As Arab Spring Turns to Winterů
President Barack Obama has agreed reluctantly to fulfill his pledge to provide support for Syrian rebels, in response to proof that Bashar Assad’s government has used chemical weapons. It has been a two-year rebellion, now a two-year civil war.
The Syrian people, along with others, got tired of repressive, authoritarian government and revolted, just as Americans did more than 200 years ago. Though our revolution worked, theirs has turned out pretty badly so far.
There was risk from the beginning, of course. Ideologues abound in the Middle East, and many extremists think fighting is the way to effect a change to their choice of government. The risk always was that, in overthrowing a self-serving, criminal dictator, a country would fall under Sharia law, with renewed repression based on some twisted religious belief or long-ranging sectarian feud.
It certainly happened in Egypt, where Mohammad Morsi took off his moderate veil soon after being elected president of that country.
Active fighting continues in Syria. Warriors include government forces, primarily Alewives and Shiites, plus Sunnis and Kurds, Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood and al Qaeda, to mention only some.
We’re committed to giving our arms to the good guys. Good luck with that.
Regarding the Middle East, complicated doesn‘t begin to describe things. Academics spend their lives trying to figure out what’s going on there, and what it means. Last Friday’s Middle East Institute’s Fourth Annual Conference on Turkey was a day of listening to some of them, along with Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay, who flew in to speak, and Volkan Bozkir, chairman of the Turkish Foreign Affairs Committee.
The first question of the day was, “Is Turkey up to the challenge of Syria?”
The question I was left with is this: “Is Turkey up to the challenge of Turkey?” Turkey lives right between the Muslim Middle East and Europe. It is Muslim, too, but also a pleural, secular society, beginning with Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and the end of the Ottoman Empire after World War I. There was democracy on the surface, with military control underneath. About a decade ago Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and his Justice and Development Party, came into power and, by most accounts, increased democracy, limiting military rule in the country. They are continuing their effort to join the European Union.
Turkey’s old foreign policy is known among the “in” crowd as the “no problem with the neighbors” policy. In recent years, though, Turkey has attempted to reach out and to declare itself a mentor for its neighbors. The neighbors haven’t shown much interest, and President Bashar al-Assad of Syria definitely rebuffed reform suggestions. This ended with Turkey repudiating him.
Turkey has a history of taking in refugees, beginning as far back as the Middle Ages, when it rescued Jews from the Spanish Inquisition. It rescued Jews during the Holocaust, even returning citizenship to emigrants in Europe to save them from the Nazis. Turkey has again stepped up, accepting many refugees from Syria and providing them with excellent care.
On the other hand, it took water cannons and tear gas to remove recent protestors in Istanbul, in spite of Assistant Prime Minister Atalay’s assertion that the protests were misrepresented by the international press, and that protestors would soon be going home, after unprecedented meetings with Prime Minister Erdoğan. Now new protests have begun. This is a first for Erdoğan and his party, which now holds a very narrow
There are many imprisoned journalists in Turkey. Mr. Atalay states that they belong to a terrorist group. A recent law has done away with “crimes of thought” and promises free expression as long as one is not inciting violence. Another new law increases regulations on the sale of alcohol. One questioner at the conference, a young Turkish woman, reported that her brother was gassed while going to buy a wedding card in Istanbul.
Turkey has a history of persecution of the Kurdish people, whose country was eliminated in a decision made by Western powers after World War I. Present leaders say that they are winning Kurdish loyalty by improving their lives, encouraging education of girls, allowing them to speak their own language, etc. Complicating this is Turkish support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, enemies of the Kurds. It would be good for Turkey to have Kurdish loyalty, as neighboring Kurds in Northern Iraq are sitting, landlocked, on oil, and some are talking of recreating an independent nation.
Now, in this so troubled, unstable region, where so many wish to destroy us, we are again poised on the brink of action. In the current Syrian conflict, 93,000 people have died, while Russia sold arms to Assad, and we stood by.
Should we intervene now?