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Posts Tagged ‘United States

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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US Diplomacy and Turkish Democracy

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I have a new piece at Your Middle East: The US’s current policy pretends as if the illiberal turn in Turkish domestic politics will have no international consequences. Turkey is still a democracy and it is in the best interest of Turkey, the US and the world that it remains that way.

Written by ataturksrepublic

February 11, 2014 at 4:54 pm

Don’t Panic Revisited

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In December I wrote a post arguing that the power of the current government, while formidable, was not absolute.  However, in the 7 weeks or so since I wrote that piece, the situation has drastically changed.  In order to fight back against the “parallel state” they claim is behind the ongoing corruption investigation, the government has set about consolidating its power.  (Just today a bill was proposed that will mandate consent of the Prime Minister in order to prosecute senior members of the military and 800 journalists from the state-run TRT news conglomerate).  Most worrying is a bill that will be up for debate in Grand National Assembly this week that, if passed and signed by President Gul, will strip the judiciary of any independence from the executive branch.  Because of the AKP’s large majority in the Assembly, the bill is expected to pass when brought to a vote.

Before the restructuring of the judiciary could take effect, President Gul would have to sign it into law.  Gul has long been the voice of reason in Turkish politics and many, including myself, have hoped that he could serve as an effective check on Erdogan’s authoritarian tendencies.  Unfortunately, Gul’s actions last week show his comparative liberalism may be all talk.  He signed into law a widely criticized bill that makes it illegal to provide first aid to a sick or injured person without “authorization.”  Gul has also refrained from criticizing either the medical or judicial bill.  In the case of the judicial bill, he has expressed hope that the same reforms to the judiciary can be done through a constitutional amendment, which would relive Gul of the responsibility of having to put his signature on the bill.

For the first time since I started writing about Turkey, I believe that its democratic institutions are seriously under threat.  If this bill is passed and the judiciary is effectively merged with the executive Erdogan and the AKP will have destroyed the last internal check to their political power.  If the AKP has a strong showing in the March elections, which polls and reporting suggest will happen, I would not be surprised if Erdogan announces his intention to continue on as Prime Minister.

If there was ever a time for the US to throw its diplomatic arsenal at Turkey, it is now.  Unfortunately, the US government has stated its intention to do precisely the opposite.  On January 12 Secretary of State Kerry met with Foreign Minister Davutoglu and they subsequently held a joint press conference.  The press conference revealed that Kerry and Davutoglu discussed Turkey’s ongoing political problems.  However, Kerry also unequivocally stated that “the United States of America has absolutely no interest in being caught up in or engaged in or involved in the internal politics, the election process of Turkey.”  I would normally agree that the US should keep its distance from internal political rows, but this is an exceptional case.  Given the strategic and symbolic importance maintaining democracy in Turkey, it would be detrimental not only to Turkey but to US interests for the Department of State to avoid voicing its displeasure regarding recent political developments.   If done behind the scenes as to avoid playing in to current conspiracy theories, I believe a multi-facited diplomatic blitz could discourage Turkey’s leadership from further assaults against the country’s democratic structures.  Not only should State personel be involved in this effort, but President Obama should take advantage of his historically close relationship with PM Erdogan and make a personal appeal.  Turkey is in several tight diplomatic spots right now.  It is going ahead with plans to pump oil from Iraqi Kurdistan, much to the chagrin of the central government in Baghdad.  The Syrian crisis has flooded Turkey with refugees and compromised the safety of its southern borders.  If the US offers to help Turkey solve these or other international problems the Turkish government may be more inclined to take US displeasure with the current political developments seriously.  If the US government is truly committed to supporting democracy building abroad, it must make efforts to prevent the erosion of democracy in one of its most strategic allies.

Written by ataturksrepublic

January 21, 2014 at 5:01 pm