Erdoğan’s not playing nice. Is Turkey on the road to losing most-coddled-nation status? — From Andrew Sullivans’ Daily Dish

11 Oct

WTF, Turkey?

Oct 10 2014 @ 3:01pm
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Jonathan Schanzer wonders if it isn’t time to review Turkey’s NATO membership in light of its lackluster support for the coalition war against ISIS:

Turkey’s stock as a Western ally is plummeting. Ankara stubbornly resists joining the coalition unless it broadens its fight to topple Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. Turkey’s 200 or more F-16 fighter jets sit idle as the Islamic State makes alarming gains across Syria and Iraq. This stands in sharp contrast to other Muslim world allies – including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and even Jordan – that have taken part in the aerial campaign against the Islamic State. Turkey’s absence is conspicuous. It’s the only NATO ally among these Muslim world partners. To be clear, the fight against the Islamic State is not a NATO mission, but it serves as a reminder of how little Erdogan’s regime has done to help preserve order in the Middle East.

Larison rejects Turkey’s conditions for participation, particularly its demand that the war’s objectives expand to include regime change:

If Turkish support comes at the price of having to fight both sides in Syria, the price is far too high.

It is understandable that the Turkish government doesn’t want to bear the brunt of a ground war in Syria, since there has long been strong opposition in Turkey to the government’s Syria policy and even greater opposition to Turkish involvement in the war, so the administration would be wise not to expect a large Turkish commitment to the war in any case. Turkey is trying to use the war against ISIS to keep pursuing the misguided goal of regime change in Syria that it has pursued for the last three years without success, and the U.S. would be irresponsible to indulge them in this any more than it already has.

Max Fisher explains why Ankara’s demand for a buffer zone won’t fly:

Here is what makes buffer zones, or safe zones, or humanitarian corridors so dangerous: once you have American/British/French/Turkish troops occupying a little sliver of Syria that’s surrounded by ISIS or by Assad forces, it’s all but inevitable that those troops will come under attack. The war in Syria is deeply chaotic and the factions disorganized; it would only be a matter of time. Open fighting between the foreign occupation forces and ISIS or Assad forces could spiral out of control all-too-easily, possibly leading to all-out war. The odds are just very low that we could put American (or British or French or Turkish) troops in the middle of the Syrian civil war and somehow keep the mission contained to protecting a tiny buffer zone.

This may well be why the Pentagon is saying that the buffer zone option is not “on the table.” The exposure to risk and to mission creep is likely just too high.

One of the reasons why the Turks have been reluctant to rescue the Syrian border town of Kobani is that they are loath to help out fighters affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an independence movement in Turkey. But Nick Danforth and Daphne McCurdy argue that Ankara’s goals and the PKK’s aren’t as incompatible as they seem, especially since the PKK has significantly moderated its separatist aims:

The real opportunity for the Kurds today is not, as many pundits excitedly predict, that they finally have a shot at complete independence. Instead, they finally have the good sense and intellectual foundation to pursue much more modest but pragmatic goals. While the heroic defense of Kobani has won the PKK and PYD a new wave of Western support, Kurdish leaders would do well to remember that their evolution from Stalinism to liberalism has also been crucial to this newfound legitimacy. …

The real question now is whether the AKP and PKK can find common ground. Here is where the nightmare of the Islamic State is instructive. Much has been made about how the AKP wants to replace an old-fashioned version of Turkish nationalism with that of a religious community built around the Muslim idea of the Ummah. So does IS. But when you compare the vision of post-nationalism the AKP spent the last decade promotingbreaking down regional borders through free transit, low tariffs, and trade promotionit sounds a lot more compatible with the PKK’s newly endorsed secular post-nationalism than the savagery of IS.

Berivan Orucoglu points to another reason why Turkey remains more concerned about Assad than ISIS:

Another factor that distinguishes Turkish attitudes toward the Islamic State from those of the West is the refugee crisis. Two years ago, then-Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu famously predicted that Assad would lose power within weeks. He also said that Turkey would be able to accept no more than 100,000 refugees before it would have to take drastic action. Today Assad is still in power, and Turkey is hosting 2 million refugees. The U.S.-led airstrikes have triggered a new influx of people fleeing the war: Almost 100,000 Syrians have fled to Turkey as of Sept. 23. The refugees are not only a huge burden on the Turkish economy, but are also tearing at the country’s social fabric. In many towns the influx of Syrian refugees has brought serious demographic changes, triggering conflicts between the locals and the refugees.

But in Sinan Ülgen’s view, Erdogan’s approach to the Syrian conflict isn’t helping to solve that problem:

By prioritizing the removal of Mr. Assad and expending a huge amount of political capital to convince its partners of the necessity of regime change, Ankara is also losing an opportunity to mobilize international support for its ballooning refugee crisis. Turkey is now host to more than 1.4 million Syrian refugees, with government spending reaching $3.5 billion. Just a week ago, 138,000 Syrian Kurds sought refuge in Turkey, a number surpassing the total number of Syrian refugees accepted by the 28 European Union member states since the beginning of the conflict in 2011.

Yet despite the growing social and material cost of hosting the refugees, Turkey has been unable to mobilize international support for a more equitable sharing of the refugee crisis burden.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

“It’s not even a country; it’s a fuckin’ acronym!”

6 Oct

Maybe the best line from last night’s season four opening of SHOWTIME’s Homeland…and maybe a nomination for best “nuff-said” comment ever on the Land of the Pure.

political-map-of-Pakistan(click)

Led to me to look up exactly what the acronym was and came across the brilliant Hitchens’ attack on the Pakistani elite and political/military establishment and the U.S.’s dysfunctional relationship to it: From Abbottabad to Worse which appeared in Vanity Fair’s July 2011 issue, following the assassination of Osama bin Laden.  Harsh, perhaps exaggerated, but probably not far off the mark:

“Again to quote myself from 2001, if Pakistan were a person, he (and it would have to be a he) would have to be completely humorless, paranoid, insecure, eager to take offense, and suffering from self-righteousness, self-pity, and self-hatred. That last triptych of vices is intimately connected. The self-righteousness comes from the claim to represent a religion: the very name “Pakistan” is an acronym of Punjab, Afghanistan, Kashmir, and so forth, the resulting word in the Urdu language meaning “Land of the Pure.” The self-pity derives from the sad fact that the country has almost nothing else to be proud of: virtually barren of achievements and historically based on the amputation and mutilation of India in 1947 and its own self-mutilation in Bangladesh. The self-hatred is the consequence of being pathetically, permanently mendicant: an abject begging-bowl country that is nonetheless run by a super-rich and hyper-corrupt Punjabi elite. As for paranoia: This not so hypothetical Pakistani would also be a hardened anti-Semite, moaning with pleasure at the butchery of Daniel Pearl and addicted to blaming his self-inflicted woes on the all-powerful Jews.

“This dreary story actually does have some bearing on the “sovereignty” issue. In the beginning, all that the Muslim League demanded from the British was “a state for Muslims.” Pakistan’s founder and first president, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, was a relatively secular man whose younger sister went around unveiled and whose second wife did not practice Islam at all. But there’s a world of difference between a state for Muslims and a full-on Muslim state. Under the rule of General Zia there began to be imposition of Shari’a and increased persecution of non-Muslims as well as of Muslim minorities such as the Shiites, Ismailis, and Ahmadis. In recent years these theocratic tendencies have intensified with appalling speed, to the point where the state contains not one but two secret statelets within itself: the first an impenetrable enclave of covert nuclear command and control and the second a private nexus of power at the disposal of the military intelligence services and—until recently—Osama bin Laden himself.”

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

[La Guardia] Community College Students Face a Very Long Road to Graduation

6 Oct

05COMMUNITY1-articleLargeJake Naughton for The New York Times (click)

A beautiful piece of journalism by Ginia Bellafante from October 3rd’s New York Times on New York’s community colleges and the struggle of their mostly minority and immigrant population to make it through:  “Community College Students Face a Very Long Road to Graduation.”:

“LaGuardia was founded in 1971 out of the struggles for a more egalitarian world that had characterized the previous decade. At any time, it has approximately 50,000 students from 150 countries who among them speak 129 languages. [my emphasis]  In February, Mayor Bill de Blasio chose the college as the site of his first State of the City address. Gail O. Mellow, the president of LaGuardia and a community college graduate who went on to get her doctorate, has been an entrepreneurial and enlightened leader, forging relationships with Goldman Sachs, for instance, and the Japanese government. The school recently won a $2.9 million grant from the United States Department of Education for a proposal to enhance student engagement; it was one of 24 colleges to be awarded money, in a competition that drew 500 applicants.

And still its challenges, like those of nearly every other community college, can appear insurmountable. More than 70 percent of LaGuardia students come from families with incomes of less than $25,000 a year. The college reports that 70 percent of its full-time students who graduated after six years transferred to four-year colleges, compared with just 18 percent nationally, but only a quarter of LaGuardia students received an associate degree within six years.”

I taught ESL at La Guardia for over ten years.  At times it was a frustrating experience.  I felt like the administration was not really up-front with students about precisely some of the issues this article covers — like how long it usually takes to graduate — leaving too many to believe that they’d do two years at a community college and then two more at a four-year college and get a Bachelor’s.  I don’t envy the positions of department heads or administrators in these colleges: they have to come up with the funds necessary to keep things running in order to serve their population but at times have to do so in ways that shortchanges or maybe even exploits those students.

In my more specific case as an English teacher, the pedagogical mentality or philosophy of TESOL (Teaching of English as a Second Language) — if it can even be called a real discipline with a philosophy — and that of most of my colleagues’ and my department’s, is stuck with a historic burden of “remedialness” that informed a lot of instruction and that left many of our best students — all immigrants, of usually middle-class and fairly well-educated backgrounds and with full literacy skills in their own languages — often feeling infantilized and bored.  And one program I taught for — a big money-maker for the college — gave any one who registered for a full-time schedule a student visa of seemingly infinite renewableness, with only minimal attendance and academic requirements, and, as you would expect, these classes ended up full of kids from Seoul or Caracas whose daddies were paying for them to hang out in New York for two or three years, often unbearable brats impossible to teach and resentful that they had to be sitting in your class and not hanging out on Bedford Avenue — nothing like the poignant life-struggles of the student that Bellafante describes.  And my often angry clashes with the administration about those conditions — I wanting to maintain some degree of academic integrity and discipline and the department afraid that demanding too much of the students would lead to business at their “visa-mart” dropping off — was what ultimately led to my being fired in 2010.

At the same time, and for the most part, it was perhaps the most rewarding experience of my life and one I miss intensely.  There is still a strong sense at La Guardia of its being born “out of the struggles for a more egalitarian world.”  The neighborhoods of western Queens and northwestern Brooklyn that La Guardia serves are to the 1990s and 2000s what the Lower East Side was to New York at the beginning of the 1900s: the cauldron out of which a new city was and is emerging.  The opportunity to work right in the thick of this momentous historic process and in fact, not just to be able to help students learn a language and literature I love (yes, ESL students are interested in literature…and poetry…and journalism…and politics…and have opinions on all of the above) but also to help them learn or at least understand a little about a country I respect and the city I’m ferociously loyal to, was an amazing privilege.  And while being able to ease, as a teacher and even if only a bit, the pain or frustrations of being an immigrant made me feel like I was giving people like my own parents a tiny bit of support, what the students gave back to me — in terms of knowledge of their cultures, their openness and hospitality, their respect and affection — was incomparably greater.  How many of us get to experience so fully what might just be the very essence of New York? …four hundred years of reciprocal generosity between city and newcomer.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Some more Nadal-bashing: “Whatever it is, it begins to grate.” And Nole rules.

6 Oct

See October 4th’s “Did Rafa Nadal’s whining set him up for Beijing Open collapse?” YES!

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And the full story from the always spot-on Bleacher Report:

Rafael Nadal, the tennis king of idiosyncrasies, might be adding another ritual to his routine: whining. 

In case you haven’t heard, Nadal hated the tennis balls used at the China Open in Beijing. He thinks those things are freak’n dangerous. 

He told the Associated Press (via Tennis.com), “This week we are playing with one ball. Next week we are playing with a different ball,” he said. “That’s dangerous for the shoulder, dangerous for the elbow.”

Oh, Rafa, Rafa, Rafa. What now?

Sometimes it seems the Spaniard is always complaining about something.  

Nadal certainly wasn’t the only player to raise questions about the balls. Andy Murray complained too. It’s just that Nadal’s beef with the balls lands on a growing list of grievances.

You see, this week, it was the balls. Every year he grumbles about the number of hard-court tournaments and the impact it has on his knees.

In November 2013, Nadal complained about the ATP finals being played on indoor hard courts. He told Tennis.com, “During these nine years the Masters Cup was on indoor, a surface that was not the best for me … I understand, but I think this is unfair.”

You think Roger Federer wishes a few French Opens could be played on grass? But every year, the same thing…clay. That’s just wrong. 

Oh, Rafa, Rafa, Rafa.

Sometimes he acts like the world is against him. Like last year, at the French Open. That’s when he slammed the French for their scheduling and called it  “unfair.”

Nadal thinks many things are unfair. 

Two years ago, he was unhappy about the blue clay in Madrid. He and Novak Djokovic threatened to skip the tournament the next year if the blue clay came back. It didn’t. 

There’s nothing wrong with a professional athlete speaking his mind. However, instead of appearing outspoken, Nadal comes across as a whiner. 

He avoids bombastic outbursts like those from Richard Sherman. Yet, there’s something about the way in which Nadal states his case. It rubs folks the wrong way.

Perhaps it’s the tone of his voice, which sometimes barely rises above a mumble? Maybe it’s his shoulder shrugging demeanor in press conference?

Whatever it is, it’s beginning to grate. Like finger nails run across a chalk board, Nadal’s constant complaining irks. 

It’s unfortunate too because otherwise, Nadal is considered humble. He’s gracious in defeat and has been an excellent ambassador for the sport. Just this week, he carried roses out to Li Na at her retirement celebration in Beijing. He was one of the few ATP players to make an appearance. 

But oh Rafa, Rafa, Rafa. Complaining about the balls?

What used to be mere fodder for Rafa haters has spilled over into editorials and tweets.  A recent headline by USA Today asked: “Did Rafa Nadal’s whining set him up for Beijing Open collapse?”

After Nadal went on and on about the experimental blue clay in Madrid, veteran tennis writer Peter Bodo devoted an entire column for Tennis Magazine to questioning Nadal’s persistent whining. Bodo wrote (via NBC Sports):

Most of you are familiar with his dissatisfactions: The engorged calendar, the ranking system (he lobbied to have it transformed into one that was based on 24 months or results, rather than 12), his seemingly never quite right knees, the blue clay. . . Rafa isn’t the only player to complain about such things, but none of his peers at the top of the game seems to have quite as many issues, or appear to take them so personally (to the point where he quit the ATP player council, seemingly because his fellow pros just didn’t understand).

Whether or not the whiner label is justified, the fact that it’s coming up more often speaks to the prevalence of the perception.

Nadal’s talent and accomplishments have already earned him a future spot in the Hall of Fame and probably a few pages in the record books. That’s why the whining seems beneath him. 

Oh Rafa, Rafa, Rafa. It’s OK to remain conscientious and opinionated. Just pick your battles better, or else earn a new nickname: “Rafaree.” 

 

Meanwhile, more Bleacher Report on Djoković’s insanely beautiful final match at China Open, Novak Djokovic’s Late-Season Form Will Lead to 4th World Tour Finals Trophy:

Novak Djokovic played arguably the greatest final of his phenomenal career at the China Open on Sunday, beating Tomas Berdych 6-0, 6-2, and his excellent late-season form will lead him to a third consecutive and fourth overall ATP World Tour Finals win in London.

The Joker’s domination on Sunday was absolute. In just over an hour, the Serb sprinted to a 6-0, 5-0 lead against a bewildered opponent. Everything was working. He was exceptional in the return game, almost perfect from the baseline and played with just enough aggression without pushing things over the top.

Berdych was lost for words after the match, via the ATP World Tour’s official website:

“I met somebody in the final who I’ve never seen before. I was just swept off the court. I just said to my coach now that I probably played over 700 matches in my career…But I have never, ever experienced anything like that.”

hi-res-7177ad13c3b93cd38692d28ebf961885_crop_northVincent Thian/Associated Press

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

From Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish: “Turkey’s Stake In The ISIS War”

5 Oct

Turkey’s Stake In The ISIS War

Oct 2 2014 @ 5:22pm

TURKEY-SYRIA-KURDS

As expected, Turkey’s parliament today authorized the government to take military action against jihadists in both Syria and Iraq, but Ankara has yet to say what, if anything, that action will be. With ISIS on its border, though, we might find out soon:

Kurdish fighters backed by US-led air strikes were locked in fierce fighting Wednesday to prevent the besieged border town of Ain al-Arab from falling to the Islamic State group fighters. “There are real fears that the IS may be able to advance into the town… very soon,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights warned, with the jihadists within three kilometres (two miles) of the strategic town.

Or an attack on the tomb of Suleiman Shah, a Turkish enclave in northern Syria, might be what finally draws Ankara into the war:

Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said Tuesday that the militants were advancing on the white stone mausoleum, guarded by several dozen Turkish soldiers and perched on a manicured lawn under a Turkish flag on the banks of the Euphrates. The tomb was made Turkish under a treaty signed with France in 1921, when France ruled Syria. Ankara regards it as sovereign territory and has made clear that it will defend the mausoleum if it is attacked.

Jamie Dettmer relays the suspicions of diplomats in Ankara that “Turkey will limit its military role—doing a bare minimum as a NATO member to avoid embarrassing the Western alliance but not enough to undermine the anti-Western narrative that thrills Erdogan’s Islamist supporters and other religious conservatives in the country”:

“As much as Turkey enjoys the protection of NATO’s Patriot missiles against the Syrian regime, Ankara is perhaps not willing to appear an active member of a war operation against what was initially a Sunni insurgency movement in Syria,” according to Marc Pierini, a former ambassador of the European Union in Ankara. “Turkey under the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has never wanted to appear to be aligning itself with Western policies.”

Erdogan’s domestic critics say he has to some degree helped the rise of ISIS, as well as other Islamic militants. At the very least Turkey has turned a blind eye to them as they emerged in the Syrian civil war and increasingly formed the vanguard in the fight to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad. Some critics argue that Turkey’s intelligence agencies have gone farther and actively channeled arms supplies to the jihadists.

Koplow also explores how the spillover effects of the conflict in Syria stand to influence Turkey’s domestic politics. For one thing, the government’s non-response is alienating the country’s Kurdish population, threatening to undo what had been a fairly successful rapprochement:

Many Kurds blame Ankara for allowing ISIS to fester and even for empowering the group through its previous see-no-evil-hear-no-evil border policy. The more half-hearted the Turkish government has been about getting rid of ISIS, the harder it is to successfully conclude the Kurdish peace process. In southeastern Turkey, funerals for Kurdish fighters who have been killed fighting ISIS across the border are a regular occurrence, and they contribute to growing discord between a naturally restive population and the Turkish government. The ongoing battle between ISIS and Kurdish fighters for the town of Kobane on the Syria-Turkey border — and Turkey’s apparent reluctance to get involved for fear of empowering Kurdish militants in Turkey — is inflaming passions and contributing to antigovernment rhetoric in ways that will reverberate well beyond this particular fight. …

An economy burdened by refugees, renewed unrest among Turkish Kurds, resurgent nationalism, and policy run by unaccountable intelligence services makes for an unstable brew. ISIS has presented the United States and the entire Middle East with a new set of problems, but its immediate legacy may be an end to what has been a remarkable period of Turkish domestic stability.

(Photo: A Turkish soldier stands on a hill in Suruc, Turkey on October 2, 2014, facing the Islamic State (IS) fighters’ new position, 10km west of the Syrian city of Ain al-Arab (Kobani). By Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images)

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

“Did Rafa Nadal’s whining set him up for Beijing Open collapse?” YES!

4 Oct

The boy is an incorrigible kvetch!  I’ve been saying that forever.

GTY 456587820 S SPO TEN CHN(Getty Images)

See whole piece in USA Today Sports.  And, frankly, I think he’s rapidly approaching washed-up.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

“Turkey Must Save the Kurds” — Aslı Aydıntaşbaş

3 Oct

A surprisingly strong-worded opinion piece from Milliyet’s Aslı Aydıntaşbaş in today’s Times:

Turkey Kurds03edaydintasbasart-superJumbo Turkish soldiers helping Kurdish families fleeing the fighting in Syria. Credit Bülent Kılıç/Associated Press (Click)

I was moved immensely by the courage shown in the closing paragraphs of the piece as well; it illustrated for me the kind of political maturity — something I can only call a “politics of compassion” — that so many parties or sectors of Turkish society, Turks and Kurds, religious and secular, have been moving towards in the past few decades, and on so many levels and issues and despite the inevitable set-backs.  But then, it’s only a mature soul that feels compassion, isn’t it?

“Doing so will require a huge paradigm shift for Turkey: It must abandon its nationalist legacy and reimagine itself as a joint Turkish-Kurdish entity. [Who in Turkey says these things?!] Turkish Kurds represent about 25 percent of the population, and the government has wisely been pursuing a peace process with the P.K.K. There are ups and downs in the talks between Turkish intelligence and the imprisoned P.K.K. leader, Abdullah Ocalan. But at the end of the day, both sides need each other.

It is therefore a mistake to assume that a weakened Kurdish presence means a stronger Turkey or that Turkey’s own peace process is disconnected from the fate of Kurds outside our borders. The Turkish government cannot sit on the sidelines because it fears an autonomous, P.K.K.-controlled Kurdish zone on the border more than the Islamic State’s gains. When I asked one government official why Turkey was not helping the Kurdish forces in Syria, he replied, “Why must we choose between the P.K.K. and ISIS?”

But we must. We must choose because the Kurds are our only reasonable allies in a region of turmoil. Embracing them — our fellow citizens — would also help to heal our own fractured souls.[My emphases]

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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