Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Turkey is simply Turkey

Before I came to Turkey three years ago, what impressed me most about its history was that for thousands of years, various peoples had been rampaging back and forth across the same piece of land. Sometimes it was the West going east. Sometimes it was the East going west. Whichever way they were going, and whatever they were doing, pretty much everyone had been through here at one time or another.

I found this absolutely fascinating, and at the end of my first day here, the concept finally came to life right in front of my own eyes. It was at that moment that I fell in love with this country.

At the end of that first day, my wife and I were sitting at a café above Istiklal having dinner. Our table was next to the window, and I was staring outside at all the people passing below. I was completely fascinated. Everyone looked so different.

I don’t mean some people had blond hair, or some people had light skin while others had dark skin. I mean there was so much variety in the facial structures and body types. It seemed like every single person had a completely different body structure, and I thought, these aren’t people who grew from the genetic stock of just a few people. These are people who grew from the infinitely mixed genetic stock of all those different peoples who had spent thousands of years rampaging across this piece of land.

The people I saw on the streets of Istanbul that night were not the children of Germans, they were not the children of Persians, they were not the children of any other single place or nation. They were the children of the world.

I had ready many books about Turkey, and every single book, it seemed, asked the question, “Is Turkey European or is Turkey Asian?”. I imagined that when I got there, I would find a place that needed to ask that question, and needed to answer it.

But sitting there in that café above Istiklal that night, I realized that was an entirely irrelevant question to be asking. Turkey didn’t need to be European, and it didn’t need to be Asian. Its strength was its own, and I saw the source of that strength walking right past the window in front of my eyes. Turkey was Turkey, and it didn’t need anyone else’s strength, because it already had it.

Turkey didn’t need to answer the question. It needed to stop asking it.

Others outside of Turkey will continue trying to resolve that question for themselves for years. They might be debating that question forever. But you can’t control what other people do, you can only control what you do. When Turkey stops trying to answer that question, when Turkey starts to laugh at that question, it will find a unique strength and confidence it forgot it had.

Sometimes people give up on that question, and instead they describe Turkey as a bridge between East and West. I think this is the wrong way to look at it, too. A bridge is a relatively weak and temporary structure connecting two very strong, very permanent pieces of land. The bridge does not produce its own strength, it merely draws on the strength of the land around it and below it.

Even Istanbul’s own Bosphorus bridge, which looks so big compared to the tiny cars that cross it, is nothing but a temporary structure. The bridge has only been with us for about 35 years, but the land was here millions of years before that. And when, for whatever reason, the Bosphorus bridge leaves us, the land will still be here. Bridges don’t have their own strength, but Turkey does. Turkey is not a bridge between anything.

When Turkey stops asking itself this question, when it stops trying to be European, or Asian, or, failing that, a bridge, it will find an inner strength and unity that sometimes it seems to have forgotten.

Turkey is not European. It is not Asian. It is not a bridge. Turkey is simply Turkey, and it can stand alone perfectly well.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

How the "genocide" debate will die in Washington

Periodically, the US Congress discusses a bill that would recognize an "Armenian genocide". And every time, the President gets to shoot it down (if it makes it that far). The President has to -- Turkey is an important ally for so many reasons, and the US recognizing a genocide would really, really piss off Turkey.

This reminds me of the China MFN (Most Favored Nation) debates in the US in the 90s. Every year, the Congress would debate China's trade status. And every year, the President would shoot any anti-China bills down, if they made it all the way to his desk.

Everyone went home happy. Senators and Congressmen could look good back home, tough on China and all. But normal relations with China would continue anyway.

Now with Nancy Pelosi heading the US House, there's fear here in Turkey that the "genocide" debate in the US will swing against Turkey.

I don't think so. In fact, I suspect it will go the other way, and the President will end the debate permanently. I bet it'll happen much like the China MFN debate happened in the 90s.

Congress will debate the "genocide" issue, Pelosi will use her newfound powers to usher a "genocide" bill to the President's desk, and then, like the President did with China MFN in the 90s, the President now will veto it and find a way to put a permanent stop to the annual debate. Relations with Turkey are just too important to keep taking such a big risk.

Interestingly, the Hrat Dink murder in Istanbul last week gives some really good breathing room for this to happen,

Spurred at least in part by the murder, there is now some talk in Turkey about Turkey and Armenia establishing more normal relations with each other.

I don't put a lot of stock in conspiracy theories, because I think the world is usually more random and unplanned than we like to think it is.

However, because of the murder's timing, Ankara's potential overtures towards Yerevan can be painted with the Hrat Dink brush -- "We are doing this because we are all brothers", Ankara can tell the Turkish people. Having the move painted with the "outsiders made us do it" brush would go down really bad in Turkey, especially in an election year.

So the Dink murder gives Ankara cover to establish ties with Yerevan, and those new ties give the US President cover to kill the "genocide" bill (because look at this other healing that's going on). And when Congress mysteriously can't muster the strength to override the veto, Senators and Congressmen (and definitely Pelosi) can still look good back home. They at least tried to get the "genocide" recognized, and hey, look what happened because of it, we scared Turkey into recognizing Yerevan (or so Pelosi can tell the Armenians in her state).

And so it ends.

Coming change to primary schedules

The New York Times discusses a change that would work in Giuliani's favor.


The Republicans will remake themselves

The other day I wrote about the Democrats' need to do the scut work of aligning their party around a central message -- to "brand" themselves.

They better get moving, because the Republicans are looking to do the same. The Republicans certainly need to, after the Bush II years. Eight years of Bush II destroyed the branding work they had spent decades on before (centered around "small government, lower taxes").

What signals the coming change?

Discussing Tuesday's State of the Union speech, the National Review notes:

"And where were the social issues? It is widely accepted that opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage are two of the few issues that have been helping the Republican party lately; why abandon them now?"

They're getting ready to run Giuliani. Winning in 2008 is going to require some serious branding renovation for the party, but they know they need that anyway. And when the Republicans finish their brand restoration work, Giuliani will be a more appropriate candidate for the Republicans than he is now.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

On government and personal responsibility

Commenting on this post,

Fati asks us...

"[D]o citizens of the US have the power to make things change? When things don't change, is it really because people don't do enough or because the political agendas weigh heavier than the wants and the needs of people?"

My take on the issue:

When things don't change, it is both. It is because people don't do enough, and it is because political agendas weigh heavier than the wants and needs of people.

The two forces exist together, in every political system. Having a democracy doesn't mean the peoples' word automatically becomes god, and special interests and political agendas take a back seat.

Having a democracy, however, does mean the nation and its people have signed a contract, the agreement being that the people accept more direct responsibility for the things their government does in their name.

It makes me extremely angry, frothing-at-the-mouth-like-a-rabid-dog angry, when I hear one of my countrymen saying our votes don't matter, or saying that we voters have no power to affect the outcome of the world around us.

Those big, nasty corporations don't have one vote, not even a single vote. The shady special interests that lurk behind every door, they don't have a single vote either, not even one.

Only you have a vote, and if you aren't willing to take full responsibility for what you do with it, the problem lies at your feet, and your feet only.

It is not up to the government, the special interests, the political parties, or any other part of "the system" to serve you up a nice plate of candidates who truly represent you and your best interests. You are a member of a democracy, and you have to do it yourself. You are not a helpless baby lamb kept in a nice, safely tiny cage, getting fattened up for someone's dinner plate.

Freedom does not mean freedom from responsibility, and it does not mean freedom to do whatever you want. Only when you take full responsibility for everything you do or don't do, and everything others do or don't do in your name, are you free. Freedom is extremely heavy.

Noam Chomsky had a good comment on a similar issue. He said that it is fairly easy to attend a protest and then go home afterwards to your life as normal, enjoying what you had before, but now enjoying good feelings about yourself for having "stood up" to something.

But he reminds us that that kind of action does nothing to change anything, and real change comes from years and years of being dedicated to a cause, working for it consistently over time.

It is much less glamorous than one-off protest marches, but it is the way change gets done, and if change is what you want, there is absolutely no way around it.

Jesse Jackson on costs of the Iraq war

Jesse Jackson writes a good article putting the costs of the Iraq war in perspective...


He leaves out one thing, though, that I think is more important than all those alternative expenditures he mentions:

Don't increase the national debt.

Don't take that war money and spend it on other things.  While you've got the big knife out, butcher those other things Jackson mentions, too.

Doing it now will be very painful.  It will be much, much more painful later, if we don't.

Our country's standard of living and position in the world 50 years from now depends on what we do today.

Monday, January 22, 2007

On American troops in Somalia

Reuters reports that a Somali journalist says he saw American troops on the ground in Somalia.

First of all, there's the obviously loose hearsay connection (one person says that another person says blah blah blah...).

On the other hand, I would have no trouble believing that the US could send a couple dozen or a hundred Marines anywhere they damn well pleased, including Cleveland if need be.  Surely the US military isn't THAT tapped out in Iraq.

But shouldn't the unnamed Somali journalist, or Reuters, have pointed out that it's entirely possible, and probably more likely, that those troops were mercenaries?  Any mercenary with some funding can buy a helicopter.  Any dude with $20 can buy a US military uniform at any military surplus store.  And if you need a white guy, those are pretty easy to come by, America isn't your only source for those.

So what if the Somali journalist says some of the "white men in military dress" had US Marine insignias on their uniforms?  Did the journalist go up and ask for proof of the guy's authenticity?  Could the journalist have been mistaken in his eyewitness account, or perhaps his memory a little shaken by the scary experience of being followed by a (presumably) armed helicopter?

Sure, everyone's screwing around with Somalia in one way or another, it's one of the world's most popular ongoing proxy wars.  But the American military isn't the world's only supplier of white dudes in fatigues flying around in helicopters.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The long, long, long road to Tehran

From an article in the New York Times today:

"Gen. Michael V. Hayden, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, told lawmakers on Thursday that over the past year and a half he had come to a "much darker interpretation" of Iran's activities inside Iraq.

"I think there's a clear line of evidence that points out the Iranians want to punish the United States, hurt the United States in Iraq, tie down the United States in Iraq, so that our other options in the region, against other activities the Iranians might have, would be limited," he said."

Phrases that caught my eye:

"punish the United States"
"tie down the United States"
"[limit] our other options in the region"

Didn't we already take care of those things ourselves, when we re-aimed our country's laser beams on Iraq 5 years ago? Didn't we already lock those up ourselves? Please, please don't make this about Iran. Sure, Iran is in Iraq, sure, Iran is working to bring Iraq closer towards itself. But it was already doing that a long, long time before we showed up.

Iran wants to see us with some mud on our face, but didn't we already put it there ourselves? Please don't make this about Iran.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Hillary and Obama are just a distraction

Hillary and Obama are just distractions from the real work the Democrats have ahead of them.

The Democrats should be spending their energy organizing their party around a simple, clear message. The Republicans had "lower taxes, smaller government" for decades. Even when they strayed from it (big deficit spending), or when the PR went bad ("read my lips"), the party stayed on message, rhetoric- and branding-wise. When the Democrats took the Presidency in the 90's, the Republicans continued to stay on that simple message and rode back into Washington in 1994. George Bush has veered wildly off that message, of course, so who knows what will happen with the Republicans when he retires.

The Democrats need to do the same kind of branding and message-shaping the Republicans were doing 30 years ago. That's where the focus and energy needs to go. If it means soft-pedaling (and forfeiting) the 2008 Presidential elections, so be it -- it'll pay off for the decades to come.

That said, why spending your star-struck energies promoting Senators as Presidential candidates is a waste of time and resources...

Senators love to run for President. They already play on a national stage, they're pretty good at raising money, and they see the White House down the street on on a regular basis, and it doesn't look all that far away. But they make crappy Presidential candidates. The nature of work in the Senate has everyone voting one way one day, and another way the next, and it's all for "fine print" reasons that are too arcane to successfully go up against a nice, broad smear campaign. It's so easy to paint a Senator as a waffler a child can do it.

Americans have spent most of the last 50 years voting executives into the White House, not Senators. Governorships are the farm team for the Executive branch. Senators shouldn't even bother applying (unless they first cleanse their Senator-selves with a stint as VP, which then gives them a shot).

Besides, the first Black or female US President will be a Republican. Blacks and women have been running countries for a while now, and it's not all that big a deal. But to us Americans, it is. So when we take that big step and put our first Black or woman in the White House, we're going to want to have the reassurance of that person being balanced/grounded in the more conservative party.

The Democrats might run the first Black or female candidate, but the Republicans will run the first successful one.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

US will ask Turkey to invade northern Iraq

As of January 2007, Turkey would love to send troops into northern Iraq, and is making noises that it will do so if a sovereign state of Kurdistan is formed.

The US is currently "asking" Turkey not to, and that is making Turkey frustrated.

My bullshit theory:

Within a few years, the US will ask Turkey to invade and secure northern Iraq to Kirkuk.


The US, unable to sustain its occupation, will be drawing down its presence in Iraq over the next 4 years, and will be leaving a vacuum as it goes.

The Iraqi government in Baghdad will get closer to Iran, and Iran will push harder into Iraq.

The US will fear Iranian control of Iraq's northern oilfields, but will lack the physical presence there to secure them itself.

The US will ask Turkey to do so instead.

This will royally piss off the Kurds, but the US would rather piss off one ally (Kurdistan) and see another ally (Turkey) controlling the oilfields, than see a happy ally (Kurdistan) succumbing to Iranian pressure while a perfectly good army (Turkey's) stands by and watches from inside its own borders.

This will happen in early 2010.