Howard Eissenstat writes in a guest column for Informed Comment
Turkey’s Generals Resign: Thoughts on a New Chapter in Turkish Politics
For most of my professional life I have argued that one of the chief flaws of Turkish democracy was the overwhelming influence of its military. It is for this reason I have been largely sympathetic to the efforts of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) at pushing the military out of politics and, as the Turkish saying has it, back into the barracks. This process seems to have come to an end this past week, when top-ranking Turkish generals resigned in protest against what they consider ill-treatment. No crisis ensued, no coup was staged. Effectively, nothing happened: the government selected new generals, security meetings continued as scheduled, and people went on with their business. Although the resignations certainly received press attention in Turkey, they have not caused an uproar. All in all, Turks are far more concerned about the recent scandal in their national soccer league.
The problem is that the absolutely healthy process of asserting civilian control is being undertaken by a political party that has shown an unhealthy willingness to politicize the bureaucracy and a marked intolerance for dissent. To give the AKP their due, they have won their elections primarily because of a winning formula: tolerance for Islam in the public sphere, effective government, a relative lack of corruption, good services, and a keen ear for national trends. The Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdoğan, is brusque, arrogant, and intolerant, but he is also smart, hardworking, deeply patriotic, and perhaps the most natural, instinctive politician Turkey has seen in a half century. Domestically and globally, Turkey has become, under AKP leadership, an important regional power, economically, culturally, and politically. The claim that they are Islamist (or even, as so many journalists describe them as “mildly Islamist”), is not supportable. After nearly a decade in power, there is nothing about their rule that fits with even the broadest definitions of an Islamist agenda. It is true that they are clearly devout Muslims and that this colors their worldview and their attitude to some issues both domestic (headscarves) and international (Israel), but this hardly qualifies as evidence of a call to sharia or traditional Islamic law. Claims on the wacky right notwithstanding, the AKP has no intention of re-establishing a Caliphate on the Bosphorus.
It isn’t quite that the AKP is undemocratic. They clearly believe in elections. But they tend to view elections in the same way as other large, successful political machines do: as a means of connecting with the base and distributing benefits, but not meant as a real check on their power. Although the AKP’s reforms had real, positive effects in its first five years, as it has consolidated power it has become less interested in opening up Turkish political discourse, more traditionally nationalistic, and more aggressive in its persecution of political opponents. One can hardly blame them for the weakness and ineptitude of the political opposition, but this has only exacerbated the problem of too much power in the hands of one party for too long. Turkish political life, always subject to a tradition of patronage called kadrolaşma,in which political allies are rewarded with positions in the bureaucracy, has now created something resembling a democratically elected single-party state.
The particular question over which the generals resigned last week was the on-going Ergenekon and Sledgehammer investigations. It seems likely that there is some truth to the basic premise of these investigations, which allege a conspiracy to destabilize the democratically elected government of Turkey as a means of dislodging the AKP from power. Nonetheless, the investigations have bloated beyond all recognition, with hundreds under investigation and no trial in sight. Many of those accused, including some top military officers, have been put into pre-trial detention indefinitely. Moreover, the investigations have come to look increasingly like a means of punishing political enemies. Ahmet Şık for example, a journalist with a long-standing interest in human rights, and one of those who helped publicize the Ergenekon case in the first place, is now under arrest as a conspirator, though it appears his major “crime” was to write a book critical of the political ambitions of the Gülen movement, a religious group with close ties to the governing AKP.
By and large, the mood among the Turkish journalists and human rights workers that I have spoken to in recent months has been dark. The Ergenekon investigations seem to have gone off-track and it is likely that many of those being held are, in fact, completely innocent. The AKP has, for all its success in the mechanics of democratic politics, proven to be remarkably illiberal in its own right: authoritarian in its instincts, intolerant of dissent, and increasingly militaristic in tone. Political opposition groups are weak and divided, while there are few cracks evident within the AKP’s own structure. Moreover, violence associated with Kurdish nationalism has been on the upswing. The AKP’s response has been markedly bellicose. It is, in the final analysis, a good thing that the Turkish military’s role in “stewarding” Turkish politics has come to an end. But I am not feeling very celebratory.
The United States today is celebrating the declaration of independence issued by a murky group of dissidents in 1776, who, had they been rounded up by the duly constituted authorities, would have been summarily and ignominiously hanged. Their brief against their government — a government that claimed an ancient heritage and right to govern them — was that it acted high-handedly and tyrannically, with no regard to public welfare. They charged their king with warring on their economic welfare and of depriving residents of the Thirteen Colonies of basic rights expected by all subjects of the crown, including the right to be represented on bodies that set taxes.
The long series of complaints lodged against the British monarchy by the American revolutionaries bears a striking resemblance to the charges laid against Arab rulers by their people since last December. Interfering with their economic well-being, ruling arbitrarily, undermining any independence of the judiciary, rendering “the military independent of and superior to civil power,” and preventing them from being properly represented in the legislatures have all been complaints launched via Twitter and Facebook and satellite television interviews, rather, as in the 18th century, via printed broadsides, handwritten letters, and word of mouth.
It is little wonder, then, that Americans have been overwhelmingly positive about these developments in the Arab world, with 76% of them sure that the changes will be positive in the long run, and, bless their hearts, 56% in favor of democratization even if it ended up hurting us interests. (Americans are not in the main Realists, it seems). Despite the best efforts of Fox Cable News and the Israel lobbies, only 15% think the revolts are mainly about Muslim fundamentalists trying to grab power. (What is true is that in the second phase of the revolutions, when they go to parliamentary elections, fundamentalist parties will contest vigorously for seats and some may do relatively well).
So here are some recent developments in the Arab revolutions of 2011, to consider on this day, which in 1776 in many ways kicked off a new way of organizing peoples and governments. Ironically, the abuses of executive power against which the Founding generation of Americans mobilized, and against which Arab youth have risen up, are now all too frequently exhibited by the Washington elite of both parties. This comment is not made in the way of encouraging cynicism, but simply to signal to all concerned that achieving democracy is not a single time-bound set of activities; it has to be a permanent way of life among free peoples, to which substantial numbers of citizens have to give of their time, effort and wealth. Otherwise, the executive in a country over time has enormous resources with which to infringe against basic rights of citizens, as do major corporations who have an unfair advantage in dominating the political process. Checks and balances within the government, such as the separation of powers, only go so far. Ultimately, it is people power that keeps tyranny at bay, which is why security forces and officials are so afraid of it.
Thousands of Moroccans protested on Sunday that the reforms proposed in last week’s referendum (which passed by 98%) did not go far enough. King Muhammad VI will now accept that the prime minister must be from the party with the largest number of seats in parliament, and the PM will have the right to nominate cabinet members. These changes move away from absolute monarchy, but are clearly highly limited in scope, and the king retains most of the power in the state, and remains head of the judiciary, thus forestalling its independence.
The opposition Wifaq Party is entering talks on national reconciliation with the Sunni monarchy of Bahrain. The protest movement in Bahrain was brutally crushed by Sunni hard liners in Manama, but clearly a government cannot hope to govern successfully merely by repression of the majority. Despite great mistrust among the contending parties, some compromises would be relatively easy to achieve if there were the will, and that Wifaq is not so alienated as to simply refuse to negotiate is a good sign (it would have every right to be). Likewise, that more level heads in the monarchy are still seeking such talks is promising, since hard liners such as the prime minister (the king’s uncle) want to deal with the movement simply by having people arrested and, let us say, put under severe pressure. Some of the reforms just voted in in Morocco might help in Bahrain.
The community group Lam Echaml this weekend forcefully condemned the stone-throwing on Sunday June 26 by Muslim fundamentalists outside a cinema showing an avant-garde film, “Neither God nor Master,” about secularism in Tunisia. Secular-minded and progressive Tunisians are fearful of the growth of the fundamentalist al-Nahda (Ennahda) Party, ably described here by Mark Lynch, and many entertain dark suspicions that incidents like the attack at the cinema are actually planned by cells within the latter party (something al-Nahda denies). The al-Nahda response to the cinema incident was to deplore violence but also to deplore “provocation,” in response to which secular Tunisians insisted that art is generally provocation and one must have the right to provoke in a democracy. There is no evidence that, for all its smooth self-presentation, al-Nahda leaders actually understand or approve of this principle. Still, that secularists are insistent on making the public case for freedom of expression in uncertain times is a tribute to the spirit of the Tunisian revolution, the one that started all the others.
Yemeni rebels say that they will unilaterally form a transitional governing council, as talks drag on about the formation of a new government. Ali Abdullah Saleh is too ill and disfigured to ever return as president, but refuses to admit, and his highly placed family members and partisans in Sanaa are encouraging his delusions.
Unrest continued Sunday at Tahrir Square in Cairo, where thousands gathered Friday to deplore police brutality. But worryingly, this weekend there was violence between the people in the square themselves. Some suggest that street vendors and others in the informal economy who depend on tourism in the square attacked the tents of long-term protesters for interfering with their livelihoods. Egypt’s tourism is way down this summer, even though security is probably still better there than in many major American cities.
Turkey has just recognized the Transitional Governing Council in Benghazi as the Libyan government and offered it $200 million in aid. Note that the United States still has not recognized this body, and it has not turned over to it the billions that it has frozen of Libyan assets. In contrast, France recognized the young United States and contributed $1 bn. livres tournois to the cause of its independence, intervening navally just as NATO is intervening from the air in Libya. While US contributions to the UN/ NATO effort in Libya are much greater than news reports typically suggest, Washington should go ahead and recognize the TNC and should do much more for the Free Libya population economically. Eastern Libya is suffering badly, as is Misrata and the Western Mountains, and the message must be reinforced that fighting for liberty from a brutal dictator will bring the good will and help of free peoples in the outside world.
The Arab peoples deserve their Fourth of July, and deserve the support of the American people in their quest to end decades of rule by strong men, secret police, and mafia-like cartels run by ruling families and their cronies, which have severely limited the human and economic growth of this key region in which 320 million people live.
Euronews reports that al-Asad tried to distinguish between potential dialogue partners among his critics and those who, he said, were mere vandals and saboteurs. Al-Asad maintains that parliamentary elections will be held later this summer, but his family has presided over a one-party state since 1970 and many question how genuine his commitment to reform is.
President Abdullah Gul of Turkey slammed al-Asad for not opening his country faster to multi-party elections, showing Ankara’s increasing frustration with the Syrian leadership. Turkey under the Justice and Development Party had reached out to al-Asad and repaired relations with Damascus, allowing a big expansion in bilateral trade. But al-Asad is, from Turkey’s point of view, squandering all that progress and threatening Turkey’s economy by being so repressive and provoking a months-long uprising, as well as chasing dissidents over the border into Turkey, where they are an economic and political liability for the latter.
Deposed Tunisian President Zine El Abidin Bin Ali and his wife Leila Trabelsi have been sentenced by a Tunisian court to 35 years in prison for embezzlement. While it is clear that the president and the first lady were extremely corrupt while in office, it seems to me that the main purpose of the sentence is to ensure that Bin Ali does not attempt to return to the country, since he now would be arrested at the airport. Bin Ali gave a cock-and-bull interview maintaining that he only flew to Jidda last January to deliver his wife there, and had planned on returning but the plane left without him. Dear Zine: the country left without you.
This Observer editorial argues that the widespread availability of digital video recording devices, including those in smart phones, has allowed people abused by their governments to create an evidence trail that can then be deployed at forums like the International Criminal Court. Sri Lanka, Bahrain and Libya are singled out as governments that have committed war crimes against their people and where these have been recorded and disseminated by video.
Addendum: Egypt’s prestigious al-Azhar Seminary, a leading center of Sunni Muslim authority in the world, has issued a document calling for a civil, democratic state that does not discriminate on the basis of religion or gender and is dedicated to the welfare of the people. The document also seeks more independence of al-Azhar from the state, asking that its rector be elected rather than appointed by the president of the country. This development in the thinking of the al-Azhar clerics is momentous in my view, not only for al-Azhar and Egypt but also for Sunni Islam in general. Al-Azhar does have to overcome suspicion in some quarters that it is an Establishment institution too close to the old Mubarak regime. But many ordinary Sunnis do value its fatwas.
With the horrid crackdowns on dissent in Syria and Bahrain and the vicious shelling by Qaddafi brigades of the port of Misrata in Libya on Tuesday, it would be easy to concentrate solely on the negative news. But the Arab Spring is still producing some positive reforms and questioning of past corrupt practices, and even major governmental change. Tuesday’s positive developments:
1. Yemeni opposition leaders and dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh will meet in Riyadh on Monday to sign an agreement stipulating that Saleh will step down within 30 days and there will be a peaceful transfer of power, with Saleh and those close to him granted amnesty. The compromise was negotiated by the Gulf Cooperation Council, which comprises 6 Gulf nations, most of which have oil or natural gas riches. Yemenis hope that the deal will calm down the tense situation in the country, which has seen big demonstrations and sometimes vicious repression. The government intervened on Tuesday against a big demonstration in Taizz on Tuesday, with 1 killed and 12 wounded in the ensuing altercation.
2. One reason for Saleh’s sudden flexibility may be that many Yemeni troops have been joining the protest movement. Euronews has a video report:
6. King Abdallah II of Jordan has created a commission to suggest amendments to the Jordanian constitution. Protesters in Jordan want an elected prime minister rather than an appointed one, and a stronger parliament (and hence less powerful monarchy). Initially, there is pessimism that the reforms will amount to much, but once the principle that there should be reforms is accepted by the elite, it may be possible for the people to push them further than is now envisaged.
7. Turkey, which has moved toward more popular participation in politics and an opening up of its system in a more democratic direction in the past decade, is attempting to intervene with Syrian President Bashar al-Asad to restrain the use of violence against protesters. Turkey’s trade with Syria has mushroomed since relations were repaired in 2002, but the turn in Damascus toward an authoritarian crackdown has threatened to attract international sanctions on Syria and could throw a monkey wrench into Turkish hopes for a prosperous free trade zone with the Arab Levant. Turkey’s pressure for a lighter touch and more compromise helps offset an Iranian push to prop up the Baathist regime at all costs, since it is Tehran’s avenue of influence in the Levant, through which money and arms are transshipped to Hizbullah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.
9. Iraqis in Mosul continue to protest regularly by the thousands against any plan to keep US troops in Iraq past this December. They accuse Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki of ordering troops to use live ammunition against the rallies, in which two persons have been killed and dozens wounded since Sunday. Al-Maliki himself appears to be leaning against trying to amend the Status of Forces Agreement that stipulates a US departure by the end of this year, precisely because he is feeling pressure from the Iraqi people both in the Sunni center-north and in the Shiite south (where Muqtada al-Sadr and his movement have agitated against an extended US presence; al-Maliki depends on an alliance of convenience with al-Sadr to remain prime minister).
4. Tobruk is no longer in danger of being attacked and its inhabitants massacred. On March 15, this eastern city of 120,000 not far from Egypt, with its major petroleum depot, was in danger of being taken by the forces of Muammar Qaddafi, supported by his air force. There is a good metalled road from Ajdabiya to Tobruk, which Qaddafi’s forces were using. Under ordinary circumstances, Tobruk is a place from which petroleum is exported across the Mediterranean.
6. Misrata, Libya’s third-largest city with a population of 670,000, was given a brief reprieve Wednesday afternoon when United Nations allies bombed pro-Qaddafi tank positions and the aviation academy outside the city. At night, the surviving tanks crept into the city and bombarded its center, including a hospital with 400 patients in it! All through Wednesday, pro-Qaddafi snipers took a toll on pedestrians in the downtown area. Still, the cessation of the bombardment for many hours benefited the city, which could easily have seen many times the 16 dead killed by Qaddafi’s thugs. The bombardment had ceased again early Thursday morning.
7. The no-fly zone allowed an aid ship to land at Misrata with medicines. Misrata is suffering from a lack of water, electricity and services, not to mention medicine!
8. Zintan, the desert city southwest of Tripoli, also gained a brief respite when allied planes struck near the city and forced the pro-Qaddafi tank brigades investing the city to withdraw for a few hours. The tanks attacked again late Wednesday. Some 6 were killed Wednesday instead of the bigger massacre that could have come with a victory for the pro-Qaddafi forces.
9. Instead of being a base for attacks on Tobruk and Benghazi as it was only a week ago, the major oil city of Ajdabiya has been turned into an arena of contest between the freedom movement amateur fighters and the rump pro-Qaddafi armored brigades. While pundits in the US are asking why Ajdabiya hasn’t already fallen (the Libyan army has tanks, the rebels have old rifles), the real question is how long the pro-Qaddafi forces can hold out if a no-drive zone is enforced against them by the UN allies. Ajdabiya is strategically important as the cross-roads of routes leading to some 6 major cities, but it is also a major oil city. Possession of it would much strengthen the liberation movement.
10. Now that Benghazi is not being aerially bombed nor besieged by tanks and heavy artillery, the liberation movement’s leadership has been able to meet and announce a transitional governing council, in a bid to get more organized. I saw the press conference on Aljazeera Arabic. They underlined that it is not a declaration of a government and it is not separatist. Tripoli, they insist, is the capital of Libya.
The liberation movement at the moment likely controls about half of Libya’s population, as long as Misrata and Zintan do not fall. It also likely controls about half of the petroleum facilities. If Benghazi can retake Brega and Ra’s Lanouf and Zawiya, Qaddafi soon won’t have gasoline for his tanks or money to pay his mercenaries. Pundits who want this whole thing to be over with in 7 days are being frankly silly. Those who worry about it going on forever are being unrealistic. Those who forget or cannot see the humanitarian achievements already accomplished are being willfully blind.
Howard Eissenstat writes in a guest column for Informed Comment:
Libya and Turkey: Ankara’s foreign policy goes off key
For a while, at least, Turkey seemed to be riding high as a wave of protests swept from Tunisia to Egypt to a half dozen other states in the Middle East and North Africa. After a few days of uncomfortable silence as protests were met with violence in Egypt, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan called on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to heed the will of his people and, using language meant to underline Turkey’s role as a regional leader, spoke in explicitly religious language to do so. The speech met with positive media coverage, both regionally and in the West, and Turkey’s image was burnished. Without giving too much thought about what the “Turkish model” might actually be, a lot of commentators suggested it might be a path for the region to take.
Of course, Erdoğan’s challenge to Mubarak was a relatively easy call. Mubarak was a rival to Erdoğan’s in his attempt to reframe Turkey as a regional powerhouse and the two were at odds over both Iran and Gaza. Moreover, Mubarak’s fall represented further proof that U.S. influence in the region was in decline and that the time was ripe for a more aggressive Turkish regional policy based on both shared values (democratic, Islamic, and anti-imperial) and a shared desire for economic development (preferably with Turkish companies leading the way). As Turkish Foreign Minister’s recent speech at Ahmet Davutoğlu at the al Jazeera Conference in Doha, this is how Turkey hopes to present itself within the region.
Libya, however, has proved to be a challenge and highlights some of the limitations of Turkish foreign policy. There are two reasons for this difficulty.
First, unlike Egypt, Turkey had been actively engaging with Libya for some time. Before the crisis, Turkey had tens of thousands of workers in Libya (in a remarkable demonstration of its military and technical prowess, it repatriated twenty thousand citizens in a matter of days). It also has billions of dollars of investment (much of it by businesses closely aligned to Erdoğan’s own party, Justice and Development or AKP) which it risks losing if the Gaddafi regime falls. Just as important, however, is that while the fall of the Mubarak regime seemed to fit the AKP’s assumptions about declining Western power in the region, events in Libya risked reinforcing American and European influence.
With only the barest lip service to democratic values, Turkey has made clear its opposition to international action in support of the revolution in Libya. It used its effective veto to stifle discussions within NATO and Erdoğan publicly and loudly criticized the unanimously approved UN Security Council sanctions on Libya imposed on February 26. It has made its continued opposition to international intervention clear, arguing that sanctions will only bring more pain to the Libyan people. To its credit, Turkey has indeed been at the forefront of sending humanitarian aid to Libya.
Nonetheless, Turkish statements regarding Libya have taken on a surreal quality given the brutality of Gaddafi’s forces as they roll back the revolution: there is little point in speaking Libyans “embracing each other,” as Gaddafi’s troops, some of them mercenaries, brutally make war on the Libyan people. Moreover, Turkey’s regional isolation seems to only increase as the Arab League voted, on March 12, to also support a no-fly zone for Libya. The next twenty-four hours will tell whether Turkey will change its position within NATO given the Security Council resolution this evening (March 17). To date, however, it has shown no inclination to do so.
Clearly, in this case, Turkey’s commitment to democracy in the region has been trumped by other concerns. Economics is one part of it. Turkish businesses are already preparing to return to Libya. But economics isn’t the whole story. Just as important is the sense among the AKP’s inner circle that all Western intervention is ill-intentioned. Turkey’s leaders make clear that they see any EU or NATO involvement in Libya as nothing less than a variant form of imperialism. More broadly, however, Turkey wants any resolution to be a regional one: the AKP’s commitment to democracy in the Middle East is significantly weaker than its concern that Turkey takes the lead in forging a new regional order.
There are echoes of an earlier crisis in current events. In the wake of the stolen elections in Iran in 2009, Turkey was among the first to congratulate Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on his re-election and made clear that it recognized the elections as valid. Turkish media sources close to the ruling AKP dismissed the popular protests as Western machinations. At the time, Turkey seemed isolated, both from its Western allies and from most of the region. But Ahmadinejad was able consolidate power and Turkish-Iranian regional and economic ties have only blossomed since then. In Iran, the AKP gambled on authoritarian continuity and it paid off.
Despite to the costs of its reputation among its Western allies, Turkey may still come out a winner in the Libyan crisis. It seems increasingly likely that any international response to Gaddafi will be too little too late. The Libyan opposition is fragmented and in retreat. Even if sanctions continue and the no fly zone is a success, Gaddafi, oil rich and with no scruples to speak of, may stubborn his way to survival. If he does, Turkey’s gamble will have paid off in significant ways.
Even so, the costs will be steep. Even if Gaddafi retains control, it is likely that sanctions will continue for as long as he is in power. Turkish investments there were will go to waste regardless.
More importantly, Turkish regional power, under the AKP, has expanded almost exclusively through “soft power”: the strength of Turkish technical know-how, the prestige of its universities, the strength and diversity of its economy. But a key element of that soft power has been the image of the AKP as a model for blending Islamic sensibilities with democratic ideals. That image has, sadly, seemed increasingly tarnished both at home and abroad in the past five years. And Turkey’s double-talk on Libya only serves to highlight how weak its commitment to democracy in the region really is.
Department of History
St. Lawrence University
10. The new Republican majority in the House of Representatives will attempt to stampede Obama into keeping troops in Iraq, delaying any withdrawals from Afghanistan, and launching a military strike on Iran. Just last week, Rudy Giuliani, Fran Townsend, and other members of the Permanent War Party flew to Paris to lobby on behalf of the Iranian terrorist organization, the MEK (Mojahedin-e Khalq), which they want to use against Tehran the way Bush used Ahmad Chalabi against Iraq. Obama will have to be firmer with the GOP hawks than has been his wont if he is to prevent them from embroiling this country in a series of unwinnable and ruinous wars and police actions.
9. The US should avoid becoming involved in sectarian and tribal troubles in Yemen, a remote and rugged country where feuds are common and profits from the feuds rare. Wikileaks cables have already revealed that the US has engaged in drone strikes in that country and wants to use bombers, for which the president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, offered to take the credit.
8. Although so far the wikileaks revelations have been merely embarrassing, and have had few high-level repercussions, it is not impossible that they contain bombshells that might yet provoke major diplomatic crises and even high-level resignations or the fall of governments. Obama should develop contingency plans for such eventualities. At the same time, Obama should forbid the US government from acting pettily toward the released cables or trying to punish members of the public who read and use them. He should develop strategies for supporting a more open government and less secrecy (most of these cables did not even need to be classified). And, he should use diplomacy to resolve disputes caused by undiplomatic cable language.
7. The peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Authority have collapsed in mutual recriminations, with the Palestinians now set on a course of using diplomatic and United Nations pressure to punish Israel for aggressively colonizing the Palestinian West Bank. Hostilities could break out if the Palestinians unilaterally declare a state in summer of 2011, as they now plan to do. If that declaration has no practical consequences, and given the disappointment of the collapse of negotiations (about which the Netanyahu government was not very serious) , the inaction could provoke a third Intifada or uprising. Such a development could also lead to a renewal of fighting between Hamas in Gaza and Israel. Another wild card is Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who wants to find a way to strip Palestinian-Israelis of their citizenship, something they say they would resist. The measures the right wing Likud government would likely take to repress the Palestinians could inflame popular passions throughout the region and revive militant groups that had been in decline.
6, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan is acting increasingly erratically, accusing the US of being his country’s enemy and threatening to join the Taliban. His circle is also engaging in corruption on a vast scale, endangering the legitimacy of the government further after the irregularities in both the presidential and parliamentary elections. Obama’s counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan depends heavily on having a credible and reliable local partner, and it is increasingly unclear that Karzai could be so characterized. A rethink of counter-insurgency and a more modest counter-terrorism strategy might be the only way to deal with this threat.
5. As the US draws down its troops in Iraq, the danger of Kurdish-Arab violence over the disposition of oil-rich Kirkuk province and other Kurdish-majority areas in Arab Iraq will rise. The Iraqi Army, mostly Arab, has come into armed conflict with the Kurdish paramilitary, the Peshmerga, a development that was curbed through the institution of joint patrols with American troops, who act as a buffer. As the US military departs, the question of how the buffer will be maintained arises.
4. The Obama administration was successful in tightening the financial noose on Iran during 2010, but Iran could fight back like a cornered rat. On June 9, it succeeded in pushing through a United Nations Security Council tightening of sanctions. Just this week, India announced that it would cease allowing transfers of payments to Iran via the Asian Clearing Union system. But the sanctions won’t prevent India from buying Iranian petroleum, of which it imports about 400,000 barrels a day. With petroleum prices firming up as Asia and Germany come out of the economic doldrums, the Iranian state will have a large cushion against American pressure. The danger in the increased US pressure on Iran is that it will take revenge by sabotaging US grand strategy in the Middle East. Iran is already blocking fuel shipments to Afghanistan, which likely hurts NATO and the US as much as it hurts the Afghans. Iran could easily also play spoiler in Lebanon via its ally, the Hizbullah militia, and in Iraq as US troops draw down. Obama is engaged in a tightrope walk, and if he puts too much pressure on Iran, he could easily be pushed off.
3. Pakistan’s relative stability in 2009 was shaken in 2010 by a series of catastrophes on an almost biblical scale. The Pakistani army fought a series of fierce engagements in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas against the Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan (Taliban Movement of Pakistan), but the latter have shown resiliency and have struck back with bombings against the officials and tribal elders who joined the government in fighting them. The TTP or other militants have also bombed a string of religious processions and sites all over the country, targeting Shiites, Sufi mystics, and members of the Ahmadiyya sect. In July through September, massive flooding put a fifth of the country under water, affecting 20 million of Pakistan’s 170 million people. The damage to Pakistan’s economy is incalculable, and the international community has made clear that it will only cover a small portion of the damage. Then, in just the past month, the government itself has turned unstable, as the coalition on which it depends for its majority came into doubt. Even if the government survives, its margin in parliament will be reduced and it will be weakened. The US has been slow to deliver the various kinds of quite substantial civilian economic aid it has promised, and aid delivery should be expedited and targeted toward areas that would shore up the government (e.g. Swat Valley).
2. Turkey, a NATO ally, is emerging as a major player in the Middle East. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s doctrine of peaceful relations with neighbors, however, has set Turkey at odds with the US in some respects. Turkey is seeking a freed trade zone with Jordan and Syria, adding to the one already established with Lebanon, and Ankara’s rapprochement with Damascus makes Washington uncomfortable. Likewise, Turkey opposes increased sanctions on Iran, and, indeed, is seeking to much expand its trade with Iran. Turkey is far more sympathetic toward the Palestinians, including Hamas, under the Justice and Development Party (which is not Islamist but has some Muslim themes, a rarity in secular-dominated Turkey) than it had been in the past. This sympathy has led the government to demand an apology (not forthcoming) from Israel for killing 9 Turkish citizens in international waters in a botched commando raid on an aid ship headed toward Gaza. The US would be wise to accommodate Turkey’s new initiatives, which are stabilizing for the Middle East, even if Ankara is not always cooperative with particular Washington priorities.
1. Egypt, after decades of being unproblematic for the US, may be on the verge of being a foreign policy challenge of some magnitude. President Hosni Mubarak is advanced in age and could pass from the scene soon. He is grooming his son, Jamal, to be his successor, but the wikileaks cables suggest that the powerful Egyptian military intelligence chief is not happy with this idea of dynastic succession. On the other hand, US cables also suggest that the Egyptian military is declining in power and modernity. Although the government successfully repressed its radicals during the past two decades, they are back in the streets again, as with today’s car-bombing of a Christian church in Alexandria, which killed 21. More serious challenges come from the Muslim Brotherhood,, which could do well in an election that was not rigged against them. Likewise, Egypt’s labor and middle class movements have shown themselves capable of mounting significant campaigns in recent years, deploying new communications tools such as facebook. A more democratic Egypt, like a more democratic Turkey, may not be willing to be complicit with Israeli oppression of the Palestinians. Obama should not take Egypt for granted, but rather should have some subtle and culturally informed contingency plans if its politics abruptly opens up. Above all, the US must not stand in the way of democratization, even if that means greater Muslim fundamentalist influence in the state.