Commentary Magazine


Topic: Ankara

Our Place In the World

Barack Obama rode into office promising to “restore our place in the world.” Many thought this meant that Obama intended to elevate America’s profile, make us more popular and more effective, and soothe the feelings of hurt allies. But “our place in the world,” it has turned out, means a smaller place from which a less confident and assertive America simply “bears witness” as events swirl around us.

In a must-read piece, Fouad Ajami argues persuasively that Obama would rather we do less in the world and turn our attention to his quite radical plans for refashioning America. He writes of the Obama mindset:

We’re weary, the disillusioned liberalism maintains, and we’re broke, and there are those millions of Americans aching for health care and an economic lifeline. We can’t care for both Ohio and the Anbar, Peoria and Peshawar. It is either those embattled people in Iran or a rescue package for Chrysler.

The joke is on the enthralled crowds in Cairo, Ankara, Berlin and Oslo. The new American president they had fallen for had no genuine calling or attachments abroad. In their enthusiasm for Mr. Obama, and their eagerness to proclaim themselves at one with the postracial meaning of his election, they had missed his aloofness from the genuine struggles in the foreign world.

The catch in all this is that America’s retreat and equivocation neither keeps our enemies at bay nor frees the president to focus on the home front. To the contrary, our foes become emboldened and the dangers rage. As Ajami observes: “History and its furies have their logic, and they have not bent to Mr. Obama’s will. He had declared a unilateral end to the ‘war on terror,’ but the jihadists and their mentors are yet to call their war to a halt. From Yemen to Fort Hood and Detroit, the terror continues.” And while Obama is obsessed with half-a-loaf policies (e.g., surge in Afghanistan but with a deadline, sanctions in Iran but just little bitty ones) our adversaries in Afghanistan, Iran, Yemen, North Korea, Syria, and elsewhere remain unimpressed, if not emboldened, by what appears to be irresolution, not “nuance,” and hesitancy, not “smart diplomacy.”

So after nearly a year, what has Obama accomplished? The world is no less dangerous, our allies (Britain, Israel, Honduras, Poland, and the Czech Republic, among others) are not cheered, and America has made it clear to human-rights activists and their oppressors that there is little this administration is willing to say (and even less it is willing to do) to advance democracy and freedom. The result? Ajami sums up: “We’re smaller for accepting that false choice between burdens at home and burdens abroad, and the world beyond our shores is more hazardous and cynical for our retrenchment and our self-flagellation.”

Anxious conservatives keep waiting for the “Ah ha!” moment when Obama will recognize the folly of his effort to turn away from the demands of a dangerous world, will instead embrace American exceptionalism, and unabashedly assert American values and interests. Yet he continues to nibble around the edges of an effective foreign policy. He drops the more ludicrous gambits (e.g., backing Hugo Chavez’s flunky in Honduras and demanding a unilateral settlement freeze by Israel) but has yet to match action with revised rhetoric. He continues to do the least possible when the most is required. His idea of America’s place in the world seems not so majestic as some had imagined. And the world, as a result, is more dangerous, and America is less enamored and respected. Alas, it is not at all what was promised.

Barack Obama rode into office promising to “restore our place in the world.” Many thought this meant that Obama intended to elevate America’s profile, make us more popular and more effective, and soothe the feelings of hurt allies. But “our place in the world,” it has turned out, means a smaller place from which a less confident and assertive America simply “bears witness” as events swirl around us.

In a must-read piece, Fouad Ajami argues persuasively that Obama would rather we do less in the world and turn our attention to his quite radical plans for refashioning America. He writes of the Obama mindset:

We’re weary, the disillusioned liberalism maintains, and we’re broke, and there are those millions of Americans aching for health care and an economic lifeline. We can’t care for both Ohio and the Anbar, Peoria and Peshawar. It is either those embattled people in Iran or a rescue package for Chrysler.

The joke is on the enthralled crowds in Cairo, Ankara, Berlin and Oslo. The new American president they had fallen for had no genuine calling or attachments abroad. In their enthusiasm for Mr. Obama, and their eagerness to proclaim themselves at one with the postracial meaning of his election, they had missed his aloofness from the genuine struggles in the foreign world.

The catch in all this is that America’s retreat and equivocation neither keeps our enemies at bay nor frees the president to focus on the home front. To the contrary, our foes become emboldened and the dangers rage. As Ajami observes: “History and its furies have their logic, and they have not bent to Mr. Obama’s will. He had declared a unilateral end to the ‘war on terror,’ but the jihadists and their mentors are yet to call their war to a halt. From Yemen to Fort Hood and Detroit, the terror continues.” And while Obama is obsessed with half-a-loaf policies (e.g., surge in Afghanistan but with a deadline, sanctions in Iran but just little bitty ones) our adversaries in Afghanistan, Iran, Yemen, North Korea, Syria, and elsewhere remain unimpressed, if not emboldened, by what appears to be irresolution, not “nuance,” and hesitancy, not “smart diplomacy.”

So after nearly a year, what has Obama accomplished? The world is no less dangerous, our allies (Britain, Israel, Honduras, Poland, and the Czech Republic, among others) are not cheered, and America has made it clear to human-rights activists and their oppressors that there is little this administration is willing to say (and even less it is willing to do) to advance democracy and freedom. The result? Ajami sums up: “We’re smaller for accepting that false choice between burdens at home and burdens abroad, and the world beyond our shores is more hazardous and cynical for our retrenchment and our self-flagellation.”

Anxious conservatives keep waiting for the “Ah ha!” moment when Obama will recognize the folly of his effort to turn away from the demands of a dangerous world, will instead embrace American exceptionalism, and unabashedly assert American values and interests. Yet he continues to nibble around the edges of an effective foreign policy. He drops the more ludicrous gambits (e.g., backing Hugo Chavez’s flunky in Honduras and demanding a unilateral settlement freeze by Israel) but has yet to match action with revised rhetoric. He continues to do the least possible when the most is required. His idea of America’s place in the world seems not so majestic as some had imagined. And the world, as a result, is more dangerous, and America is less enamored and respected. Alas, it is not at all what was promised.

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Just Say No

Anyone seeking to combat growing anti-Israel intimidation worldwide ought to pay attention to an obscure soccer match last week.

Such intimidation has become common at sporting events, just as it has at college campuses, public lectures and many other venues. In Malmo, Sweden, this past March, for instance, organizers barred spectators entirely from Israel’s Davis Cup tennis match against Sweden, owing to fear of pro-Palestinian protesters who, the town’s mayor said, had recently pelted a pro-Israel demonstration with bottles, eggs, and fireworks. Two months earlier, an Israeli basketball team fled the court in panic during a EuroCup match in Ankara, Turkey, after thousands of Turkish fans waving Palestinian flags shouted “death to the Jews,” threw shoes and water battles, and ultimately stormed the court. (Adding insult to injury, EuroCup’s governing body then slapped Israel with a technical loss because the frightened players refused to take the court again.)

So when Hapoel Tel Aviv played Celtic in Glasgow last week, the Scottish Trade Unions Congress — one of many European unions that have voted to boycott Israel — saw a golden opportunity: it urged Celtic fans to wave Palestinian flags during the match in “solidarity with suffering Palestinians.” But in the end, the protest fizzled: only “a handful” of pro-Palestinian protesters occupied the stands, Reuters reported.

This defeat required no major investment of time, money, or energy. All it took was one simple news statement by Celtic’s management — asserting that its stadium was “no place for a political demonstration” and urging fans to ignore STUC’s call.

This tactic worked not because Glasgow is a hotbed of pro-Israel sentiment; it’s anything but. Rather, it worked because Celtic fans, like the vast majority of the human race, don’t consider the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a high priority. And on issues people don’t care much about, they usually follow the path of least resistance.

If a prominent organization like STUC urges a pro-Palestinian protest, and nobody opposes it, the path of least resistance for anyone mildly pro-Palestinian — i.e., most Scots — would be to take a flag (assuming organizers are smart enough to hand them out) and even wave it: acquiescence is always easier than opposition. But the minute someone with any kind of standing, like Celtic’s management, opposes it, doing nothing becomes the preferred option — because then, taking a flag means actively taking sides. And taking sides is much harder than doing nothing.

Given how easy it turns out to be to thwart such anti-Israel intimidation, it is disturbing that so many people in authority — from mayors to college deans to heads of sporting organizations — nevertheless prefer to collaborate with the thugs by remaining silent. Yet at the same time, this demonstration ought to hearten pro-Israel activists. For if Celtic’s success once again proves that all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing, it also shows that sometimes, all it takes to defeat evil is for a few good men to just say no.

Anyone seeking to combat growing anti-Israel intimidation worldwide ought to pay attention to an obscure soccer match last week.

Such intimidation has become common at sporting events, just as it has at college campuses, public lectures and many other venues. In Malmo, Sweden, this past March, for instance, organizers barred spectators entirely from Israel’s Davis Cup tennis match against Sweden, owing to fear of pro-Palestinian protesters who, the town’s mayor said, had recently pelted a pro-Israel demonstration with bottles, eggs, and fireworks. Two months earlier, an Israeli basketball team fled the court in panic during a EuroCup match in Ankara, Turkey, after thousands of Turkish fans waving Palestinian flags shouted “death to the Jews,” threw shoes and water battles, and ultimately stormed the court. (Adding insult to injury, EuroCup’s governing body then slapped Israel with a technical loss because the frightened players refused to take the court again.)

So when Hapoel Tel Aviv played Celtic in Glasgow last week, the Scottish Trade Unions Congress — one of many European unions that have voted to boycott Israel — saw a golden opportunity: it urged Celtic fans to wave Palestinian flags during the match in “solidarity with suffering Palestinians.” But in the end, the protest fizzled: only “a handful” of pro-Palestinian protesters occupied the stands, Reuters reported.

This defeat required no major investment of time, money, or energy. All it took was one simple news statement by Celtic’s management — asserting that its stadium was “no place for a political demonstration” and urging fans to ignore STUC’s call.

This tactic worked not because Glasgow is a hotbed of pro-Israel sentiment; it’s anything but. Rather, it worked because Celtic fans, like the vast majority of the human race, don’t consider the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a high priority. And on issues people don’t care much about, they usually follow the path of least resistance.

If a prominent organization like STUC urges a pro-Palestinian protest, and nobody opposes it, the path of least resistance for anyone mildly pro-Palestinian — i.e., most Scots — would be to take a flag (assuming organizers are smart enough to hand them out) and even wave it: acquiescence is always easier than opposition. But the minute someone with any kind of standing, like Celtic’s management, opposes it, doing nothing becomes the preferred option — because then, taking a flag means actively taking sides. And taking sides is much harder than doing nothing.

Given how easy it turns out to be to thwart such anti-Israel intimidation, it is disturbing that so many people in authority — from mayors to college deans to heads of sporting organizations — nevertheless prefer to collaborate with the thugs by remaining silent. Yet at the same time, this demonstration ought to hearten pro-Israel activists. For if Celtic’s success once again proves that all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing, it also shows that sometimes, all it takes to defeat evil is for a few good men to just say no.

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A Problem from Hell

The Turkish government is furious about a vote in the House International Relations Committee condemning as “genocide” the killing of some 1.5 million Armenians by the Turks in 1915.

The issue is an old and vexing one, and I confess to not being entirely in sympathy with either side. The Turks, for a start, are absurdly worked up about a mere piece of paper condemning actions taken not by the current government of Turkey or by its immediate predecessors but by another entity entirely—the Ottoman Empire, which ceased to exist in 1922 when it was replaced by a new Turkish state headed by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The massacres of 1915 (which were indeed an attempted genocide—see Samantha Power’s powerful book, A Problem from Hell) were carried out by the Young Turks. Therefore, the current government in Ankara could very easily say: Yes, there were terrible acts committed by the Ottoman Empire in its waning days and we regret and disavow them. Now we want to work cooperatively with Armenians living in Armenia itself and in the Diaspora, and as a humanitarian gesture make some restitution where appropriate.

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The Turkish government is furious about a vote in the House International Relations Committee condemning as “genocide” the killing of some 1.5 million Armenians by the Turks in 1915.

The issue is an old and vexing one, and I confess to not being entirely in sympathy with either side. The Turks, for a start, are absurdly worked up about a mere piece of paper condemning actions taken not by the current government of Turkey or by its immediate predecessors but by another entity entirely—the Ottoman Empire, which ceased to exist in 1922 when it was replaced by a new Turkish state headed by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The massacres of 1915 (which were indeed an attempted genocide—see Samantha Power’s powerful book, A Problem from Hell) were carried out by the Young Turks. Therefore, the current government in Ankara could very easily say: Yes, there were terrible acts committed by the Ottoman Empire in its waning days and we regret and disavow them. Now we want to work cooperatively with Armenians living in Armenia itself and in the Diaspora, and as a humanitarian gesture make some restitution where appropriate.

That would cost Turkey little and gain it much international support. But it does not seem emotionally possible given how high feelings run in Turkey over this issue. Instead, should this resolution go through, the Erdogan government is again threatening all sorts of dire consequences for the Turkish-American alliance. Since we need Turkish cooperation in all sorts of areas, especially in Iraq, we must tread lightly. My own view is that Congress should avoid passing a symbolic resolution that will do little or nothing to help Armenian victims or their descendants, but that will hurt vital American interests.

That’s not, of course, the way Armenians see it, and they form a powerful lobbying group that donates a lot of money to politicians especially in states like New Jersey, Michigan, and California. (It is no coincidence that legislators from those states are leading the push for the Armenian genocide resolution.)

While I disagree with them on the merits of this legislation, I sympathize with their grievances and respect their right to seek redress in Washington. That’s the way our political system works. It’s common, and completely innocuous, for various ethnic groups to get involved in lobbying. It’s only a scandal, it seems, when the lobbyists in question are Jewish. In that case, their activities are denounced in odious anti-Semitic tracts, most of them published by groups like the John Birch Society, the Lyndon Larouchites, and the Ku Klux Klan, but some of which appear bearing the imprimatur of supposedly prestigious institutions like Harvard University, the University of Chicago, and Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

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