The U.S. and NATO Need Turkey

The following opinion piece appeared in Time online today:

‘To cast Turkey loose now would forfeit our influence in the region and end a decades-long alliance’

Halil I. Danismaz

The bloody coup attempt that left more than 200 people dead and nearly upended Turkey’s democratic institutions has shaken the country to its core.

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Standing tall for democracy in Turkey

I saw that dark moment—arguably the darkest in the country’s sad history of military dictatorships—unfold first-hand. I was on a plane to Istanbul when the coup plotters shut down the airport, then landed in the middle of the attack and stayed there for several weeks to witness the chaotic aftermath. There was a feeling of a nation under siege, being attacked from all sides.

Turkey has been battered by terrorism. Its most urgent need now is to defend itself and its democracy.

But the West’s response threatens to complicate how the U.S. and its NATO allies work with a country on the front lines of the global fight against ISIS. To cast Turkey loose now would forfeit our influence in the region and end a decades-long alliance. It could also drive Turkey into the arms of Russia—the wolf scratching at its door, which would like nothing more than to distance Turkey from the West.

This week’s visit by Vice President Joe Biden, the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit since the violent coup attempt last month, is a chance to repair the fractured relationship.

The U.S. has much at stake: Our allies and interests in Europe are under assault as never before. Syria and Iraq have ceased to exist as functioning states. ISIS is on the march from Libya to Afghanistan. And Iranian and Russian influence is steadily expanding.

Turkey stands as a bulwark against these rising threats. Located just 60 miles from the Syrian border, the Incirlirlik air base in southern Turkey—the crucial staging ground for American-led strikes against ISIS—allows our best A-10s, F-15s and drones to take the fight to ISIS in Syria and Iraq that were previously out of our reach.

It is also the anchor of NATO’s southeastern flank and home to its second-largest army. Western officials should heed NATO’s own words: “Turkey takes full part in the Alliance’s consensus-based decisions as we confront the biggest security challenges in a generation. Turkey’s NATO membership is not in question…NATO counts on the continued contributions of Turkey and Turkey can count on the solidarity and support of NATO.”

U.S. President Obama shakes hands with Turkey's PM Erdogan in Seoul

Love them or hate them, you have to accept the people’s choice – and that cuts both ways.

The change must begin by taming the rhetoric on both sides. The chaos I saw in Ankara has fomented a rising tide of anti-Americanism egged on by some Turkish officials and party-controlled press. Asserting that the U.S. played a role in the coup must stop immediately.

At the same time, U.S. officials and commentators should acknowledge that Turkey’s most urgent need now is to defend the very fabric of its civil society. Like him or not, President Erdogan is the legitimately and democratically-elected choice of the Turkish people, a claim bolstered by the recent support he has seen from the main secular opposition parties. He has earned the right to speak on their behalf and that right should be respected.

A formal mechanism will help us reach a mutually acceptable solution to the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO) problem. FETO is a danger to the stability in the region that the U.S. and NATO seek. A similar threat to democracy that created the kind of carnage would produce an outcry of outrage if it happened any other NATO member state. There have been united calls for the extradition of FETO’s leader, Fethullah Gulen, who is currently residing in the U.S. This is a reasonable request based on the widespread belief in Turkey—both the people and the main opposition parties—that FETO played a central role in the execution of the failed coup.

America’s most powerful and consequential regional ally is threatened as never before, with potentially dire consequences for our shared interests. U.S. policymakers must recommit to the bilateral relationship, not cut and run. Read the whole article

Guilty and Guiltier – One law for the 99% and . . .

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It’s just a beautiful game. Yeah, sure!

Well, at least he’s been sentenced to jail, even if he’ll never actually see the inside of a cell. Argentinian and Barcelona football superstar Lionel Messi has been handed a 21-month prison sentence for tax fraud – and his father was apparently in on the business too whereby the Spanish government and taxpayers were defrauded of €4.1 million.

Pretty much everyone knows the round-ball game, most of its administrators and many of its top players are corrupt as hell – though fans touchingly continue to take matches and tournaments seriously. I can’t see it getting any better if courts don’t start treating the crooks they catch the same as they would the rest of us.

Tax evasion is bad enough when we wage and salary-earners, and pension beneficiaries, have no escape from the internal revenue sharks. But what about taking your nation into an unjustified and unprovoked violent invasion of another country far from your own borders, assisting in the destruction of that country’s infra-structure, collaborating in the deaths of tens of thousands of that country’s innocent citizens, and creating in the process a chaotic power vacuum that has totally destabilised the entire region? Thirteen years after the event, Former LABOUR Party Prime Minster Tony Blah expresses no regret for his genocidal actions – and Knight of the Realm Sir John Chilcot, after a seven-year investigation, stops well short of demanding that Blah be brought to justice for his war crimes.

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What went on under the blanket?

As for multi-millionaire, Roman Catholic convert, man-of-the-people Tone, he has this to say: “The intelligence assessments made at the time of going to war turned out to be wrong, the aftermath turned out to be more hostile, protracted and bloody than ever we imagined…. and a nation whose people we wanted to set free from the evil of Saddam became instead victims of sectarian terrorism. For all of this, I express more sorrow, regret and apology than you may ever know or can believe.”

Well, we expect weasel words from politicians, so we shouldn’t be surprised – but notice that Blah ‘expressed’ sorrow and regret rather than actually feeling it. Is there an apology wrapped in all that BS or not? If so, it’s for stuff done in the passive voice, by agents unknown. ‘Our’ intentions were pure – is that the royal ‘We’? As far as I remember, United Nations inspectors were quite clear at the time. They had found no evidence of weapons of mass destruction; so whose ‘intelligence’ was being ‘assessed’ and by whom? Anyone with half a brain understands that PM Blah knowingly and deliberately misled the British Parliament and its constituents. And for what purpose? I would be interested to see a statistical comparison of the number of Iraqi citizens who died under the Saddam regime, and those who have died as a direct result of the Bush family invasions.

Still, that’s in the past, except for the ISIS/Daesh bogey spawned in the chaos created by poodle Blah and his owner George Dubya. However, it’s starting to look very much as though the world’s exemplary democracy, the United States of America is about to elect its first woman president. That’s Hillary Clinton, who knowingly and deliberately used her private email server for official business while she was Secretary of State; who lied about what she had done to investigators, and tried to cover her tracks.

In spite of that, the FBI investigation has decided that she should not face criminal charges. Apparently she and her ‘aides’ were merely ‘careless’ and despite ‘evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information’, there is ‘no evidence’ that Mrs Clinton had a deliberate intention.

Cartoonist Gary Varvel: The new Clinton scandals

How bad can Donald trump be?

Now I must admit to some confusion here. What exactly was the ‘carelessness’ the FBI are referring to? Was Mrs Clinton careless in her wrongdoing and in getting caught? Or was she careless in carrying out her duties as Secretary of State? If the latter, what confidence can anyone have that she is competent to be President of the world’s sole remaining superpower? And can anyone clarify for me what exactly a ‘potential’ violation is? It seems the USA has ‘statutes regarding the handling of classified information’ – and I am curious to know whether these statutes were violated or not. I imagine there must be some citizens and potential voters in the United States who would also appreciate clarification on that point.

I have read a number of articles recently describing a growing disillusionment with politicians around the globe, and an emerging trend among voters to punish them for their lies and deceit. The ‘Brexit’ vote in the United Kingdom and the general election in Australia are cited as examples of the trend. Sad to say, such negative voting probably won’t make the world a much better place in the short term – but if it gives corrupt and dishonest political leaders a headache or two, some might think it’s worth it.

Bowing to Terrorists – More fear-mongering in the USA

U.S. Warns of Possible Terrorist Attack in Europe

Looks like the best thing for Americans to do these days is lock themselves up in their houses and do their shopping on the Internet. But then the question arises, can you trust the postman, the courier company or the delivery boy? Is it even safe to send your children to school?

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“Following several terrorist attacks on the continent, the U.S. State Department issued a travel alert for Europe on Tuesday warning Americans of the possibility of a terrorist attack in the summer months.

The grim warning says targets could include restaurants, commercial centers, tourist sites, transportation and major events. It also singled out big events happening in Europe this summer: the European Soccer Championship, the Tour de France and Catholic Church’s World Youth Day in Poland.

“We are alerting U.S. citizens to the risk of potential terrorist attacks throughout Europe” the State Department wrote in the travel alert that expires on Aug. 31. “The large number of tourists visiting Europe in the summer months will present greater targets for terrorists planning attacks in public locations, especially at large events”

The alert asks U.S. citizens to “exercise vigilance” in public, avoid crowded locales, “be aware of immediate surroundings” and to be prepared for additional security screenings.

The new president of the Philippines says many slain journalists deserved it

An average of four journalists killed every year! And I guess the Philippines is/are an important ally of the United States? I’m looking for a comment from ‘Reporters Without Borders’.

500Many slain journalists in the Philippines had been corrupt and had “done something” to warrant being killed, the country’s president-elect said.

“Just because you’re a journalist you are not exempted from assassination if you’re a son of a bitch,” Rodrigo Duterte said Tuesday, Agence France-Presse reported.

The Philippines ranks as the second-deadliest country for journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. At least 75 journalists there have been killed since 1992.

On Tuesday, Duterte said many slain journalists had accepted bribes or criticized people, who then retaliated, the Associated Press reported. He also said a radio commentator killed in Davao City was “rotten.”

He also said journalists who defamed others weren’t necessarily protected from violent attacks.

“That can’t be just freedom of speech. The constitution can no longer help you if you disrespect a person,” he said, according to reports.

Read the whole article.

What’s Turkey’s problem?

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Turkey hasn’t used the Arabic alphabet for 90 years! Beware of Photoshop!

Some people don’t like Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. That’s ok, I guess. Outside of North Korea, there aren’t too many countries where the president gets a 100% approval rating. Even in the USA, the latest poll conducted by NBS News and the Wall St Journal showed Barack Obama with 51% support – and that’s not counting the people who don’t bother registering because of America’s electoral sham. Nevertheless, NBS and WSJ seem to think that’s pretty damn good. It’s the best he’s had for years.

But still, they’re only polling US registered voters. I haven’t seen any indication that anyone over there is asking whether the rest of the world want Hillary or Donald to take over the big job in November – or neither of the above. They don‘t care, do they? So why should Turkey care what Western media say about their president? Or perhaps more to the point, why do Western media think it’s any of their business?

England’s PM David Cameron went on record the other day saying that Turkey could expect to join the European Union somewhere around the year 3000. Apparently he was trying to reassure UK voters, prior to the British referendum on EU membership, that Europe is not about to be overrun by another horde of marauding horsemen from Central Asia. But, to be fair, that’s probably a more honest appraisal of Turkey’s chances than you’ll hear elsewhere.

Successive governments of Western Europe have kept Turkey dangling on a string for more than sixty years. They were quite happy to have Turkey play a buffer role against Soviet Russia during the Cold War, using its convenient location for siting several nuclear missile bases. They accepted Turkey as an associate member in 1963, and magnanimously permitted its government to apply for full membership in 1987. Well, that’s nearly thirty years now, and the odds against seem to be lengthening rather than shrinking.

Why? A recent article in Time Magazine provided some of the answers. ‘It’s time for Turkey and Europe to face reality’ said the headline, but the only argument of any substance was the Cyprus issue. Even that is debatable at best. The United Nations and Britain were supposed to protect the island’s independence, but failed to do so when Greece’s military junta attempted a takeover in 1974, forcing Turkey, as the third guarantor, to step in. UN attempts to find a solution have repeatedly foundered on Greek intransigence. Another dubious argument is geographical. Only 3 percent of Turkey’s territory is, strictly speaking, in Europe’ says the writer – yet the gnomes of Brussels would dearly love to have Ukraine in their club, never mind that two-thirds of that country lies east of Istanbul. Isn’t it time modern Europe let go of the ancient Greek and Roman definition of Asia starting at the Bosporus? So where does it start in Russia, which stretches 7,000 km east from Poland, beyond China, Korea and Japan?

We get nearer to the truth of the matter when the Time correspondent points out that, in 2014, 69% of Germans and 83% of French were opposed to Turkey joining the EU. Again we may ask why? And in a previous post, ‘Why do they hate Turkey?’ I addressed this question. In short, I believe there is a deeply ingrained fear and hatred of an abstract concept of ‘Turks’ going back a thousand years, fed and nourished regularly by political and religious leaders, and in modern times, by the mass media. Criticism of Mr Erdoğan is merely the latest manifestation of this – it really wouldn’t matter who led the country.

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Who’s kidding who?

Istanbul has just finished playing host to the first World Humanitarian Summit under the auspices of the United Nations. Apart from Germany’s Angela Merkel, however, leaders of western First World countries were conspicuous by their absence. The number of refugees from the Syrian civil war now in Turkey is estimated at 2.7 million. Politicians and news media in the West persist in criticising Turkey while adding fuel to a humanitarian disaster that has been raging for more than five years. A spokesperson from MSF (Doctors Without Borders) said it was ‘unlikely that the same countries who are currently shirking their obligations to refugees would turn over a new leaf next week’. Oxfam’s chief executive spoke of a need totackle the repeated failure of governments to resolve conflicts and end the culture of impunity in which civilians are killed without consequence’.

So who are the real guilty ones? Associated Press reported on 29 April that a US AC-130 gunship, ‘bristling with side-firing cannons and guns’, fired on a charity-run hospital in the Afghan city of Kunduz for 30 minutes before it was realized that the attack was a mistake and the real target was an Afghan intelligence agency building half a kilometre away. 42 innocent civilians were killed and an unknown number injured in the attack. The U.S. government has made “gesture of sympathy” payments of $3,000 to each injured person and $6,000 to each family of the killed.

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Remains of Kunduz MSF hospital after US ‘mistake’.

Well, at least the US is kind of at war with Afghanistan. Their government seems to reserve the right to take out people they consider enemies wherever they are. 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama confirmed last week that an American drone strike had killed an Afghan Taliban leader IN PAKISTAN as part of a reconciliation process that leads to lasting peace and stability’. The deceased gentleman, Muhammad Mansour was apparently considered a threat to American forces in Afghanistan – where the latter have been working for peace for fifteen years. In another positive move towards global peace, Obama was reported on 23 May as announcing an end to the US arms embargo on Vietnam. Vietnam apparently, is emerging as ‘a key strategic partner for the United States’ despite being a police state whose president was formerly head of the Ministry of Public Security, a para-military outfit set up with the assistance of China and Soviet Russia. You can check out a recent report on the state of democracy in Vietnam here.

The justification for the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, you will recall, was the demolition of the Twin Towers World Trade Centre back in 2001. It seems certain, however, that the US government has been steadfastly refusing to release documents confirming the role played by Saudi Arabia in the New York attacks. Meanwhile, another recent Time article informed us that Americans want a military general in the White House. God bless them!

Armed Staff at School

ISD = Independent School District. So who’s got problems?

Still if that fails, there’s always Donald Trump. The likely Republican presidential candidate was quoted the other day as suggesting that some teachers in the United States should be armed with guns inside their classrooms. Even if you are one of those who think the big DT is crazy, the fact that he can say it and be reported in reputable news media suggests that it wouldn’t go amiss if some of the billions currently spent on military hardware were redirected to the homeland education system.

That’s not very likely, however. Worldwatch Institute reports that the 5% of the world’s population who live in America consume a quarter of the world’s fossil fuel resources; and together with Western Europe, 12% account for 60% of the world’s consumer spending. An article in The Guardian reported that the wealthiest 0.01% of US citizens own as much of the nation’s wealth as the bottom 90%. That figure may be marginally less in Western Europe, but nevertheless, it’s pretty evident that such inequality can only ultimately be sustained at the point of a gun.

Turkey’s problem could well be your problem too!

Cultural Arrogance

A couple of weeks ago I published a post about a gang of high-level Western diplomats who invaded a sensitive court hearing in Istanbul. In an obvious and high-handed attempt to influence the judicial process in a country where they are privileged guests, the twelve consuls and ambassadors snapped group ‘selfies’ which they proceeded to post on Facebook.

If there was an award for cultural arrogance, that would surely have to be on the short list. I can’t imagine the reaction if such an invasion was organised by foreign diplomats at a court in London or Washington DC.

Following close on the heels of that outrage, here’s another group of contenders:

It was reported on Tuesday that nine people had been arrested in Lebanon on charges related to the kidnapping of two small children.

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Where there’s a need, someone will supply a service

Normally such an event in a Middle Eastern country wouldn’t arouse much international interest – but in this case, those arrested include the Australian mother of the two children, four personnel from the Australian ‘60 Minutes’ TV news programme, and agents of a shady British ‘child recovery’ company.

Reports suggest that the Australian TV network paid ‘a six-figure sum’ to the British child-snatchers so that they could film the operation in Beirut. The operation went well, apparently, except that the heist was captured on CCTV cameras in the street, with the predictable result that all nine are now in custody facing charges that could bring them up to twenty years in a Lebanese prison.

What’s the background? Well, the mother, Sally, from Brisbane, has two children, Noah (4) and Lahela (6) from her Lebanese ex-husband, and now has a baby with her new partner. Ex-hubbie apparently took his two children for a holiday in Lebanon, but then refused to return them. Sally decided to arrange a snatch-back, but couldn’t afford the company’s fee, and that’s where the TV people came in, on the understanding, no doubt, that they would film an action-packed, tear-jerking human interest story.

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Let’s see ‘Reporters Without Borders’ sort this one out!

I don’t imagine they’ll be allowed their cameras in the prison where they’re being held, so it seems the only footage we’ll be seeing is the grainy CCTV clip showing two small children being torn away from their grandmother by strangers on a busy street, and bundled into the back of a van – pretty traumatic for the little kids, not to mention grandma. For sure, it raises some interesting questions about freedom of the media.

An Australian academic specialising in Middle East affairs has been quoted as saying the child-snatchers had seriously underestimated the difficulty of the task they were attempting to pull off. He says the area where the children were picked up is a Hezbollah stronghold, with a high level of security. In addition, he says the father of the children is related to the speaker of the Lebanese Parliament, so pulling diplomatic strings won’t be easy.

Apart from that, there seems to have been an assumption that those third world countries inevitably have inefficient law enforcement and primitive technology, so our intrepid Aussies would be in and out with the kids before the locals knew what was going on. Ah well, you live and learn, huh?

A Modest Proposal – With an acknowledgement to Jonathan Swift

I just came across this fascinating news item in The Guardian:

Child survivors of Nepal earthquake ‘being sold’ in the UK

Theresa May urges police investigation after the Sun reports that Nepalese and Indian children are being sold to British families as domestic slaves

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Nepalese children en route to a better life in Europe

The home secretary Theresa May has urged police to investigate claims that child survivors of the Nepal earthquake and other vulnerable children are being sold to British families to work as domestic slaves.

An investigation by the Sun newspaper suggests that boys and girls as young as 10 are being sold for just £5,300 by black market gangs operating in India’s state of Punjab.

The paper says the gangs are preying on the children of Nepalese refugees, as well as destitute Indian families.

May called child trafficking a “truly abhorrent crime” and urged the National Crime Agency to investigate the newspaper’s findings. She said the paper should “share its disturbing findings” with the agency, “so that appropriate action can be taken against the vile criminals who profit from this trade”.

According to the Sun’s report, which appears on the front of Monday’s print edition, the desperate children are being sold to wealthy British families to be used as unpaid domestic servants.

It reports that a trader it names as Makkhan Singh lined up children for its undercover reporter to pick from and said: “We have supplied lads who have gone on to the UK.

“Most of the ones who are taken to England are Nepalese.

“For the supply of a boy, minimum 500,000 rupees [£5,300]. Then you will have other costs associated with taking him to the UK, but that’s your responsibility extra to what you pay us.

“Take a Nepalese to England. They are good people. They are good at doing all the housework and they’re very good cooks. No one is going to come after you.”

A 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal on 25 April last year, killing almost 9,000 people and leaving millions in need of aid.

In the light of this report, it may be that Turkey is going about dealing with its refugee crisis in entirely the wrong way. Clearly appealing to the better nature of Europeans is not working. The fact is, they are not interested in sharing their wealth with displaced persons from Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East. In fact European Union authorities have begun sending back to Turkey asylum-seekers who had already managed to reach Greece.

It does seem, however, that there is a ready demand in wealthy European homes for unpaid servants to do work that their own citizens expect a living wage for. And they are prepared to pay at least £5,000 per head.

Well, Turkey is currently suffering economically on a number of fronts, and prospects are not good, with another tourist season approaching. On the other hand, there are now reportedly 2.6 million Syrian refugees severely stretching the country’s resources.

Obviously they would need to be careful not to flood the market, which would have a depressing effect on prices – but a government-sponsored programme to provide a regulated flow of Syrian servants to the United Kingdom’s moneyed classes could be just what Turkey needs to make up a shortfall in its current account deficit. 200 Syrians at £5,000 each means an income of £1,000,000 – not to be sneezed at! And who’s to say that wealthy Germans, Scandinavians, Luxemburgians and whatnot wouldn’t follow the English lead?

I expect President Erdoğan will be looking into it as soon as he gets back from his American trip.