I keep reading in US and other foreign news media that Turkey has more journalists in prison than any other country in the world. Most recently, I read an editorial in the New York Times asserting that the president of Turkey, Tayyip Erdoğan ‘has a long history of intimidating and co-opting the Turkish media.’ I confess I don’t know what the NYT editor means by ‘co-opting’ here – but I assume ‘intimidating’ implies that there is a threat of being sent to prison with the hundreds of other Turkish journalists who dared to criticize Mr Erdoğan and Turkey’s AK Party government.
Now I have to tell you, as one who has lived in this country for most of the last 20 years, who exercises no vote and has no political party affiliation, that the level of democracy in Turkey seems to me to have risen exponentially since I first arrived in 1995. I don’t know why those ‘journalists’ are in prison – if they actually are journalists, and if they are actually in prison – but I can confidently say it was not for simply criticizing Mr Erdoğan or his party’s government. Since the day the AK Party was elected to govern Turkey at the end of 2002 its representatives (and their spouses) have been subjected to torrents of criticism and personal abuse, much of it outrageously distorted if not outright lies.
The United States government, on the other hand, has shut away Wikileaks whistle-blower Chelsea (Bradley) Manning for 35 years for telling the truth about what the US military was doing in Iraq. If they can get Edward Snowden out of Russia, his fate will be pretty similar. As for Australian citizen Julian Assange, the brains behind the whole business, you can be pretty sure that Swedish rape stuff is a ruse for the Yanks to get hold of him too. So far the Ecuador government is keeping him safe, but it can’t be much of a life, holed up in their London embassy for three years and no end in sight. So, public-spirited truth-tellers, or treacherous enemies of the state? Depends on your point-of-view, I guess.
Four times from 1960 to 1997, elected governments in Turkey were ousted by military intervention – and there is little doubt in my mind that, had Mr Erdoğan’s government not succeeded in pre-emptively pulling the teeth of the generals, he and his team would have gone the same way. That NYT editor further states that ‘some critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan fear a new crackdown is starting to ensure that his Justice and Development Party wins’ the upcoming general election. Again, the meaning is not crystal clear, but the implication, I guess, is that the ‘crackdown’ will involve some electoral jiggery-pokery, if not outright violence. Well, I can inform the Times editor and his readership that many of Mr Erdoğan’s supporters have good reasons for believing that the United States had a hand in activating those military coups d’état. Does he know anything about that?
The first military takeover, in 1960, resulted in the overthrow of one of the country’s most popular and long-serving prime ministers, Adnan Menderes. The poor man was peremptorily hanged along with two of his ministers – though later posthumously pardoned and his reputation restored. The third, in 1980, precipitated a bloody reign of terror and produced a rewritten constitution aimed at ensuring that Kurdish people and other undesirable left wing elements would not be represented in the country’s legislature. The leader of that 1980 coup, praised by Time Magazine at the time as the man who was ‘holding Turkey together’, General Kenan Evren, died last week of natural causes at the age of 97 – and there are many in Turkey who would have preferred a different end for him. In fact he died as Private Evren, having been demoted and sentenced to life imprisonment for his political activities. As far as I know, no United States representatives attended his funeral, which is sad, perhaps, given that most local politicians stayed away too.
But getting back to the New York Times and its prestigious fellow ‘newspapers of record’, can anyone tell me why they are so concerned that Turkey’s AK Party government should not be returned on 7 June? Wikipedia informs me that the United Nations has 193 member states. A record 206 countries participated in the 2012 London Olympic Games; and the CIA World Factbook recognizes 267 world ‘entities’. I can’t tell you, off the top of my head, how many of those states, countries or ‘entities’ hold regular elections whose results in any way reflect the wishes of their people – but I am reasonably confident that Turkey does. I am equally optimistic that the June 7 election will be a fair reflection of public opinion. Can the same be said of presidential elections in the USA?
I do know that an Arab Spring revolt in 2011 led to the removal of Egypt’s US puppet-president Hosni Mubarak; and the subsequent election, whose fairness no one (as far as I know) disputes, brought Muhammed Morsi to power. Within a year Mr Morsi had been ousted in turn and replaced by a military regime that has now condemned him to death – with not a peep of protest, to my knowledge, from the US government or the New York Times. The ‘entity’ of Palestine, whose people had been living in that location for millennia before the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, has no official representation at the United Nations – yet the United States government and the editor of the NY Times seem quite comfortable with that.
On the other hand, that anonymous editor is also quite comfortable ending his piece with a call to action: ‘The United States and Turkey’s other NATO allies should be urging [Mr Erdoğan] to turn away from [his] destructive path.’ Destructive of who, or what? The country’s economy and the living standards of most of its people have improved enormously in the last 12 years. Small wonder that Turkey’s president is accusing the New York Times of making provocative attacks on his country’s government, and unacceptable meddling in its internal affairs two weeks prior to an important parliamentary election. And in my opinion, President Erdoğan is absolutely right on this one. At the very least, if US business and political leaders won’t adopt consistent standards in their judgment of the political situation in other countries, they might work on getting their own house in order before presuming to interfere in the affairs of other sovereign states.
The NY Times did publish in March a piece written by the author of a book “Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America.” Kevin M Kruse argues that, from the 1930s to the 1950s, big business leaders countered the anger caused by their complicity in two world wars and a Great Depression by enlisting corporate evangelists like Billy Graham. ‘During these years, Americans were told, time and time again, not just that the country should be a Christian nation, but that it always had been one. They soon came to think of the United States as “one nation under God”. They’ve believed it ever since.’
Another NYT piece, A Pacific Isle, Radioactive and Forgotten, dated 4 December last year reports a visit to a Pacific Island where the US military tested 67 nuclear weapons between 1946 and 1958. The island, Enewetak in the Marshall group is still dangerously radioactive, although the former inhabitants were allowed to return and the United States has no interest in cleaning up the mess it left behind.
Late last year the US senate released a report which found that ‘the CIA misled the White House and used practices that could be classified as torture on detainees.’ Former vice-president Dick Cheney defended his government’s actions, arguing that ‘We did exactly what needed to be done in order to catch those who were guilty on 9/11 and prevent a further attack. We were successful on both parts.’
In spite of Mr Cheney’s assertion, however, a widely circulated AP article earlier this month reported ‘Iraq war judged a mistake by today’s White House hopefuls.’ And not just the Democrat hopefuls. ‘All these Republicans said last week that, in hindsight, they would not have invaded Iraq with what’s known now about the faulty intelligence that wrongly indicated Saddam Hussein had stockpiled weapons of mass destruction.’
Some might feel ‘hindsight’ to be a weasel word implying ‘If we knew then what we know now . . .’ when, in fact, United Nations observers and the US’s own intelligence had provided adequate information about the true situation. In spite of that, GW Bush’s administration, for whatever reasons of their own, had decided they would invade Iraq. And they were self-righteously angry with France and Turkey for not supporting their war on truth and innocent Iraqis. Now there are many who believe that ill-advised invasion created an environment in the Middle East which led directly to the current chaos in the region, including the rise of ISIS – these days coming to be known as Daesh.
Adding to the tension, according to a recent Time Magazine article, relations between the United States and the Arab GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) nations are at a low ebb. Their oil dependent economies are being hurt by US determination to produce expensive and environmentally disastrous shale oil in the interests of self-sufficiency. The Arabs are responding by driving down the price of oil to thwart the American plans. The extremely undemocratic Saudis and UAE states are also nervous about which way the USA will jump if popular uprisings occur. Their anxiety is further increased by America’s sudden interest in cosying up to Iran.
Nevertheless, rather than admitting the dreadful error made by his predecessor, President Obama last November authorised sending a further 1,500 US troops to Iraq, and requested an extra $5.6 billion in funding to fight ISIS/Daesh. Where will the money go? you may ask. Well, according to another article I read recently, The Fraud of War, a good chunk of it will disappear into ‘theft, bribery and contract-rigging crimes’ run by US military personnel. As far as I am aware, this report did not appear in the pages of the New York Times.
At present, the GCC Muslim brotherhood have been doing America’s dirty work in Yemen, supposedly dealing to al-Qaeda’s breeding ground in that failed state. Iran, on the other hand, is opposed to outside interference in Yemen; and if US-Saudi relations deteriorate, who knows what will happen? According to Robert D Kaplan, writing for Foreign Policy, ‘It’s Time to Bring Imperialism back to the Middle East.’ His thesis is that the collapse or decline of the Ottoman, British and American empires, which hitherto ‘bestowed order, however retrograde it may have been’ is the reason for the current chaotic situation. No fan of democracy, Kaplan’s family is Jewish, and he actually served in the Israeli army before resettling in the United States and becoming a senior adviser to the US Department of Defense. And those guys are criticizing the state of democracy in Turkey!!
Closer to home, another former bête noir that the White House has been attempting to build bridges with is the nearby island of Cuba. A stumbling block in the ‘normalisation’ process, however, is the United States’ refusal to consider handing back control of Guantanamo Bay to its rightful owners. The Bay was commandeered by the US in 1902 after their victory in the Spanish-American War. It became the site of a US naval base and, in 2002, of the infamous Guantanamo Prison – which presidential candidate Barack Obama promised to close down, but has so far been unable to do.
As if the Middle East were not providing enough problems for America, the US government has recently decided to apply sanctions to Venezuela which it claims poses an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States”. Possibly Robert D Kaplan will be encouraged at these signs of rejuvenated US imperialism – but I suspect he would prefer to see them concentrate on looking after Israel’s interests.
I could go on to mention the disastrous drought in California, exacerbated by the thirst for water of the oil-fracking industry. Our friends at the New York Times published an opinion piece earlier this month entitled ‘The End of California?’ Also in the Sunshine State, a ‘war zone’ has apparently erupted in the Mission District of San Francisco where gentrification is resulting in the displacement of the poor Mexican and Central American migrant families who have traditionally lived there. So Ferguson, Missouri, where police used rubber bullets and stun grenades to disperse crowds protesting the killing of 18 year-old Michael Brown, is not the only war zone in the Land of the Free.
Well, an 18 year-old these days is pretty much considered an adult, I guess – but a Human Rights Watch report last year revealed that, on farms in North Carolina, ‘Children as young as 7 years old are suffering serious health problems from toiling long hours in tobacco fields to harvest pesticide-laced leaves for major cigarette brands.’ On a more microcosmic scale, I read the other day about a driver in Fredericksburg, Virginia who was driving erratically as a result of suffering a stroke – and was sympathetically tasered and pepper-sprayed by an over-enthusiastic police officer. And then there’s the woman in West Palm Beach, Florida, who was arrested for contempt of court after fleeing with her four-year-old son because the child’s father was determined to have the little fellow’s foreskin sliced off.
Ah well, at least cases like that may win America some support among the more extreme Muslim groups. I’m not sure it’s something to be particularly proud of, though.