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Posts Tagged ‘Obama

Turkey’s Options in Iraq

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The ongoing crisis in Iraq has led to an explosion of op-eds and policy pieces discussing the future, or lack thereof, of the Iraqi nation-state and the implications this has for foreign policy-makers.  Steven Cook echoes many thinkers when he warned that Iraq is on the verge of breaking apart.  As he and Nick Danforth rightly point out, the international borders created by Western powers a hundred years ago were largely arbitrary, more so than elsewhere.  Cook sees the eventual break-up of Iraq as practically inevitable given the disunity of it’s various factions and compares it to the former Yugoslavia.  However, as Danforth points out the involvement of ISIS in particular creates the possibility of alliances and shifting borders outside of the confines of ethnic and religious allegiances.

As many have also pointed out, the most likely “winners” in this situation, and the most likely to successfully create their own breakaway state, are the northern Iraqi Kurds.  The Kurdish para-military forces, known as peshmerga, took advantage of the chaos and successfully gained control of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.  Kurdish leaders have declared that this is not a temporary security measure and they plan to hold on to the city even if the threat of ISIS subsides.  The Kurd’s ascending power, coupled with their record of stable governance of northern Iraq, has resulted in a number of calls for greater international support of and recognition for the Kurd’s claims of sovereignty.  Dov Friedman and Cale Salih argued that if the US wants the Kurds to help defeat ISIS, instead of simply defending their own territory, the US government needs to pull back on their support of Maliki and all but recognize the Kurds as sovereign in their territory (though, crucially not independent).  Developments today indicate that the Obama administration is taking at least the first half of Friedman’s and Salih’s advice and may be orchestrating the ouster of Maliki.  Similarly, writing in regards to Turkey’s policy options, Michael Koplow suggested that it is “Time for Turkey to Support an Independent Iraqi Kurdistan.”

The foreign policy options for the US regarding Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan are much more numerous and complicated and, frankly, lay outside my area of expertise.  Turkey, bordering both ISIS and Kurdish controlled regions of Iraq and having much less influence over Baghdad has a limited number of routes it can chose.  Koplow’s proposal is bold and well-intentioned but I don’t think it’s an idea whose time has yet come.  It is only a week into the crisis and it is much too early to declare the death of the Iraqi nation-state.  As Danforth points out, ISIS brought a number of parties who were formerly at odds together in the fight against the invasion.  Even if Kurdistan does manage to gain it’s independence as a result of this incident (and I do believe Iraqi Kurdistan has a very good chance of becoming its own state sooner or later) Baghdad will likely remain in control of most of the rest of Iraq in the short to medium term. As Danforth also states, despite the media’s new found interest in discussing the potential for a plethora of new states in the Middle East, the idea that there are “natural” and homogeneous enthno-religious nation-states waiting to be born is a myth.  The idea of the nation-state is surprisingly tenacious, even in states where it was imposed from the outside.  Breakups in the model of Yugoslavia are rare.  If Iraq were to split, I foresee an outcome more akin to either the break-away provinces in Georgia or the bi-lateral split in Sudan.   Ankara should not risk cutting its already stressed relations with the Iraqi government over a pre-emptive declaration of Kurdish independence.  Turkey should of course continue to build ties with the KRG, but its current wait-and-see approach is the best way to keep it’s long term options and political ties open.

This wait and see policy should not be applied to the ongoing ISIS hostage crisis however.  As I wrote earlier, the AKP and Erdogan are at a loss as to what to do and therefore have resorted to their tried and true blame and divert tactics.  Erdogan has even managed to impliment an official media blackout regarding the hostages, even as credible reports claim that 15 more Turks have been captured by ISIS.  The longer the hostages are held, the more likely there won’t be a happy ending to this story.  ISIS is no friend of the Turkish government, despite what pro-government talking heads on Turkish TV may think.  ISIS is ruthless, brutal and stubborn.  Treating them with kid gloves may keep the Turkish hostages alive for now, but does nothing to guarantee their ultimate safe return.  Turkey needs to draw on its ties with Kurdistan and work with the peshmerga, how ever distasteful that may be, to locate and recover their citizens.  This is both the best of the bad political options for the AKP and the best chance for the captured Turks to return home.

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Are Turks and Americans Friends: A Reconsideration

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On Friday a guest post by Alexander Slater on the blog Ottomans and Zionists explored the question Are Turks and Americans Friends?  This is a reconsideration of that question.  I am not calling this a rebuttal, because I can’t argue with the statistics on which the post was based.   I disagree with Slater that the White House’s statement emphasizing “the close friendship between the United States and Turkey” is essentially wrong.  However, it certainly should be accompanied by a number of asteriskes.

Far from being exceptional, the friendly relationship between President Obama and Prime Minister Erdogan is typical of interactions between individual Turks and Americans.  As anyone who traveled to Turkey or spent time with Turks will tell you, Turks are extremely welcoming, friendly and even excited to meet Americans and are curious about American culture.  The lived experience seems to contradict the Pew Forum Survey which found that only 13% of Turks have a favorable view of the American people.  I agree with Michael Koplow and Steven Cook’s explanation, namely that Turks are able to separate American foreign policy from individual Americans.  The Pew Forum questions were simply not worded in a way that would discern the fine but important distinction between a nation as a whole and the individuals that comprise it.  In order to measure this distinction the survey should have included questions such as: Have you ever met an American?  If so, do you have a favorable opinion of him or her?  Do you have a desire to visit the United States?  Do you have favorable or unfavorable impression of everyday life in the United States?  I suspect questions such as these would elicit much more favorable responses from Turks than those in the original survey.

However, the fact remains that the vast majority of Turks have a negative opinion of the United States and its foreign policy.  This begs the question that Slater addresses in his post: Given the close relationship between the governments of our two countries, and a similar business and political culture, why do such negative opinions persist?  More importantly, what can be done to cultivate a more favorable and accurate image of America among Turks?  As I’ve written previously, Turkey has an ingrained suspicion of foreigners and their motives, often referred to as Sevres Syndrome.  This phenomenon goes far in explaining the fact that Turks not only report a dislike of Americans, but foreigners in general.  Slater rightly points out that the majority of Turkey’s population now lives in urban areas and that the urban vs. rural population split continues to widen.  However, I think it is incorrect to automatically expect Turkey’s city-dwellers to hold cosmopolitan world views.  Turkey’s urbanization was the result of a mass internal migration from the countryside to the cities in the mid to late 20th century.  While younger Turks may overwhelmingly be city-dwellers by birth, the majority of the older generations are transplants who spent their formative years in villages despite their current urban residence.  Therefore, many urban Turks still take a provincial view of the world, unlike the political and business elites with whom he interacted.

However, this perception problem goes both ways.  Turkey was not included in the list of countries in a recent Gallup poll gauging American perceptions of foreign countries.  However, I suspect that Americans’ opinions of Turkey would place it nearer Egypt or Russia rather than Germany or France, that is generally unfavorable.  Popular perceptions of Turkey in the United States are based largely on its geographic location, Muslim population and depiction in films. Slater calls for bilateral action emphasizing the numerous political, business and cultural commonalities between Turkey and the United States.  While I am unclear as to what this action might entail, I fear it would only be effective at the micro level.  I believe that the United States bears much of the responsibility for  effecting large scale changes in Turkey’s perception of American as well as American’s perception of Turkey.  Turks will always to view the United States in a negative light as long as our foreign policy continues to vacillate between violent disasters like Iraq and impotent attempts to secure peace, such as the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Turkey’s xenophobia is something that as a nation Turks must work to overcome.  However, Americans must also work to end our notoriously poor knowledge of the world and ever persistent Islamophobia.  Unfortunately, all of these changes will take a great amount of time and effort to come about and may in fact not be realized for many years.  In the short term at least we can take comfort in the fact that our respective leaders, and many lay individuals, share an open and friendly relationship.

Written by ataturksrepublic

May 20, 2013 at 4:59 pm