairs. If you can't join them, make them want you.

Is that the real policy of Turkey? Gain power on the international stage so it would make Turkey a prized member of the EU? I certainly don't know for sure, but it does seem so. Its partnership with Brazil, half a world away, demonstrates the changing of the policy of Turkey. Never before has modern Turkey been so deeply involved in world affairs. Turkey is making its own path, but not as drastic as everyone makes it out to be. It is still dependent on Europe in economic terms and social terms. However, kudos to Davutoglu, he's effectively shaped his nation.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Iraq was not Inevitable

In this post, I am going to talk further on the theme of today's class; was the invasion of Iraq inevitable. Though I have been trying to stay unbiased in my posts for a while, some of my bias may come out here, so I apologize. So was the Iraq war inevitable? Of course it wasn't.

In class today we talked about the National Security Report of 2002. The report outlines that the goal of the U.S. is to protect against terrorists and tyrants, preserve peace with our allies, and extend peace through democratization. In addition, the report outlines the use of preventative and pre-emptive strikes, and the necessity to keep WMDs out of terrorist hands.

Now I agree with almost all of this, especially in the age of non-state actors. However, how does Iraq tie into this? Its something called broad misunderstanding and poor decision making.

The Bush administration successfully toppled the Taliban government in Afghanistan. The people were supportive and a new, democratic (on paper) government was installed. The administration thought the same would apply to Iraq. Similar features of an autocratic regime  further augmented this idea. Iraq was a threat to our allies in the region, in addition to being a thorn in our side since 1991. This could'nt have been more of a misunderstanding. Administration officials didn't see Iraqi politics was fragile, and they grossly miscalculated.

I think the individuals in charge, President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and others are more responsible for the invasion. Almost all were involved in the Gulf war of 1991; Cheney was Secretary of Defense. I think there was an psychological component, a vendetta, agaisnt Iraq. When you are in charge of the most powerful nation in the world, you don't let psycological vendettas or biases get in the way of your decision making. This factor, I think was the most important.

Iraq wasn't inevitable, it was a choice. The NRS of 2002 just provided the pretext to do it. It cost us billions of dollars and thousands of lives. Was it worth it?

(pretty cool picture, isn't it?)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

President George H.W. Bush Ran a Very Smart Strategy

President George H.W. Bush gave this speech to the United States when commencing the Gulf War (sorry for the title, but is the shortest clip I could find). In his speech, he notes that there is a broad coalition of support for the war against Iraq. He also laments that force had to be used, after diplomatic options have been exhausted. Personally, and I think many would agree with me, I believe President Bush was spot on. The president and/or those advising him understood the international order and the necessities of multilateral diplomacy to achieve desired results.

In Fareed Zakaria's The Post American World, he makes note that America has to procure a "cadre" of international support in the modern era (not that 1991 wasn't modern, but things have changed). I completely agree with this. The support of this concept may reflect the neo-liberal part of me, but if the past decade has been any indication, it is that Zakaria is right. Yes, we did have allies go into Iraq with us in 2003, but it lacked the international legitimacy that we had in 1991. In 1991, we had a UN resolution behind us, and the fact that we tried extensive state diplomacy and public diplomacy. William Rugh's American Encounters with Arabs gives a detailed account into the diplomatic actions President Bush took before resorting to force.

In the modern international order, the U.S. cannot afford to act unilaterally anymore. As shown by the Gulf War example, the U.S. showed leadership without unilateral action. This concept is indeed possible. Now, I am not saying that we always need that broad of a coalition, but the U.S. should pursue policy similar of gaining international consensus, especially for actions in the Middle East. The situation in Iraq was efficiently diffused through smart diplomacy. By exhausting diplomatic options, it sent a clear signal that the U.S. tried a multitude of different options before calling for force. This increased the view of the U.S. among many in the world not as a benevolent hegemon, but as a responsible leader. In what looks like a decreasing sense of U.S. hegemony, I think it would be smart to heed Zakaria's points. A more multilateral foreign policy should be good for U.S. policies in containing Chinese influence and for our Middle Eastern relations. American Exceptionalism (which often translates into unilateralism) is not a bad idea, but it lacks proper place in the current world system.

Whether some want to believe or not, the world is much more interconnected than ever before. In a world entangled in the web of technology (no pun intended), it is imperative the U.S. adapt and pursue policies similar to the way George H.W. Bush handled the the pre-action and Gulf War. He did it right. The age of unilateralism for large operations is over...for now.

Monday, November 15, 2010

PeaceMaker Reflections: A Game translated to Reality

So tonight I got a chance to play the peacemaker simulation. I have to say, I really enjoyed the game. I thought it gave a broad view in the different options and actors all part taking in the conflict. Through playing the game, it illustrated quite a few important themes which I think serve to be true of the situation in general; the Israeli government's need to satisfy multiple blocs in the government in addition to the different sectors of the public, the P.A.'s internal struggles with Fatah and Hamas for power, the lack of an adequate taxation system in  Palestine, and the need to balance peace and security in Israel.

For both states, I had it on the "tense" setting.

Let me first start with my Israeli experience. At first glance, the Israeli PM already has more options available because of the development of Israel and a proper taxation system. Using social initiatives always bring your points with the public up. When responding to violence, I slowly learned that beefing up extreme security measures doesn't help the peace process. However, making smart use of police and prisoners are helpful. One of the main objectives first is to procure the support of the U.S. to help mediate. One also has to talk to the Palestinians and use cross-cultural initiatives; these are really key.

Let me talk about the different sectors of the population though. This is what I thought was the trickiest part to winning on the Israeli side. At first, I tried to really appease both the public and the settlers. This didn't work out too well; I eventually got kicked out of office. What I found out was the more I just focused on the P.A., aid, making the Israeli public happy with police, and disregarding the settlers, the game went well for me. The theme the game is trying to communicate is that for an Israeli leader to appeal to all parts of the government and still achieve peace is nearly impossible. In stead the leader has to be flexible and willing to make difficult choices and ignore a small but vocal segment of the population. By freezing settlements, I was able to get world support, eventually get the public's support, and finally achieved peace. So I guess the lessons are stay mainstream, ignore far extremists, pamper the public, and keep dialogue open.

Next I played as Palestine. Lets just say I had an 0-3, I got kicked out of office each time. I thought the Palestinian mode was much more difficult. There were less options, threat of losing power to factions, and most important, reliance on funding from outside sources. I couldn't implement any programs or security measures without outside funding. The Arab states, Europe, the U.S., and the U.N. would meet with me, but funding wasn't consistent.  Fatah and Hamas were gaining power because I couldn't provide for my citizens. Thus, more violence happened and it all went downhill.

Its important to note that these are the conditions President Mahmoud Abbas has to deal with. Without infrastructure, he cannot have an adequate tax system. Without taxes, he cannot have infrastructure for a state. It gave me greater insight into the peril of not having enough money to secure one's own population. That is why it is imperative to continue giving aid to Palestine. Without aid money, a two-state solution will dissolve and violence will continue. Perhaps with further infrastructure, the P.A. can do a better job in caring for its population, decrease the influence of Fatah and Hamas, and there can be a Palestinian state.

Overall I thought it was a great exercise which brought me into making decisions with real consequences. Sometimes you have to give a little, to get a little.

After watching Ted beat his first game in the time I tried 6, I was relieved to finally achieve peace as Israel. A great, and enlightening exercise.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Non-State Actors, Iran, Syria, Turkey, the P.A., and Israel; One Big MEPP Family

In light of our discussion today in class, what's next for the MEPP (Middle East Peace Process), and what are Israel's and the P.A.'s (Palestinian Authority) options?

In The Settlement Fixation, which came out today (conveniently) on foreignpolicy.com, Michael Weiss argues that settlements are the least of Israel's problems to the MEPP. Like our discussion in class, Weiss makes the case that more "critical issues will have to be resolved first, such as reconciling feuding Palestinian political factions, guaranteeing that security can be maintained in the West Bank without an IDF presence, and ensuring that Palestinian institutions now being built are stable enough to sustain a functioning democratic government, regardless of which party is elected."

In the piece, he notes that "in late 2008, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas undertook a hypothetical map-drawing exercise that delineated the border between the two states. The end result allowed for large settlement blocs to be incorporated into the Jewish state, while according land currently inside Israel to the new Palestinian state."

 As seen from these two quotes, it seems like the settlement issue is not the biggest of deals. Of course, its not helpful that its still going on, however, as noted by Weiss, its not top priority.

One of the top priorities is to deal with the actors near Israel; Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran. How do you bypass non-state actors (but gradually becoming state actors) like Hamas and Hezbollah. I made a point in class that these are Islamists organizations. The reason people turn to Islamist organizations, or other religiously affiliated grassroots networks is because the state is doing a poor job providing for its people. Thier networks often have some of the necessary infrastructure to give people basic needs such as food, education, and health care. The way to woo the Palestinian population back to the P.A. is by making the P.A. more effective. Giving aid, and promoting governance are a few things. By making the P.A. stronger, however, it is also strengthening a potential Palestinian state. So in order to marginalize Hamas and Hezbollah, one has to accept the inevitable solution of two states.

For Syria and Iran, they are trickier situations. Relations with them may be eased by solving this conflict. But on an important side note; perhaps Israel can have better relations with Syria if they mend them with Turkey. Turkey has recently became a strong ally of Syria after nearly declaring war on them. Syria now depends on the Turkish economy in certain areas. If Israel can repair if relations with Turkey, maybe Turkey can push Syria to the table and negotiations can start. Turkey now likes to be seen as a conflict negotiator. I am sure Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu would be perceptive to this idea; and if he succeeds in brokering a deal (with Syria and maybe even Iran), Turkey's international legitimacy and power will go sky high. Just a thought.

What will the course of the MEPP be? That's a question that will be answered in the years to come.

Left to Right: President Gul of Turkey, Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas of the P.A., Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu of Turkey

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Individual is pretty Important

In today's class, we discussed whether the MEPP was reliant on the individuals involved, the processes happening in the states, or the international system in place. While all three are so intertwined that it would be ignorant of me to say one is more important than the other two, I do feel that individuals played a key role in the peace processes happening in the early 90's.

As we went over in class, Clinton was a figure who brought people together. He had a certain personality that many liked, and he was instrumental in bringing Israel and the PLO together at the table. Arafat, whose history in the conflict is long, may have been worn down from years of chaos and fighting. Yitzhak Rabin was a central figure in the process. He had broad support from the public, and with his foreign minister Shimon Peres, achieved great success. All these personalities came together under the right circumstances.

One can disagree, and say that the individuals didn't matter too much. International realists can further say it was the states, not the people.

Whether we want to believe it or not, individuals change a lot in this world. Individuals make history. Without certain people being where they were in the right place, certain events wouldn't have unfolded the way they did. For instance, Washington during the Revolutionary war, Napoleon in France, Lincoln during the Civil War.

To bring the issue closer to the region, if Gamal Nasser wasn't President of Egypt, would pan-Arabism been so big in the Middle East? If Mustafa Kemal didn't take charge, would there be a nation of Turkey? If Mahmoud Ahmadinejad didn't become president of Iran, would relations be so bad? So many 'ifs" made possibly by individuals.

Individuals often spur the creation of certain policy.  We can look at the international system and events scientifically and systematically, but often people overlook the power one person holds. That power can change the course of the world.

Now was Rabin nessesary to the peace process? Well it does seem so. When Benjamin Netanyahu became Prime Minister, most of the same characters were in power. I do admit, the aspects of the exact situation between Israel and Palestine were different, but they couldn't come to further agreement. If Rabin had been alive, would it had gone through? Maybe. However, it does serve to illustrate that an individual can change the world. Especially in the Middle East. Hopefully we'll get another Rabin and they'll make it happen.

Left to Right: Yassir Arafat, Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin

Thursday, November 4, 2010

This is just Insane

On election day, there were numerous ballot initiatives present in numerous states. In Oklahoma, one of these initiatives was to ban Sharia law in Oklahoma. The initiative passed.

Wait, really?

First of all, the passage of this amendment to the Oklahoma constitution directly conflicts with the United States Constitution. The 1st amendment includes the phrase "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion ... " This doesn't just mean respecting as in a positive feeling of esteem, it also mean in pertaining to a religion. Banning part of a religion, is thus, a violation of the Constitution.

In addition, according to the Rick Tepker from the University of Oklahoma Law school (in the article), there has never been a previous case in the state in which Sharia law was applied in Oklahoma. Let me be clear, there has never been a case in Oklahoma with Sharia law applied. Never. So why make an intolerant law?

Republican State Representative Rex Duncan, the author of the amendment, called it a ""pre-emptive strike." A "pre-emptive strike" against what? Islam? With the use of the phrase "pre-emptive strike" to explain such a reasoning, it is clear that Duncan considers the religion of Islam an enemy. Why would one refer to an action as a strike, if one did not intend to cause harm? With the intent of harm, comes some sort of animosity or ill-will.

This is thoroughly ridiculous, especially in a state where no instance has warranted any sort of law like that and a law that comes into direct confrontation with the 1st amendment. It just goes to show Muslims in the United States and abroad that we aren't as tolerant as our ideals put us as.

Tepker makes a point that since Sharia law is banned, part of religion, does "this means that the courts can no longer consider the Ten Commandments. Isn't that a precept of another culture and another nation?" The law hurts our image abroad, especially in the Middle East. How do we ever expect to gain the goodwill of citizens in the Middle East if our public diplomacy efforts are continuously hampered by intolerant actions like these? The appropriate thing to do now is for leaders to denounce the law and have it repealed. After all, it is un-constitutional.

Some Americans need to realize that Islam is not the enemy, it is extremist organizations. I can't believe that a law likes this gets passed in a country who prides itself on freedom and liberty. It just goes to show that there is another dimension to U.S.-Middle East relations; and it's disgusting.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Reflections from my Model U.N. Conference

The reason I was not in class on Thursday was because I had a model u.n. conference in Washington D.C. hosted by Georgetown University this weekend. At the conference I was in a simulation of the European Council, which after being a part of it, has very very ineffective rules of procedure. All members have veto power, and when forming a conclusion (resolution) they can only be suggestions. However, it just goes to show how complex diplomacy is inside the EU. Though it may be ineffective in our view, it puts all members on an equal playing field and generates support for a resolution. This way, all member states are happy and can rally around a decision if there needs to be.

The one topic in my committee was religious pluralism in Europe. The chair of my committee brought in Merve Kavakci. Ms. Kavakci was elected to the Turkish parliament in 2002 from the Virtue Party. She refused to take off her headscarf in parliament, thus breaking Turkey's strong secularist laws, and had her party outlawed. Also in the virtue party was current PM Erdoğan and President Gul. She worked closely with them too.

This was awesome. Not only has someone so close to the current leaders gave a speech to my committee, but I got to ask a real Islamist a question which deals with my research paper. I asked the question " Now that Prime Minister Erdoğan and his AKP have been in power a few years and achieved numerous successes, how do you think the new centre-right party is affecting Turkey and relations with the EU?"

She responds that  she is very proud of the job they're doing. She also said that  it is helping Europe see the other face of Turkish society, the Islamic side. This is good for democracy because this is the first time the people have actually expressed their view in a form of truly popular government. She also said that the EU has reservations about Turkey because they are worried about its loyalty to the union.

Some things to think about, but I thought it was great coming from someone involved.

I also missed a ton of new this weekend. North Korea and South Korea fighting, bombs from Yemen, and elections right around the corner, it must have been busy for the news agencies.

Happy Halloween too

Monday, October 25, 2010

Iran took a look at Turkey's Playbook

Iran is giving cash to Afghanistan. This topic is particularly hot in the news this week, and I see others have already blogged about it. I am going to put my two-cents into this conversation too.

So Afghanistan has been accepted millions of dollars from Iran, what are the consequences of this, if any? Well, we don't know the exact agreement made between the two leaders, so the results are TBD. However, I want to talk about Iran's recent outreach to other states in the region.  Iran recently made a visit to Lebanon. He gave a few speeches, but the visit was a culmination of recent aid and other agreements between the two countries. Symbolic signs went up during his visit:

In addition, giving money to its northeast neighbor could point to a few signs of what Iran is trying to do. In the midst of tough sanctions placed on the country this past summer, Iran seems to be looking for a few friends. Instead of being the polarizing, intimidating power, Iran has recently put on its "friendly face" in the region. Though it still has traditional rivals such as Saudi Arabia, I think it is significant that Iran is doing some public diplomacy work. By giving aid and improving relations with other states in the Middle East, its trying to build some friends. Especially with Lebanon, which has recently been somewhat ignored by the United States, it is important that Iran is finally utilizing the friendly Hezbollah power.

So one may ask, from my title, how is in any way related to Turkey?

Well my research paper is on the foreign relations of Turkey in the past decade. What I am trying to connect is the the recent trend of changing relations with neighbors in the region. Turkey, which has recently been stepping out into the international scene by itself without holding Europe's hand, had engaged in a similar process. Turkey has completely changed its relations with Syria from one of imminent war to a strong friendship. Turkey has given aid money to the Caucasus states as well as renewing ties with Iran. Looks like its the beginning of a power play to me. Iran seems to like how its working for Turkey, and is doing the same thing. I hope it cites it sources.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Few Reflections from the PBS Video

Today in class we watched the second video of David Shipler's Arab & Jew: Return to the Promise Land (I hope I got the title right). The video was pretty powerful. I knew the basic history and facts about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but this video helped me understand it better.

One can read as many textbooks and analytical essays about a conflict, but using interviews with real people bring a situation so far away closer. For example, I know World War II to to be a war of great proportions, but it was way before my time. Its sort of a myth for the more recent generations. However, talking with my grandparents about their actions and service during the war makes it tangible history. I feel connected with the events that had happened, and it becomes more of a reality. Well, watching the video of very personal interviews today, it made me feel more connected with what is occurring almost a half-world away.

We discussed many themes that came out of the video, and it drives home just how complex this situation actually is. During the peace talks, one can just ask themselves 'Why can't they fix this already?' Well I was one of those people, more or less. I knew the situation and history, so I like to think I wasn't ignorant of exactly what was going on. However, after seeing exactly how Israelis and Palestinians think about each other and the past, it adds another dimension. Though, after watching the interviews, I would like to know how Shipler chose who to interview. Not accusing him of anything, it would just be interesting to see why he chose the people he did.

A quote I jotted down stood out for me. Rita Huri, the Israeli-Arab social worker, said that Israelis and Arabs may "live in some place, but not together". I thought that was pretty powerful. Not to directly compare the situation in Israel, but it reminded me of the Jim Crow laws in the South. White and Black American citizens lived in the same place, but they didn't actually live together. Everything was separate. There was a mental barrier that persisted in the south from fully integrating and accepting blacks in society. I think the mindset, at least a bit, can be used to describe some interactions between many Israelis and Arab-Israeli citizens. I think it is important for Israeli citizens and Arab-Israeli citizens to have a dialogue for further understanding. Once this first mental barrier can be removed, other barriers between Israelis and Palestinians can be too.

At the end of the video, the lawyer (sorry, I didn't catch his name), said "its all over but the body count." Well I hope there can be peace, eventually, without a body count.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Wikileaks a Revolution in Journalism? I'd Call it Vigilantism.

Wikileaks, a website founded by Julian Assange, is an "international organization that publishes anonymous submissions and leaks of otherwise unavailable documents while preserving the anonymity of sources" (Here's where i got that definition). Making world headlines with the posting of a graphic video of a helicopter gunman shooting down innocent Iraqi civilians, but at the time thought to be terrorists. Over the summer, Assange's website again made headlines with the posting of more than 77,000 U.S. war documents from Afghanistan. Now, Wikileaks announced it will be releasing around 400,000 Iraqi War documents. 400,000! Where does Mr. Assange get the mandate that allows him to do this?

In Jonathan Stray's Foreign Policy article, Is this the Future of Journalism?, he ends with saying that "no journalist I've spoken to will speak ill of Wikileaks in private: Every reporter understands that Wikileaks is the thin end of the wedge. If they can't run a dangerous story, no one can." Stray makes a good point here. Wikileaks is the embodiment of the freedom of the press. Freedom of the press is important for society and does indeed hold government accountable.

 However, posting classified war documents endangering the safety of U.S. forces and damaging U.S. foreign policy is, I believe, over the line of journalism to vigilantism.

Though Wikileaks has held the release of some important documents and blotched out names, that doesnt change the fact they obtained the documents without permission of their owner; the U.S. government. If one were to publish something you wrote without your permission, would that be fair and legal? I think not.

What gives Mr. Assange the legal right to publish documents that aren't his? Not only is he violating the concept of sovereignty, he is also putting lives in danger. No longer is this journalism, it is vigilantism. According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, a vigilante is: a member of a volunteer committee organized to suppress and punish crime summarily (as when the processes of law are viewed as inadequate); broadly : a self-appointed doer of justice. When does Mr. Assange have the international power and legitimacy to declare U.S. sovereignty of documents illegal? To answer the question, he does not.

Wikileaks brings up an important trend in international politics: the rise of non-state actors due to the internet and technology. In one of my past blog posts, I asserted that terrorist organizations are aided by technology in recruiting, communicating, and funded operatives around the world. Just as the internet has aided non-state terrorist organizations, it is also aiding the development of websites which some states cannot hold their owner accountable. The prime example is Wikileaks. There is no state which published this material. It was the website of one man, Mr. Assange, who committed the crime (yes, I do view this as a crime). The U.S. has no jurisdiction to arrest him in another country, and has no means to shut down the website. Thus, the rise of internet related non-state actor/individuals are new to the international security scene.

I am all for free speech, but Mr. Assange and Wikileaks crosses a fine line. This is not heroic journalism, it is one man taking the law into his own hands; a vigilante. If Mr. Assange thinks he is a real-life Batman, well, he is far from it.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Iran = Soviet Union?

I found this article on Foreignpolicy.com earlier today. Its very interesting how the author compares Iran's structure and actions to that of the Soviet Union. After reading the article, I did agree with some points on how the two states are related, but overall I think the comparison is mis-characterized. The ideologies are different, capabilities different, and situation international politics are vastly different. Some points made, however, could be helpful for policy makers in that they have the same potential to work; as making long-term policy commitments rather than just short-term pressure.

Page 2 is where the comparison points are listed.

Here's the article

Monday, October 11, 2010

Nuclear Proliferation in the Middle East and abroad: I can't think of a worse idea.

As we were going over the chart of the different views on nuclear proliferation, I couldn't help but wonder why anyone would encourage the spread of nuclear weapons. Though their reasoning is that if states had equal access to nuclear weapons, this would stem violence because states would each have MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) power. This reasoning is ideal.

Those who follow this view fail to incorporate is the human element.

States act unreasonably because humans are sometimes unreasonable. One may do something knowingly adverse to themselves because they want to. Now is there any logic in this? Nope. So giving states access to the most powerful weapons known to man is logical? Not even. Middle Eastern states have shown that they are prone to make illogical decisions. Also, there is much conflict in the region, so how would it be a good things to have each state blast the other up at any moment? There is already too much tension in the region.

In addition, states with low stability or experience internal conflicts pose the threat of having non-state actors use these weapons for their own goals. Since non-state actors do not have defined borders, it would be impossible to retaliate without destroying another country. Internal conflicts in states could turn global if one side possess a nuclear weapon.

Moreover, many nuclear bombs going off would be an environmental disater. If one thinks the bombs dropped on Japan caused radiation damage, nuclear warheads toady are much, much, much stronger. Many people would die, environments would be destroyed, and Earth as we know it may become uninhabitable. To those that think proliferation is a good thing (not that I think anyone in class does), is that the type of future you would want?

Though the spread of nuclear weapons may be somewhat inevitable (unless states completely destroy the ways and technologies to build them) it is imperative that nuclear weapons must be safeguarded. For the Middle East, the lack of nuclear weapons preserves regional power, and also serves as a balance of power between the different states. I really don't want a future with this in it:

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Do Rentier states impede democracy and economic liberalization?

This is the last question on today's sliderocket. We briefly answered it in class, but I would like to talk about the question more.

A rentier state, as we discussed, is a state which derives most its income from collecting rent rather than taxes. The Pathology of Oil by Ross also does a great job in explaining this too. An example, the one we used in class, is Egypt collecting rent from ships using the Suez canal. The government usually spends this high income on the state and programs for its citizens. However, since the government doesn't (or minimally) tax the people, it does not need to provide adequate representation. "No representation without taxation", as Professor Webb wrote on the board. Thus, subscribing to this idea, states do not need to listen to its populace for governance. I am not endorsing this style of leadership, its just a fact. Look a Kuwait or Saudi Arabia for other examples.

Since leaders do not have to listen to their people, as they are only being minimally to not taxed while using the states' services, it continues autocratic rule. Why would a state need democracy, if they are getting income and providing its citizens? The rentier concept presents a direct hurdle to democracy, and accelerates the stability of autocratic control in the Middle East. Therefore, there are no real reasons or incentives to reform government or liberalize the economy. If  one liberalizes, they have a chance of the rentier state backfiring and democracy growing.

People often wonder why democracy hasn't 'spread' to the Middle East. We discussed whether the region was "exceptional". Is it? The only way the region is "exceptional" is that it is comprised of many rentier states because of its resources. The need for oil by nations, the use of the Suez canal for shipping, and other reasons have made the rentier state possible in the region. The rentier concept, combined with history, and religion produced the region we see today.

I made a point in class that the rentier state has flaws. First, the resource or whatever the state was getting rent on could run out or become obsolete. If this happens, the state is going to need to tax and thus (eventually at least) provide representation to the people. It will also encourage the state to diversify its economy to have the people earn an income so they can continue to pay taxes. It  forces the state to find other means of production such as industrializing. Industrializing leads to modernization of society; roads, electricity, technology, organizations and special interst groups. The other way the rentier state model fails is since the government is providing for its people, this often provides education. In class Milstein pointed out that education can often be conservative. This is completely true. But other times, as Professor Webb pointed out, people send there children to western or American universities. At these institutions, the children are often educated and exposed to democracy and liberty and bring it home with them. Over time, groups form and push for reform. Its a longer process.

After being exposed to this concept, I truely believe that the rentier state is a significant factor in the authoritarian presence in the Middle East. Without the rentier concept, the region would be a totally different place. Maybe once the rentier state eventually falls, we will have democracy in the region.

Speaking on democracy, and on a much lighter note, I can't resist posting this. It has absolutely no connection to this blog post, but maybe we need Robert Burck (aka The Naked Cowboy of NYC) to fix these problems as president. Maybe if he takes a picture with Arab leaders, they may decide to democratize after all. Too bad he won't be in Times Square anymore, it was a better job for him.

Monday, October 4, 2010

How much of MENA politics and economics are still determined by outside (western) powers, and what ways?

So I decided to write on this question from the previous sliderocket. The presentation from today needed a password for me to access, so I could'nt get the questions from the end of today's class.

To answer this question, I think almost all of MENA's economy and a majority of MENA's politics are influenced by western powers.

Lets start with ecomonics.

In my opinion much of the MENA is influenced by western actors. 8 of the 12 OPEC nations are located in the region. The reason why states like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Iran and others are so important is because of oil. Some may say this is not true, its because of their government or their history with Israel. So what about the central Asian countries with repressive regimes? Uzbekistan ring any bells? Or what about African dictatorships? Yes they are important, but not nearly focused on as much because they don't have (or much, except for a few African states) oil. Developed states in the west and the east need oil to continue growing. Thus, the producers are extremely important. Other MENA states that do not have oil are equally influenced by the west. For North African states, such as Morocco, trade with Europe and the west are the economy. Turkey's economy, which doesn't have oil, is anchored in the prosperity of the EU economy (from some of my research). With the oil states, the west drives the demand. Without the west, and oil, I believe the Middle Eastern region wouldn't be nearly as important as it is now.

For politics, the west has a lesser role than in economics, but is a sizable actor. Though MENA states have their own enemies and allies in the region, Europe (the EU) largely overshadows them. A stronger political and economic bloc than MENA states, the EU has much influence in soft power and acts as a strong pressure. In addition, the Israeli-Palestinian issue has been a symbol of west vs. east politics. Recently, some European states such as France have not always been staunchly pro-Israel (Jacques Chirac in 1996), but the issue continues to be a main problem in the Middle East. The overbearing cultural and economic power directly translates into political power in the MENA states. Subtly or not, Europe/American have influence within the region.

Friday, October 1, 2010

EuroMed Incentive: The Real Leverage

In class the other day, we ended with talk about the EU's relationship with MENA states. In particular, we ta;ked about the EuroMed program; how the EU would offer economic and other incentives to MENA states in order for them to reform their economy and government to be more compatible (not the best word) with the EU. At first, I made a point how MENA states could just take the incentives and not change anything about their country. I didn't clarify in class that I was mainly talking about the oil rich Gulf states.  I thought this way because Europe needs oil coming from the region so the Gulf states, not Europe, really has the leverage. However, this situation does not apply to countries such as Tunisia, Morocco, Syria, and others who do not have oil resources. I started to think, who really has the leverage in this relationship? My conclusion was that Europe does after all.

Europe has the very important aspect of soft power with the MENA states. EU states have given aid and other support to MENA states in multiple forms. Such forms of aid have been culturally, like providing leadership training, helping women, and providing education. In addition, a majority of the youth in MENA states are culturally in sync with Europe. Fashion, music, food are just to name a few things MENA youth and Europe's youth have in common. There is no doubt this relationship will be important in the future. Though some MENA states may have oil, Europe has popular culture, and certainly the money to back it up.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Lessons Connected: Afghanistan to the Middle East

I was going through old files on my computer, and I found this very powerful (at least to me) video report from CNN about Afghanistan civilians fleeing their homes in the face of the U.S.-NATO Kandahar offensive. This video is about 8 months old, and I also do know that Afghanistan is not per-say in the Middle East region. However I think it ties in well with our talk with Islamic politics and terrorism. Just so I am not misunderstood, I am not saying anyone in the video is a terrorist or anything else; they are innocent families just wanting a peaceful life and whats best for their children.

In the video, you can see the refugee camp is poorly built, the small children are sleeping on barren floors. The video is dated February, so it is still winter. The conditions seem horrible, and I sure there is poor sanitation and food hardships. In America this would be more than unacceptable. Where is the UNHCR? Hopefully the situation has changed.

In class and through the primary source readings we have seen that Islamic parties in government often provide more social welfare and are connected to the civilians through grassroots efforts. Not saying Pres. Karzai isn't, but from the video, it doesn't seem much was done for refugees. Thus, people may be swayed to support a candidate in Afghanistan who provides support for the people. The inability of a government to provide for its people, and it looks like Karzai's government is one of them, spur the formation of parties which are closer to the people (i.e. Islamic groups) .

These families have left their homes, and their lives have been shaken because of the war against terrorism. If the Afghan government or/and the U.S. government focused on improving and modernizing the country's infrastructure, economy, and health care; maybe there would be less terrorist. If the United States does more to raise the living conditions of Afghan civilians, by providing a safe environment, building society, and creating jobs, terrorism may seem less appealing. This notion applies especially to the youth, who have been more prone to join radical organization due to the lack of jobs and a secure future in the country.

Both these notions can certainly can apply to Middle Eastern states in understanding Islamism and why some join radical organizations.

I'm just throwing my opinion out there about these ideas. Even though Afghanistan is not the focus of our class, I think the lessons in the video are. I encourage you to watch if you have 2-3 minutes free.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Is Terrorism a result of globalization? Of the 'clash of civilizations'?

For this post I am going to respond to the question in the sliderocket (as pointed out by Professor Webb) : "Is Terrorism a result of globalization? Of the 'clash of civilization'?". This is two-sided question, so I am going to attempt to answer each part.

1) "Is terrorism a result of globalization?"

Is terrorism as a concept a result of globalization? Certainly not. Terrorism goes back thousands of years and is present through many different societies. Terrorism is not something new to the human experience.

However, terrorism has become more dangerous and more effective through globalization.

With the development of new technologies and more advanced weaponry, the ability to conduct terrorist activities, at least in my view, has become easier. In addition, through the new global media and through the internet, terrorists are able to communicate to infinite more people and secure more resources than ever before. For instance, Al-Qaeda has been able to spread their message across the world through viral videos and other material. In addition, the Al Qaeda leadership was (and still) able to recruit, train, fund, and communicate with operatives abroad. Without the internet or global media, it would be much more difficult to do this. The fact that the world is more interconnected also makes terrorism more potent. A bomb in New York or London affects the markets and policies in China, India and Europe. An attack in one part of the world sends ripples across the globe; making the message and intent even clearer. Actions are no longer localized; they're globalized. The ease at recruiting, training, funding, and communicating has eased and perhaps spurred terrorist activities across the globe. Terrorism is not the result of globalization, but it is certainly aided and received more potency due to the results of globalization and an increasing interconnected world.

2) "Is terrorism a result of the clash of civilizations?"

Both yes and no. Cultures have blended and mixed for thousands of years. Look at Hellenism. It is a  hybrid of classical  cultures. Was there terrorism back then? Maybe, but nothing historically huge that I can see. If terrorism was directly because of the clash of cultures, then wouldn't American have many, many terrorist organizations? Of course there have been terrorist groups that have sprang up in all parts of the globe through time, and there has been much animosity between different nationalities. In my view, terrorism is a product in of 'the clash of civilizations' in the new way globalization has opened cultures up to each other. Let me clarify. Now, more than ever before, people of different cultures, nationalities, and beliefs are interacting with each other. Each has their own views on how the world works, what's right and wrong, etc. etc. In addition, companies, products and beliefs from every part of the world are entering regions where there was ether minimal contact, or weren't exposed before. Some people and groups, see this new, large influx of ideas as a threat to their traditional values and ways of living. Some groups go through the proper channels in government and sometimes get their voices heard. Others (ether because of government, lack of education or other) resort to violence to get their point across.

The feeling that one's culture is being imposed upon is not something new, but the way it is happening with technology is. Thus, through the use of global technology and interconnection we see a rise in terrorist activties by the 'clash of civilizations'.

Globalization is new to the world, and no one has quite figured out all its implications, and how to adequately deal with it. However, a rise and ease of terrorism is certainly a factor and result of a globalizing world. In an age where a World War III scenario would destroy all life on earth, conventional wars between sovereign powers are substantially declining, and the intense mixture of culture; terrorism has filled the gap for violence quite nicely.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A "Gesture" of Good Will, Redemptive Terrorism, or Quid Pro Quo?

This past Sunday Sarah Shroud, one of the three U.S. hikers detained by Iran for over a year, returned to the United States. Shroud was held in Tehran's Evin prison for 410 days after Iran claimed she and two other Americans crossed the border into Iran. Iran then claimed they were U.S. spies. The two other Americans are still in Evin prison, waiting to be tried in Iranian court. In her press conference in New York, Shroud said it was her "deepest hope that the world will not let this humanitarian gesture...go unrecognized". President Ahmadinejad now urges the U.S. to "make a humanitarian gesture to release eight Iranians 'illegally detained' in the United States" according to the BBC.

Is the release of one hiker, truly humanitarian gesture from Iran? Is Iran finally started to bow to the new sanctions imposed this summer? Personally, I don't think that's the main reason. I think Iran is playing a hostage game of their own. Its sort of like two children having an argument; "I'll give yours back if you give mine". This may be stretching it far, but in the Gary Gambill reading (which I thought was really interesting) he talks about redemptive terrorism. Redemptive terrorism "usually involves the seizure of civilian hostages as a 'bargaining chip' to be exchanged for a specific concession." In this case, Iran is holding the U.S. hikers hostage in exchange for the U.S. holding eight Iranians "illegally detained".  I think Iran is definitely making a hostage situation, and judging by the speech by Shroud, they let her go back home only to have their message revealed loud and clear to the U.S.

They want a quid pro quo.

Iran has employed terrorism in order to get that quid pro quo from the United States. Now I don't have the information to say the hikers never crossed the Iranian border by mistake, but I do clearly see that Iran took a glimpse at North Korea's playbook. The U.S. has twice sent former Presidents to North Korea to broker the release of Americans. In turn, it gives North Korea an ego boost seeing that the world's dominant nation has to kowtow (you get what I am saying) for their kindness to have them released. Iran, however, has adapted this redemptive terrorist strategy and is now publicly using it on the United States. A concession or diplomatic kowtow from the U.S. would be huge to Iran and to Ahmadinejad. I don't suggest doing that as of now. But it goes to show that any state can play the terrorism game, and its just not exclusive to non-state actors.

Hopefully the other two hikers will be released soon, just as Shroud. However, it seems like Iran is going to be playing this game longer. The real question is, will redemptive terrorism work for Iran? The United States has been dealt the cards, its now their turn act.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A New Turkish Constitution: Looking Towards the Future or Clever Revenge?

On Sunday, September 12, Turkey voted on a referendum package of constitutional amendments. It passed with about 58% of the vote. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the package "a milestone for democracy."  The constitutional package is indeed a step forward for Turkey. The package has new amendments which bring Turkey closer to European style governments. The new amendments "allow collective bargaining for public sector workers and affirmative action measures for women." The new amendments also"guarantee gender equality and put in place measures to protect children, the elderly and the disabled", according to CNN. In what seemed like a foreign policy shifting away from Europe and the United States, Turkey has ratified new changes which make it seem more like a European state. The vote was important for Turkey in a few ways: 1) It was a step forward for workers and women's rights 2) It illustrated the stability of the Turkish Republic 3) It was a vote of confidante and approval for PM Erdogan's government and AKP party, and lastly 4) It now altered the nature of the secular courts.

I would like to talk about the last point. A few of the newly passed amendments curb the power of the military courts, lets parliament appoint judges and increases the number of judges of Turkey's Constitutional Court (their Supreme Court) from 11 to 17. One may ask, why is this important?

With the beginning of the Turkish Republic in the 1920s, Mustafa Kemal laid the foundations of what he wanted to be a secular state. The military and the courts remain a bastion of Kemal's vision. The Justice and Development (AKP)  party, formed in the late 1990s by Islam reformists, swept into power in the 2002, and 2007 elections. Between the two main Turkish political parties, the AKP and the People's Republican Party (aka CHP, Kemal's party), the AKP is more conservative and have closer ties to Islam. In 2002 and in 2008, the AKP was brought to trial in the Constitutional Court for conducting anti-secular activities. In 2002 the charge was terminated, but in 2008, the party escaped disbandment by one vote (seven votes are needed to disband a party, the verdict was 6-5).

The new amendments could change the balance of power in Turkey, and also its secular roots. The parliament, controlled by the AKP can now appoint judges to the highest court.Since the AKP party has stronger ties with religion than any other ruling party in Turkey's history, it could mean the appointment of six new judges who are less strict with religious activities. Thus, it is putting the court into the political arena. In addition, curbing the power of the military courts also presents a win for the AKP; it reduces the chances of a coup and bashes the other pillar of the secular roots.

The new constitution certainly liberalizes and gives more rights to Turkish society. However, are the courts amendments sweet vengeance in response to the AKP's two trials in 2002 and 2008? We'll see what it brings, but it is certainly a win for the AKP.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A New Perspective

After reading Bernard Lewis' "Freedom and Justice in the Modern Middle East", it put me into a new perspective in viewing the governments of the Middle East. Though I have written research papers on the Middle Eastern society before, Lewis illustrated something that I, and I think many, tend to overlook. The point which I definitely overlooked was Islamic political philosophy and sources of legitimacy.

Last year I took political philosophy, but it focused on western ideas and philosophers. Western Societies have extensive writings on political philosophy and sources of political legitimacy dating from Plato and spanning to the present day. The concepts which have caught on are the social contract and legitimacy in binding a sovereign, chosen by the people, to that contract. In essence, social contract theory. However, I haven't explored or even thought about Islamic political philosophy and sources of legitimacy. Lewis does a great job in exposing the reader (well, at least for me) in the Islamic concepts of consultation, consent, and the way Islamic rulers operated in conjunction with traditional powers like the gentry, tribes, and merchants. Its very interesting to see the delicate checks and balances that developed in Islamic societies.

However, modern technologies and weaponry have led the rulers of many Islamic societies to gain more power. By not having these traditional limitations, rulers have transitioned to authoritarian governments. Lewis  makes a case that democracy has not spread is not because of a history if authoritarianism (which was checked by the traditional powers just mentioned) but by: new censoring technology, new profits from resources like oil, entrenched parties, and the lack of the idea of citizenship. Lewis states that a "more traditional hurdle is the absence in classical Islamic political thought and practice of the notion of citizenship, in the sense of being free and participating member of a civic entity." Now, this is not to say the people of the Middle East don't know what citizenship means, but rather it is an ideal that was brought from the west. We take citizenship as a right, however, it was because of the influence of the political writings in the west throughout the centuries.

In order to understand Middle Eastern states, we must first understand political theories behind them. The west has spread its notion of contract theory, democracy and citizenship all over the globe. However societies, like the Middle East, have struggled in adapting their notions of state legitimacy to the modern era. This struggle has translated into the present day international political mess (for lack of a much better word) in he Middle East. My guess is once the world figures out the solution to the current problem of Islamic political philosophy, some of the problems in Middle Eastern authoritarianism will be solved too. Whatever the case, the Lewis reading was immensely helpful in exposing me to the other side of the story in Middle Eastern authoritarianism; the historic roots and philosophical causes of the current issue.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Islamophobia: Not the America I Know

The 9th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorists attacks are on Saturday; it is an issue that touches all of our hearts. Being from New York City, it is an event that especially has meaning to me. For long as I live, I will remember where I was, the emotion on people's faces, the screams ambulances/fire trucks/police cars outside my classroom window, and my fear. The people who committed the attacks were radicals, who's only goal was to kill innocent American citizens to feed their own hatred.

Nine years later, you think that the wounds made between the American people and the Islamic community would have healed, and the American people would have came to their senses that it wasn't the Islamic faith or community who attacked us; it was radical terrorists. Apparently not. Terry Jones, the Pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center church in Florida, plans to burn Qurans on Saturday. For a church name like Dove World Outreach Center, its totally misleading. Its a good thing many Americans have stepped up and spoke out against this act of ignorance like Gen. Petraeus and Hillary Clinton. International figures like N.A.T.O. Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has denounced the Quran burning too. The real question is: what is happening in America?

The answer is that Islamophobia has again reared its ugly head. Just a few weeks ago, a Muslim cab driver in New York City was stabbed by a 21 year old. Yes, he was drunk. But then again, being drunk doesn't make you stab innocent people because of what religion they practice. Islamophobia has made it to the national headlines again because of Park51, the Cordoba Initiative, to have an Islamic Community Center two blocks away from Ground Zero. Take Newt Gingrich's interview on Fox News. It is totally ignorant, destructive, appalling, and shows true lack of judgment and character from a man widely speculated to announce his candidacy for the presidency.

People are opposed to this project (aka the falsely named "Ground Zero Mosque") because of sensitivity issues, or a "triumph to Islam". They argue that putting a community center glorifies Islam. But by Newt Gingrich and others equating building the center (or mosque as they like to call it) as a testament to Islam, they are saying that Islam as a religion was behind the attacks. They couldn't be more wrong in every aspect. The matter of fact is that it wasn't the religion or community of Islam who attacked us on 9/11; it was radical terrorists. Muslims are law abiding, good people just like you and me. Some Americans are brainwashed into thinking Islam is a destructive religion. Putting up a community center with a prayer room two blocks away (you cant even see the Ground Zero sight from where it is going to be built, I visited downtown this summer) is ludicrous and just shows how media bigots are spreading misinformation. Park51 is a community center, not a mosque. The center will have  recreational programs, a culinary class, a child day care center, youth programs, and a prayer room. It is two blocks away from Ground Zero, and for people who don't know, there is a small mosque in a basement of a building operating since the 1970s four blocks away. The basement prayer center isn't even enough to hold 20 people! In addition, during 9/11, the center helped bring food and other supplies to the rescue workers. That sounds really radical to me (sarcasm).

Its funny, again, how the conservative right, Tea Party and Republicans, have come out against this center. Aren't the conservatives the ones who say they champion the constitution (aka freedom of religion)? Looks like their true colors are showing here, and it ain't red, white and blue.

I am New Yorker, and I am an American. I mourn all who were murdered on September 11th, and as I said, this is very close to my heart. I grew up in an America where everyone was tolerated, regardless of race, nationality, and religion. Islamophobia is totally unacceptable, especially coming from figures in government and the media. I hope, that the American people can step away from this bigotry, and once again be the nation that I remember.

Kieth Olbermann did a fantastic monologue on the Park51 controversy. Whatever your stance on Park51, I ask you take the time to watch it, because he hits the nail right on the head.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

War with Iran? Not so fast War Hawks.

After reading the Leveretts' article debunking the notion of war with Iran, it got me thinking of how short sighted these war hawks actually are. I first want to say that I do not support a nuclear Iran, and I also believe in Israeli security. That being said, the idea of having the United States or Israel make a preemptive air strike on Iran's nuclear facilities is ludicrous. As the article points out, there are "roughly 25,000-30,000 Jews continue living in Iran, with civil status equal to other Iranians and a constitutionally guaranteed parliamentary seat." In addition, according to the Reuters report used in the article, an nuclear Iran "'would blunt Israel's military autonomy'". Blunting military autonomy is very different than facing imminent destruction. Israel is already one of the most powerful military forces in the Middle East. Though their power may be "blunted" by a potential nuclear Iran, states like Saudi Arabia and others are sure not to be pleased with Iran's new power.

So lets say that America or Israel makes a preemptive air strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, whats next? I can take a neo-conservative view now, and say that America is supreme and all we need to do is just bomb, bomb, and bomb. No one can stop us, we're America, right? Instead of living in a dream world, I prefer to look at things in reality. Yes, America is the only world superpower and our military is the strongest in the world. However, we still have 50,000 troops in a recent-fragile Iraq and 90,000 troops and service members in a volatile Afghanistan. An air strike on Iran would mean 1) War with Iran 2) We are automatically going to be deemed  the aggressors 3) More money towards a 3rd Middle Eastern war 4) More troops that we don't have (draft?) and 5) The subsequent end of all the public diplomacy/prestige successes and efforts in the Middle East and around the world.

War with Iran would be a political nightmare. A third war in the Middle East would overstretch our resources, put our economy in further debt (funny how its the Republicans/Tea Party-ers aka "massive-war-spenders-turned-deficit-hawks" endorse this, isn't it? More on them later.), and ruin America across the world. Our allies in the E.U., N.A.T.O., and U.N., and others in the world would certainly not send aid without supporting resolutions. I doubt these organizations are going to be blindly led into war again, they probably will experience déjà vu like its 2003. In the largely globalized and interconnected world, we cannot afford to act unilaterally; we need a cadre of backing. We would need to procure support, like Bush did in the first Gulf War. However, it wouldn't be possible to do that for Iran as of now, especially if we are the aggressors. Arab impressions of the United States would plummet, distrust would become rampant again, the young (and liberal might I add) Iranian population would turn against us, and it would just give radical terrorist organizations more incentive to recruit. Israel would never have peace with Palestine, and most likely be at war with other Middle Eastern countries yet again. Essentially, war with Iran would start a possible World War III. Drastic, yes. But also in the realm of possibility.

War with Iran would be a fatal and extremely poor decision. I hope that these War Hawks wake up and open their eyes. America is indeed great and Israeli security is important. However we cant act unilaterally and carelessly waste the live of our brave men and women in uniform. The world is changing, and the attitude that America or Israel can act how they want, especially in attacking a power like Iran is something that should be buried in the past. Neo-conservatives and War Hawks, please, wake up and smell the new way the world works now.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Uneasy Body Language

As the Israel-Palestinian peace talks at the White House begin, most can tell the meeting between the leaders are uneasy.

Take a look at this   photo from the New York Times.

Mr. Abbas and Mr. Netanyahu are obviously uneasy. The half grin by Pres. Abbas and the stern glare of PM Netanyahu create a particularly tense and not so optimistic aurora. Now does this photo tell of what the outcome of these talks are to be? Certainly (and I hope) not. However, it is a early reminder of just how much tension and recent animosity there has been between the Palestine Authority and Israel. I hope that both parties can overcome such obvious tension and reach some sort of agreement (ideally a comprehensive one). If both leaders want their names engraved in the history books as their predecessors, Menachem Begin and Anwar El Sadat, each have to concede maybe a little more than they would like. As one of (if not the most) thorny issue in international politics in the past 70 years, it is going to require sacrifices for a lasting peace. Lets hope the awkward handshake seen in the photo is proven worng through these talks.

On a lighter note, here is another picture from the New York Times which could double like a movie poster, maybe for Reservoir Dogs.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

What is Iran doing?

I found this a few months ago, but its very interesting. Iran has a green, white, and red flag, however on two separate occasions, the flag in the background was red white and blue. Is President Ahmadinejad trying to emulate the colors of the United States? With Iran's behavior, nobody knows anymore.