Friday, December 03, 2010
Ron Paul is completely right. I hope the American people are reaching the point where they will no longer put up with the feds' manipulation of financial markets and the dollar.
Thursday, December 02, 2010
Catholic League president Bill Donohue comments today on a decision by Apple Inc. to remove an iPhone app called the Manhattan Declaration:
The Manhattan Declaration is an authoritative statement initially signed by 148 signatories, all of them prominent Orthodox Christian, Catholic and Protestant religious leaders, affirming the sanctity of life, religious liberty and marriage (I was one of them). Released on November 20, 2009, it has since garnered upwards of a half-million signatories. Recently, Apple approved the Manhattan Declaration app, rating it 4+ (free from objectionable material). But then a petition drive by Change.org members resulted in Apple's decision to remove the app; the complainants charged that it was "anti-gay" and "anti-choice."
There is nothing anti-gay about affirming the traditional understanding of marriage. If that were true, everyone from President Obama to John Q. Public would be a bigot. Similarly, a position to defend the rights of the unborn is a civil rights cause in the grand tradition of that movement. Moreover, the Manhattan Declaration is wholly free of incendiary language. While anyone is free to disagree with these positions, to slap the label of bigotry on this statement is as absurd as it is offensive. Indeed, it is an insult to millions of Americans who share its sentiments.
To add insult to injury, the group behind this assault, Change.org, hosted a petition drive this week supporting the anti-Christian video that was on display at the Smithsonian. This raises the question: Is Apple comfortable taking its cues from those who defend depictions of ants crawling all over Jesus on the Cross? If so, Christians need to know, especially now that it is the Christmas season.
Contact Apple's PR Manager, Teresa Brewer: firstname.lastname@example.org
Director of Communications
The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights
450 Seventh Avenue
New York, NY 10123
Wednesday, December 01, 2010
Editor’s note: This is the sixth installment in a series of special reports that Dr. Friedman will write over the next few weeks as he travels to Turkey, Moldova, Romania, Ukraine and Poland. In this series, he will share his observations of the geopolitical imperatives in each country and conclude with reflections on his journey as a whole and options for the United States.
By George Friedman
The name “Ukraine” literally translates as “on the edge.” It is a country on the edge of other countries, sometimes part of one, sometimes part of another and more frequently divided. In the 17th and 18th centuries, it was divided between Russia, Poland and the Ottoman Empire. In the 19th century, it was divided between Russia and Austria-Hungary. And in the 20th century, save for a short period of independence after World War I, it became part of the Soviet Union. Ukraine has been on the edge of empires for centuries.
My father was born in Ukraine in 1912, in a town in the Carpathians now called Uzhgorod. It was part of Austria-Hungary when he was born, and by the time he was 10 the border had moved a few miles east, so his family moved a few miles west. My father claimed to speak seven languages (Hungarian, Romanian, Slovak, Polish, Ukrainian, Russian and Yiddish). As a child, I was deeply impressed by his learning. It was only later that I discovered that his linguistic skills extended only to such phrases as “What do you want for that scrawny chicken?” and “Please don’t shoot.”
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He could indeed make himself understood in such non-trivial matters in all these languages. Consider the reason: Uzhgorod today is on the Slovakian border, about 30 miles from Poland, 15 miles from Hungary and 50 miles from Romania. When my father was growing up, the borders moved constantly, and knowing these languages mattered. You were never sure what you’d be a citizen or subject of next or who would be aiming a rifle at you.
My father lived on the edge until the Germans came in 1941 and swept everything before them, and then until the Soviets returned in 1944 and swept everything before them. He was one of tens of millions who lived or died on the edge, and perhaps nowhere was there as much suffering from living on the edge than in Ukraine. Ukraine was caught between Stalin and Hitler, between planned famines and outright slaughter, to be relieved only by the grinding misery of post-Stalin communism. No European country suffered as much in the 20th century as Ukraine. From 1914 until 1945, Ukraine was as close to hell as one can reach in this life.
Asking to be Ruled
Ukraine was, oddly enough, shaped by Norsemen, who swept down and set up trading posts, eventually ruling over some local populations. According to early histories, the native tribes made the following invitation: “Our land is great and rich, but there is no law in it. Come to rule and reign over us.” This is debated, as Anne Reid, author of the excellent “Borderland: Journey through the History of Ukraine,” points out. But it really doesn’t matter, since they came as merchants rather than conquerors, creating a city, Kiev, at the point where the extraordinarily wide Dnieper River narrows.
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Still, few historians doubt that some offer of this type was made. I can imagine inhabitants of what became Ukraine making such an offer in ways I can’t imagine in other places. The flat country is made for internal conflict and dissension, and the hunger for a foreigner to come and stabilize a rich land is not always far from Ukrainians’ thoughts. Out of this grew the Kievan Rus, the precursor of modern Ukraine, Russia and Belarus. There are endless arguments over whether Ukraine created Russia or vice versa. Suffice it to say, they developed together. That is more important than who did what to whom.
Consider the way they are said to have chosen their religion. Volodymyr, a pagan ruler, decided that he needed a modern religion. He considered Islam and rejected it because he wanted to drink. He considered Catholicism and rejected it because he had lots of concubines he didn’t want to give up. He finally decided on Orthodox Christianity, which struck him as both beautiful and flexible. As Reid points out, there were profound consequences: “By choosing Christianity rather than Islam, Volodymyr cast Rus’ ambitions forever in Europe rather than Asia, and by taking Christianity from Byzantium rather than Rome he bound the future Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians together in Orthodoxy, fatally dividing them from their Catholic neighbors the Poles.” I suspect that while Volodymyr liked his drink and his women, he was most concerned with finding a balance between powers and chose Byzantium to create space for Ukraine.
Ukraine, Europe and Russia
Ukraine is on the edge again today, trying to find space. It is on the edge of Russia and on the edge of Europe, its old position. What makes this position unique is that Ukraine is independent and has been so for 18 years. This is the longest period of Ukrainian independence in centuries. What is most striking about the Ukrainians is that, while they appear to value their independence, the internal debate seems to focus in part on what foreign entity they should be aligned with. People in the west want to be part of the European Union. People in the east want to be closer to the Russians. The Ukrainians want to remain independent but not simply independent.
It makes for an asymmetric relationship. Many Ukrainians want to join the European Union, which as a whole is ambivalent at best about Ukraine. On the other hand, Ukraine matters as much to the Russians as it does to Ukrainians, just as it always has. Ukraine is as important to Russian national security as Scotland is to England or Texas is to the United States. In the hands of an enemy, these places would pose an existential threat to all three countries. Therefore, rumors to the contrary, neither Scotland nor Texas is going anywhere. Nor is Ukraine, if Russia has anything to do with it. And this reality shapes the core of Ukrainian life. In a fundamental sense, geography has imposed limits on Ukrainian national sovereignty and therefore on the lives of Ukrainians.
From a purely strategic standpoint, Ukraine is Russia’s soft underbelly. Dominated by Russia, Ukraine anchors Russian power in the Carpathians. These mountains are not impossible to penetrate, but they can’t be penetrated easily. If Ukraine is under the influence or control of a Western power, Russia’s (and Belarus’) southern flank is wide open along an arc running from the Polish border east almost to Volgograd then south to the Sea of Azov, a distance of more than 1,000 miles, more than 700 of which lie along Russia proper. There are few natural barriers.
For Russia, Ukraine is a matter of fundamental national security. For a Western power, Ukraine is of value only if that power is planning to engage and defeat Russia, as the Germans tried to do in World War II. At the moment, given that no one in Europe or in the United States is thinking of engaging Russia militarily, Ukraine is not an essential asset. But from the Russian point of view it is fundamental, regardless of what anyone is thinking of at the moment. In 1932, Germany was a basket case; by 1941, it had conquered the European continent and was deep into Russia. One thing the Russians have learned in a long and painful history is to never plan based on what others are capable of doing or thinking at the moment. And given that, the future of Ukraine is never a casual matter for them.
It goes beyond this, of course. Ukraine controls Russia’s access to the Black Sea and therefore to the Mediterranean. The ports of Odessa and Sevastopol provide both military and commercial access for exports, particularly from southern Russia. It is also a critical pipeline route for sending energy to Europe, a commercial and a strategic requirement for Russia, since energy has become a primary lever for influencing and controlling other countries, including Ukraine.
This is why the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004 was critical in transforming Russia’s view of the West and its relationship to Ukraine. Following the breakup of the Soviet Union, Ukraine had a series of governments that remained aligned with Russia. In the 2004 presidential election, the seemingly pro-Russian candidate, Viktor Yanukovich, emerged the winner in an election that many claimed was fraudulent. Crowds took to the streets and forced Yanukovich’s resignation, and he was replaced by a pro-Western coalition.
The Russians charged that the peaceful rising was engineered by Western intelligence agencies, particularly the CIA and MI6, which funneled money into pro-Western NGOs and political parties. Whether this was an intelligence operation or a fairly open activity, there is no question that American and European money poured into Ukraine. And whether it came from warm-hearted reformers or steely eyed CIA operatives didn’t matter in the least to Vladimir Putin. He saw it as an attempt to encircle and crush the Russian Federation.
Putin spent the next six years working to reverse the outcome, operating both openly and covertly to split the coalition and to create a pro-Russian government. In the 2010 elections, Yanukovich returned to power, and from the Russian point of view, the danger was averted. A lot of things went into this reversal. The United States was absorbed in Iraq and Afghanistan and couldn’t engage Russia in a battle for Ukraine. The Germans drew close to the Russians after the 2008 crisis. Russian oligarchs had close financial and political ties with Ukrainian oligarchs who influenced the election. There is a large pro-Russian faction in Ukraine that genuinely wants the country to be linked to Russia. And there was deep disappointment in the West’s unwillingness to help Ukraine substantially.
Beyond the Orange Revolution
On the day we arrived in Kiev, two things were going on. First there were demonstrations under way protesting government tax policy. Second, Yanukovich was in Belgium for a summit with the European Union. Both of these things animated the pro-Western faction in Ukraine, a faction that remains fixated on the possibility that the Orange Revolution can be recreated and that Ukraine must enter the European Union. These two things are linked.
The demonstrations were linked to a shift in tax law that increased taxes on small-business owners. The main demonstration took place in a large square well-stocked with national flags and other banners. The sound systems in place were quite good. It was possible to hear the speeches clearly. When I pointed out to a pro-Western journalist that it seemed to be a well-funded and organized demonstration, I was assured that it wasn’t well-organized at all. I have not been to other Ukrainian demonstrations but have been present at various other demonstrations around the world, and most of those were what some people in Texas call a “goat rodeo.” I have never seen one of those, either, but I gather they aren’t well organized. This demonstration did not strike me as a goat rodeo.
This actually matters. There was some excitement among politically aware pro-Westerners that this demonstration could evolve into another Orange Revolution. Some demonstrators were camping out overnight, and there were some excited rumors that police were blocking buses filled with demonstrators and preventing them from getting to the demonstration. That would mean that the demonstration would have been bigger without police interference and that the government was worried about another rising.
It just didn’t seem that way to me. There were ample police in the side streets, but they were relaxed and not in riot gear. I was told that the police with riot gear were hidden in courtyards and elsewhere. I couldn’t prove otherwise. But the demonstration struck me as too well-organized. Passionate and near-spontaneous demonstrations are more ragged, the crowds more restless and growing, and the police more tense. To me, as an outsider, it seemed more an attempt by organization leaders and politicians to generate a sense of political tension than a spontaneous event. But there was a modicum of hope among anti-government factions that this could be the start of something big. When pressed on the probabilities, I was told by one journalist that there was a 5 percent chance it could grow into a rising.
My perception was that it was a tempest in a teapot. My perception was not completely correct. Yanukovich announced later in the week that the new tax law might not go into effect. He said that it would depend on parliamentary action that would not come for another week but he gave every indication that he would find a way to at least postpone it if not cancel it. Clearly, he did not regard the demonstrations as trivial. Regardless of whether he would finally bend to the demonstrators’ wishes, he felt he needed to respond.
On the same day the demonstrations began, Yanukovich left for Brussels with talks about Ukraine entering the European Union. I had an opportunity to meet with an official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before he departed for Brussels as well. The official had also been with the ministry during the previous administration. He was a member of the group that had been part of the numerous programs run by the United States and Europe for turning Eastern Europeans into proponents of the West, and he was certainly that. My meeting with the official taught me one of two things: Either Yanukovich was not purging people ideologically or he wanted to keep a foot in the pro-EU camp.
From where I sat, as an American, the European Union appeared at best tarnished and at worst tottering. I had met in Istanbul with some European financial leaders who had in past discussions dismissed my negativism on the European Union as a lack of sophistication on my part. This time they were far less assured than ever before and were talking about the possibilities of the euro failing and other extreme outcomes. They had travelled quite a road in the past few years to have arrived at this point. But what was fascinating to me was that the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry official was not only unshaken by the Irish situation but also saw no connection between that and the EU appetite for Ukraine becoming a member. For him, one had nothing to do with the other.
The troubles the European Union was facing did not strike pro-EU Ukrainians as changing the basic game. There was no question in their mind that they wanted Ukraine in the European Union, nor was there any question in their mind that the barriers to entry were in the failure of the Ukrainians to measure up. The idea that EU expansion had suffered a fatal blow due to the Irish or Greek crises was genuinely inconceivable to them. The European Union was not going to undergo any structural changes. Nothing that was happening in the European Union impacted its attractiveness or its openness. It was all about Ukraine measuring up.
In many countries we have visited there has been a class difference for EU membership. The political and economic elites are enthusiastic, the lower classes much more restrained. In Ukraine, there is also a regional distinction. The eastern third of the country is heavily oriented toward Russia and not to the West. The western third is heavily oriented toward the West. The center of the country tilts toward the west but is divided. Linguistic division also falls along these lines, with the highest concentrations of native Ukrainian speakers living in the west and of Russian speakers in the east. This can be seen in the election returns in 2010 and before. Yanukovich dominated the east, Timoshenko the west, and the contested center tilted toward Timoshenko. But the support in the east for the Party of Regions and Yanukovich was overwhelming.
This division defines Ukrainian politics and foreign policy. Yanukovich is seen as having been elected to repudiate the Orange Revolution. Supporters of the Orange Revolution are vehement in their dislike of Yanukovich and believe that he is a Russian tool. Interestingly, this wasn’t the view in Poland, where government officials and journalists suggested that Yanukovich was playing a more complex game and trying to balance Ukraine between Europe and the Russians.
Whatever Yanukovich intends, it is hard to see how you split the difference. Either you join the European Union or you don’t. I suspect the view is that Yanukovich will try to join but will be rejected. He will therefore balance between the two groups. That is the only way he could split the difference. Certainly, NATO membership is off the table for him. But the European Union is a possibility.
I met with a group of young Ukrainian financial analysts and traders. They suggested that Ukraine be split into two countries, east and west. This is an idea with some currency inside and outside Ukraine. It certainly fits in with the Ukrainian tradition of being on the edge, of being split between Europe and Russia. The problem is that there is no clear geographical boundary that can be defined between the two parts, and the center of the country is itself divided.
Far more interesting than their geopolitical speculation was their fixation on Warsaw. Sitting in Kiev, the young analysts and traders knew everything imaginable about the IPO market, privatization and retirement system in Poland, the various plans and amounts available from those plans for private investment. It became clear that they were more interested in making money in Poland’s markets than they were in the European Union, Ukrainian politics or what the Russians are thinking. They were young and they were traders and they knew who Gordon Gekko was, so this is not a sampling of Ukrainian life. But what was most interesting was how little talk there was of Ukrainian oligarchs compared to Warsaw markets. The oligarchs might have been way beyond them and therefore irrelevant, but it was Warsaw, not the European Union or the power structure, that got their juices flowing.
Many of these young financiers dreamed of leaving Ukraine. So did many of the students I met at a university. There were three themes they repeated. First, they wanted an independent Ukraine. Second, they wanted it to become part of the European Union. Third, they wanted to leave Ukraine and live their lives elsewhere. It struck me how little connection there was between their national hopes and their personal hopes. They were running on two different tracks. In the end, it boiled down to this: It takes generations to build a nation, and the early generations toil and suffer for what comes later. That is a bitter pill to swallow when you have the option of going elsewhere and living well for yourself now. The tension in Ukraine, at least among the European-oriented, appears to be between building Ukraine and building their own lives.
Sovereign in Spite of Itself
But these were members of Ukraine’s Western-oriented class, which was created by the universities. The other part of Ukraine is in the industrial cities of the east. These people don’t expect to leave Ukraine, but they do understand that their industries can’t compete with Europe’s. They know the Russians will buy what they produce, and they fear that European factories in western Ukraine would cost them their jobs. There is nostalgia for the Soviet Union here, not because they don’t remember the horrors of Stalin but simply because the decadence of Leonid Brezhnev was so attractive to them compared to what came before or after.
Add to them the oligarchs. Not only do they permeate the Ukrainian economy and Ukrainian society but they also link Ukraine closely with the Russians. This is because the major Ukrainian oligarchs are tied to the Russians through complex economic and political arrangements. They are the frame of Ukraine. When I walked down a street with a journalist, he pointed to a beautiful but derelict building. He said that the super-wealthy buy these buildings for little money and hold them, since they pay no tax, retarding development. For the oligarchs, the European Union, with its rules and transparency, is a direct challenge, whereas their relation to Russia is part of their daily work.
The Russians are not, I think, trying to recreate the Russian empire. They want a sphere of influence, which is a very different thing. They do not want responsibility for Ukraine or other countries. They see the responsibility as having sapped Russian power. What they want is a sufficient degree of control over Ukraine to guarantee that potentially hostile forces don’t gain control, particularly NATO or any follow-on entities. The Russians are content to allow Ukraine its internal sovereignty, so long as Ukraine does not become a threat to Russia and so long as gas pipelines running through Ukraine are under Russian control.
That is quite a lot to ask of a sovereign country. But Ukraine doesn’t seem to be primarily concerned with maintaining more than the formal outlines of its sovereignty. What it is most concerned about is the choice between Europe and Russia. What is odd is that it is not clear that the European Union or Russia want Ukraine. The European Union is not about to take on another weakling. It has enough already. And Russia doesn’t want the burden of governing Ukraine. It just doesn’t want anyone controlling Ukraine to threaten Russia. Ukrainian sovereignty doesn’t threaten anyone, so long as the borderland remains neutral.
That is what I found most interesting. Ukraine is independent, and I think it will stay independent. Its deepest problem is what to do with that independence, a plan it can formulate only in terms of someone else, in this case Europe or Russia. The great internal fight in Ukraine is not over how Ukraine will manage itself but whether it will be aligned with Europe or Russia. Unlike the 20th century, when the answer to the question of Ukrainian alignment caused wars to be fought, none will be fought now. Russia has what it wants from Ukraine, and Europe will not challenge that.
Ukraine has dreamed of sovereignty without ever truly confronting what it means. I mentioned to the financial analysts and traders that some of my children had served in the military. They were appalled at the idea. Why would someone choose to go into the military? I tried to explain their reasons, which did not have to do with wanting a good job. The gulf was too vast. They could not understand that national sovereignty and personal service cannot be divided. But then, as I said, most of them hoped to leave Ukraine.
Ukraine has its sovereignty. In some ways, I got the sense that it wants to give that sovereignty away, to find someone to take away the burden. It isn’t clear, for once, that anyone is eager to take responsibility for Ukraine. I also did not get the sense that the Ukrainians had come to terms with what it meant to be sovereign. To many, Moscow and Warsaw are more real than Kiev.
Read more: Geopolitical Journey, Part 6: Ukraine STRATFOR
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Editor’s note: This is the fifth installment in a series of special reports that Dr. Friedman will write over the next few weeks as he travels to Turkey, Moldova, Romania, Ukraine and Poland. In this series, he will share his observations of the geopolitical imperatives in each country and conclude with reflections on his journey as a whole and options for the United States.
By George Friedman
We arrived in Istanbul during the festival of Eid al-Adha, which commemorates the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son Ishmael on God’s command and praises the God who stayed his hand. It is a jarring holiday for me; I was taught that it was Isaac whom God saved. The distinction between Ishmael and Isaac is the difference between Hagar and Sarah, between Abraham and the Jews and Abraham and the Muslims. It ties Muslims, Jews and Christians together. It also tears them apart.
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Muslims celebrate Eid with the sacrifice of animals (sheep and cattle). Istanbul is a modern commercial city, stunningly large. On this day, as we drove in from the airport, there were vacant lots with cattle lined up for those wishing to carry out the ritual. There were many cattle and people. The ritual sacrifice is widely practiced, even among the less religious. I was told that Turkey had to import cattle for the first time, bringing them in from Uruguay. Consider the juxtaposition of ancient ritual sacrifice so widely practiced that it requires global trade to sustain it.
The tension between and within nations and religions is too ancient for us to remember its beginnings. It is also something that never grows old. For Turkey, it is about a very old nation at what I think is the beginning of a new chapter. It is therefore inevitably about the struggles within Turkey and with Turkey’s search for a way to find both its identity and its place in the world.
Turkey will emerge as one of the great regional powers of the next generation, or so I think. It is clear that this process is already under way when you look at Turkey’s rapid economic growth even in the face of the global financial crisis, and when you look at its growing regional influence. As you’d expect, this process is exacerbating internal political tensions as well as straining old alliances and opening the door to new ones. It is creating anxiety inside and outside of Turkey about what Turkey is becoming and whether it is a good thing or not. Whether it is a good thing can be debated, I suppose, but the debate doesn’t much matter. The transformation from an underdeveloped country emerging from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire to a major power is happening before our eyes.
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At the heart of the domestic debate and foreign discussion of Turkey’s evolution is Islam. Turkey’s domestic evolution has resulted in the creation of a government that differs from most previous Turkish governments by seeing itself as speaking for Islamic traditions as well as the contemporary Turkish state. The foreign discussion is about the degree to which Turkey has shifted away from its traditional alliances with the United States, Europe and Israel. These two discussions are linked.
At a time when the United States is at war in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and in confrontation with Iran, any shift in the position of a Muslim country rings alarm bells. But this goes beyond the United States. Since World War II, many Turks have immigrated to Europe, where they have failed to assimilate partly by choice and partly because the European systems have not facilitated assimilation. This failure of assimilation has created massive unease about Turkish and other Muslims in Europe, particularly in the post-9/11 world of periodic terror warnings. Whether reasonable or not, this is shaping Western perceptions of Turkey and Turkish views of the West. It is one of the dynamics in the Turkish-Western relationship.
Turkey’s emergence as a significant power obviously involves redefining its internal and regional relations to Islam. This alarms domestic secularists as well as inhabitants of countries who feel threatened by Turks — or Muslims — living among them and who are frightened by the specter of terrorism. Whenever a new power emerges, it destabilizes the international system to some extent and causes anxiety. Turkey’s emergence in the current context makes that anxiety all the more intense. A newly powerful and self-confident Turkey perceived to be increasingly Islamic will create tensions, and it has.
The Secular and the Religious
Turkey’s evolution is framed by the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I and the creation of modern Turkey under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Ataturk’s task was to retain the core of the Ottoman Empire as an independent state. That core was Asia Minor and the European side of the Bosporus. For Ataturk, the first step was contraction, abandoning any attempt to hold the Ottoman regions that surrounded Turkey. The second step was to break the hold of Ottoman culture on Turkey itself. The last decades of the Ottoman Empire were painful to Turks, who saw themselves decline because of the unwillingness of the Ottoman regime to modernize at a pace that kept up with the rest of Europe. The slaughter of World War I did more than destroy the Ottoman Empire. It shook its confidence in itself and its traditions.
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For Ataturk, Turkish national survival depended on modernization, which he equated with the creation of a secular society as the foundation of a modern nation-state in which Islam would become a matter of private practice, not the center of the state or, most important, something whose symbols could have a decisive presence in the public sphere. This would include banning articles of clothing associated with Islamic piety from public display. Ataturk did not try to suppress Muslim life in the private sphere, but Islam is a political religion that seeks to regulate both private and public life.
Ataturk sought to guarantee the survival of the secular state through the military. For Ataturk, the military represented the most modern element of Turkish society and could serve two functions. It could drive Turkish modernization and protect the regime against those who would try to resurrect the Ottoman state and its Islamic character. Ataturk wanted to do something else — to move away from the multinational nature of the Ottoman Empire. Ataturk compressed Turkey to its core and shed authority and responsibility beyond its borders. Following Ataturk’s death, for example, Turkey managed to avoid involvement in World War II.
Ataturk came to power in a region being swept by European culture, which was what was considered modern. This Europeanist ideology moved through the Islamic world, creating governments that were, like Turkey’s, secular in outlook but ruling over Muslim populations that had varying degrees of piety. In the 1970s, a counter-revolution started in the region that argued for reintegrating Islam into the governance of Muslim countries. The most extreme part of this wave culminated in al Qaeda. But the secularist/Europeanist vision created by Ataturk has been in deep collision with the Islamist regimes that can be found in places like Iran.
It was inevitable that this process would affect Turkey. In 2002, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power. This was a defining moment because the AKP was not simply a secular Europeanist party. Its exact views are hotly debated, with many inside and outside of Turkey claiming that its formal moderation hides a hidden radical-Islamist agenda.
We took a walk in a neighborhood in Istanbul called Carsamba. I was told that this was the most religious community in Istanbul. One secularist referred to it as “Saudi Arabia.” It is a poor but vibrant community, filled with schools and shops. Children play on the streets, and men cluster in twos and threes, talking and arguing. Women wear burqas and headscarves. There is a large school in the neighborhood where young men go to study the Koran and other religious subjects.
A private Koran school in the Carsamba neighborhood of Istanbul (Photo by STRATFOR)
The neighborhood actually reminded me of Williamsburg, in the Brooklyn of my youth. Williamsburg was filled with Chasidic Jews, Yeshivas, children on the streets and men talking outside their shops. The sensibility of community and awareness that I was an outsider revived vivid memories. At this point, I am supposed to write that it shows how much these communities have in common. But the fact is that the commonalities of life in poor, urban, religious neighborhoods don’t begin to overcome the profound differences — and importance — of the religions they adhere to.
That said, Carsamba drove home to me the problem the AKP, or any party that planned to govern Turkey, would have to deal with. There are large parts of Istanbul that are European in sensibility and values, and these are significant areas. But there is also Carsamba and the villages of Anatolia, and they have a self-confidence and assertiveness that can’t be ignored today.
There is deep concern among some secularists that the AKP intends to impose Shariah. This is particularly intense among the professional classes. I had dinner with a physician with deep roots in Turkey who told me that he was going to immigrate to Europe if the AKP kept going the way it was going. Whether he would do it when the time came I can’t tell, but he was passionate about it after a couple of glasses of wine. This view is extreme even among secularists, many of whom understand the AKP to have no such intentions. Sometimes it appeared to me that the fear was deliberately overdone, in hopes of influencing a foreigner, me, concerning the Turkish government.
But my thoughts go back to Carsamba. The secularists could ignore these people for a long time, but that time has passed. There is no way to rule Turkey without integrating these scholars and shopkeepers into Turkish society. Given the forces sweeping the Muslim world, it is impossible. They represent an increasingly important trend in the Islamic world and the option is not suppressing them (that’s gone) but accommodating them or facing protracted conflict, a kind of conflict that in the rest of the Islamic world is not confined to rhetoric. Carsamba is an extreme case in Istanbul, but it poses the issue most starkly.
This is something the main opposition secularist party, the People’s Republican Party (CHP), can’t do. It has not devised a platform that can reach out to Carsamba and the other religious neighborhoods within the framework of secularism. This is the AKP’s strength. It can reach out to them while retaining the core of its Europeanism and modernism. The Turkish economy is surging. It had an annualized growth rate of 12 percent in the first quarter of 2010. That helps keep everyone happy. But the AKP also emphasizes that it wants to join the European Union. Now, given how healthy the Turkish economy is, wanting to join the European Union is odd. And the fact is that the European Union is not going to let Turkey in anyway. But the AKP’s continued insistence that it wants to join the European Union is a signal to the secularists: The AKP is not abandoning the Europeanist/modernist project.
The AKP sends many such signals, but it is profoundly distrusted by the secularists, who fear that the AKP’s apparent moderation is simply a cover for its long-term intentions — to impose a radical-Islamist agenda on Turkey. I don’t know the intentions of the AKP leadership, but I do know some realities about Turkey, the first being that, while Carsamba can’t be ignored, the secularists hold tremendous political power in their own right and have the general support of the military. Whatever the intentions imputed to the AKP, it does not have the power to impose a radical-Islamist agenda on Turkey unless the secularists weaken dramatically, which they are not going to do.
The CHP cannot re-impose the rigorous secularism that existed prior to 2002. The AKP cannot impose a radical-Islamist regime, assuming it would want to. The result of either attempt would be a paralyzing political crisis that would tear the country apart, without giving either side political victory. The best guard against hidden agendas is the inability to impose them.
Moreover, on the fringes of the Islamist community are radical Islamists like al Qaeda. It is a strategic necessity to separate the traditionally religious from the radical Islamists. The more excluded the traditionalists are, the more they will be attracted to the radicals. Prior to the 1970s this was not a problem. In those days, radical Islamists were not the problem; radical socialists were. The strategies that were used prior to 2002 would play directly into the hands of the radicals. There are, of course, those who would say that all Islamists are radical. I don’t think that’s true empirically. Of the billion or so Muslims, radicals are few. But you can radicalize the rest with aggressive social policies. And that would create a catastrophe for Turkey and the region.
The problem for Turkey is how to bridge the gap between the secularists and the religious. That is the most effective way to shut out the radicals. The CHP seems to me to have not devised any program to reach out to the religious. There are some indications of attempted change that came with the change in leadership a few months ago, but overall the CHP maintains a hostile suspicion toward sharing power with the religious.
The AKP, on the other hand, has some sort of reconciliation as its core agenda. The problem is that the AKP is serving up a weak brew, insufficient to satisfy the truly religious, insufficient to satisfy the truly secular. But it does hold a majority. In Turkey, as I have said, it is all about the AKP’s alleged hidden intentions. My best guess is that, whatever its private thoughts and political realities are, the AKP is composed of Turks who derive their traditions from 600 years of Ottoman rule. That makes Turkish internal politics, well, Byzantine. Never forget that at crucial points the Ottomans, as Muslim as they were, allied with the Catholics against the Orthodox Christians in order to dominate the Balkans. They made many other alliances of convenience and maintained a multinational and multireligious empire built on a pyramid of compromises. The AKP is not the party of the Wahhabi, and if it tried to become that, it would fall. The AKP, like most political parties, prefers to hold office.
Turkey and the World
The question of the hidden agenda of the AKP touches its foreign policy, too. In the United States, nerves are raw over Afghanistan and terror threats. In Europe, Muslim immigration, much of it from Turkey, and more terror threats make for more raw nerves. The existence of an Islamist-rooted government in Ankara has created the sense that Turkey has “gone over,” that it has joined the radical-Islamist camp.
This is why the flotilla incident with Israel turned out as it did. The Turks had permitted a fleet to sail for Gaza, which was blockaded by Israel. Israeli commandos boarded the ships and on one of them got into a fight in which nine people were killed. The Turks became enraged and expected the rest of the world, including the United States and Europe, to join them in condemning Israel’s actions. I think the Turkish government was surprised when the general response was not directed against Israel but at Turkey. The Turks failed to understand the American and European perception that Turkey had gone over to the radical Islamists. This perception caused the Americans and Europeans to read the flotilla incident in a completely unexpected way, from the Turkish government’s point of view, one that saw the decision to allow the flotilla to sail as part of a radical-Islamist agenda. Rather than seeing the Turks as victims, they saw the Turks as deliberately creating the incident for ideological reasons.
At the moment, it all turns on the perceptions of the AKP, both in Turkey and the world. And these perceptions lead to very different interpretations of what Turkey is doing.
In this sense, the ballistic missile defense (BMD) issue was extremely important. Had the Turks refused to allow BMD to be placed in Turkey, it would have been, I think, a breakpoint in relations with the United States in particular. BMD is a defense against Iranian missiles. Turkey does not want a U.S. strike on Iran. It should therefore have been enthusiastic about BMD, since Turkey could argue that with BMD, no strike is needed. Opposing a strike and opposing BMD would have been interpreted as Turkey simply wanting to obstruct anything that would upset Iran, no matter how benign. The argument of those who view Turkey as pro-Iranian would be confirmed. The decision by the Turkish government to go forward with BMD was critical. Rejecting BMD would have cemented the view of Turkey as being radical Islamist. But the point is that the Turks postured on the issue and then went along. It was the AKP trying to maintain its balance.
The reality is that Turkey is now a regional power trying to find its balance. It is in a region where Muslim governments are mixed with secular states, predominantly Christian nations and a Jewish state. When you take the 360-degree view that the AKP likes to talk about, it is an extraordinary and contradictory mixture of states. Turkey is a country that maintains relations with Iran, Israel and Egypt, a dizzying portfolio.
It is not a surprise that the Turks are not doing well at this. After an interregnum of nearly a century, Turkey is new to being a regional power, and everyone in the region is trying to draw Turkey into something for their own benefit. Syria wants Turkish mediation with Israel and in Lebanon. Azerbaijan wants Turkish support against Armenia in Nagorno-Karabakh. Israel and Saudi Arabia want Turkish support against Iran. Iran wants Turkey’s support against the United States. Kosovo wants its support against Serbia. It is a rogue’s gallery of supplicants, all wanting something from Turkey and all condemning Turkey when they don’t get it. Not least of these is the United States, which wants Turkey to play the role it used to play, as a subordinate American ally.
Turkey’s strategy is to be friends with everyone, its “zero conflict with neighbors” policy, as the Turks call it. It is an explicit policy not to have enemies. The problem is that it is impossible to be friends with all of these countries. Their interests are incompatible, and in the end, the only likely outcome is that all will find Turkey hostile and it will face distrust throughout the region. Turkey was genuinely surprised when the United States, busy finally getting sanctions into place against Iran, did not welcome Turkey’s and Brazil’s initiative with Iran. But unlike Brazil, Turkey lives in a tough neighborhood and being friendly with everyone is not an option.
This policy derives, I think, from a fear of appearing, like the Ottoman Empire, so distrusted by secularists. The Ottoman Empire was both warlike and cunning. It was the heir to the Byzantine tradition and it was worthy of it. Ataturk simplified Turkish foreign policy radically, drawing it inward. Turkey’s new power makes that impossible, but it is important, at least at this point in history, for Turkey not to appear too ambitious or too clever internationally. The term neo-Ottoman keeps coming up, but is not greeted happily by many people. Trying to be friendly with everyone is not going to work, but for the Turks, it is a better strategy now than being prematurely Byzantine. Contrary to others, I see Turkish foreign policy as simple and straightforward: What they say and what they intend to do are the same. The problem with that foreign policy is that it won’t work in the long run. I suspect the Turkish government knows that, but it is buying time for political reasons.
It is buying time for administrative reasons as well. The United States entered World War II without an intelligence service, with a diplomatic corps vastly insufficient for its postwar needs and without a competent strategic-planning system. Turkey is ahead of the United States of 1940, but it does not have the administrative structure or the trained and experienced personnel to handle the complexities it is encountering. The Turkish foreign minister wakes up in the morning to Washington’s latest demand, German pronouncements on Turkish EU membership, Israeli deals with the Greeks, Iranian probes, Russian views on energy and so on. It is a large set of issues for a nation that until recently had a relatively small foreign-policy footprint.
Turkey and Russia
Please recall my reasons for this journey and what brought me to Turkey. I am trying to understand the consequences of the re-emergence of Russia, the extent to which this will pose a geopolitical challenge and how the international system will respond. I have already discussed the Intermarium, the countries from the Baltic to the Black seas that have a common interest in limiting Russian power and the geopolitical position to do so if they act as a group.
One of the questions is what the southern anchor of this line will be. The most powerful anchor would be Turkey. Turkey is not normally considered part of the Intermarium, although during the Cold War it was the southeastern anchor of NATO’s line of containment. The purpose of this trip is to get some sense of how the Turks think about Russia and where Russia fits into their strategic thinking. It is also about how the Turks now think of themselves as they undergo a profound shift that will affect the region.
Turkey, like many countries, is dependent on Russian energy. Turkey also has a long history with Russia and needs to keep Russia happy. But it also wants to be friends with everyone and it needs to find new sources of energy. This means that Turkey has to look south, into Iraq and farther, and east, toward Azerbaijan. When it looks south, it will find itself at odds with Iran and perhaps Saudi Arabia. When it looks east, it will find itself at odds with Armenia and Russia.
There are no moves that Turkey can make that will not alienate some great power, and it cannot decline to make these moves. It cannot simply depend on Russia for its energy any more than Poland can. Because of energy policy, it finds itself in the same position as the Intermarium, save for the fact that Turkey is and will be much more powerful than any of these countries, and because the region it lives in is extraordinarily more complex and difficult.
Nevertheless, while the Russians aren’t an immediate threat, they are an existential threat to Turkey. With a rapidly growing economy, Turkey needs energy badly and it cannot be hostage to the Russians or anyone else. As it diversifies its energy sources it will alienate a number of countries, including Russia. It will not want to do this, but it is the way the world works. Therefore, is this the southern anchor of the Intermarium? I think so. Not yet and not forever, but I suspect that in 10 years or so, the sheer pressure that Russian energy policy will place on Turkey will create enough tensions to force Turkey into the anchor position.
If Moldova is the proof of the limits of geopolitical analysis, Turkey is its confirmation. There is endless talk in Turkey of intentions, hidden meanings and conspiracies, some woven decades ago. It is not these things that matter. Islam has replaced modernism as the dynamic force of the region, and Turkey will have to accommodate itself to that. But modernism and secularism are woven into Turkish society. Those two strands cannot be ignored. Turkey is the regional power, and it will have to make decisions about friends and enemies. Those decisions will be made based on issues like energy availability, economic opportunities and defensive positions. Intentions are not trivial, but in the case of Turkey neither are they decisive. It is too old a country to change and too new a power to escape the forces around it. For all its complexity, I think Turkey is predictable. It will go through massive internal instability and foreign tests it is not ready for, but in the end, it will emerge as it once was: a great regional power.
As a subjective matter, I like Turkey and Turks. I suspect I will like them less as they become a great power. They are at the charming point where the United States was after World War I. Over time, global and great powers lose their charm under the pressure of a demanding and dissatisfied world. They become hard and curt. The Turks are neither today. But they are facing the kind of difficulties that only come with success, and those can be the hardest to deal with.
Internally, the AKP is trying to thread the needle between two Turkish realities. No one can choose one or the other and govern Turkey. That day has passed. How to reconcile the two is the question. For the moment, the most difficult question is how to get the secularists to accept that, in today’s Turkey, they are a large minority. I suspect the desire to regain power will motivate them to try to reach out to the religious, but for now, they have left the field to the AKP.
In terms of foreign policy, they are clearly repositioning Turkey to be part of the Islamic world, but the Islamic world is deeply divided by many crosscurrents and many types of regimes. The distance between Morocco and Pakistan is not simply space. Repositioning with the Islamic world is more a question of who will be your enemy than who will be your friend. The same goes for the rest of the world.
In leaving Turkey, I am struck by how many balls it has to keep in the air. The tensions between the secularists and the religious must not be minimized. The tensions within the religious camp are daunting. The tensions between urban and rural are significant. The tensions between Turkey and its allies and neighbors are substantial, even if the AKP is not eager to emphasize this. It would seem impossible to imagine Turkey moving past these problems to great power status. But here geopolitics tells me that it has to be this way. All nations have deep divisions. But Turkey is a clear nation and a strong state. It has geography and it has an economy. And it is in a region where these characteristics are in short supply. That gives Turkey relative power as well as absolute strength.
The next 10 years will not be comfortable for Turkey. It will have problems to solve and battles to fight, figuratively and literally. But I think the answer to the question I came for is this: Turkey does not want to confront Russia. Nor does it want to be dependent on Russia. These two desires can’t be reconciled without tension with Russia. And if there is tension, there will be shared interests with the Intermarium, quite against the intentions of the Turks. In history, intentions, particularly good ones, are rarely decisive.
Read more: Geopolitical Journey, Part 5: Turkey STRATFOR
The upcoming vote will provide an interesting litmus test for the new Republican congressional majority, especially those new members closely identified with Tea Party voters. The debt ceiling law, passed in 1917, enables Congress to place a statutory cap on the total amount of government debt rather than having to approve each individual Treasury bond offering. It also, however, forces Congress into an open and presumably somewhat shameful vote to approve more borrowing.
If the new Congress gives in to establishment pressure and media alarmism about “shutting down the government” by voting to increase the debt ceiling once again, you will know that the status quo has prevailed. You will know that Congress, despite the rhetoric of the midterm elections, is doing business as usual. You will know that the simple notion of balancing the budget, by limiting federal spending to federal revenue, remains a shallow and laughable campaign platitude. [read more]
RSC Update: Monday, November 29, 2010
From the Chairman
Last May, House Republicans pushed for a federal pay freeze as one of the very first YouCut initiatives to get a vote on the House floor. As with every other YouCut spending target, Democrats ensured that it died a quiet death. But today, President Obama belatedly followed our lead and called for a two-year pay freeze for federal civilian employees.
The pay freeze is one item on a miles-long list of spending cuts necessary to get back on the path to a balanced budget. Unfortunately, Democrats show no signs of making a real commitment to reduce spending. Consider that Congress will vote this week on an ultra short-term bill to fund the federal government. Why? Because Democrats hope that gives them time to push through one last, final spending bill – a massive, trillion-dollar omnibus package – before they lose total control over the budget.
Enacting a massive omnibus spending bill just a month before the newly-elected Congress takes over is a slap in the face to American voters. Spending cuts are already long overdue. Let’s not delay any longer.
Congressman Tom Price
Chairman, Republican Study Committee
RSC Media Activity – Republican Study Committee members work hard to ensure that the conservative viewpoint is well-represented in all corners of the media. Visit our Media Center for more.
· Rep. Jack Kingston (GA-01) recently discussed with Neil Cavuto the role the House Appropriations Committee will play in cutting spending in the next Congress.
· Rep. Pete Olson (TX-22): Ghailani Trial: Misguided and Dangerous; The Hill, November 23.
· Rep. Mike Coffman (CO-16): Reforming education; The Movie “Waiting for Superman”; Colorado Community Newspapers, November 25.
Outlook – Here is a preview of upcoming Democrat proposals.
· Democrats are pushing a short-term (perhaps just two weeks) funding bill to buy themselves more time to enact a massive, trillion-dollar omnibus spending package before year’s end. As usual, the RSC has a more responsible plan.
· The Presidential Deficit Commission is due to vote on its proposals tomorrow, and report its recommendations (if any receive the necessary support) on Wednesday. The Pentagon’s study on repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is also slated to report its findings tomorrow.
· In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has said he will try to pass the DREAM Act (an amnesty bill) during the lame duck. Democrats are also attempting to rush through ratification of the START Treaty with Russia before the next Congress is seated.
· Each week, the RSC Budget and Spending Taskforce compiles a weekly report on the latest budget and spending news. Additionally, the RSC Money Monitor tracks how bills passed by the House affect authorizations, mandatory spending, and federal government revenue.
House Republican Study Committee
Rep Tom Price, M.D., Chairman
Paul Teller, Executive Director
Brad Watson, Policy Director
Natalie Farr, Professional Staff
Emily Henehan Murry, Professional Staff
Bruce “Fez” Miller, Professional Staff
Jonathan Day, Director of Member Services and Business Outreach
Alex Shively, Director of Conservative Coalitions
Ryan Murphy, Communications Director
Brian Straessle, Deputy Communications Director
Curtis Rhyne, Research Assistant
424 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Monday, November 29, 2010
Safety is almost always the excuse for trampling our Constitutional rights. In this case the excuse is bullying, but it is really just more proof that we do not live in a free Republic anymore. Our schools are almost incapable of even teaching our children the basics; they certainly are not legal experts who should be entrusted with this kind of authority.
Our rights come from God, not the government. The government's rights come from us; something they have forgotten.
Monday, November 29, 2010 Ryan Jones
There was much apprehension and concern on Sunday evening as whistleblower website WikiLeaks began publishing nearly a quarter of a million classified US diplomatic cables. Washington had already phoned Israeli leaders to prepare them for any embarrassing information that would be revealed.
But by Monday morning, Israel appeared to be the one nation that had benefited from the stunt.
“If anything, the leaks were positive and did not damage Israel’s image at all,” former National Security Adviser Giora Eiland told Voice of Israel radio. “There was no contradiction between what Israel has said in public and in private.”
In fact, the documents reveal that Israeli officials, especially Meir Dagan, head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency, are regularly sought after by officials from all parts of the American government for their expertise and insight on various Middle East situations. In short, Israel is an enormously valuable resource for America and its interests in the region.
The documents further aid Israel by revealing that it is far from being the only nation in the region calling for military action against Iran’s defiant nuclear program, or at least greater efforts to effect regime change in Tehran.
The authors of several of the cables accuse Israel of overestimating Iran’s nuclear program and how quickly Iran would be able to field a nuclear weapon. They insist that Israeli assessments of the situation must be “taken with a grain of salt.” Former US Ambassador to Israel, Daniel Kurtzer was especially critical of Israel’s assessment of the situation with Iran.
But another document has Israeli Military Intelligence chief Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin stressing to two US congressional leaders that “Israel is not in a position to underestimate Iran and be surprised like the US was on September 11, 2001.”
A slew of other documents reveal that the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and Jordan all share the Israeli sense of urgency regarding Iran, and also want the US and/or Israel to stop Iran’s nuclear program at any cost.
“That program must be stopped,” King Hamad of Bahrain is quoted as saying in one of the documents. “The danger of letting it go on is greater than the danger of stopping it.”
In other documents, Israeli accusations that certain UN bodies have ties to Muslim terrorist groups are justified by the revelation that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ordered ongoing investigations of UN personnel working in Lebanon and Palestinian-controlled areas.
“Washington wanted intelligence on the contentious issue of the ‘relationship or funding between UN personnel and/or missions and terrorist organizations’ and links between the UN Relief and Works Agency in the Middle East, and Hamas and Hizballah,” the British newspaper Guardian reported, citing several of the documents.
Clinton even ordered a probe of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a revelation that is certain to ratchet up tensions between Washington and the world body.
The only other Israel-related issue in those documents that have been released concerns the 2008-2009 Gaza war. It was revealed that prior to invading Gaza in response to escalating Hamas rocket fire on southern Israel, Defense Minister Ehud Barak tried to convince either Egypt or Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority to step in and assume control of the territory after Hamas was defeated.
It seems neither Egypt nor the PA were interested in bringing an end to the destructive rule of Hamas and the atmosphere of conflict the group continues to foster.
Rings Around a Crescent
A crescent Saturn appears nestled within encircling rings in this Cassini spacecraft image. Clouds swirl through the atmosphere of the planet and a barely visible Prometheus orbits between the planet's main rings and its the thin F ring. Saturn's moon Prometheus appears as a speck above the rings near the middle of the image.
This view looks toward the southern, unilluminated side of the rings from about 3 degrees below the ringplane.
The image was taken with the Cassini spacecraft's wide-angle camera on Sept. 14, 2010, and was obtained at a distance of approximately 1.6 million miles, or 2.6 million kilometers, from Saturn and at a sun-Saturn-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 100 degrees.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute