Thursday, December 29, 2011

In the Land of the Galactically Stupid

Rick Perry presidential campaign, 2012Image via Wikipedia
This is a foreign policy blog – so I just could not resist:
“Every barrel of oil that comes out of those sands in Canada is a barrel of oil that we don’t have to buy from a foreign source”

Rick Perry, POTUS Wanabe in Clarinda, Iowa
Note well:  This got a huge round of applause from the audience.
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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Germany = EU - EU = Germany

Lest anyone feel uncomfortable with the notion that Germany is the EU and the EU is Germany, they need simply to  look at their Hooveristic economic policy it is imposing on  the EU and their attitude toward Ukraine at the recently conclude EU-Ukraine summit.
In the first case, the German government is simply saying that others – and they are looking at Spain, Italy and Greece in particular – must be like them, or else; hence the proposal to force the 27 members of the EU to amend their national constitutions to require balanced budgets.  To propose this in a recessionary environment sounds rather foolish especially when Germany has not proposed any growth policies, just crippling austerity which, ultimately won’t work to solve the multiple problems.  Coupled with the trade imbalances that exist in the EU – which Germany seems disinclined to address – it is hard to imagine any solution that would satisfy Germany which did not require that its policy choices are mirrored in Brussels.  If that’s the case, then the Eurozone is going to disintegrate and maybe even the EU.
The second German imposed decision arose at the EU-Ukraine summit.  Blithely ignoring the Polish position that inducements work better than sticks, Germany engineered the summit so that the EU did not even initial the Association Agreement with Ukraine killing, for the time being, closer economic cooperation and letting Yanukovich off the hook.  The reason for this rejection of even a small step forward was the German view that the Tymoshenko trial and imprisonment should bring the entire integration process to a grinding halt.  Astoundingly, Germany ignored Tymoshenko’s call to sign the Agreement preferring to appear as a defender of human rights while obscuring the inconvenient fact that 1) it is joined at the hip with Russia for energy and investment; 2) it gets to work on pipeline projects originating with Russia; and 3) it gets preferential pricing by Gazprom.
The result is that the EU, run by Germany, has managed to push an important country like Ukraine closer to the demonstrably undemocratic Russia and has also failed to come to grips with the Eurozone/EU crises.  Not a bad month’s work.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas to All

France and Freedom of Speach

I’ve been gone for almost a month since my day job is in an end-year crunch to complete a raft of legislation here in Tajikistan.   As the holiday period approaches though, the rush by the government has abated.

The French lower house of parliament recently voted to make it a crime to deny that the Armenians suffered genocide during 1915 at the hands of the Ottomans.  The French should – but won’t – discuss the 1.7 million Algerians that were killed during their colonial war.  That’s ok as we all know that governments are hypocritical when it comes to their own history but are easily lured by the political advantage of condemning other nations or peoples. 
However, France and some other continental countries go further that simply expressing an opinion. They legislate against any other opinion that challenges their view.  Note to France (and Germany) – this is curbing the freedom of speech which you hold is one of the foundations of liberal democracy.  It is unique to France and such actions would never occur in the US or the UK.
There is no question that Turkey needs to move forward on its own to recognize the tragedy of 1915 – perpetrated by a different government in both form and substance.   It was clearly an attempt at ethnic cleansing – not genocide (as the word did not exist until recently).  The actions of the Ottomans need to be addressed between Armenia and Turkey and I humbly suggest that the comfortable Armenians in the United States and France keep their collective noses out of the issue.  I spent enough time in Armenia to know that many there would be able to resolve their differences in the region if they were permitted by the diaspora to do so.
And perhaps France and Germany should keep in mind that their great EU experiment is heading for catastrophe while Turkey is a rising power that should be courted, not rejected not least because its economy puts every EU member, except for Poland, to shame.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Russia Makes its Moves

A decision by the Kremlin to pay a naval visit to Syria as reported in Izvestia spells trouble.  Russia is clearly ramping up its position regarding what it sees as encirclement redux by the West.  Sending its flagship aircraft carrier the "Admiral Kuznetsov" along with a patrol ship, an anti-submarine craft and other vessels is a signal to NATO that Russia is willing to irritate the West - such as threatening to shut down the supply line to Afghanistan as well - to assert its resurgent foreign policy. 

Aside from the natural position of any country to protect its interests, the move to send a naval contingent to Syria is curious because the blow-back to Russian economic interests in Syria could be serious in long run.  Assad is going down and it is unlikely that the new government will recall the support given to him by the visiting ships with any fondness.  It may have been pre-planned, but it was not cancelled, and under the circumstances is a supremely stupid move by Moscow. Defending one's interests is one thing - supporting a bloody murderer is another. Not that the Russians don't have a history of supporting people like Assad - just look to Serbia. 

The other somewhat provocative move is the recent threat to cut off the supply route to NATO troops in Afghanistan.  Coupled with this weeks border closure by Pakistan, this could spell real trouble.  NATO is withdrawing anyway and the logic of the threat speaks more to the perceived and somewhat real containment of Russia by the US in Eastern Europe.  But, again, such a threat, if implemented, would affect real NATO interests and lives.  This would be a profoundly dumb move by the Kremlin unless it actually desires a return to the cold war - one it did not win. 

The timing of the threats from another standpoint is also curious. The US is Russia's greatest competitor. It is withdrawing from Afghanistan and has largely completed its withdrawal from Iraq.  Russian ability to reign-in its near-abroad depended on the window of opportunity provided by the distraction caused by those two wars.  The window is almost shut and the US will have more opportunity to shift its foreign policy focus away from these wars, much to the detriment of Russian foreign policy should it continue on this course. 

It is difficult to understand the choices that are made by those in power in Russia regarding how they protect their interests.  They certainly have other leverage points but appear to be deliberately choosing those that maximize the chance of long-term damage in relations with the West - a partner they desperately need.  The imminent re-assumption of power by Vladimir Putin coupled with militaristic muscle flexing does not auger well for future.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Future US Republican Foreign Policy

OK.  Resistance is futile. I must comment on the current foreign policy pornography espoused by the presidential candidates in the Republican Party.

Let’s get to it:

Huntsman:  He said “Iranians have already decided to go nuclear”.  There is no proof and repeating it over and over does not make it true.  Sort of like the definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over while believing there will be a different result. In fairness, he’s not alone in this.

Perry:  Monroe Doctrine redux – to stop Hezbollah and Hamas from interfering in South America and joining in on the drug trade in Mexico.  The legality of the original doctrine is questionable.  This is just stupid.  Not a lot of Hezbollah and Hamas members in South America to stir up, plus it is unlikely that either group would survive a street fight with Mexican drug cartels. 

Santorum:  “Africa is a country on the brink”.  No comment. 

Bachmann:  Iran wants to attack Israel – and the US – with nuclear weapons.  The first policy has never been announced although may be true and the second involving the USwas never stated by anyone. Anywhere. Anytime. 

Bachmann: “We know that they [Iran] already have a nuclear capability.”  We is the unidentified bird whispering in her ear.

Cain: Iran is very mountainous and therefore a security threat to the US.  Watch out Switzerland.

Cain:  China is a threat to US security and is trying to develop nuclear weapons. Beijing is astonished and starts counting its stockpile of warheads. 

Santorum:  “Obviously, Muslims should be people we look out…”  Yup all those darker skinned people look alike and must be Muslim terrorists. Unless, of course, they happen to be Mexican. 

Romney:   He said: “there is "no price that is too expensive to stop an Iranian nuclear weapon."  Really?  

Romney AND Perry:  Zero out foreign aid and start negotiating.  The government of Israel started to pay attention with that line.  Aside from the thundering economic and political stupidity of the proposal, that’s not how foreign aid works. 

Cain:  We should assist the opposition in Iran to overthrow the regime.  That is otherwise more commonly known as a declaration of war.  Go home and sell more crappy pizza. 

Gingrich: It’s absolutely unacceptable for Iran to fully develop a nuclear weapon.. And if China continues to resist joining the world in tough sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program, then a U.S. trade boycott of China would quickly persuade Beijing,  He is now the newest “anyone but Mitt Romney” candidate so I guess advocating a trade boycott with the second largest economy in the world and  one on which the US also is dependent economically makes perfect sense.  I bet it would be a resounding success. Like invading Iraq and seeing into Putin’s soul.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The International Fickle Finger of Fate Award

To celebrate the end of 9 days of rain, I want to end the week with the people that deserve the old “Fickle Finger of Fate” award (Rowan and Martin’s “Laugh-In” for those old enough to remember).  The list is limited to the top seven, one for every day of the week.

George Papandreou, PM Greece:  For no obvious reason, creates world-wide consternation when, following months of negotiations in the EU (otherwise known as Germany) to deal with debt crises in general and with problem Greece in particular, by first agreeing to terms of a financial rescue package (which would not have solved the problem and makes the lives of ordinary Greeks worse than they are already, but whatever…) and then turning 180 to everyone’s surprise, including his own Finance Minister, announcing that he would hold a public referendum to let the Greek people decide.  His job is now on the line. Aside from dumbfounded surprise, Sarkozy and Merkel were enraged. Key Greek cabinet members ask him to resign and the Greek government is about to form a coalition government.  Good job for the week and for letting the cat out of the bag – national sovereignty trumps everything and threatens the EU (otherwise known as Germany).

Bashar al-Assad, Fearless Leader and (hopefully temporary) President, Syria:  After allowing his brother to unleash the army and security forces for months so they could arrest, torture and/or kill demonstrators while being condemned by most of the planet (except Iran, which needs him), Fearless Leader and former optometrist from northern London Assad resisted Arab League demands to stop the violence. This week he changed his mind and said he agreed to the plan, which called for calling off his tanks and security forces, allow foreign and domestic journalists free access, release political prisoners and enter into negotiations with the opposition. Except he really didn’t and within a day his tanks had killed additional dozens of people.  Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, the prime minister of Qatar who developed the deal, is not happy.  Assad should remember that Qatar was in the lead calling for a no-fly zone in Libya, sent fighter aircraft to take part in the campaign and put hundreds of boots on the ground to help pull down Gadhafi. He also should keep in mind those Syrian military units that have promised a civil war if he does not keep to the deal.
Ilena Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and chair of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee:  During the week, this Republican member of Congress (there’s a pattern to this) marked up a bill and pushed through an amendment that criminalizes diplomacy with Iran. This is unconstitutional, but that little legalistic problem doesn't concern most Republicans when it comes to securing power.  She represents the jingoistic and power hungry elected official (aka Republican) who will “do whatever  possible to hurt Obama regardless of the interests of the country”. If they are continued to be elected, it will make the US a threat to world peace.  Oh – and remember those hikers that were imprisoned in Iran as spies? They’d still be there if Ilena of the galactically stupid had her way.

Condi Rice, former worst US Secretary of State Ever:  To be fair, she was an expert on the Soviet Union and was thrown into a world without the Soviet Union. Bit of bad luck, that – but perhaps she should have adjusted.  Unfortunately she then went on to work on issues in which she had no grounding. That’s ok too – unless one ignores the learning curve. Like supporting the Iraq war which she recently defended as "worth it" (courtesy of ABC news where she promoted her recent book).  Why was the war worth it? Because -  “We also now know that it (the Middle East) was the cradle of al Qaeda and extremism”.  Apparently, "we" didn't know it then and assumed al Qaeda and religious extremism were from a different universe - the same one where US white supremacists and Timothy McVeigh were born.
The fact that there was no connection between al Qaeda and Iraq seems to have escaped her. The fact that Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda were enemies also appears to be beyond her capability to admit.  The fact that the core of al-Qaeda was Afghanistan (despite Osama’s birth in Saudi Arabia) where the US was (at the time) more or less successfully engaged until she and her boss took the eye off the target to indulge in a personal war , also seems to have vanished from her mind.
Her logic dictates that because the head of al Qaeda was born and raised to a wealthy family in Saudi Arabia, the US was justified in invading Iraq – which had nothing to do with 9/11 or al Qaeda.  She does assert that Iraq was a security threat. How? No one (other than the moth brained neo-cons and their followers) is sure.  She regretted the lives lost but that “nothing of any value is ever gained without sacrifice”.  What was the value gained?  Iran was gifted the region, so I guess that’s one to them but to no one else.  Value for sacrifice? Explain that to over 100,000 Iraqi civilian dead and almost 4,500 US soldiers killed (not to mention those maimed for life) when it was clear that al Qaeda in Iraq was as much of a  fabrication as were the claims of weapons of mass destruction.
Herman Cain, Pizza King and Wannabe POTUS:  Well – what can I say?  His foreign policy thoughts include killer electric fences on the Mexico border and maybe a moat with alligators. Pandering to the Israeli lobby and the Christian right, he now refers to the “so-called” Palestinian people. Beijing will be shocked to learn that it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons and is therefore a military threat. The Pizza King thinks he qualified to hold public office. Sarah set the bar really, really low. Bachmann and her followers dropped it through the floor. Who would have thought anyone could lower it further? Oh – and there are those sex harassment issues…
David Williams, Kentucky Gubernatorial Wannabe:  This loser (he’s behind by 30 points) decided to attack the Democratic governor, Steve Beshear, for participating in a Hindu prayer at a groundbreaking ceremony in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, for a new factory run by FlexFilm, a company based in India that makes materials for packaging, printing, insulation and other purposes. The plant represents a $180 million investment, and is expected to create 250 jobs in Kentucky. He said it was a ceremony of idolatry and prayers to false gods.  “He’s there participating with Hindu priests, participating in a religious ceremony…they can say what they want to. He’s sitting down there with his legs crossed, participating in Hindu prayers with a dot on his forehead with incense burning around him. I don’t know what the man was thinking.”
To be fair, Williams is a Republican (the pattern continues) and therefore, like his followers, entitled to some slack.  There’s no pill for stupidity and bigotry. Thankfully, he’s also not in charge, and won’t be. Otherwise insulting the religion of the second most populous democracy on the planet and a growing  power balance to a rising China (a helpful aspect for US foreign policy) might be taken the wrong way. 
And to finish this off –
Michael Bloomberg, Mayor (Independent, Rich Person), New York City:  “It was not the banks that created the mortgage crisis. It was plain and simple, Congress who forced everybody to go and give mortgages to people who were on the cusp.”  Got that? This is not a joke. The Very Important People were forced to give bad loans (which they then sold forward and made money).  Sounds like German and French complaints about Greece:  The Greeks cheated to get in the Eurozone. They cooked the books. Shocking. Terrible. And we, the best and brightest in Brussels, surrounded by thousands of deep thinking analysts and auditors were completely fooled. Wow.  Just like all those banks in the US who were forced to loan money to people who they knew couldn’t pay it back.  Yeah. That's it.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Russian Roulette - The Greek Way

After weeks of strained negotiations, pleading, insults and hammering of EU members, a deal was struck on Eurozone finance and Greece in particular.  Then this morning, the Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou spun the chamber and pointed the gun at the EU and Greece by announcing that the Greek people will decide on whether to accept the bailout wrung out by the big players in Brussels.

First, I am not so sure that the agreements reached in Brussels were so great in the first place - but they were something.  Second, politicians fall back on referendums when they can't or won't lead (witness the mess of California, a referendum happy state where the politicos run from the responsibilities they are given in elections). Third, this move was manifestly political to avoid early elections.

The referendum announcement sent the markets down. Way down.  The Greek public will likely vote against the deal.  This is not going to end well.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Libya Rule of Law Prospects...Short Response to Stupid Assertions

Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch stated about the violent end of Gadhafi and those like him: “Finding out how they died matters. It will set the tone for whether the new Libya will be ruled by law or by summary violence.”

Actually, no - it sets the tone for nothing. Think Saddam Hussein and Iraq.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Russia - In the National Interest

Peter I, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russi...Image via WikipediaRussia has problems and it knows it.  But, the end of the US centric world has given Russia the opportunity to reassert itself as a major player in the Eurasia theater, but just barely and perhaps only for a limited time.  The policies of Peter the Great are back.
Russia looks to Europe and the West, but not as it did in the decade following the collapse of the Soviet Union.  After Yeltsin came Putin whose vision was to reassemble the broken state, create a highly centralized governance system and stamp out overt displays of democratic aspirations through the supremacy of the FSB (formerly KGB) in the political food chain.  None of this is surprising in hindsight because Russia proper was historically indefensible and needed either buffer territory or client states to surround its core and strong central government. 
Imperial Russia carved out an empire in Central Asia, the Caucuses and East Asia which was simply transferred over to the Soviet Union, albeit with considerable bloody fighting in these regions between 1918 and 1922 when it was re-conquered for a second time.  The buffer proved invaluable for defeating Nazi Germany in a variety of ways, not the least of which was room to retreat, a place for industry out of reach of enemies and an unlimited source of cannon fodder. 
Putin served the Soviet Union as part of the KGB and his inheritance was an imperial Russia with major losses in Central Asia, the Baltic States, the Caucuses and East Asia (Mongolia), a pathetically weak military, collapsed industrial capacity (most of it was located in the now independent Ukraine), unrest in the Northern Caucuses (Chechnya in particular), unconstrained oligarchs who had divided state assets under privatization and a depressed public.  It was a mess.
Any sober Russian leader knows that Russia is surrounded by some pretty hefty neighbors with no natural barriers while the country outside the western Russian core consists of multiple ethnic groups with a dislike of Moscow. The collapse of the Soviet Union ended the internal economy that sustained it (badly).  It’s major asset is energy, but it has a poor infrastructure network in general and needs foreign assistance, particularly in technology.  This is a daunting task for any Russian leader.
Russia, historically and for good reason, does not trust its neighbors.  But since Europe is so much more advanced in almost every sector Russians – or at least their leaders – realize that aggressiveness must be tempered with accommodation.   In the A.Y.  period (After Yeltsin), Vladimir Putin aggressively went about securing absolute power and restoring Russian prestige in the world as he saw it.  Russians were ecstatic and felt that, at least as far as  the “near abroad” (all the former Soviet colonies) was concerned, Russian pre-eminence was achieved.  He was seen as pro-Western abroad and a strong leader at home.  As Russia internally became authoritarian and the nascent democracy was crushed with the help of an energy dependent Europe and a distracted US (Bush saw into Putin’s soul, felt comradeship and invaded Iraq – another story), Putin led Russia in a great charm campaign with Europe and the US. 

Frankly, this is not much different from any other country in the prosecution of foreign/domestic policies.  It’s ok to be nice abroad when the perceived strength of the country is high.  Weak countries tend to be more unpredictable and prone to accidents.  Although Putin’s internal and international reputation suffered as he became more dictatorial, it didn’t matter internally because the majority felt that he had restored Russian greatness and stature.  He also leveled Grozny.
Dmitri Medvedev, the current and soon to be ex-president, was welcomed as a friend of the West.  Again, appearances were deceptive.  Medvedev is charming, most of the time, and probably understands Europe and the US better than KGB trained Putin. But when push came to shove, Russia’s national interests logically came first and securing the borders for buffer zones against any outside threat was still a priority.  Georgia, ignoring every signal not to poke the bear (who had already said – repeatedly - how much it disliked Georgia’s president) felt the consequences of that policy.  Small surrounding countries made a note.
Leaders are rarely of a single personality and both Medvedev and Putin put the national interests of Russia first which results in accommodation or aggressiveness as the case may be. The distraction of the US, first in Afghanistan and then in the illegal war in Iraq gave Moscow a ten year scope of maneuver which it used to destroy democratic tendencies, kill off journalists opposed to the regime and consolidate power within the country followed quickly by changing the  dynamics in the near abroad without a murmur of objection from the US or the West.  The result was a profound disillusionment in the West with Putin, but no action because the only country that could counter Russia’s moves was tied up in the personal wars of Bush and the abandonment of countries like Ukraine by Europe.
When Medvedev became President and Putin reverted to Prime Minister, nothing changed. Indeed, without blinking and largely due to the thundering stupidity of the Saakashvili, president of Georgia, he quickly launched the war against Georgia the result of which was a foregone conclusion despite the poor and sometimes astoundingly incompetent performance of the army and air-force.   It was the perfect war to help secure an important part of the Russian southern flank and blunt Turkish influence.  The refusal of Azerbaijan to bend to Russian pressure, however, makes this victory somewhat less than it could be in the Caucuses as does the continuing unrest and unremitting anger in Georgia. 
The overthrow of the Bakaiv government in Kyrgyzstan, which had gained control in a color revolution but which quickly degenerated into a kleptocracy, was supported by Moscow – and  by the West for different reasons, but the geo-political results were favourable to Russia. As far as Russian historical security policy toward its neighbors is concerned, the outcomes were pretty good. 
Finally, there is Ukraine. Russia can do without the Baltics, although it has threatened them frequently, especially when Medvedev said that Russia has the right to protect Russians wherever they happen to be. Ukraine, however, is a different matter. Russia was caught off guarded with the Orange Revolution and the visit by Putin just before the fraudulent election angered both Yanukovich and Yuschenko supporters as an unwarranted interference in Ukrainian politics.  However,  Russia without Ukraine is indefensible.  NATO touches its borders in the Baltics and now has NATO members Romania and Bulgaria on the Black Sea.  The expansion of NATO was beginning to look like an encirclement coupled with the Manas air base in Bishkek. A NATO aligned Ukraine would be a disaster.
In short, Russia cannot do without the food, infrastructure (pipelines to Europe), or the port of Sevastopol  for the Black Sea fleet. Geographically without Ukraine Russia is looking into a black hole of poverty and marginalization. The defeat of the Orange Revolution with the election of Yanukovich ended the threat of Western penetration into the Russian heartland. This victory in Ukraine changed the attitude of every Russian neighbor. Conciliation and cooperation with Moscow is now the flavour of the day.  The West must now learn to deal with a dictatorial puppet regime in Ukraine, which will only be removed by revolution, similar to the absurd notion in the Soviet period of allowing Ukraine a seperate seat in the UN.
Moscow knows it has a small window of opportunity to achieve its goal of internal control and secure borders.  With the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, negotiated by Bush and being implemented by Obama, and the wind-down of Afghanistan, the room to maneuver for the Kremlin has narrowed.  However, now that it is feeling strong and secure - and knowing that demographically it is losing ground it allows the government to move closer to the West to obtain the technology it desperately needs. Historically, Russia has always followed this pattern.  This time, however, may be different because investors’ memories are longer.
Nevertheless, so far the Russian balancing act of building strength internally through the Potemkin village of managed democracy and threatening aggressiveness in the near abroad is working.  Moscow has extended its control through strategic relationships in Europe, particularly with Berlin whose need for Russian energy is Moscow’s trump card.  This secures the Western front, at least for the near future both politically and economically.
Finally, the customs and trade union conceived in Moscow, is not – as it alleges – to re-create the EU trade system, but to tie Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Belarus close to the Kremlin.  The economic union is only a step in the search by Russia for security through control. 
Nevertheless, as the window closes, Russia still has resistance from Azerbaijan and Georgia and faces continuing unrest in the north Caucuses.  The Baltics are not exactly friendly.  Poland, despite its moves to normalize political relations with Moscow, mistrusts Russia and Germany and has helped to form the Visegrad Group with the Baltic states whose primary goal is to forge a military alternative to NATO.  As previously mentioned, Russia's demographics is not enviable.  Russia's balance between cooperation and confrontation will continue for some time and will always reflect national interests.
One last observation.  On September 24 Putin announced he would be running for President to replace Medvedev.  These are not, of course, elections.  Nevertheless, two days afterwards, Medvedev’s public and nasty firing of the deputy prime minister and Minister of Finance Alexei Kudrin revealed more of the internal politics of the Kremlin than would normally be the case. 
Medvedev was not happy at being treated like a seat warmer for Putin.  During the meeting he referred to decisions  he had made and the fact that he was in charge.  Unfortunately, with the musical chair now back to Putin, it is clear that his decisions and positions were irrelevant.  Not only that.  Russia does not seem to be going anywhere economically (aside from energy and without Western help) and certainly not democratically.   The idea that Putin will be running the show until 2024 is not appetizing; but from the view of the Kremlin, it is the only choice.
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In this corner - al Shaabab

The Kenyan incursion across its border into the  region known as Somalia (the national government in Mogadishu has no control over the majority of the territory – sort of a prerequisite to country status), has bogged down because of heavy rains.  Nairobi clearly intends to continue the operation up to and including seizure of the coastal city of Kismaayo – the financial and logistics hub of the al-Shaabab terrorist group.  The loss of Kismaayo will be a blow to the financial and logistical prospects of al-Shaabab which reaps the benefits of piracy, and now kidnapping of tourists, using the funds to purchase arms and materials for its activities. 

The issue is what happens when the Kenyan’s leave?  Some deal will need to be made with the tribal groups allied, more or less, with the government in Mogadishu.  Foreign troops cannot stay – that much should be obvious.  However, it is very clear that the problem of piracy and the predations of al-Shaabab, including the famine it’s control of areas is exacerbating, are not going to be solved off-shore. 
Al-Shaabab must be made to suffer heavy losses and that can only be done ultimately with boots on the ground.  Cutting them off from their source of income and headquarters in Kismaayo is a good first step, but must be quickly followed by a Mogadishu presence through one of its allies since it is incapable by itself to do so. 
The fact that the Mogadishu government has voiced official protests at the breach of its “sovereignty” is legal window dressing.  There are 8,000 foreign troops in Mogadishu (the reason al-Shaabab departed so quickly).  The US is sending in drones from neighboring Ethiopia. Failed states have no sovereign rights. The famine in the region is made worse by al-Shaabab. The attacks on civilians, kidnappings in Kenya and the mutual aid society between al-Shaabab and pirates, is a perfect scenario of R2P actions.  Support to the Kenyan government’s efforts need to be ramped up now.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Saleh - a way out for Yemen

Ali Abdullah SalehImage via Wikipedia
The Gulf Arab states, who took the lead in pushing for the overthrow of Qaddafi, have pushed through a UN Security Council resolution calling for an end to violence in Yemen and immediate transfer of power from Ali Abdullah Saleh to his deputy.  The resolution was unanimous - not an insignificant point.    This is a good development.
What this will do is set the stage for immunity from prosecution for Saleh.  This, too is not insignificant. Regardless of the sometimes naive views of human rights' activists, offering a way out for the ultimate loser would likely prevent further bloodshed.  Would it had worked for Qaddafi - doubtful since one must expect a degree of rational thought on the part of the target. Qaddafi lived in his own world and his views were, if not insane, certainly completely warped.  Immunity probably would not have made a difference and, in any event given his proclivity toward strange and dangerous behavior, would likely have resulted in a prolonged and debilitating insurgency led from Niger or Algeria.
Saleh is not quite Qaddafi (but comes close) and although even the Saudis gave up on him in frustration, they have been instrumental in finding a way to end the slaughter  in Yemen.  Ending the killing is more important than the future of Saleh - which is limited in any case.
Boxing a dictator into a corner is not a wise way to go and the rose coloured glasses through which some human rights activists view "just" solutions and doing what is "right" can, and has, led to the loss of many more innocent civilian lives than necessary.  It develops a growing sense of revenge on the part of those at the wrong end of the broken bottle.  The likely execution of Qaddafi at the hands of the rebels should not have come as a surprise and, frankly, draws a line under the bloody civil war in a way the ICC could never have accomplished. That, and the fact that Libyans don't give a rats ass how he was killed, should inform the UN to keep its nose out of the inquest and simply help Libya recover.  Just think - Benito Mussolini and his wife were captured, killed and hanged upside down by furious Italians.  The UN would have ordered an investigation.  What a joke that would have been. The same is true of the execution of Ceausescu and his wife.
Revolutions and war are not clean, pleasant or sanitary. The media should stop being shocked at civilian deaths and revenge killings.  It is sad and unfortunate and inevitable.
The ICC is useful to some extent - but it is not useful for ending civil wars by forcing dictators to dig in more.  Some activists for "justice" may find that unpalatable - but next time they corner a dictator, let them ask widows or the parents of slaughtered children what their choice would be. 
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MIttens Romney - Dope or Just a Liar

Mittens (remember, the one who had tied his dog to the roof of his car), is either a complete dope a liar or , like every Republican, say anything to gain power - or all three.  In response to Obama's announcement of the final troop wthdrawal from Iraq by the end of the year, he said this:

“President Obama’s astonishing failure to secure an orderly transition in Iraq has unnecessarily put at risk the victories that were won through the blood and sacrifice of thousands of American men and women. The unavoidable question is whether this decision is the result of a naked political calculation or simply sheer ineptitude in negotiations with the Iraqi government. The American people deserve to hear the recommendations that were made by our military commanders in Iraq.” 

Let's parse this remarkably and deliberately misleading statement. 

First - this is the Bush plan that is being implemented under an agreement with the sovereign government of Iraq.  It is orderly and certainly does not leave Iraq helpless by any stretch of the imagination.  Bush gave a large junk of Iraq to Iran to control anyway.

Second - the government of Iraq wants the US to get out. Period.  It is their country - what Mitt the Stupid is advocating is an occupation and more US deaths in what amounted to an illegal war in the first place.

Third, US standing in the Middle East can't get much lower because of its self-inflicted slavery to Israeli foreign polich.  Egypt and Turkey already can't stand the US and are going their own way. Staying in Iraq, however, would accomplish the goal of dropping the US in popularity into a black hole.

Finally, the American people understand - at least those not part of the lunatic right - that the President of the US is the commander in chief of the military of the US. Period.  It is not the role of military commanders to dictate foreign policy. What Republicans want is a military-industrial control of the US and its foreign policy.

Mittens is a cynical idiot at best.
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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Kenya Says "Enough"

Kenya has sent its troops and airforce into the area commonly known as Somalia in order to secure its borders from further incursions by the terrorist group al-Shabaab.  Amusingly, the “Government of Somalia” which controls a few square kilometers of Mogadishu, has complained of a violation of its sovereignty.  This is a charade, of course, since militias in the southern Somalia and which support the government have coordinated with the Kenyans.  

Kenya clearly has had enough of the terrorist incursions and is hardly a stranger to Somalia as it has been training their army anyway.  Although it has briefly entered Somalia in the past, this time the attack is serious.  They now join the Ugandan and Burundian troops already supporting the government. The Somali protest keeps up appearances.  

Al-Shabab has vowed to repel the Kenyans.  The last time they tried to repel a foreign regular army they didn’t do too well as the Ethiopian military quickly ripped through them.

Now may be time time to rethink the Somali problem – both regarding the pirates (whose funds sometimes end up with al-Shabab) and the terrorist group itself.  Ground operations have clearly become necessary as the Russians suggested a year ago.  They should now go forward with a plan to stop the pirates before they leave the shore.
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Monday, October 17, 2011

Tymoshenko Redux

Yulia Tymoshenko in AachenImage via WikipediaThe political trial of Yulia Tymoshenko is over but an appeal could change everything.  By bringing her to trial for negotiating a generous (from Moscow’s point of view) gas deal while Eastern Europe was freezing in and of itself revealed the motive behind the persecution.  Seven other members of her party are already in jail.  It stincks of a political murder. If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck – well….

The question, like everything in Ukraine, is the underlying reason for this mock trial run by a neophyte, 31 year old judge whose sentence was written for him by the Presidential Administration.  It has resurrected Tymoshenko politically, rather than the opposite.  It has put Yanukovich in the worst possible light as his government is condemned by the EU and the US.  Russia, which appeared equally surprised, may be play-acting as putting political opponents in jail is the norm for the Kremlin (journalists are merely murdered). And this may be key – Russia’s interest in the case as crocodile tears’ come to mind.
Does Yanukovich really care about deeper integration with Europe?  Personally, I doubt it.  Will he agree to join the economic union Russia has slapped together with Belarus and Kazakhstan?  Perhaps – but that is no substitute for the loss of a trade agreement with the EU, despite the Kremlin’s glee should it come to pass.
I prefer not to think that Yanukovich is both stupid and a thug.  The latter maybe, but not the former – at least until now.  On the other hand, collapse of trade negotiations with the EU gives him the excuse to run to Russia without being the instigator of the break with the EU.   But with Putin set to return to power, criticism from the big brother to the north is not a welcome sign for Yanukovich. 
As always, nothing is clear in Ukraine and conspiracy theories are a daily menu item.   But this prosecution and conviction appear to be a gross misjudgment if the purpose was to remove Yulia from the political arena.  It has made her a martyr and, since she has been through this before, even more dangerous for Yanukovich and his Party of the Regions. 
The stage is set for what could be a remarkable comeback.  First there is a sentence pronounced by a non-entity child judge under pressure by her political opponent Yanukovich for the “crime” of negotiating a bad deal with the Russians.  Putin remarked that the sentence is odd at best and the agreements were, in any event legal.  Then she is jailed during the appeal process because of, essentially, being rude to the court (not hard considering the court). This is followed by the loss of a major trade agreement with the EU and condemnation from every European leader and principal EU legal experts.   Yanukovich has given her what she needs. She lost to him by less than 3% of the vote in 2010.  He clearly did not want her, or her party, another grab at the ring.  But, tired old apparatchik bully from the East that he is, he could not let her just fade away.
Call it a gut feeling, but I believe the appeal is likely to go her way. If that happens (and even Yanukovich appears to think it may) she will come out of this unscathed and emboldened.  She is a ferocious, dangerous competitor and Yanukovich may soon regret his actions.
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Push Comes to Shove - Tehrir on Wall Street

Yes…I know I have not posted in a long while.  Two things have blocked my way – the first of which is arriving at a new post in Central Asia (otherwise known as the 12th Century) and the second – there is simply too much going on.  And, yes – I intend to continue with the view and post that we are now part of a multi-polar, pre-1945 world.

Then there is the Occupy Wall Street movement which took a cue from Europe and has gone viral world-wide.  It is a good sign, but I would suggest that the inspiration is drawn from the frustration and anger that resulted in the Arab Spring which began in Tunis and quickly spread to Cairo’s Tahrir Square, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria and Libya.  In other words, almost every country in the Arab world with a long history of the elite taking and everyone else giving.
The results have been dramatic, if not the least from a foreign policy point of view.  The street demonstrations have altered the political dynamics in the Middle East with a ripple effect stretching from Moscow to Washington.  Ankara is aggressively pursuing what it rightly sees as a huge opening to extend its influence and project its soft (and perhaps hard) power.  Washington is learning that the regional governments are not so quick to follow its lead and Moscow and Beijing simply don’t want this sort of thing spreading – hence their veto of sanctions against Syria.  But now, many of the same dynamics that sparked the revolts against the establishment in the Middle East have ended up on Wall Street.  Good.

Unlike the tea party clique which is funded and supported by industrialists, banksters and the right wing noise machine in the US, the OWS movement is founded on middle class frustration and anger at those who game the system, refuse to pay their fair share of taxes, expect taxpayer funding to save them from their own gross mistakes and in general suck the country dry creating an ever widening gap between the wealthy and everyone else.   The movement reflects the frustration of ordinary citizens in Europe who despise the IMF and its policy of beggaring the general population with the only solution to the Eurozone crisis it has in its bag of tricks – cuts in spending (a sublimely idiotic way of addressing a low growth problem).  The bureaucracy in Brussels has not come up with a single plan that does not hurt the ordinary person on the street.
The status quo of government run by the banks, Wall Street traders, and industrialists like the Koch brothers is no longer functioning. It is debilitating Europe and America, leaving the playing field to others, China in particular, to do as they please both economically and politically.

Back in my law school days, the son of my professor in real estate law wrote (perhaps self-published) a book titled “When Push comes to Shove”.  It was largely devoted to the then disaster known as Vietnam but targeted those elites who got the US mired into that particular civil war and concluded that those elites weren’t listening.  Some severe shoving was in order.  That has and is happening in the Middle East.  In the US it may only be beginning, but one can only hope that the movement becomes strong enough to topple the old order – one way or another.  Push comes to Shove.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Wheels Coming Off The Europe Train

Almost every day on the BBC – well, no – every day, there is another report on the slow motion train wreck of the Eurozone courtesy of Brussels, Berlin and Paris. OK, Greece has something to do with it, but frankly all the handwringing largely seems to attempt to take attention away from the appalling lack of leadership in the European community.  I actually was told the other night at a café on Rudaki Prospect here in Dushanbe that the entire mess is entirely the fault of Greeks and immigrants (since the speaker was German, I assumed the reference to immigrants meant Turks).  Just close the borders and let every country decide whether the rules for the EU need to be followed if they happen to be inconvenient or disagreeable for a particular country. The speaker was a Phd professor of agricultural economics.  A Very Serious Person.

What crap. Let’s leave the Greek default (which I said would happen) aside and look at the culprits during the past year or so.  We can start with the OECD report last year.
Distilled to its core, it says that some people (presumably five or six economics academics from Pluto) believed that inflation was coming in less than a year. Maybe. The solution was to raise interest rates soon to head off the possible rise in inflation,  which was supported by vague premonitions of something or other.  What about the progressively weakening recovery?  Well – on the slim chance that inflation may rise then kill the recovery with high interest rates.  Oh – and throw in the usual ‘fiscal austerity’ as an added anvil.
And who bought into this – with gusto I might add?  The European Central Bank decided to raise interest rates and became a proponent of fiscal austerity also because, as we all learned from Economics 101, economic growth is the direct result of fiscal austerity in a depressed economy as long as trade surpluses are the norm. For everyone.  What is wrong with these people?
These are bad – but when the IMF steps in, better put away the good silver and call out the riot police.  They not only promote and force fiscal austerity in a time of depressed economies, but clearly don’t care about the pain index.  It’s like they are playing a board game. Somehow, the pain felt by the Greeks is just desserts for cheating to get into the euro zone and trying to compete in the European trade game that was fixed by Berlin to forever favor Germany.   Let’s let the Greeks twist in the wind and conveniently forget that the brilliant economic minds in Brussels were completely fooled by those crafty Greeks way back when the Euro zone really, really wanted to expand.  Sooner or later, given the very stark realities, several countries, including Greece, are going to drop out.
And the Turks, of course, with an average 8% growth rate, are increasingly looking at the EU as an institution that is flailing and faltering and which is not a club they are desperate to join.  If Germany has its way, they will never be able to join despite commitments by the EU.  My suggestion to Ankara – keep pretending that you really want to join. Just don’t do it.
In the meantime, Greece will have a default (a write-down I think is the politically correct term). Then comes Ireland, Italy and Portugal.  The European experiment is coming off the rails.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

...and now a word from the racists in America

A militant neo nazi in USA holding a 30-.06 rifle.Image via Wikipedia

From the Repig debates - the audience reaction - and yes, the flag is entirely appropriate for these people.

OK. Courtesy of Lawyers, Guns and Money:

Applause lines:
  • The uninsured should be left to die.
  • Uninsured parents should have daughters who die unnecessarily of cervical cancer.
  • A Fed Chairman who tries to fulfill his mandate by reducing unemployment is guilty of treason.
Boo lines:
  • Muslims are not collectively responsible for 9/11.
  • The children of illegal immigrants should not be denied the chance to go to college.
  • We should not pass an extraordinarily regressive tax cut.
Now, this blog seriously tries to avoid even mentioning the toxic  and galactically stupid atmosphere of contemporary American politics.  However, not only does the American media provide the microphone for stupid and dangerous people, they do so without any critique and without any sense of relevance. 

The tea party positions are simply neo-Nazi, mouthed by racist, hateful, ignorant red-neck stupid and uneducated animals.  They portray the worst elements of US society but are treated as if they are the same as anyone else. They are not. And if they continue on to power, the rest of the planet may need to do something about them.
In the meantime, for presidential candidates to pander to this mass of ignorance, attempting to be even more racist and dumber than their base, makes them little more than dangerous jokes.  And let's get this straight. People as hateful and stupid as Michele Bachman, big hair (and murderer of an innocent man) Perry or the astonishingly stupid Santorum, should never be considered remotely capable of being president.  These people even make Sarah look good - and that's really lowering the bar.
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Palestinian Fail

A quick hit.

The Palestinian bid for UN status is stumbling badly together with its economic situation.  Arabs are not stepping up with funds; Germany has just said the UN bid is not welcome by it or other EU members; the US has said it will veto any measure reaching the Security Council. 

Arabs dislike, to say the least, Iran. Hamas is an ally of Iran.  Hamas refuses to recognize Israel. The Palestinian government (both of the them) are highly corrupt. The Arabs may be entering a 'Palestinian fatigue' state.

The Palestinians have picked the wrong friends.  Back in the past I said that Hamas needs to take the high ground. Recognize Israel and stop the useless attacks.  Get some sympathy - because once you lose the Arabs and their money, your hopes and dreams of statehood will vanish, Turkish support notwithstanding.

Wheels Down in Tajikistan

Modern Tajiks regard the Samanid Empire as the...Image via Wikipedia
Out of Qatar, the Middle East and into Central Asia - Tajikistan to be precise. A Persian people going back to the Samanids and their empire - a monument (see picture) to the Samanids adorns a central square. 

Dushanbe has changed since my last visit here back in 2008, at least physically.  Less dust, new buildings. The Tien Shen range of mountains is still on the horizon.  There are still police every 20 meters or so on the main street, Rudaki, arbitrarily stopping cars and extorting bribes from drivers on fabricated violations. For Independence Day (September 9) the government raised the largest flag pole in the world for a mere $35 million while sidewalks are still pitted and broken in many places. Some things never change.

More soon from Dushanbe and beyond...
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Saturday, September 10, 2011

Turkey Ups the Stakes

MEKO 200 TN type frigates of the Turkish Navy ...Image via Wikipedia
What seemed to be half rhetoric and half serious has morphed into a threat that will have grave consequences arising from an inevitable "unfortunate incident" in the Eastern Med.  Turkey raised the stakes considerably today when PM Erdoğan  told al Jazeera that the Turkish navy will escort aid ships to Gaza.

On the same day President Gül - in Russia to attend the funeral ceremony for the Yaroslavl ice hockey team - stated that Israel was a burden to its allies and should negotiate an honourable peace.

These statements were quickly followed by the remarks of  Turkish Transportation Minister Binali Yıldırım that Israel’s raid last year on the aid flotilla was “no different” under international law than what Somali pirates are doing in the Gulf of Aden.

Prepare for the pundits to indulge in pleasant debates over the relative positions of Israel and Turkey, the type of intellectual massaging that produces no results.  I happen to think that Turkey is pushing the matter dangerously far although I have no sympathy for the current Israeli government or its apartheid policies.  A naval engagement would be tragic for the region and a lose - lose scenario for the participants. 

The Turkish navy is a significant entity - it can insert 8 highly capable and modernized missile and helicopter equipped Oliver Hazard Perry class frigates as well as almost triple the number of submarines than the Israelis can field.  If they toss in fast attack and missile boats they can overwhelm any Israeli attempt to block the aid convey unless Israel can establish air-superiority in which case would they actually attack Turkish surface ships. 

Will Israel risk war with Turkey?
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Sunday, September 4, 2011

Turkey and Israel - Failed Alliance; Dangerous Talk

Not to be an alarmist and, as everyone knows I don't like predictions because they are based on the selective past, but the sort of warning issued by Turkey to Israel regarding the freedom of passage in the Eastern Med is not helpful. 

The anger in Ankara with Israel is palpable and not without reason; but its explosive PM is sometimes over-the-top in his frequently pointed remarks, and as I've previously pointed out, Turkey needs to learn a little more diplomacy in its pronouncements regardless of the obvious temptation to tell others to piss-off or imply military action.  The most recent example is the following: “Turkey would take every precaution it deems necessary for the safety of maritime navigation in the eastern Mediterranean.” (a reasonable statement by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu) but which was followed by a clarification from an un-named Turkish official who said "A more aggressive strategy will be pursued. Israel will no longer be able to exercise its bullying practices freely...”  What the hell does that mean in terms of rules of engagement?

The region is in turmoil. Syria is in melt-down mode. A vote on Palestinian statehood is coming up at the UN. Egypt is still unstable. Hamas and Hezbollah are facing problems - the first with a still military controlled Egypt and the latter with the loss of Syria. A vote for Palestinian statehood may provoke a new intifada. Israel has already called up reserves. The US is pulling out and has no stomach for a fight with anyone.

A highly visible confrontation between the two naval forces would simply add to the regions problems and Turkish naval officers may run into equally nervous Israeli captains.  It's this sort of rhetoric that leads to "regrettable incidents resulting in loss of life".  Everyone needs to dial it down before the middle east goes up in flames.

Turkish warships will be more frequently seen in the area but their rules of engagement must be circumscribed and publicly announced.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Turkey Downgrades Israel

As a result of the findings in the UN report on the Gaza flotilla, Turkey has lowered the diplomatic level to the lowest it could without completely breaking relations.  The isolation of Israel is accelerating and will reach a high point when the vote for recognition of a Palestinian state is taken this month in the UN.

The complete inability of the Israeli government to reach a compromise for an apology has lost it a key ally for the forseable future. You can't get any dumber than this (well, you can - just take a look at the state of US politics courtesy of the Republicans and its Tea Party facist supporters).

Libya - No more headlines

Muhammar Qaddafi is encircled and under siege in Sirte and is now calling for one of the always possible scenarios to be implemented – guerilla war.    Effecting this scenario may well be problematic as it is unlikely he will escape the coming assault on Sirte.  The regime is dead – an internal revolution succeeded but only with the help of foreign intervention.  That’s important to remember, because otherwise this would have been a long and likely losing struggle.  Qadaffi has been in control for over 40 years and didn’t keep his power by being stupid or reluctance to do whatever was necessary to retain power.

Now that the fighting has narrowed to small pockets of resistance by Qaddafi loyalists, questions can be raised that have previously been dismissed.
Consider this.
Libya has nearly 45 billion barrels of oil reserves, 3.4 percent of the world’s known supply. Natural gas reserves are estimated at near 55 trillion cubic feet.
Most of Libya’s oil exports went to Italy – 32 percent of foreign sales as of 2009. The majority of the rest went to Germany, France, Spain and China (no veto of the no-fly zone imposition).
All existing contract will remain active, begging the question of the extent of modifications.  Who will get the new exploration and extraction licenses? ENI (Italy) or Total (France).
Will the existing contracts be modified from their current 90/10 revenue split between Libya and the companies? Tipping the balance is expensive.
How is it that a listed terrorist organization gets to be a freedom fighter group and whose head commands the Tripoli Military Council?  Change of name – change of status.
The Arab Spring, of which Libya was made a part, has been astonishingly lucrative. For weapons sales.
In the five months ending in June, the UK sold arms to Arab governments amounting to 30.5 million sterling, according the The Times – a 30% increase.  Germany, that bastion of peace which refused to take part in the naval blockade of Libya, nevertheless inked a contract with the Saudi’s (whose military crushed the Bahrain demonstrations by Shiites) for a division’s worth of high end tanks tagged at 1.5 billion euro only to be heavily trumped by the US - $60 billion of aircraft to Saudi Arabia over a 20 year period. This is only in the Arab Spring period – care to guess about the past ten years?
There is nothing wrong with disposing of people like Qadaffi and I support it.  But the media, as usual, has played the useful idiot and parrots the talking points of the protagonists while studiously avoiding the hypocrisy.  This is not a judgment.  It is important to make sure that events are not seen in isolation from other, important factors nor should decisions to act or not be viewed in black and white even if the short attention span or relative ignorance of populations demand simplistic analysis.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Last Word on Turkey

Accession of Turkey to the European UnionImage via Wikipedia
In the not so distant past, Turkey was impoverished, inward-looking nation, mistrustful – if not actively hostile – to its neighbors who were seen as either enemies of the state at worst or backstabbing traitors at best.  Not.Any.Longer.

Turkey’s foreign policy has changed as rapidly as its internal politics – transforming from a closed, totalitarian system to a reasonably open and relatively liberal political environment while viewing its neighbors and Europe as opportunities and allies.  It is closer to European norms of democracy than the Kemalist military and bureaucratic omnipresence.
Turkey does not view the EU as indispensable and the status quo in the relationship will not spell the end of civilization as far as Ankara is concerned.  Turkey intends to continue policies of economic and diplomatic outreach with its neighbors as part of its expanding influence and commercial interests. Although not particularly concerned about the stalled EU accession process because the EU is still the largest trading partner, the atmospherics could be poisoned by the continuing deadlock resulting in an antagonistic attitude.
With the recent elections resulting in extending the 9 year rule of the AKP, concerns have been amplified regarding the direction of Turkey to the extent that France has even become more opposed to any accession talk.  These are misplaced concerns although the Putinization of the political structure remains a fear as the AKP and the PM in particular react adversely to any sort of criticism.  However, of the several scenarios for Turkish development, I think that the fear of a shift toward authoritarian rule – Islamist, or militant secularist/ Kemalist – is unlikely. I believe that Turkey will continue its path toward pluralism and liberal democracy.
We have seen that modern Turkey was founded through a top-down approach.  It was secular and authoritarian.  Between 1945 and the early 1980s a form of managed democracy took the place of the authoritarian regimes.  But, this managed democracy was run by the military.  It may have been multi-party but it was tightly controlled by the army and hand selected bureaucrats with an occasional coup thrown in. Then the evil empire vanished and with it the Cold War.  The most recent transition had begun to form a liberal, pluralistic society from the bottom-up which is still evolving, sometimes painfully.  The business class that grew from this transition came from the center of Turkey - conservative and Muslim; but, it believed in liberal economics and true democratic rule, not the elitism of the Istanbul business interests.
The economic change and the demographics of its source led to the founding of the AKP led by Erdoğan and his friends in 2001. The new party supported EU accession, and a European market styled democracy. It has been in power for a decade, many a huge number of mistakes and certainly has its flaws.  Critics have been unwelcome – and critics abound. But, it’s hard to argue with success - economic stability, an average of 6-7 percent annual growth rate, and a tripling of per capita income from little above $3,000 in 2002 to about $10,000 in 2010. Broad freedoms, economic success and a vibrant democracy are popular.  Try and change it and the AKP will fall.
In foreign policy, Turkey has reversed its previous attitudes toward its neighbors. Rather than viewing them with mistrust, they have been drawn closer.  Unlike the short sighted Europeans, no visas are required for travel between Georgia, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Russia and Syria.  The cost of visas for others is minimal and visas are, unlike those for a closed EU, easy to obtain.  This is called soft-power.
Much of the reforms and democratic trends over the past decade have been helped by the EU’s support.  Then political and economic changes in Europe modified the dynamics.  Despite the confirmation of Turkish EU eligibility by Brussels five times, the latest coming in 2002, the French simply decided to ignore EU rules and promises and actively opposed Turkey. No one in Europe pointed out to France that its opposition was improper.  The ossified EU system is making a mistake of huge proportions.
Turkey is discovering new methods of using its soft power, both cultural and economic, to expand its influence despite the snubs of the EU. They no longer perceive Russia or even Greece and Armenia as enemies. Its view of its neighbors reinforces Turkish self-confidence as a growing regional hegemon that does not need the approval of Europe or the US.  Turkish foreign policy continues to develop dynamically and proactively.  It looks ahead, not to the past but still remembers its history and civilization. Its neighbors should take notice because Turks do and it governs how they perceive the region and their role in it.  Geo-politically it occupies a unique position and has the economic, cultural and military depth to make itself a force.
This is why the EU’s antagonistic attitude is so astoundingly stupid.  Turkish foreign policy mantra of peace in the neighborhood is exactly that of the EU stated policy. It is already an extension of the policy established by Brussels and supports that policy.  Rather than show any sort of appreciation, Europe seems to think that this is some sort of competition. Another mistake and typical of European arrogance.  What is it that Europe doesn’t get?  Turkey is not Serbia or, frankly, Slovakia or Romania – just other applicant states. It is a strategic player and key to stability in the Middle East.
Europe, and to some extent the US, appear to think that Turkish involvement economically and socially with  Iran, Iraq and Lebanon, not to mention its strong desire to prevent a conflagration in the Middle East, are somehow signals of a change in direction away from the West.  This is not a zero sum game and this line of reasoning in Europe and the US borders on the absurd, playing only to the uninformed and for the benefit of the talking heads. 
Turkey has made some foreign policy mistakes but appears to be a quick learner. If Ankara is guilty of anything, it is one of tone.  The PM in this regard does not do himself any favours.  Ridiculous tirades against Israel, statements that genocide is prohibited by the Koran and therefore the government of Sudan could not have committed the crime, and walking out of meetings may play well in the Turkish media, but are intemperate and need to be avoided.
Turkey is a well on its way to becoming a regional, indispensible power – one that the EU and the US need to engage more effectively.  Turkey is charting a foreign policy path that protects and extends its interests.  The Cold War and the old blocs are gone.
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