Stephen Kinzer – Honorary citizen of Turkey?

Oh don't it hurt!

Oh don’t it hurt!

How do you feel when someone really lets you down? It’s a bummer, huh! It doesn’t happen to me too often these days because I’ve learned to be careful who I’ll trust and how much I’ll trust them. But occasionally someone slips through my filters. Luckily this time it wasn’t someone I know personally, and I’ve suffered no financial or serious emotional damage. Just a feeling of disappointment that someone who had previously earned my respect for fearless thinking turned out to be more of a conservative than I had thought.

Two years ago I reviewed a book by Stephen Kinzer. Its title was ‘Reset – Iran, Turkey and America’s Future’. Back in February 2013 I wrote, The essence of Kinzer’s thesis is that, for various historical reasons, the United States is locked into two relationships in the Middle East whose continued relevance is at best questionable, and which are poisoning the diplomatic climate in the region, rendering futile all attempts to achieve long term peace and stability. He argues that America’s continued support for the dysfunctional Saudi royalty, and its commitment to backing the Israelis, right or wrong, have in fact helped to create the world-wide axis of evil and terror it so wants to destroy, and actively worked against all moves to pacify and democratize the region. Kinzer goes on to propose that the best and most logical allies for the United States in those troubled lands are Turkey and, in defiance of current logic, Iran.’

Four years is a long time in politics

Four years is a long time in politics

What happened to Kinzer in the four years since he published that book, I wonder. Maybe the spooks in Homeland Security or the CIA got to him and helped him to see the error of his ways. I don’t know what his current views are on Israel and Saudi Arabia, but for sure he seems to have gone right off Turkey.

My apologies to the good people of Boston, Massachusetts, but I have to tell you I am not a regular reader of that city’s daily Globe. I only chanced upon this article because of a small storm that seems to have blown up around my ex-hero Mr Kinzer. Apparently back in 2000 he wrote an article for the New York Times drawing attention to the ancient city of Zeugma in southeast Turkey, threatened with submersion under the waters rising behind a major dam project.

‘The city that stood here 2,000 years ago,’ Kinzer reported, ‘was at the eastern edge of the Roman Empire. It had an estimated 70,000 residents and was the base for a Roman legion. Its position on the banks of the Euphrates River, and its role as a thriving center of Silk Road trade, made it immensely wealthy.

‘Rich traders competed with each other to decorate the floors of their villas with the most exquisite mosaics. In the third century, Zeugma is believed to have suffered an invasion, a devastating fire and an earthquake in quick succession. It has lain undisturbed since then, covered by thick layers of dirt and rubble.’

To be fair, archeologists had been working on the site since the 1980s, so Kinzer wasn’t really divulging anything new and previously unknown. His article did, however, lead to a slowing down of the dam project and the provision from various sources of much-needed funds for the unearthing and preservation of priceless mosaics and other antiquities. In recognition of this, the mayor of Gaziantep, the city in Turkey nearest to the Zeugma site, had, somewhat belatedly, decided to bestow upon him honorary citizenship.

Mosaic from ancient Zeugma

Mosaic from ancient Zeugma

Unfortunately, a month or so earlier, Kinzer had had another article on Turkey published, this time in the Boston Globe. It wasn’t specifically about Turkey. The subject, ostensibly, was a eulogy of three world leaders who were celebrating important milestones in 2015 – or would have been if they weren’t long since dead.

Just why Kinzer decided to write about Winston Churchill, Count Otto von Bismarck and Franklin Delano Roosevelt in one brief piece only he can explain. Probably something to do with a looming deadline and a shortage of material. Anyway, that’s what he did, asserting in his opening line that ‘This year the world will salute three of modern history’s greatest national leaders.’

Now I have to tell you that I find it both breath-takingly presumptuous and mildly offensive when Americans assert an opinion they hold and claim that the entire world agrees with them. Their presidents are inclined to do this as well as their journalists.

Winston Churchill may have ‘rallied Britain to resist global tyranny in World War II’ but he is not unreasonably regarded as a war-mongering imperialist by the people of Turkey. He was a vociferous opponent of Mahatma Gandhi and Indian independence, and an advocate of military violence against striking miners at home in 1926. He was appointed Prime Minister by King George VI and tossed out by the British people when they had had a chance to vote for him in 1945.

Bismarck may have founded modern Germany, but again, the people of neighbouring France, Denmark and Austria may remember him with less fondness than Germans themselves.

“I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes,” Guardian quote

The only one of the three who might really be considered worthy of Kinzer’s phrase ‘radical visionary’ is Roosevelt. According to Wikipedia, ‘Roosevelt spearheaded major legislation and issued a profusion of executive orders that instituted the New Deal—a variety of programs designed to produce relief (government jobs for the unemployed), recovery (economic growth), and reform (through regulation of Wall Street, banks and transportation). He created numerous programs to support the unemployed and farmers, and to encourage labor union growth while more closely regulating business and high finance. The repeal of Prohibition added to his popularity, helping him win re-election by a landslide in 1936.’

Apart from the alcohol business, you’d have to think that subsequent administrations in the United States have been hard at work undoing most of FDR’s New Deal reforms – so whatever the world may think of him, it’s pretty clear that Wall Street and the US political elite don’t have much time for Roosevelt’s vision.

But who cares? Kinzer’s entitled to his opinion, right? And we’re all sympathetic to a guy working to a deadline. Some stuff may slip through in the heat of the moment that you don’t really 100% believe, yeah?

But then he shifts to the present day and for some reason feels moved to award a ‘booby prize for worst geopolitical leadership of the year to President Vladimir Putin of Russia.’ At least he doesn’t claim he is awarding it in the name of the entire world this time – so we can understand it in the same sense that the San Francisco Giants are the reigning baseball world champions. No one outside North America actually participates in the competition. 150 million Russians may have different ideas on Vladimir Putin – and at least one US citizen, Edward Snowden.

Kinzer doesn’t say in so many words that runner-up for his ‘booby prize’ was Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdoğan, but the implication is pretty clear:

Restoring democracy to Egypt, American-style

Restoring democracy to Egypt, American-style

‘Another ambitious strongman, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey,’ he says, ‘also sacrificed much of his country’s strategic power in 2014. Until recently Turkey was widely seen as a godsend to the world, a vibrant example of Islam coexisting with democracy and capitalism. With amazing suddenness it has become the ally from hell. By wrecking Turkey’s carefully constructed relations with Egypt, Israel, and Syria, Erdogan has weakened his country and helped destabilize the Middle East. Once seen as a skilled modernizer, he now sits in a 1,000-room palace denouncing the European Union, decreeing the arrest of journalists, and ranting against short skirts and birth control. Strong leaders can descend into this kind of political madness. It’s no wonder we’ve soured on them.’

Wow! Strong words, huh? The ‘ally from hell’ for refusing to join the US and its lapdog allies in more bombing raids into the Middle East until some clear plan emerges about what will happen after the smoke clears. The ‘ally from hell’ for speaking the truth about Egypt’s military coup, Israel’s ethnic cleansing aggression in Palestine and Assad’s on-going bloodbath in Syria. Far from sitting in a palace in Ankara, Mr Erdoğan is being strongly criticised here and abroad for traveling around the country, meeting the people and talking up support for the AK Party government in Turkey’s upcoming parliamentary election. ‘Political madness’ says Stephen Kinzer. ‘No wonder we’ve soured on them.’

Cheaper and more effective than poison injection or electricity, ho ho ho!

Cheaper and more effective than poison injection or electricity, ho ho ho!

And there it is. The reason I feel so badly let down. When I read Kinzer’s ‘Reset’ I really thought I had found a writer who was unafraid to speak out about the situation in the Middle East and America’s misguided policies. Now I hear him using the ‘We’ pronoun, to mean, I can only assume, himself, the United States government and its financial rulers. Oh sad! Oh weep, my broken heart.

Mr Erdoğan, however, is made of sterner stuff. That mayor of Gaziantep, Fatma Şahin, had invited Stephen Kinzer to a special ceremony last month where he would have honorary citizenship conferred upon him. Turkey’s President stepped in and overruled the good lady mayor on the grounds that Kinzer had shown himself to be an enemy of Turkey’s government and country. Can’t say I blame him. It would be a bit like Muriel Bowser inviting Rafael Correa to be an honorary citizen of Washington DC. Don’t hold your breath.


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