Monday, November 29, 2010

The Star of the Hour: Turkey's Ahmet Davutoglu

Very convenient to what my research paper is on, (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, 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.