He Who Pays the Piper Eats the Turkey

Great news! I’ve found a new journalist to dislike! Now I don’t have anything personal with journalists, you must understand. It’s just that, as a group their job requires them to sensationalise situations, look for the negatives in an issue, employ emotive language when short of facts, and toe the party line of whichever media magnate is paying their salary. In that last respect, they are much like economists.
Journalistic wit – example of
I came across an article about Turkey the other day. That’s Turkey with a capital ‘T’ – though it wasn’t immediately obvious from the headline, ‘Overdone Turkey’, and the accompanying photograph, a close-up shot of a mouth-watering, golden roasted, juicy fowl straight from the oven. Well, we all enjoy a little joke, of course, but you might have expected something slightly more creative, or at least less trite, from a professional writer with a PhD in Political Science and several books to his name, as this gentleman, Steven A Cook seemingly is. Anyone who has googled the name of this blog site will be aware that the simple brain of the world’s most popular search engine is incapable of distinguishing between the bird that adorns American tables on the fourth Thursday of November, and the nation of 75 million people on the eastern fringe of Europe that has been a loyal ally and key figure in United States strategic planning in the region since at least the beginning of the Cold War. That’s an unfortunate semantic fact of life for Turks, in whose own language the two words have no similarity whatsoever. They don’t get your joke, Steve – they just think you have a puerile, sub-adolescent sense of humour.
OK, admittedly, that article was published in November last year, and I don’t want to be too hard on the guy. Situations can change pretty rapidly in world affairs. Still, you’d think that a trained academic setting himself up as some kind of guru on US foreign policy would have a tad more objectivity, and an ability to make more accurate predictions than are evident in this piece. To save you the trouble of laughing your way through an article with more opinionated fluff than substance, here’s a brief summary:
The Turkish Prime Minister and his insignificant little country had been getting ideas above their station. They were starting to think of themselves as some kind of regional power with the clout to solve the problems of the Middle East – and some Americans (less intelligent and perceptive than Dr Steven A Cook) had been starting to believe the hype. The truth, we are told, is that the Turkish government had blown its relations with Israel in order to curry favour with neighbouring Muslim states and its own Islamist electorate, with the result that it was now relegated to the sidelines of Middle East diplomacy, its place taken by the new Egypt of Mohammed Morsi.
Wow! Steve, I hope you are enjoying eating those words. Afiyet olsun, as the Turks say, before a meal. May the dish prove beneficial to your health and well-being. Without the advantages conferred by a doctorate in pol. studs, I can nevertheless assure US readers that Turkey has no aspirations to return to the glory days of imperial Ottoman power. They may perhaps, with some justification, see themselves as a moderately successful secular democratic republic with a healthily diverse economy, serving as an example to neighbouring Muslim nations in the Middle East and Central Asia. On the whole, however, they adhere to the doctrine of their founding father, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, one of whose goals, often quoted, was ‘Peace at home, peace in the world’. He is also reputed to have said that the only justifiable war was one fought to defend your own home turf.
Certainly, Turkish-Israeli relations were somewhat strained there for a time, for reasons Dr Steve itemises, and certainly not all of Turkey’s making. However, recently, there has been a reconciliation of sorts, instituted, we believe, by the mediation of US President Obama. ‘Why would he bother?’ you may ask. Undoubtedly because he and his advisors have a better grasp of regional affairs than Dr Steve. The simple fact is that Turkey and Israel are two of the saner, more balanced, moderate, democratic states in that part of the world – and if push comes to shove, I’m not so sure about Israel. I am, however, pretty sure about Egypt. If Steve still believes that Egypt is stable and secular enough to perform the role of credible mediator between Israel and Palestine when it can’t govern itself without the army and martial law . . . well, I suspect he may now be having second thoughts.
The thing is, though, Steven A Cook is not alone. Time magazine on May 16, published an article by one Ishaan Tharoor mocking Turkish PM Erdoğan over his recent visit to the USA, where he met and had dinner and discussions with President Obama – an honour, I suspect, not granted to every visiting head of a tin-pot state. I’ve never been a big believer in conspiracy theories, but it does seem to me that a good deal of ink is being expended in influential media in the West aimed at belittling and discrediting Turkey, and I can’t help wondering why. So I did a little digging, and came up with some interesting stuff.
The article referred to above, by Steven A Cook, appeared in a publication called Foreign Policy Magazine. FPM was founded by a certain Samuel P Huntington, author of the 1993 book ‘Clash of Civilisations’ which, rightly or wrongly, seemed to inspire much of the focus on the Muslim world as a substitute for the Soviet evil Empire in the post-Cold War age. Samuel P’s business partner was Warren Demian Manshel, an investment banker, director and Chief Administrative Officer of the CIA-backed Council for Cultural Freedom. Foreign Policy Mag’s editor-in-chief for fourteen years until 2010 was a guy called Moises Naim, who (despite the name), prior to taking up the reins at FPM, was Minister of Trade and Industry of Venezuela, and Executive Director of the World Bank. Naim served in the government of Carlos Andres Perez who was forced out of office and subsequently convicted of large-scale embezzlement of government money, which he is said to have stashed in secret bank accounts in the USA, held jointly with his ‘mistress’. Perez fled to the US where he lived in exile in Florida until his death in 2010. You might think the new Venezuelan government would have wanted to bring him back for trial, as the US does with Julian Assange and Kim Dotcom. What stopped them, I wonder? Incidentally, the CIA is suspected of involvement in an unsuccessful 2002 coup to overturn that new democratically elected Venezuelan government headed by Hugo Chavez.
Moises Naim, the while, was editing Foreign Policy Magazine, which, incidentally is owned by the Washington Post, whose principal shareholders are apparently, the family of Eugene Isaac Meyer and Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Eugene Isaac Meyer (despite the name, no Venezuelan connection, as far as I can discover) was Chairman of the US Federal Reserve Bank in the early days of the Great Depression, going on to become first president of the World Bank Group. Berkshire Hathaway is a ginormous multinational corporate behemoth that, according to Wikipedia, ‘wholly owns GEICO, BNSF, Lubrizol, Dairy Queen, Fruit of the Loom, Helzberg Diamonds and NetJets, owns half of Heinz, owns an undisclosed percentage of Mars, Incorporated and has significant minority holdings in American Express, The Coca-Cola Company, Wells Fargo, and IBM’  – controlled by chairman, president and CEO, Warren Buffett, consistently ranked in the top three on Forbes’ list of the world’s richest human beings.
Now I can’t say with one hundred percent certainty that Mr Buffett calls Foreign Policy Magazine writers into his office of a Monday morning to give specific instructions on what they are going to write this week. I do suspect, however, that there are some men in the United States (and women too, for all I know) who feel they are entitled to a major say in shaping the nations domestic and foreign policy. Presidents come and go, but the Buffetts and the Meyers are in this for the long haul. If all those starry-eyed US citizens who, full of hope for a better future, voted for Barack Obama in 2008, wonder what went wrong, they just need to take a look at the policy movers and shakers who weren’t actually up for election.
But why pick on Turkey? With its 75 million people and economy ranked 17th in the world, it’s never going to be a major global power again. It seems to have minimal fossil fuel resources, treats its people relatively well, welcomes tourists from wealthier nations to its bars, beaches and historical sites, and has no aggressive territorial aims. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your point of view, Turkey’s location gives it huge geo-political significance. Situated on the back-doorstep of Europe, buffering Christendom against the Islamic tide of the Middle East and straddling the narrow sea-lane that gives warm water access for shipping to and from Russia and the land-locked republics of Central Asia, Turkey inevitably looms large in the strategic planning of the world’s big players. It has always been so, since time immemorial.
If you want a military base from which to bomb Baghdad, or site nuclear missiles within easy reach of Moscow, Turkey’s a good location. If you want to run a pipeline bringing oil from Kazakhstan to Europe, you might want to run it through Turkey. If you want diplomatically immune and reasonably secure  consulates and embassies from which to manage intelligence-gathering operations in Russia, the Middle East and beyond, hard to find a better place. Turkey, as noted above, has a stable democracy, a relatively satisfied population, fairly reliable and efficient internal security, and, despite the doom-sayers, little likelihood of being taken over by Al Qaeda or the Muslim Brotherhood. Plus, it’s a nice place to live, if you’re a big wheel in business or the diplomatic corps, and you have to be posted abroad.
The downside, from the perspective of those big world players, is that Turkey is a bit of a free spirit in the world of international affairs. The Ottoman Empire it may not be, but there is a strong residual memory of a time when Istanbul was capital of an empire wielding considerable power in early modern Europe. Apart from a brief spell of five years after the First World War when the city was occupied by British and French military, the heartland of modern Turkey was never subsumed into, nor colonised by any foreign empire. In the early years of the Republic, Turkey managed to maintain neutrality during the Second World War and avoid invasion by the Nazi war machine.
They did send troops to Korea in the early 1950s, and put their lives on the line for NATO as a bulwark against Soviet expansion during the Cold War years. Nevertheless, they have always reserved the right to make their own decisions, as George Dubya found out when he invaded Iraq in 2003. Bush and his team would have dearly loved to include Turkey in their ‘Coalition of the Willing’ to show that they were not just a coalition of willing Christians against the Muslims. It was said the US Government offered a substantial financial incentive to secure Turkey’s participation. Unfortunately some indiscreet aide let slip the opinion that the Turks could be bought, and the Turks, whose sense of pride and honour sometimes gets them into trouble, not only pulled out, but also refused to allow their İncirlik base to be used for launching US bombers.
So, democracy, despite the hype, is probably less popular in their corridors of power than Western leaders would have us believe.  When Egyptians rose in Tahrir Square against 30-year President Hosni Mubarak, their protest led to the ousting of a ruler much loved by US leaders but not awfully popular in his own country. It has been suggested that he at least had prior knowledge of the assassination of predecessor Anwar Sadat. At no time did Egyptian citizens elect him in a free and democratic election. He was widely regarded at home as an American puppet, and there is no doubt that his huge military machine was supplied by the generosity of successive United States Governments.
The big question is, who makes these things happen? And who controls the news media so that ordinary citizens in the United States and elsewhere are kept in the dark about what is actually going on? Clearly Barack Obama is not the only one calling the tune of American foreign and domestic policy. And Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan has a hard job to maintain his country’s independence in the face of a slanderous campaign by Western media. And I will refrain from adolescent speculation on what the ‘A’ in Steven A Cook stands for.


Freedom of Speech in Other Places – apart from Turkey

‘No nation can achieve stability and economic growth if half the population is not empowered.’
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton uttered the words recently in a speech she made in Tokyo (Time, 23 July 2012). Apparently she was referring to Afghanistan, and the sad plight of that nation’s women – oppressed, downtrodden and disenfranchised. No doubt Mrs Clinton feels genuinely sorry for her disadvantaged sisters in Muslim countries, but is she aware that the average voter turnout in US presidential elections since 1992 is 52%? I can’t help feeling Madame Secretary might more profitably focus on the 48% of her own citizens who seem to feel that democracy in the land of the free has little to offer them – and look for ways of empowering them.

I mentioned in my previous post, a book called American Theocracy, where the writer Kevin Phillips posits an unholy alliance of Big Oil, the Debt/Finance Industry and fundamentalist Christianity which he claims have united to govern the United States. The book was published in 2006, and Phillips’ primary concern was President George Dubya Bush, and what he saw as the Republican Party sell-out to that Big Three. Phillips details the elements of the partnership:

  • Encouragement of continued profligate oil consumption, refusal to develop alternative fuels and limit carbon emissions;
  • Continued encouragement of consumer-driven economic growth fuelled by the debt/finance industry;
  • Deregulation of the finance sector, tax-cuts for the wealthy and calls for reduced government spending on social programmes;
  • Refusal to accept the case for global warming, and support for the lobby against abortion and in favour of teaching creation/intelligent design in schools, are all part of the plan.
  • The beauty of it is that it appeals to all of the Big Three: unfettered capitalism does not conflict with the beliefs of the religious loonies convinced that end-times are upon us and only Jesus can save the world, so there’s no need for social welfare programmes – bankers don’t really care what kind of rubbish kids get taught in schools and no doubt abortion, like everything else, will always be an available option for the rich.

Did anyone seriously believe that the Iraq invasion wasn’t about oil? Or that George W Bush is a true follower of Jesus? Honestly, if I thought Jesus loved the 43rd president, I’d have to rethink my whole understanding of Christianity.

As you may have realised, this post doesn’t have much to do with Turkey – or at least only peripherally – so at this point you may want to switch to another channel. My focus here is Ecuador, New Zealand, Sweden and the United Kingdom, the USA, Chile and Venezuela, not necessarily in that order.

Rapist or champion of freedom of the press?

No doubt, like me, you’ve been following news items from London about Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks guy. That he’s been accused of sexual assault by a couple of women in Sweden; that he’s holed up in the Ecuadorean Embassy in the plush neighbourhood of Knightsbridge; that the London Metropolitan Police Force has mobilised significant manpower to ensure that he can’t sneak out of the country; that the UK Government seems committed to extraditing the guy to Sweden so that he can be questioned about the alleged offences.

I have to admit I didn’t pay much attention to those Wiki-leaks when they first surfaced. I’ve always been fairly cynical about governments and politicians, and I guess I felt that nothing would surprise me. I had to do a check in the archives to see what all the fuss was about, and I can see why the US government and military would be unhappy to have such information made public. Those ‘Afghan War Logs’ and ‘Iraq war Documents’ showing that there were significantly more civilian deaths over there than official sources had been letting on; and that there seemed to be a policy of ignoring complaints of abuse, torture, rape and even murder by Iraqi police and soldiers. Then there was that embarrassing video showing a couple of helicopter gunships mowing down apparently unarmed civilians, along with a Reuters journalist or two.

So, you can also kind of appreciate why the US army was quick to arrest a young private suspected of passing on the above material to the Wiki people. Bradley Edward Manning  is 24 years old and openly gay, with some history of psychological problems. In spite of that and his lowly rank, because of his high-level IT skills, he was posted to Baghdad and put in a position where he had access to databases storing extremely sensitive classified information. Private Manning, apparently disturbed by what he saw, and believing that the public had a right to know, took the difficult decision to blow his whistle. As a result, he has been in custody (much of it of a particularly unpleasant nature) awaiting trial on a number of charges, at least one of which carries the death penalty – though prosecutors say they won’t ask for it.

Which is where WikiLeaks comes in. According to its website ‘WikiLeaks is a not-for-profit media organisation. Our goal is to bring important news and information to the public. We provide an innovative, secure and anonymous way for sources to leak information to our journalists.’  Well, if you’ve ever considered blowing the whistle on an employer, or heard about someone who did, you’ll be aware that the action carries some risks and dangers. And given that few institutions, from the corner grocer up, are as squeaky clean as they could be, you might think that there is a place in the world for an organisation like WikiLeaks. Julian Assange clearly thinks so – and that is what has landed him in trouble.

It is fairly evident that the US Government is keen to get its hands on this gentleman, and probably put him away for a long time, as a salutary lesson to others who might be tempted to emulate his obsession with transparency and freedom of information. His own government in Australia has indicated a lack of sympathy, and an inclination to cooperate with the USA. There is some evidence that plans are proceeding in secret for a grand jury indictment. Several high profile politicians and political commentators in the US have even recommended that Assange should be assassinated.

Interesting then, that an apparently unrelated and somewhat bathetic affair has arisen to threaten the WikiLeaks boss’s liberty. Two women in Sweden made complaints of rape and sexual assault against him in 2010. Despite clear evidence that Assange was consensually in the beds of the ladies concerned, and that the Swedish Prosecutor’s Office originally decided that there were no grounds for a rape charge, nor for having him arrested, this decision was subsequently overturned, and Swedish Police issued an international warrant for his arrest. Assange gave himself up to police in London, but, when it became clear that UK authorities were determined to extradite him to Sweden, he sought and was granted political asylum in the Ecuadorean Embassy. It seems his fear is that, once in Sweden, the US Government will arrange for him to be sent to the US, where, he suspects, retributive justice will be swift and sure.

Assange and his lawyers believe that the Swedish business has been organised to give US authorities time to prepare a more serious case against him. They have asked the Swedish Government to guarantee that they will not authorise Assange’s extradition to a third country (the USA) – which they have refused to do. In the mean time, the Brits have police swarming all around the embassy to ensure the WikiLeaks man doesn’t sneak out. They even went so far as to imply to the Ecuadoreans that force could be used to apprehend him – a threat which they later retracted. Nevertheless, you have to ask, where does a relatively minor South American nation like Ecuador fit into this business?

Apart from a lifetime of eating their bananas, I confess to an appalling ignorance about Ecuador. Now that I know it is about the size of New Zealand, with a population of around fifteen million, I can understand why. However, it seems the small Latin American country has assumed some international fame (or notoriety) since the election of President Rafael Vicente Correa Delgado in 2006. Despite having studied economics in the US, Correa seems to be leading his nation’s march with a different drum. With the aim of reducing poverty and unemployment, and minimising Ecuador’s dependence on foreign companies and capital, he negotiated major restructuring of its external debt and a greater share of its oil profits. His government refused to renew the US military’s lease on the Pacific coast airbase of Manta, has been resisting IMF pressure to monitor its economic plan, and pursuing policies encouraging conservation in Ecuador’s share of the Amazon basin. Correa has apparently even endeared himself to the main group of indigenous people by learning their language. To tell you the truth, he doesn’t sound like such a bad guy to me.

One problem he has, however, in his relations with his large northern neighbour, is that he is good mates with Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela since 1999. Some sources suggest that Venezuela’s oil reserves could be larger than those of Saudi Arabia, and at present it is the US’s third most important source of oil. Little wonder then that there is some disquiet in upper echelons of the US Government that Chavez ‘probably doesn’t have the interests of the US at heart.’

Chavez’s self-styled policy of Bolivarianism opposes imperialism, capitalism and neo-liberalism, and has focused on participatory democracy and nationalising industries (especially oil). He has been influential in the establishment of the Bank of the South, a partnership among South American nations to provide finance for ‘the construction of social programs and infrastructure.’ In 2002 he was ousted in what may be one of history’s shortest-lasting successful military coups. Chavez maintains that the US was involved in planning the coup, and even its military leaders are on record as saying they believed they were operating with US approval. Whatever, the result was a huge outpouring of popular support for Chavez, resulting in his reinstatement a mere forty-seven hours later.

This got me wondering if there are any leaders of South American countries that are loved by US and British governments – and one surprising name I came up with was Augusto Pinochet, dictator of Chile from 1973 to 1990. General Pinochet came to power when a military coup, reputedly endorsed by the Nixon administration and the CIA, ousted the elected government of President Salvador Allende. Pinochet’s regime was characterised by free-market economic ‘reforms’, restrictions on labour unions and privatization of state assets, not to mention the imprisonment, torture, and or ‘disappearance’ of tens of thousands of civilians, some of which, unfortunately, were Spanish nationals. As a result, the General was arrested in the UK in 1998 and the government of Spain sought his extradition to face numerous charges of human rights violations. A protracted legal battle ensued, at the end of which Pinochet was released after Tony Blair’s Home Secretary, Jack Straw, overruled a House of Lords decision to extradite him to Spain. Apparently former US President Nixon, and former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had both interceded with Blair’s government on Pinochet’s behalf.

OK, Nixon we’ve touched on above, but what was Mrs Thatcher’s interest here? Well, it seems that General Pinochet’s military had given major support to the Iron Lady’s Falkland Islands campaign back in 1982. Some sources say that Chile provided invaluable intelligence about Argentinean air attacks, tied up elite Argentinean forces with threats of cross-border incursions, and even allowed British aircraft to operate with Chilean colours. Given that Dame Maggie probably wouldn’t have won a second term in office without the jingoistic patriotism generated by the Falkland Islands victory, you can see how she might have felt she owed General Augusto a favour or two. Unfortunately for Julian Assange, he clearly doesn’t have the same ties of ‘friendship’ in high level international political circles.

Even so, you might think that the British Government could take a slightly less hard-line approach to the WikiLeaks guy, if the issue really is just a matter of a couple of somewhat debatable sex offences in Sweden. As a comparison, I’d like to tell you about an on-going affair in my beloved homeland, New Zealand.

Kim Dotcom is a 38 year-old computer genius of German-Finnish parentage, currently resident in New Zealand, but very much wanted by authorities in the USA to answer charges of copyright infringement against his highly profitable company Megaupload. Admittedly, Mr Dotcom (or Schmitz, if you prefer), has a somewhat murky record of shady business practices preceding his Megaupload activities, but knowing this, the NZ government granted him permanent residency in 2010. Subsequently, however, NZ police raided his palatial home in January this year, and took the internet entrepreneur into custody – since when there has been a continuing legal shemozzle over the question of extradition. Most recently, a NZ High Court judge has ruled that in seizing Dotcom’s property, police exceeded the authority of their warrants, and the case is continuing. As an interesting aside, a prominent NZ Member of Parliament and strong supporter of the Prime Minister, has been accused of soliciting and obtaining a large donation from Dotcom for election purposes – but probably that has nothing to do with the larger matter. Whatever the case, I’m feeling kind of proud of my country for standing up to US corporate interests.

And I’m also feeling a little sorry for Turkey, as its government continues to field international criticism on human rights and freedom of the press issues. Is hypocrisy too strong a word to use for grand-standing politicians who seek votes by criticising other sovereign states while refusing to acknowledge the dubious practices of their own?

At the recent Pacific Forum in the Cook Islands, evidence has emerged of increasing competition between the USA and China for influence in the Pacific region. China, apparently, is making significant financial investment in tiny developing nations, and US officials are not happy, despite the fact that the US economy would probably implode without Chinese monetary input. One US spokesperson was quoted as saying:

” . . . we have consistently been calling for increasing transparency in the Chinese military posture.” Apparently the United States also ‘hopes to boost the forum as a regional alliance to combat shared threats such as climate change, encourage economic development and protect marine stocks in the face of overfishing’.

Run that by me again: the US government is calling for military transparency, and is acknowledging the threat of climate change?