Commentary Magazine


Topic: Turkey

Islamic State vs. Syrian Kurds

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity and pleasure to visit Rojava, the autonomous region which Syrian Kurds have carved out by pushing out or containing Bashar al-Assad’s forces while simultaneously defeating wave after wave of Nusra Front and later Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) attacks. What the Syrian Kurds have achieved would be amazing under any circumstance; that they did so while blockaded by Turkey, the Syrian government, Iraq, and Iraqi Kurdistan (whose leader Masud Barzani opposes them for both tribal reasons and because they refuse to subordinate themselves to his leadership) is even more impressive. That Rojava has become a refuge for tens of thousands of Arab Muslims and Syrian Christians is testament to its tolerance and moderation.

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Earlier this year, I had the opportunity and pleasure to visit Rojava, the autonomous region which Syrian Kurds have carved out by pushing out or containing Bashar al-Assad’s forces while simultaneously defeating wave after wave of Nusra Front and later Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) attacks. What the Syrian Kurds have achieved would be amazing under any circumstance; that they did so while blockaded by Turkey, the Syrian government, Iraq, and Iraqi Kurdistan (whose leader Masud Barzani opposes them for both tribal reasons and because they refuse to subordinate themselves to his leadership) is even more impressive. That Rojava has become a refuge for tens of thousands of Arab Muslims and Syrian Christians is testament to its tolerance and moderation.

Largely out of deference to Turkey, the State Department has steered clear of Syrian Kurdistan, refusing to welcome its representatives to the ill-considered and ill-fated conferences in Geneva earlier this year, while choosing instead to bring in Syrian Kurdish politicians lacking any real constituency on the ground in Syria.

The U.S. position is both strategic and moral malpractice. The Assad regime has implemented, in the words of State Department official Stephen Rapp, “the kind of machinery of cruel death that we haven’t seen frankly since the Nazis.” The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, of course, has broken away from al-Qaeda because it considers that extremist group too moderate. Since renaming itself the Islamic State and taking over broad swaths of Iraq, its atrocities have been well covered by the media. That given the option between Assad or a radical Islamist group on one hand, and a secular, democratic-leaning entity on the other, President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry place the United States against the secular, democratic-leaning entity says a lot about the current moral bankruptcy infusing U.S. policy.

For months, that lack of support made life difficult for Syrian Kurds, Christians, and other citizens within Rojava. What has not been covered, however, is the all-out battle now occurring between ISIS and Syrian Kurds. Tweets from residents of the region now under ISIS attacks have also reported that the Syrian opposition has been using chemical weapons against the Kurdish population. See, for example, this account from July 9 and 10. Now, of course, just because someone tweets something does not make it true. But there is no indication the reports are false, and every indication they are true At the very least, this is a charge American and UN officials should investigate. How ironic that just over a quarter century after Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against Iraqi Kurds—and the Reagan administration remained silent because speaking up would be too diplomatically inconvenient—history seems to be repeating against Kurds once more. It’s a good thing there are now public intellectuals like Samantha Power who put their moral compass above ambition. Or not.

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Is Now the Time for a Cyprus Deal?

I and others here at COMMENTARY have written many times about Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s efforts to transform Turkey from a secular state to an overtly religious one. As Erdoğan has consolidated power and dismantled checks and balances within Turkish society, he has increasingly made good on his promise to eschew secularism and instead “raise a religious generation.” He has done this not only by encouraging greater religiosity among his own constituents, but also by seeking to impose his conservative interpretation of Islamic values upon those for whom they are not part of daily culture.

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I and others here at COMMENTARY have written many times about Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s efforts to transform Turkey from a secular state to an overtly religious one. As Erdoğan has consolidated power and dismantled checks and balances within Turkish society, he has increasingly made good on his promise to eschew secularism and instead “raise a religious generation.” He has done this not only by encouraging greater religiosity among his own constituents, but also by seeking to impose his conservative interpretation of Islamic values upon those for whom they are not part of daily culture.

Enter Cyrpus: It is a problem that has confounded Turkey, Greece, and Europe more broadly for more than four decades. In 1974, Turkey invaded Cyprus to protect the Turkish minority against a hardcore, Greek nationalist group seeking to incorporate the island into Greece. Internal and forced displacement segregated the island. In 1983, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) declared its independence. While Pakistan and Bangladesh briefly recognized the new state, once the United Nations declared it illegal, they withdrew their recognition.

Nevertheless, the TNRC has maintained theoretical independence from Turkey, even as it has depended on Turkish subsidies for decades and relies on the Turkish military for security. In reality, it remains Europe’s longest occupation—and makes Turkish complaints about Israel’s presence in the West Bank completely hypocritical, all the more so because the status of the West Bank has always been a subject of dispute, while Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus was an invasion of an internationally-recognized, existing sovereign state.

The past has seen repeated international mediation efforts come to naught. The closest the two sides came to resolution was a decade ago, when they negotiated the “Annan Plan,” which would have recognized a united Cypriot republic characterized by loose federalism. While Turkish Cypriots recognized the plan, Greeks rejected it in a referendum.

Ironically, Erdoğan may now accomplish what statesmen for years have failed to: uniting the island, albeit against him. Turkish Cypriots are increasingly unhappy at efforts by Turkey’s ruling party to impose their conservative Islamic values on the island, where the ethnic Turkish community has always been a bit more laid back. And while Turkish Cyprus remains poor, Cyprus proper has moved to exploit, in partnership with Israel, its significant offshore gas reserves. According to conversations I had in Turkey with Turkish Cypriots last month, this has encouraged Turkish Cypriots to seek a settlement more on Greek Cypriot terms, albeit one that would recognize the rights and freedom of ethnic Turkish Cypriots. Turkish troops would have to go but, then again, with the ethnic Turkish minority no longer under threat, there is no reason why Turkey should continue its decades-long occupation.

Across the Middle East, oil often fuels divisiveness. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Iran, for example, uses its interests in Iran’s oil infrastructure to fund terrorism around the globe. Oil was at the heart of the dispute (although, of course, not the only factor) between the Iraqi central government and Iraqi Kurdistan. It remains a major source of conflict in Libya. How refreshing it would be if new gas discoveries combined with a rejection of the Turkish government’s radicalism actually contributed to peace in the long-divided nation of Cyprus.

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The Complexities of Kurdish Secession

Masud Barzani, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s president, announced yesterday before the region’s rubber-stamp parliament that he would put Kurdish independence to a referendum. If the referendum goes forward—Barzani is coy about the date and seems loathe to forfeit the oil subsidies he received from southern Iraq’s oil fields which are far more lucrative than Kirkuk’s—then the Kurdish public will overwhelmingly accept it. That is their right, and if they decide to become the world’s newest state, congratulations to them. Kurds deserve statehood. (And with it, maybe Google will finally add Kurdish to the languages Google Translate covers.)

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Masud Barzani, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s president, announced yesterday before the region’s rubber-stamp parliament that he would put Kurdish independence to a referendum. If the referendum goes forward—Barzani is coy about the date and seems loathe to forfeit the oil subsidies he received from southern Iraq’s oil fields which are far more lucrative than Kirkuk’s—then the Kurdish public will overwhelmingly accept it. That is their right, and if they decide to become the world’s newest state, congratulations to them. Kurds deserve statehood. (And with it, maybe Google will finally add Kurdish to the languages Google Translate covers.)

Statehood, however, will be not the end of the story but rather its beginning, both within Kurdistan and in the region.

Within Kurdistan, Kurds will have to address a government which is both disorganized and often acts in its own self-interest rather than that of its supposed constituents. That can be dismissed as an internal matter. Ultimately quality of government is an internal Kurdish matter, though, and one which Kurds will eventually resolve whether it takes months, years, or decades. Despite Kurdistan’s impressive development over the past decade, it still lacks basic financial infrastructure. That has helped ruling party members get rich because it enables them to better hide ghost employees or skim money from those under them who owe their jobs to their patron’s influence. Kurds might also need to standardize their language and alphabet, although that too is an internal issue.

Kurdistan’s formal birth, however, will also have international reverberations. While the West sees Kurdistan moving closer to Turkey, Kurdish leaders cultivate Iran as enthusiastically for balance. Whether the United States can sway the balance or not with bases of its own is an open question, although one which President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will defer given budget constraints and a lack of appreciation of American force projection abroad.

Then there’s water: The Euphrates bypasses Kurdistan, going from Turkey through Syria and into Iraq in al-Anbar. But the Tigris (or its tributaries) cuts across Kurdistan, traverses Turkey and forms part of the Syrian-Turkish border, before it heads into central Iraq. The negotiations over its flow were complex at the best of times, when the water only needed to be divided between three countries. A fourth will only add additional complexity. That’s not Kurdistan’s problem, as they get the water before the rest of Iraq does, but as one Iraqi told me in Jordan, “We Sunnis can make nasty neighbors if you make us mad enough.”

If Kurdish independence eventually spreads beyond Iraq’s current borders, the implications will be greater. Turkey, for example, is a NATO member. It hosts a major airbase in Diyarbakir, which many Kurds see as a future capital. Even if Turkey becomes a federal, biregional state, the implications are the same as Kurds there would seek a division of resources and infrastructure.

None of this is a reason for the United States to oppose Kurdish nationhood. But it should mean planning for the day, week, and months after. None of this planning or more than the most superficial considerations has apparently yet occurred.

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Is Turkey’s Partition Inevitable?

World turmoil in 2014 increasingly recalls that of one hundred years ago as national aspirations and trans-national ambitions set the world on a path to war. I do not suggest that the world is on the verge of a catastrophe such as that unleashed when an assassin’s bullet struck down Archduke Ferdinand just over a century ago, but rather that forces now at work could fundamentally remake the map.

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World turmoil in 2014 increasingly recalls that of one hundred years ago as national aspirations and trans-national ambitions set the world on a path to war. I do not suggest that the world is on the verge of a catastrophe such as that unleashed when an assassin’s bullet struck down Archduke Ferdinand just over a century ago, but rather that forces now at work could fundamentally remake the map.

I posted earlier regarding the possibility that Iraqi Kurds may soon declare their formal independence, a move with which even Iraqi Arabs have grown ambivalent. After all, Iraq’s real oil wealth is in southern Iraq, and many Iraqi Arabs would be fine keeping that for themselves.

Syrian Kurds have been coy about their future. The Kurdish administration in “Rojava,” an autonomous zone in northeastern Syria, is relatively secure, organized, and functioning. Kurds there say they will settle for federalism within the confines of Syria, although the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham in the areas surrounding Rojava suggests that events outside their region may ultimately determine the outcome, much as it has in Iraq.

For Kurds, however, Turkey is the real prize. That is where the bulk of Kurds live, and southeastern Turkey remains an incubator of Kurdish culture. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan opened negotiations with Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which once waged an insurgency and terror campaign against the Turkish state. The PKK has accepted a ceasefire and temporarily laid down their arms. While Erdoğan has hinted that he will offer the Kurds a reform package ahead of the August presidential elections (for which he wants Kurdish support), history should not give the Kurds much confidence: every outreach Erdoğan has made to the Kurds has come against the backdrop of elections, and after elections have passed, Erdoğan reneges on his promises. Fool me once, fool me twice, but few Kurds are prepared to be fooled a third time, except perhaps against the backdrop of a fight.

Herein lies the problem: If Erdoğan makes good on his reforms to the Kurds, then it sets Turkey down the path toward federalism, the way-point for independence. Turks must also prepare for Öcalan’s release. They may consider Öcalan a terrorist, but Erdoğan has made him the indispensable man. There is simply no outcome that won’t see Öcalan released first from isolation, and then from prison entirely, at which point Kurds and many others will celebrate him as a Kurdish Mandela.

Demography, too, is in the Kurds’ favor. Erdoğan may hope that religious solidarity will trump nationalism, but this is a naïve hope. Turkish Kurds can smell a state, and with Iraqi Kurds on the verge of achieving that dream, there will be no denying Anatolian Kurds the same outcome. The map is changing. Turkey is celebrating its 90th anniversary. When it marks its centennial, however, expect the map of Turkey to be much different. When that happens, perhaps Turks can celebrate Erdoğan as their Sultan. The new Kurdistan, however, should put Erdoğan on their currency alongside Öcalan and Barzani as a man who made it happen.

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Turkey’s Last Chance?

Turks will go to the polls on August 10 to elect a new president, the first time that office will be filled by direct election. This weekend, incumbent Abdullah Gül, a Justice and Development Party (AKP) acolyte, has announced he will step down and the AKP will determine its nominee on July 1. The party’s nominee will likely be Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s Islamist, corrupt, and increasingly authoritarian prime minister.

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Turks will go to the polls on August 10 to elect a new president, the first time that office will be filled by direct election. This weekend, incumbent Abdullah Gül, a Justice and Development Party (AKP) acolyte, has announced he will step down and the AKP will determine its nominee on July 1. The party’s nominee will likely be Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s Islamist, corrupt, and increasingly authoritarian prime minister.

Rather than roll over and accept Turkey’s slide into autocracy or kleptocracy without a fight, the center-left Republican Peoples Party (CHP) and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) have nominated a joint candidate, Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, the former head of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Turkish history reflects the significance of such a choice: For decades, the CHP and MHP were at each other’s’ throats. Gangs affiliated with each targeted supporters of the other. The heightened political polarization in Washington today is nothing compared to what the CHP and MHP wrought. What happened in Turkey is as if Valerie Jarrett and Karl Rove suddenly decided to mount a joint candidate against a greater threat.

I spent the last week in Turkey, talking to several CHP and MHP officials as well as contacts who aren’t involved in politics about the İhsanoğlu choice and Turkey’s way forward. Admittedly, many CHP and MHP members are uneasy: İhsanoğlu’s credentials are primarily because of his Islamic scholarship. While members bend over backwards to say he is not an Islamist, he is far different from the typical CHP and MHP candidate, and their respective bases suggest as much. Some outside the parties suggest that the choice of İhsanoğlu effectively acknowledges the end of secularism in Turkey, although party leaders hotly deny this.

What there does appear to be consensus about, though, is that an Erdoğan presidency will permanently end the Republic of Turkey as anyone knows it. Erdoğan is increasingly blunt in his desire to remake Turkey and Turkish society, hence his declaration that “We will raise a religious generation.” Some politicians even suggest Erdoğan sees himself more as a caliph responsive to the Islamic umma (community) rather than simply a leader for Turks. The autocracy under which Turkey now suffers was reflected in the debate about which “Medvedev” might succeed Erdoğan as prime minister.

If Erdoğan wins the presidency—either in the first round on August 10 or, if he receives less than 50 percent, in the second round on August 24—then Turks believe he will increasingly rule as a dictator, remaking the once more ceremonial presidency even as his old party withers under his thumb or falls apart. Indeed, given accusations that the AKP has fiddled with ballot boxes, some Turkish politicians suggested that Erdoğan would automatically gain a fraud bonus of perhaps five percent, which the opposition will have to overcome.

Under Erdoğan, Turkey has shifted its diplomatic posture away from Europe and toward the Middle East. Rather than even align with the more secular dictators of the Middle East, Erdoğan has aligned instead with religious radicals, whether in Qatar, the Muslim Brotherhood, or Hamas. Elections matter. But after 12 years of electoral wins, the August polls might mean the end of meaningful elections in Turkey, for an Erdoğan victory would likely mean years more of using the institutions of state to attack anyone in politics, business, or society who dares to stand in his way.

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Will Kurdistan Be the World’s Newest Dictatorship?

With the collapse of Iraqi authority over Kirkuk and its lucrative oil fields, Iraqi Kurds have consolidated control over nearly all territory to which they have laid claim. They preside over a booming region fueled by oil and, in recent years, real estate development as well. A whole generation of Kurdish youth speak no Arabic, have no memory of life under Saddam Hussein, and feel no connection to Baghdad whatsoever. Whereas Kurds long quipped they had no friends but the mountains—and the world’s silence a quarter century ago when Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against the Kurdish population reinforced such a belief—now an international array of investors, including a number of former U.S. officials, line up for a share of the Kurdish pot of black gold. Indeed, it’s hard not to embrace the Kurdish desire for independence denied to them in the wake of the post-World War I settlements and border adjustments. That Syrian Kurds now have de facto autonomy and Turkish Kurds appear likely over the next decade of winning similar status suggests that when Kurdish statehood comes, it may not simply be limited to northern Iraq.

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With the collapse of Iraqi authority over Kirkuk and its lucrative oil fields, Iraqi Kurds have consolidated control over nearly all territory to which they have laid claim. They preside over a booming region fueled by oil and, in recent years, real estate development as well. A whole generation of Kurdish youth speak no Arabic, have no memory of life under Saddam Hussein, and feel no connection to Baghdad whatsoever. Whereas Kurds long quipped they had no friends but the mountains—and the world’s silence a quarter century ago when Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against the Kurdish population reinforced such a belief—now an international array of investors, including a number of former U.S. officials, line up for a share of the Kurdish pot of black gold. Indeed, it’s hard not to embrace the Kurdish desire for independence denied to them in the wake of the post-World War I settlements and border adjustments. That Syrian Kurds now have de facto autonomy and Turkish Kurds appear likely over the next decade of winning similar status suggests that when Kurdish statehood comes, it may not simply be limited to northern Iraq.

That said, while it’s easy to cheer lead for Kurdish independence, it would be tragic to believe that the Kurdish struggle will end with the lowering of the Iraqi flag (if any still fly outside of Sulaymani and Kirkuk) and the raising of the old Mahabad flag adopted by Iraqi Kurdistan. Kurdistan is still divided among oligarchs and tribal strongmen. And while it will be easy to welcome Kurdistan into the formal family of nations, it would do Kurds a disservice if the international community simply forgot about them then and ceased pressuring for Kurdistan to become the democracy that so many Kurds desire. Masud Barzani, the Kurdish Region’s president, unilaterally extended his second term so as to avoid the constitutional mandate to step down at its conclusion. He promotes a cult of personality, bases employment on party loyalty and family fealty, and uses his son’s security force against any who would pose him or his party any challenge whatsoever. He draws no differentiation between state resources, party resources, and the personal pocketbook. In other words, while Kurdish officials often brag about their democracy, Kurdistan has become about as democratic as Bashar al-Assad’s Syria, Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt, or Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

Let us hope that the Kurds win their freedom, but even as we celebrate that step it is important to remember that freedom and possessing a nation-state are not synonymous; indeed, a battle just as real for human rights and liberty may only just be beginning. In all the celebrations, it’s important to recognize that a Kurdish democracy can contribute to the advancement of the Middle East much better than just another Middle Eastern autocracy.

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Hold Turkey and Saudi Arabia Accountable

The Obama administration is looking for some low-cost magic bullet to resolve the mess in Iraq, never mind that its search for a similar remedy in Syria hasn’t materialized. As Max Boot ably demonstrates, reaching out to Iran shouldn’t be the solution: Iran might go in—and, indeed, already has—but it won’t leave. Just look at Lebanon, where Hezbollah continues to wreak havoc 14 years after Israel’s withdrawal.

That said, while Iran has sponsored terrorism that has killed countless Iraqis and scores of Americans in Iraq, and continues to arm and fund hardcore sectarian militias which undercut reconciliation in Iraq, it is as important to recognize that Saudi Arabia and its promotion of radical Islam has historically been as poisonous as the Islamic Republic of Iran (if not more so). Saudi authorities have cracked down slightly after suffering their own blowback a decade ago, but many Saudi charities continue to fund extremism and hate.

Turkey, meanwhile, has become a state sponsor of terrorism in all but official U.S. designation. It has embraced Hamas, helped finance Iran through the sanctions regime, and become an underground railroad through which most foreign jihadis and al-Qaeda wannabes pass on their way into Syria. When pressed, all Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç could say was that Turkey had not supplied the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) with arms; evidence that it provided other logistical support and a safe-haven is overwhelming. Even though ISIS holds 49 Turks hostage in Mosul, the Turkish government refuses to condemn ISIS as a terrorist group. Demanding Turkey stop playing a double game on ISIS is doable, unlike putting boots on the ground in Iraq.

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The Obama administration is looking for some low-cost magic bullet to resolve the mess in Iraq, never mind that its search for a similar remedy in Syria hasn’t materialized. As Max Boot ably demonstrates, reaching out to Iran shouldn’t be the solution: Iran might go in—and, indeed, already has—but it won’t leave. Just look at Lebanon, where Hezbollah continues to wreak havoc 14 years after Israel’s withdrawal.

That said, while Iran has sponsored terrorism that has killed countless Iraqis and scores of Americans in Iraq, and continues to arm and fund hardcore sectarian militias which undercut reconciliation in Iraq, it is as important to recognize that Saudi Arabia and its promotion of radical Islam has historically been as poisonous as the Islamic Republic of Iran (if not more so). Saudi authorities have cracked down slightly after suffering their own blowback a decade ago, but many Saudi charities continue to fund extremism and hate.

Turkey, meanwhile, has become a state sponsor of terrorism in all but official U.S. designation. It has embraced Hamas, helped finance Iran through the sanctions regime, and become an underground railroad through which most foreign jihadis and al-Qaeda wannabes pass on their way into Syria. When pressed, all Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç could say was that Turkey had not supplied the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) with arms; evidence that it provided other logistical support and a safe-haven is overwhelming. Even though ISIS holds 49 Turks hostage in Mosul, the Turkish government refuses to condemn ISIS as a terrorist group. Demanding Turkey stop playing a double game on ISIS is doable, unlike putting boots on the ground in Iraq.

Since the current ISIS/Baathist uprising in Iraq started, Turkey’s behavior has been absolutely reprehensible. There have been photographs circulated in Turkey of an ISIS commander recovering at a Turkish hospital in Hatay. While Turkey claims medical treatment for ISIS terrorists wounded in Syria (or Iraq) is a humanitarian act, the same Turkish government prosecutes doctors who treat protestors wounded in demonstrations against the Turkish government’s authoritarianism in Istanbul.

On Friday, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu complained that the media was portraying ISIS unfairly. Turkey may finally have declared the Nusra Front a terrorist group—only after the group stopped obeying Turkish direction—but it has apparently yet to impose the same designation on ISIS, a group too radical even for al-Qaeda. Iraqi press reports suggest that Iraqi forces have arrested four Turkish officers helping train ISIS in Iraq; while the Turks have denied that accusation, it seems there’s some fire causing that smoke. If any Turkish officer took part in training a terrorist group that has reportedly summarily executed more than 2,000 soldiers, then it is hard to conclude that Turkey does not have blood on its hands.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is no angel, but to blame Iraq’s Shi’ites or a democratically elected government that includes Arabs and Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites and Christians, men and women is unfair. The current strife in Iraq is not because of Shi’ite intolerance but rather because of intolerance of the Shi’ites. Those who say the uprising could have been averted if only Maliki had given more perks, positions, and goodies to Sunni Arabs misunderstand the fact that what Iraqis are fighting against is a noxious and hateful ideology, not simply grievance.

Never again will Iraq be dominated by a small Sunni minority. Nor should it. Shi’ites cannot be expected to sit idly by when Saudi- and Turkish-supported radical groups brag about their plans for genocide against the Shi’ites. It’s important to check Iranian ambitions and to reinforce that Iran does not represent all Shi’ites. If the United States truly wants to encourage peace in Iraq, however, it is time to acknowledge that Shi’ites too have legitimate grievances and face a deadly challenge, one embarrassingly that has a return address in Riyadh and Ankara.

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Erdogan Unhinged

The German government’s publicly expressed discomfort with a visit by Recep Tayyip Erdogan–Turkey’s increasingly authoritarian, anti-Semitic premier–will be familiar to those who have covered Erdogan’s career or followed his exploits. Germany has no issue with Erdogan’s visit per se as much as they don’t like the idea of him giving an address to the country’s Turkish diaspora.

Turkey is a NATO member and, if you ask European Union officials on the record, a perennial candidate for eventual EU membership (though an obviously unrealistic one). So why is a European country eschewing the standard multiculti fare and worrying aloud about the Islamist leader’s speech? Because Erdogan is a loose cannon, whose public profile has always had to be managed carefully by party leaders lest the world hear a set of Erdogan Unplugged and come to the conclusion that the Turkish leader is a raving maniac.

The rise of social media–which Erdogan has tried to ban–and the spread of public protest movements to Turkey have tested Erdogan and his party. They have begun to come unglued. The latest test of Turkish leadership was the awful tragedy of the mine explosion in the Turkish city of Soma on May 13. Our Michael Rubin explained that the disaster–or, rather, its aftermath–encapsulated a couple of the major problems of Erdogan’s rule, most notably incompetence and blame-shifting.

After a government official was caught on camera beating a defenseless protester, tragedy descended into farce, as the Telegraph reports today:

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The German government’s publicly expressed discomfort with a visit by Recep Tayyip Erdogan–Turkey’s increasingly authoritarian, anti-Semitic premier–will be familiar to those who have covered Erdogan’s career or followed his exploits. Germany has no issue with Erdogan’s visit per se as much as they don’t like the idea of him giving an address to the country’s Turkish diaspora.

Turkey is a NATO member and, if you ask European Union officials on the record, a perennial candidate for eventual EU membership (though an obviously unrealistic one). So why is a European country eschewing the standard multiculti fare and worrying aloud about the Islamist leader’s speech? Because Erdogan is a loose cannon, whose public profile has always had to be managed carefully by party leaders lest the world hear a set of Erdogan Unplugged and come to the conclusion that the Turkish leader is a raving maniac.

The rise of social media–which Erdogan has tried to ban–and the spread of public protest movements to Turkey have tested Erdogan and his party. They have begun to come unglued. The latest test of Turkish leadership was the awful tragedy of the mine explosion in the Turkish city of Soma on May 13. Our Michael Rubin explained that the disaster–or, rather, its aftermath–encapsulated a couple of the major problems of Erdogan’s rule, most notably incompetence and blame-shifting.

After a government official was caught on camera beating a defenseless protester, tragedy descended into farce, as the Telegraph reports today:

A Turkish prime ministerial aide who rose to international attention after being photographed kicking a prone demonstrator has been given sick leave after suffering injuries to the same leg he used to carry out the attack.

Images of Yusef Yerkel assaulting the protester on the streets of Soma on May 14 a day after a mining disaster that killed 301 people quickly went viral after they were posted on the internet.

They also became emblematic of a perceived insensitivity to the tragedy on the part of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister and Mr Yerkel’s boss, who was visiting Soma when the incident occurred.

That’s quite the generous workers’ comp plan on offer in Erdogan’s government. But the spectacle spread, perhaps inevitably, when the prime minister himself was confronted by protesters:

“Why are you running away, Israeli spawn?” Recep Tayyip Erdogan is heard yelling at a protester in video footage circulated by the opposition Sozcu newspaper, using an expression considered a curse in Turkish.

That sentence is key to understanding the rot of Erdogan’s world. To be called an Israeli is apparently by definition supposed to be an insult in Turkey. The tensions between Turkey and Israel have much to do with geopolitics but enough to do with Erdogan’s Islamism to shine a spotlight on anti-Semitism in that country, and the way Erdogan is happy to express it and fan it when he feels threatened.

Falling back on anti-Semitism and specifically claims of Jewish disloyalty (hence a Turk being called “Israeli spawn”) is old hat for the region’s autocrats when they need to distract the public from their own corruption. It’s an especially important tool for Erdogan because he’d like to extend his influence throughout the Middle East but would be something of an outsider to the region’s Arabs. Anti-Semitism and anti-Israel incitement are seen by thugs like Erdogan to be unifying themes, and reveal the absurdity of Western leaders like Barack Obama “anchoring” regional policy in a petty aspiring tyrant like Erdogan.

Such incitement is often dismissed as mere rhetoric, but aside from the actual danger to Israel–such as embracing and funding Hamas, for example–the toll such hate takes on Jews in Turkey should not be overlooked. In a post at Hurriyet Daily News, Haymi Behar explains “what it is to be born as ‘Israeli spawn’ in Turkey.” Here’s a sample:

It means your favorite team Fenerbahçe playing against Maccabee Tel Aviv – which you only know by name – and your classmates who go to matches with asking you: “Are you supporting ‘us’ or ‘them?’”

It means internalizing Anne Frank’s Diary as you grow up.

It means being a part of a mere 13 million tribe in a sea of 7 billion in the world, and being a small sample of the 17,000 “spawn brothers” in Turkey.

It means trying to figure out why you are being held personally responsible Jesus’ crucifixion and the killing of Sultan Fatih the Conqueror, even though Jews only make up 0.2 percent of the world’s population.

It means having the ability to have all the answers ready, waiting in your mind, to respond anytime in your life to all these colossal historic questions.

It means trying to create a happy life for yourself while baring the burden of your ancestors having been enslaved, expelled constantly, despised and being the victims of the most massive industrially planned genocide ever committed.

It means keeping in your mind the question, “How did we manage to be the leading actors of so many conspiracy theories with such a small population?”

It means getting used to hearing hate speech and discrimination any God given day.

This is what can be revealed to the world when Erdogan speaks his mind, and it’s why the German government was holding its breath–because putting faith in Erdogan’s better judgment is like putting faith in any number of comforting, but nonexistent, entities.

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What the Mine Disaster Says About Turkey

The explosion in a mine in Soma, western Turkey, has now killed almost 250 people and is an unmitigated disaster. Turkey no longer has a free press—Freedom House has taken the unprecedented step of ranking it “not free”—and so it’s important here to fill in some of the gaps and add some context about Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s behavior, because they really do reflect the type of religious autocracy over which Erdoğan now presides with an iron fist.

First of all, the mine disaster reflects the incompetence of Erdoğan and his cronies. Any criticism of the status quo, however constructive, he sees as a personal attack to be deflected and against which to retaliate rather than to be addressed. Less than a year ago, his energy minister praised the mine’s leadership for prioritizing worker safety. And, just 19 days ago, Erdoğan used his parliamentary supermajority to defeat in parliament a proposal by the opposition Republican Peoples Party (CHP) to set up a parliamentary inquiry to examine safety concerns at coal mines. The CHP had raised the issue based on numerous complaints by miners about lax or disregarded safety measures at their mines. Erdoğan refused: Better to bury reports of security problems or flaws rather than acknowledge such things occur on his party’s watch.

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The explosion in a mine in Soma, western Turkey, has now killed almost 250 people and is an unmitigated disaster. Turkey no longer has a free press—Freedom House has taken the unprecedented step of ranking it “not free”—and so it’s important here to fill in some of the gaps and add some context about Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s behavior, because they really do reflect the type of religious autocracy over which Erdoğan now presides with an iron fist.

First of all, the mine disaster reflects the incompetence of Erdoğan and his cronies. Any criticism of the status quo, however constructive, he sees as a personal attack to be deflected and against which to retaliate rather than to be addressed. Less than a year ago, his energy minister praised the mine’s leadership for prioritizing worker safety. And, just 19 days ago, Erdoğan used his parliamentary supermajority to defeat in parliament a proposal by the opposition Republican Peoples Party (CHP) to set up a parliamentary inquiry to examine safety concerns at coal mines. The CHP had raised the issue based on numerous complaints by miners about lax or disregarded safety measures at their mines. Erdoğan refused: Better to bury reports of security problems or flaws rather than acknowledge such things occur on his party’s watch.

Second, rather than acknowledge that this horrific accident might have been avoided or, perhaps more realistically, working to determine how it might have been avoided so as to prevent its repeat, Erdoğan has simply declared the accident to be the work of fate or a “divine conclusion.” For Erdoğan, success is because of his own wisdom and failure is because of God. As one Turkish correspondent quips with tongue in cheek in an emailed response to Erdoğan’s comments, “What I do not understand is, why God is punishing us and not Germany or USA or even Poland. God must not like us.”

As if on cue, the Turkish government is now using force to crackdown on protests questioning the government’s record. Welcome to Turkey: an autocracy marked by gross incompetence but according to Erdoğan, to push for anything else would be to interfere with divine fate.

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Extradite Fethullah Gülen?

Fethullah Gülen is the reclusive but influential Turkish Islamist leader who resides in a well-guarded and, indeed, fortified compound in the Poconos, having fled Turkey in 1999, theoretically to get medical treatment but also to flee prosecution for remarks he made advocating for the overthrow of the system (he has since disputed the veracity of the recording of those remarks).

Five years ago, Rachel Sharon-Krespin, the director of the Turkish Media Project at the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), penned probably the most comprehensive though critical study of Gülen. One needn’t go far to find far more glowing accounts of Gülen, although most of these come either from close associates or those like Georgetown Professor John Esposito, whose program has benefited from the Gülen movement’s largesse.

I have long been quite cynical about Gülen. I admit, I have wavered with time but whenever I began to consider that perhaps I had been too ungenerous in my interpretation of the movement and the man, either someone would dig up new statements by Gülen that raised questions about the sincerity of his interfaith tolerance, Gülen’s flagship paper Zaman would hint at some anti-Semitic conspiracy theory, or his followers would tweet their embrace for everything from an endorsement of Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer’s dual loyalty accusations against various Jews to far more virulently anti-Semitic attacks on me personally. That said, to the movement’s credit, no matter how critical I might have been about Gülen, members of the movement or its constituent groups always kept the door open to dialogue and communication, an openness which I respect and appreciate.

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Fethullah Gülen is the reclusive but influential Turkish Islamist leader who resides in a well-guarded and, indeed, fortified compound in the Poconos, having fled Turkey in 1999, theoretically to get medical treatment but also to flee prosecution for remarks he made advocating for the overthrow of the system (he has since disputed the veracity of the recording of those remarks).

Five years ago, Rachel Sharon-Krespin, the director of the Turkish Media Project at the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), penned probably the most comprehensive though critical study of Gülen. One needn’t go far to find far more glowing accounts of Gülen, although most of these come either from close associates or those like Georgetown Professor John Esposito, whose program has benefited from the Gülen movement’s largesse.

I have long been quite cynical about Gülen. I admit, I have wavered with time but whenever I began to consider that perhaps I had been too ungenerous in my interpretation of the movement and the man, either someone would dig up new statements by Gülen that raised questions about the sincerity of his interfaith tolerance, Gülen’s flagship paper Zaman would hint at some anti-Semitic conspiracy theory, or his followers would tweet their embrace for everything from an endorsement of Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer’s dual loyalty accusations against various Jews to far more virulently anti-Semitic attacks on me personally. That said, to the movement’s credit, no matter how critical I might have been about Gülen, members of the movement or its constituent groups always kept the door open to dialogue and communication, an openness which I respect and appreciate.

That does not change my overall suspicion of the movement. While many have embraced the Gülenists as the potential saviors of Turkish democracy for blowing the whistle on the endemic corruption and megalomania of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the fact of the matter is they were for him before they were against him and did not expose his abuses until Erdoğan turned on them. I am happy that the movement has exposed the truth about Erdoğan, but that does not mean that the enemy of my enemy is always a friend.

Gülen and Erdoğan are now certainly enemies. Apoplectic about the Gülenists’ exposure of his abuses of power, Erdoğan has been on a rampage in recent weeks, purging Gülen’s followers without regard to law and engaging in rants that might lead dispassionate observers to question Erdoğan’s stability. Now Erdoğan is demanding Gülen’s extradition, in theory for constructing a parallel state, but in reality for the crime of exposing and embarrassing the prime minister and endangering his secret bank accounts.

Several years ago, I compared Gülen to Iranian revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini. After all, when Khomeini was in exile, he spoke about his desire for democracy. When he returned to Iran, he consolidated power, eschewed the tolerance he once wove into his rhetoric, and showed his radicalism undiminished by time. I speculated that if Gülen returned to Turkey, he would be met by millions of adoring supporters who might let their ideological passion get the best of them.

Now, perhaps, it is time to make the opposite comparison: Fethullah Gülen to the shah.

When the shah fled Iran, he too came to the United States to seek medical treatment, and was granted entry. I am glad he was. Facing the ire of Khomeini and his radical students, Carter and senior diplomats plotted quite openly to force the ailing shah to depart. At one point, they even encouraged Panama to send the shah back to Iran, where he would have faced humiliation, torture, and execution. Whatever the Shah may have been, and whatever his faults, handing him over to appease a revolutionary madman would have been wrong both morally and from the standpoint of American national interests.

I admit, I wish that the United States had never given refuge to Gülen. There were many places he could have gone, and it was not an American interest to host him in the United States, let alone have him reside in such a heavily armed compound. At the very least, that decision taken during the Clinton administration poured gasoline onto the flames of already imaginative Turkish conspiracy theories.

But Gülen is here now, and he has been here for 15 years. I need not trust the man nor endorse his movement—indeed, I remain quite a critic—but that does not mean that the United States should follow the logic of callous diplomats who argued in the case of the shah that appeasing Khomeini was worth it. By no means should senior American officials consider Erdoğan’s demands for Gülen’s extradition. Gülen may not have consistently been a dissident before, but he is now. It is never wise for the White House or State Department to appease off-kilter authoritarians in their petty, personal vendettas.

The national security debate, especially with regard to Islamist thinkers, has long been polarized, and never more so than now. That said, perhaps out of the chaos in Turkey comes an opportunity for a real consensus: Let us hope that not only supporters of Fethullah Gülen, but also his skeptics and his detractors recognize that under no circumstance should the U.S. government accept Turkey’s extradition request.

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How Turkey Helps Jihadists in Syria

The problem of Islamist extremism among the opposition groups in Syria has become a major rallying cry for President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria and a source of concern even among those in the United States sympathetic to the opposition. The Syrian opposition has always been fissiparous, and so it is hard to ensure that weaponry given to the “moderate” opposition wouldn’t be transferred to more radical groups let alone simply seized by them.

Rather than simply shrug shoulders and walk away, however, it is well past time the international community moved to stop the most radical elements from entering Syria. Many policymakers might imagine that this is an impossible task: Syria has more than 1,350 miles of borders. But it is not true that most extremists or al-Qaeda wannabes hide out in the middle of the desert and crawl on their bellies under cover of night to reach Syria. The simple fact is that many of the radicals fighting in Syria and sullying the name of the moderates transit Turkey.

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The problem of Islamist extremism among the opposition groups in Syria has become a major rallying cry for President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria and a source of concern even among those in the United States sympathetic to the opposition. The Syrian opposition has always been fissiparous, and so it is hard to ensure that weaponry given to the “moderate” opposition wouldn’t be transferred to more radical groups let alone simply seized by them.

Rather than simply shrug shoulders and walk away, however, it is well past time the international community moved to stop the most radical elements from entering Syria. Many policymakers might imagine that this is an impossible task: Syria has more than 1,350 miles of borders. But it is not true that most extremists or al-Qaeda wannabes hide out in the middle of the desert and crawl on their bellies under cover of night to reach Syria. The simple fact is that many of the radicals fighting in Syria and sullying the name of the moderates transit Turkey.

CNN has reported on the jihadis flying into Hatay and then paying bribes to Turkish border guards to cross into Syria. Now the Kurdish media based in Syria has interviewed captured jihadis who have talked about how they, too, transited Turkey.

It is ironic that Turkey has, for mainly ideological and sectarian reasons, largely led the diplomatic calls for the United States to be more active in its assistance to the Syrian opposition but has, through its very actions, created the chief impediment to such action. Perhaps rather than organize high-profile conferences or new photo opportunities replete with empty American promises, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to instead pressure Turkey to stop serving as the chief route for terrorists flooding into Syria.

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Address, Don’t Deny Religious Component to Boko Haram

News out of Nigeria continues to horrify, as the radical Islamist group Boko Haram refuses to release kidnapped school girls and now threatens to sell them into marriage, slavery, or worse. Boko Haram, whose very name in Hausa professes the sinfulness of Western education, roots its belief in religion although, as is so often the case, it often confuses pure theology with local custom. For its victims, however, such footnotes are academic. The group has become infamous in Nigeria for the slaughter of Christians. Boko Haram is neither the first nor will it be the last group to spark outrage on the world stage by embracing and imposing retrograde religious interpretation on society.

The shock of the Islamic Revolution in Iran was that it shook faith in the forward momentum of history. The shah was far from perfect, but he actively sought to modernize his country. That he did so unevenly and brokered few means to dissent legally simply threw fuel on the Islamist backlash that ultimately ushered in reactionary cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Far from being the “progressive force for human rights” that William Miller, now with The Iran Project described, or a man whom the United States should trust, as Princeton University’s Richard Falk suggested, Khomeini took women, minorities, and much of Iranian society headlong into the past, stripping Iranians of centuries of rights and brutalizing them in manners once thought condemned to centuries past. The problem is not Shi’ism, per se, but rather Khomeini’s and his successor Ali Khamenei’s interpretation. To this day, their exegesis remains a minority view, forced on society at the barrel of a gun, with dissenting clergy marginalized, imprisoned, or worse.

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News out of Nigeria continues to horrify, as the radical Islamist group Boko Haram refuses to release kidnapped school girls and now threatens to sell them into marriage, slavery, or worse. Boko Haram, whose very name in Hausa professes the sinfulness of Western education, roots its belief in religion although, as is so often the case, it often confuses pure theology with local custom. For its victims, however, such footnotes are academic. The group has become infamous in Nigeria for the slaughter of Christians. Boko Haram is neither the first nor will it be the last group to spark outrage on the world stage by embracing and imposing retrograde religious interpretation on society.

The shock of the Islamic Revolution in Iran was that it shook faith in the forward momentum of history. The shah was far from perfect, but he actively sought to modernize his country. That he did so unevenly and brokered few means to dissent legally simply threw fuel on the Islamist backlash that ultimately ushered in reactionary cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Far from being the “progressive force for human rights” that William Miller, now with The Iran Project described, or a man whom the United States should trust, as Princeton University’s Richard Falk suggested, Khomeini took women, minorities, and much of Iranian society headlong into the past, stripping Iranians of centuries of rights and brutalizing them in manners once thought condemned to centuries past. The problem is not Shi’ism, per se, but rather Khomeini’s and his successor Ali Khamenei’s interpretation. To this day, their exegesis remains a minority view, forced on society at the barrel of a gun, with dissenting clergy marginalized, imprisoned, or worse.

The same was true with the Taliban in Afghanistan. The notion that the Central Intelligence Agency created the Taliban is silly, the product of anachronistic and lazy analysis. Some Afghans embraced the Taliban in the years after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan because the group promised security, but the group itself was quickly co-opted by Pakistan. Ever since the loss of East Pakistan and its subsequent independence as Bangladesh in 1971, leaders in West Pakistan—or simply Pakistan as it became—embraced religious radicalism as a glue to hold their fissiparous country together. While more than a decade of war has conditioned Americans to see infiltration across the Afghanistan/Pakistan border as one way from Pakistan into Afghanistan, throughout much of the last century, Afghan irregulars were infiltrating—if not outright invading—Pakistan.

Because the ethnic fault lines in Pakistan are seldom far beneath the surface of society, sponsoring the Taliban—and thereby prioritizing religion over Pashto identity—was meant to immunize the Northwest Frontier Province from the attractiveness of Pashto nationalism. That it came upon the blood and repression of Afghan women was a price the Pakistani leadership was willing to bear. The shear brutality of the Taliban shocked the world, even though the State Department was more than willing to normalize ties with the group. The Taliban really were a throwback to the twelfth century, albeit harboring a twentieth and now twenty-first century technology to kill.

Any number of other religious radicals has reinterpreted faith to justify horror. The Muslim Brotherhood has justified the murder of those who do not share their vision, and some Brotherhood theologians have contributed directly to the vision embraced by al-Qaeda.

There is a tendency among many to deny the religious component to much modern terrorism. That is what drives, for example, UN bodies to try to criminalize so-called Islamophobia, and also drives local groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) to stigmatize and punish free speech and open debate. To do so is a mistake, and to deny that those from Boko Haram’s leaders to 9/11 hijackers to the Beslan child murders were not motivated by Islam, however twisted and irregular an interpretation, is disingenuous.

Too many who deny the role of religion say that Islam is misunderstood. Jihad, for example, means not Holy War but an internal struggle to improve oneself. While it is true that a 21st century interpretation of jihad prioritizes internal struggle or defensive fighting, there is a logical flaw inherent in embracing only the most evolved interpretation of jihad. Islamist radicals dismiss 21st century society as a perversion, corrupted by Western thought and liberalism. They uphold instead an interpretation of centuries past as the golden age of Islamic civilization and so strip away centuries of religious interpretation as illegitimate and corrupt. Just as zealous Christians might have burned a woman at the stake 500 years ago for the sin of publicly reading the Bible, the manner in which Boko Haram treats local girls and women is rooted in an interpretation of Islam that it seeks to revive from the past.

While I fully support the separation of church and state that the U.S. Constitution demands (although I agree with Jonathan’s interpretation here), too many American policymakers use that separation to paralyze the American policy response on the global stage. American diplomats and officials should not promote religion but they cannot ignore it either, as it plays a far greater place in the world than perhaps it does in the fairly elite schools from which many diplomats come. Peoples from Afghanistan to Iran to Nigeria are engaged in a battle of religious interpretation. Those who would deny a relationship between Islam on one hand, at least as practiced by the Taliban and Boko Haram, and terrorism and misogyny on the other simply surrender the battlefield to those promoting extreme interpretations.

Too often, American officials and religious activists, whether out of excessive political correctness or some other motive, dismiss religious motivation to terrorism by decreeing that the actions of those radicals—Taliban stoning women in Afghanistan, al-Qaeda hijacking planes in America, or Boko Haram kidnapping and selling girls in Nigeria—do not represent true Islam. Make no mistake: It is not the job of any American official—from the president on down—to determine what true religion is. We have to accept that religion is what its practitioners believe it to be in any time and place; what the president says, an ambassador says, or a professor of theology says is simply academic.

Denying horror won’t make it go away. Nor is it the place of the United States to preach. But just as radicals in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and elsewhere promote these horrific groups—the Turkish government has apparently supplied Boko Haram—it behooves the United States to support those seeking to roll them back, be they Egyptian generals, Indonesian Sufis, or Moroccan mourchidat. While America promotes and encourages religious tolerance and seeks to strengthen liberal and moderate interpretations of Islam, those who feed and justify Boko Haram’s ideological hate—even if American allies—must be recognized for what they are: culpable in terrorism.

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Voice of America Needs a Strategy

Earlier this week, Foreign Policy reported that Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), respectively, the chairman and ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, are supporting a bill which, according to Foreign Policy, “tweaks the language of VOA’s mission to explicitly outline the organization’s role in supporting U.S. ‘public diplomacy’ and the ‘policies’ of the United States government, a move that would settle a long-running dispute within the federal government about whether VOA should function as a neutral news organization rather than a messaging tool of Washington.”

VOA and International Board of Broadcasting employees have, in private sessions, defended the notion that they should be a media company like any other, and argued that by criticizing U.S. policy, they increase the service’s credibility. In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, VOA famously defended and subsequently gave an award to a Pashto service employee who consistently aired Taliban officials and seemed to promote the Taliban line in order to create balance. That neither advanced U.S. interests nor made VOA more credible. Rather, it encouraged conspiracy theories and simply confused Afghans who could fathom no reason why Voice of America would broadcast reports sympathetic to Mullah Omar and the Taliban in the wake of 9/11.

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Earlier this week, Foreign Policy reported that Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), respectively, the chairman and ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, are supporting a bill which, according to Foreign Policy, “tweaks the language of VOA’s mission to explicitly outline the organization’s role in supporting U.S. ‘public diplomacy’ and the ‘policies’ of the United States government, a move that would settle a long-running dispute within the federal government about whether VOA should function as a neutral news organization rather than a messaging tool of Washington.”

VOA and International Board of Broadcasting employees have, in private sessions, defended the notion that they should be a media company like any other, and argued that by criticizing U.S. policy, they increase the service’s credibility. In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, VOA famously defended and subsequently gave an award to a Pashto service employee who consistently aired Taliban officials and seemed to promote the Taliban line in order to create balance. That neither advanced U.S. interests nor made VOA more credible. Rather, it encouraged conspiracy theories and simply confused Afghans who could fathom no reason why Voice of America would broadcast reports sympathetic to Mullah Omar and the Taliban in the wake of 9/11.

The Pashto service isn’t alone. Many Iranians have questioned why VOA’s Persian Service and Radio Farda have in the past (I haven’t followed it in recent years) seemed so sympathetic to pro-regime reformists. Indeed, many mocked them as “Radio Khatami.” While diplomats might understandably think more favorably toward Iranian reformists than Iranian hardliners, the fact of the matter is that neither represents the broad array of Iranians who are, at best, overwhelmingly apathetic toward the regime imposed upon them, if not actively hostile to it.

It’s clear that VOA should not be simply an ordinary news service. The private sector handles that better, and CNN, CNBC, and even Fox are increasingly available abroad. Even in autocratic countries like Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia, residents can access a plethora of satellite stations, even when such access isn’t really legal.

So, here’s a modest proposal: The Broadcasting Board of Governors should identify in each country hostile to the United States or behind an iron curtain what journalists in that country aren’t allowed to pursue. In Iran, it could be stories about the leaders’ moral and financial corruption, strong women, or the arguments of dissident religious leaders. In Turkey, journalists are not able to cover fully Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s corruption and that of his cronies, or explore fully Kurdish issues.

In Algeria, it could be interviews with refugees who have escaped their captivity in the Tindouf refugee camps or the plight of the Berbers; and in North Korea and Eritrea, it could be just about anything. Given limited resources, VOA broadcasting to that country should focus on those banned subjects. That would guarantee relevance, an audience, and invariably bolster American interests as well.

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More Woes for Turkish Women

Turkey was once a bastion of hope for women in majority Muslim countries. The Turkish government was relatively progressive on women’s issues, not simply in theory but in reality. Turkey was one of the first majority Muslim countries to have a female prime minister and, historically, women were not only parliamentarians but also ministers and held key administrative posts.

That, of course, has changed under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s rule. Three years ago, I offered statistics here about the downward trend in women’s involvement inside the Turkish state. And social issues persist: child marriage, an extremely high murder rate for women coupled often with impunity for their victimizers, and Erdoğan’s belief that he should dictate how many children Turkish women should have and whether or not they should be able to have Caesarean sections. One of Erdoğan’s senior party members has even called for legalization of polygamy.

Now, the Association for the Support and Training of Women Candidates (KA.DER) has released a report showing that the situation is not improving for women in Turkey:

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Turkey was once a bastion of hope for women in majority Muslim countries. The Turkish government was relatively progressive on women’s issues, not simply in theory but in reality. Turkey was one of the first majority Muslim countries to have a female prime minister and, historically, women were not only parliamentarians but also ministers and held key administrative posts.

That, of course, has changed under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s rule. Three years ago, I offered statistics here about the downward trend in women’s involvement inside the Turkish state. And social issues persist: child marriage, an extremely high murder rate for women coupled often with impunity for their victimizers, and Erdoğan’s belief that he should dictate how many children Turkish women should have and whether or not they should be able to have Caesarean sections. One of Erdoğan’s senior party members has even called for legalization of polygamy.

Now, the Association for the Support and Training of Women Candidates (KA.DER) has released a report showing that the situation is not improving for women in Turkey:

Turkey ranked 120th out of 136 countries in the Gender Gap Index in 2013 while also finished 103rd in terms of women’s participation in politics… KA.DER said only four female mayors were elected in the March 30 local elections – in Gaziantep, Aydın, Diyarbakır and Hakkari – although a number of women were elected as co-mayors from the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) in areas populated by Kurds. There is only one female undersecretary out of a total of 26 undersecretaries working in the ministries, it said, adding that just one of 81 governors was a woman. The female presence is also low in critical judicial positions. All key judicial institutions such as the Supreme Court of Appeals, the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Election Board (YSK), the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), the Military Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Accounts, are headed by men….

Political and administrative positions aside, the situation of women in the Turkish workforce is also pretty pathetic–almost as pathetic as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling Turkey a model all the whole ignoring the misogyny which Erdoğan had injected into the Turkish system.

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Did Fraud Sway the Turkish Election?

Turkey held local elections on March 30, 2014, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) once again came out on top, although with only a plurality rather than a majority. That may not matter for Erdoğan: Any election victory gives him the right to act as a dictator and issue decrees irrespective of law, but the fall in total votes has left him with a little less wind in his sails.

It’s taken a little while for Turkey to give the official, certified declaration of results. Now that these are in hand, a long-time Turkish correspondent whom I trust—who, because of the atmosphere of retaliation and repression in Turkey has asked to remain anonymous—has raised questions, about whether AKP interference in the election and, in some cases, outright fraud might have swayed the outcome. With his permission, I quote extensively from his email, although I have edited lightly for grammar and style:

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Turkey held local elections on March 30, 2014, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) once again came out on top, although with only a plurality rather than a majority. That may not matter for Erdoğan: Any election victory gives him the right to act as a dictator and issue decrees irrespective of law, but the fall in total votes has left him with a little less wind in his sails.

It’s taken a little while for Turkey to give the official, certified declaration of results. Now that these are in hand, a long-time Turkish correspondent whom I trust—who, because of the atmosphere of retaliation and repression in Turkey has asked to remain anonymous—has raised questions, about whether AKP interference in the election and, in some cases, outright fraud might have swayed the outcome. With his permission, I quote extensively from his email, although I have edited lightly for grammar and style:

The High Election Council officially declared final election results, including calls for new polls in a few places. But doubts are lingering in the minds of many members of the opposition camp as well as objective observers as to the validity of certain results and the fairness of the whole election process. Although allegations of irregularities have not been uncommon in previous Turkish elections, this election has produced by far the largest number of questionable incidents and outright falsifications.

First though let us look at the official results and see whose victory it is: The AKP received 45 percent in mayoral and 43 percent in municipal and provincial council votes, against the [secular, center-left] Republican People Party’s [CHP’s] 28 percent and [nationalist, secular] National Movement Party’s [MHP’s] 16 percent.

Only a month before the December 17 revelations of corruption and bribery, AKP spokesmen were claiming that they were still at or above the 50 percent mark. And before the Gezi Park demonstrations in early June 2013, they were claiming 53-55 percent in various opinion polls. If you call a 10 percent drop in ten months a victory, then it was a victory.

The CHP was expected to do much better than the slight increase in their votes suggested. The expected voter bump from the Gülen camp did not materialize. Internal party disputes which have always been a chronic problem, again undercut the vote in the absence of a strong leadership. The MHP also showed a slight increase, gaining a small amount of votes coming from previous AKP and CHP voters, but for different reasons…

The whole election did not take place on a level playing field. The entire government apparatus worked for AKP. Billboards controlled by the municipalities were granted to the AKP for election purposes, or else paid for by pro-AKP businessmen. The opposition, however, was charged full price. You could easily sense the money spent by the various political camps, just walking in the streets. A billboard message CHP wanted to put up was not allowed because it declared “governments should be accountable to people”. Supposedly, it implied accusation of improper actions on the part of the government.

The state controlled radio and television company TRT is by law mandated to be impartial to all political parties… By official statistics, they allotted almost 90 percent of air time to AKP, five percent to the CHP and four percent to the MHP…

The helicopters, airplanes, and buses used by Erdoğan and his ministers to support the AKP campaign were paid out of Turkey’s national budget. The local officials distributed cash gifts to the poor (not a bad idea but) in exchange for AKP votes.

Much of the supposedly neutral media was, because of threats, exercising self-censorship, and Erdoğan’s associates and even Erdoğan himself sometimes directly intervened, sometimes during live programming. Erdoğan admitted interfering in the “Alo Fatih” incident because he said a certain program was not being fair to him and so he called the manager to intervene.

Back to the elections: the CHP and media reported many, many incidents of irregularities, including 267 in Ankara alone, where the AKP candidate won by less than one percent, equal to 30,000 votes. Meanwhile, 125,000 votes were invalidated for one reason or another. CHP demands for a recount were rejected. A recount could have validated many of the invalid votes and swung that election.

In Ankara and other places, many results sheets from ballot boxes showed numbers which could not logically be correct, like the CHP receiving zero votes and some obscure party (one of 30 or so taking place in the election) receiving half of the votes. Apparently, CHP votes were recorded one line below or above the CHP designation on the sheet, intentionally or inadvertently… Again CHP demands for a recount were rejected. Officially signed results sheet was accepted as correct. In many other ballot boxes, the number of votes cast exceeded the number of registered voters at that polling site. Either the votes were miscounted or the box was stuffed. Again officials ignored objections and accepted the results.

In one case, the official “EVET” (yes) stamp to be used by the voters, was stolen two days before the election, along with a number of empty vote sheets. So the local election board ordered and received a new stamp. This time it was a “TERCIH” (accept) stamp. What would normally be expected was that all votes cast at that box would carry the “TERCIH” stamp. But many had the “EVET” stamp and were accepted as valid. This is an obvious case of ballot box stuffing…

In a few places in Ankara and elsewhere in Turkey, burned ballots were found in garbage dumps the day after elections. In one case, bags of validated votes were found in a school yard in Ankara. The citizens in the neighborhood wanted to go into the school building to search for other bags. They were prevented by the school principal who called the police and removed the residents.

During election night, there were power outages in at least 44 places in Turkey, which is quite out of the ordinary. In at least one place, someone who snatched the ballot box in the dark and tried to run away was caught. In most other places, the vote count was interrupted with votes scattered on a table. The minister of energy explained the reason in one location, a cat had entered a power station and caused a short circuit. In other places there were “strong winds.”

District and provincial election boards denied most of the requests and demands for a recount or for investigations of irregularities or for new polls. All such demands were rejected by the High Election Council. In contrast, the boards accepted almost all requests filed by the AKP. In Ağrı province, the [Kurdish] Peace and Democracy Party [BDP] won by a few votes. There were subsequently 14 recounts, each showing the same result or the BDP increasing its margin. Yet at AKP request, the High Election Council called a new election on June 1, 2014.

In the province of Yalova, meanwhile, initial results showed the AKP won by one vote. A recount then put the CHP ahead by six votes.  More recounts replicated the CHP lead. Yet again, the High Election Council decided for a new election on June 1. Before that decision, Erdoğan had said “God willing, the High Election Council will decide to hold new elections in Yalova.” God may not have obliged, but the High Election Council did… 

When the Ankara results were announced by the Ankara Provincial Election Board, the chairman of the board organized a small ceremony where he handed the official election document to incumbent mayor Melih Gökçek. Normally, the chairman of the board is a neutral official, but he praised Gökçek so much during the ceremony that you would think he was an emcee during an AKP celebration…

Iranian President Rouhani, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, and Iraqi Kurdish strongman Masud Barzani all congratulated Erdoğan on his election. That is no surprise, because Erdoğan held an election that mirrored their own. Obama, to his credit, has withheld his normal effusive praise. Let us hope normal State Department protocol doesn’t get the best of him, because there is something quite rotten in Ankara.

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Turkey to Take Press Crackdown to New Level?

When diplomats once called Turkey a model, they meant as a majority Muslim state that embraced democracy. Here is Hillary Clinton, for example, finding the same sort of hope in Turkey’s Islamist regime she once saw in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. The Bush administration, for its part, wasn’t any better, with the likes of Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and even the president himself diminishing democracy by placing the adjective Islamic in front of it. That has nothing to do with the term Islamic; putting any modifier in front of democracy—Christian, Jewish, socialist, revolutionary, or any other adjective—necessarily constrains the democracy itself.

Alas, all the blind rhetoric of Turkey’s democracy on the part of American politicians—and here a special spotlight should be on the members of the Congressional Turkey Caucus—simply gave Turkey cover to continue its crackdown.

Turkey has, accordingly, plummeted in press freedom. But simply confiscating opponents’ newspapers is no longer enough for Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s Putin. As protestors rallied against him, he condemned and even banned Twitter. YouTube remains censored despite a court order. Earlier this weekend, Lütfi Elvan, Turkey’s minister of communications, proposed removing Turkey from the world wide web, and replacing the “www” with a “ttt,” in effect, a Turkish intranet. Even though his statement was made before numerous journalists, the Turkish government is now walking back the proposal. Still, Elvan’s sin appears to be in the timing of his comments rather than in their content. Make no mistake: Even considering such a ludicrous plan puts Turkey firmly in a club dominated by the likes of Iran, China, and North Korea.

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When diplomats once called Turkey a model, they meant as a majority Muslim state that embraced democracy. Here is Hillary Clinton, for example, finding the same sort of hope in Turkey’s Islamist regime she once saw in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. The Bush administration, for its part, wasn’t any better, with the likes of Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and even the president himself diminishing democracy by placing the adjective Islamic in front of it. That has nothing to do with the term Islamic; putting any modifier in front of democracy—Christian, Jewish, socialist, revolutionary, or any other adjective—necessarily constrains the democracy itself.

Alas, all the blind rhetoric of Turkey’s democracy on the part of American politicians—and here a special spotlight should be on the members of the Congressional Turkey Caucus—simply gave Turkey cover to continue its crackdown.

Turkey has, accordingly, plummeted in press freedom. But simply confiscating opponents’ newspapers is no longer enough for Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s Putin. As protestors rallied against him, he condemned and even banned Twitter. YouTube remains censored despite a court order. Earlier this weekend, Lütfi Elvan, Turkey’s minister of communications, proposed removing Turkey from the world wide web, and replacing the “www” with a “ttt,” in effect, a Turkish intranet. Even though his statement was made before numerous journalists, the Turkish government is now walking back the proposal. Still, Elvan’s sin appears to be in the timing of his comments rather than in their content. Make no mistake: Even considering such a ludicrous plan puts Turkey firmly in a club dominated by the likes of Iran, China, and North Korea.

Erdoğan’s record reinforces the fact that Turkey belongs nowhere near Europe. Liberal Turks will never again be in the majority in their country, and Erdoğan believes that so long as his Anatolian constituency blindly supports him, he can be the sultan in reality that he always was in spirit. Turks and Kurds deserve better, but until and unless they stand up more forcefully for their rights or until Turkey fractures–which, with current demographic trends and the Kurdish national resurgence Turkey eventually will–liberal Turks will never again know freedom in their own country.

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When Terrorists Tweet

My 1999 Ph.D. dissertation examined the introduction of the telegraph to 19th century Iran. At first, the Shah supported the telegraph: the wires made the Iranian government more efficient in a time of dwindling resources and power. Over the years, however, the opposition learned what a powerful tool the telegraph could be. The late-19th century was a time of battle for the new technology as both the government and opposition fought for the upper hand. Ultimately, the opposition won: the government lost its communications monopoly and the opposition was able to organize a mass movement culminating in a constitution revolution. There was a financial side to the technology as well: For much of the 19th century, Iran did not use paper money. It had done so once under the Mongols, but that experiment had failed. Caravans carried tons of coin over weeks in order to complete transactions. With the telegraph, however, various agents could complete trades in a matter of hours, with money changing hands not in Tehran but in London and St. Petersburg.

Twitter and other social media tools are the 21st century equivalent of that 19th century technology. They have empowered ordinary citizens in their fight for freedom and liberty against oppressive governments like those in Turkey, Russia, and Saudi Arabia. Twitter was also a powerful tool, of course, in the Arab Spring protests that led to the ouster of dictators like Tunisia’s Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak. Too often, however, Twitter is depicted as a panacea just as the telegraph once was 150 years ago. In the wrong hands Twitter can be used to undercut life and liberty as terrorists embrace the technology to raise funds and solicit support.

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My 1999 Ph.D. dissertation examined the introduction of the telegraph to 19th century Iran. At first, the Shah supported the telegraph: the wires made the Iranian government more efficient in a time of dwindling resources and power. Over the years, however, the opposition learned what a powerful tool the telegraph could be. The late-19th century was a time of battle for the new technology as both the government and opposition fought for the upper hand. Ultimately, the opposition won: the government lost its communications monopoly and the opposition was able to organize a mass movement culminating in a constitution revolution. There was a financial side to the technology as well: For much of the 19th century, Iran did not use paper money. It had done so once under the Mongols, but that experiment had failed. Caravans carried tons of coin over weeks in order to complete transactions. With the telegraph, however, various agents could complete trades in a matter of hours, with money changing hands not in Tehran but in London and St. Petersburg.

Twitter and other social media tools are the 21st century equivalent of that 19th century technology. They have empowered ordinary citizens in their fight for freedom and liberty against oppressive governments like those in Turkey, Russia, and Saudi Arabia. Twitter was also a powerful tool, of course, in the Arab Spring protests that led to the ouster of dictators like Tunisia’s Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak. Too often, however, Twitter is depicted as a panacea just as the telegraph once was 150 years ago. In the wrong hands Twitter can be used to undercut life and liberty as terrorists embrace the technology to raise funds and solicit support.

Alas, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey are together showing how such technology can be used to kill rather than save helpless populations. Saudi cleric Abdullah al-Muhaisani, who regularly uses Youtube to solicit funding for Al Qaeda-linked extremists in Syria, has now taken to Twitter to raise money for an Al Qaeda-style jihad. He is not shy about listing the Qatari and Turkish phone numbers to collect the pledges. That, of course, is simply further evidence that those two nominal U.S. allies are complicit in supporting terror.

(When I was in Syria in January, most everyone relied on Turkish cell phones, as it seemed that Turkey had bolstered its network’s power in order to cover more of northern Syria than it did before the conflict. Turkey therefore has good intelligence on almost everything occurring in that region of Syria, including the activities of the Nusra Front and the Al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham).

Al-Muhaisani’s feed is illuminating: According to this tweet, 650 Saudi riyals (about $175) buys 150 Kalashnikov bullets or 50 sniper bullets. Muhaisani’s official twitter account has almost 300,000 followers.

In the right hands, Twitter is a wonderful tool that threatens the autocratic monopoly over information and assembly. But, in the wrong hands, it enables terrorists to become more active and more lethal. The answer is not to ban the technology, but to monitor it closely. There is no need to tap it: Simply following it can provide an intelligence trove. Let us hope that the U.S. government and its counter-terror analysts will never be so gun shy, nor American diplomats too language-poor to tune into a source that is far more illuminating than so many of the classified cables that the likes of Edward Snowden dealt in.

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Turkey Shows the Risk of Politicized Tax Collectors

There is little question now that at least some Internal Revenue Service (IRS) employees abused their position to allow partisanship to determine their actions. Who authorized such behavior, if anyone, remains subject to fierce partisan dispute. If the IRS targeted conservatives on the basis of their political belief and on the orders of anyone in the White House, most Americans would find such facts scandalous, and rightly so.

Many supporters of the Obama administration have pooh-poohed the scandal, or suggested that it comes from the fevered imaginations of Republican activists. They should not. Too many many fierce partisans will play hardball or engage in dirty tricks, all the more so if a precedent exists that leads them to believe they can get away with it.

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There is little question now that at least some Internal Revenue Service (IRS) employees abused their position to allow partisanship to determine their actions. Who authorized such behavior, if anyone, remains subject to fierce partisan dispute. If the IRS targeted conservatives on the basis of their political belief and on the orders of anyone in the White House, most Americans would find such facts scandalous, and rightly so.

Many supporters of the Obama administration have pooh-poohed the scandal, or suggested that it comes from the fevered imaginations of Republican activists. They should not. Too many many fierce partisans will play hardball or engage in dirty tricks, all the more so if a precedent exists that leads them to believe they can get away with it.

Here, Turkey illustrates just what can happen when politicized tax collection is allowed to continue unabated. Turkey today has threatened to go after Twitter on tax evasion charges. According to an Agence France Presse report:

“Twitter, YouTube and Facebook are international companies established for profit and making money,” Erdogan said. “Twitter is at the same time a tax evader. We will go after it,” he added. “These companies, like every international company, will abide by my country’s constitution, laws and tax rules”

In Turkey, the issue is not rule of law, for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan interprets the law through the narrow prism of his personal interest. Simply put, his philosophy is the 21st century equivalent of “L’État, c’est moi.” Erdoğan has a long history of using arbitrary tax enforcement to target opponents.  He leveled a multimillion-dollar tax fine against the owner of a newspaper critical of his abuse-of-power and, then, when that media group actually found the funds to pay up, he leveled a multi-billion dollar fine. The world saw the tax lien for what it was, and roundly condemned Erdoğan for using the tax man to crush opponents. It was a tried and true strategy. With one of his political allies facing tough competition in Istanbul, Erdoğan used the tax man to levy a fine against the chief secular competitor in the race for an allegedly unpaid loan, draining his campaign chest.  Turkey has effectively become a third world dictatorship, and its tax service more a mechanism to punish than simply raise revenue.

When tax collectors lose their credibility and become little more than political weapons, there is no restoring that credibility. How sad it is that so many supporters of President Obama for partisan reasons appear to turn a blind eye to the apparent attempt by some in the IRS to wield their power like a weapon. For Turkey shows what happens when such behavior is not nipped in the bud. Let us hope that Erdoğan’s embrace of executive order and financial punishment has not become a model which Obama knowingly or unconsciously follows.

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Seymour Hersh’s Latest Conspiracy Theory

Seymour Hersh is gaining headlines again for a London Review of Books article in which he alleges that Turkey was behind the chemical-weapons strike in the suburbs of Damascus which led many American officials to demand that President Obama enforce his red line and retaliate against the Bashar al-Assad regime.

I’m not one to defend the Turkish regime—certainly, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is a terrorist sympathizer, if not sponsor—but Hersh’s allegations are problematic and, frankly, an embarrassment to the New Yorker.

While Hersh gained fame for his reporting of the My Lai massacre, he has largely been coasting on his reputation ever since. Did he blow the lid on the reprehensible abuses at Abu Ghraib? Not quite: the Pentagon had already investigated the abuses, was in the process of taking action, and Hersh simply published the leaked report.

Today, rather than personify responsible journalism, Hersh seems to embody a political agenda which leads him to fit square pegs into round holes, cherry pick what works, and discard what doesn’t. A 2007 article on jihadis in Lebanon was a real embarrassment to the New Yorker, as other analysts quickly tore it apart.

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Seymour Hersh is gaining headlines again for a London Review of Books article in which he alleges that Turkey was behind the chemical-weapons strike in the suburbs of Damascus which led many American officials to demand that President Obama enforce his red line and retaliate against the Bashar al-Assad regime.

I’m not one to defend the Turkish regime—certainly, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is a terrorist sympathizer, if not sponsor—but Hersh’s allegations are problematic and, frankly, an embarrassment to the New Yorker.

While Hersh gained fame for his reporting of the My Lai massacre, he has largely been coasting on his reputation ever since. Did he blow the lid on the reprehensible abuses at Abu Ghraib? Not quite: the Pentagon had already investigated the abuses, was in the process of taking action, and Hersh simply published the leaked report.

Today, rather than personify responsible journalism, Hersh seems to embody a political agenda which leads him to fit square pegs into round holes, cherry pick what works, and discard what doesn’t. A 2007 article on jihadis in Lebanon was a real embarrassment to the New Yorker, as other analysts quickly tore it apart.

The good thing about Hersh is that he is predictable: He often circles back to the same sources, with the same agenda, which by no coincidence happens to be his own. The current article seems to rely a great deal on a former Defense Intelligence Agency official. Who might this person be? There is no way to know for sure since Hersh protects his source with anonymity, never allowing the reader to assess whether the person is simply using his past affiliation to spin a tale or if he was even in a position to have the information he claimed to possess. In the past, Hersh has relied on one W. Patrick Lang, a former Defense Intelligence Agency official. Let’s hope the source isn’t Lang, because if it was, Hersh should certainly have noted (as he neglected to previously) that Lang had registered with the Foreign Agents Registration Act in order to work with a pro-Syrian Lebanese politician. Given Hersh’s previous mistakes in this regard, he cannot be given the benefit of the doubt.

Now, this isn’t to say that the Syrian opposition hasn’t, at times, sought to use crude chemical-weapons devices. Nor is it to deny that Erdoğan has single-mindedly sought to pursue a sectarian agenda inside Syria. But the international community seems to have conducted a great deal of forensic work about what happened in East Ghouta, and that evidence reportedly pointed overwhelmingly at the Assad regime. And if that information doesn’t coincide with whatever Hersh’s political agenda of the day is, tough.

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Is Turkey Next to Face Al-Qaeda Threat?

Over the last couple decades, a pattern has emerged: Governments tolerate if not encourage Islamist extremism, so long as the jihadists, takfiris, radicals, militants, or whatever the name of the day is understand the devil’s bargain: They can be as radical as they want, so long as their terrorism is for export only.

Hence, for decades, Saudi princes pumped money into the coffers of extremist groups and eventually al-Qaeda, immune to criticism from the outside world. Even after 9/11, the Saudi royal family was decidedly insincere in its approach toward terrorism. It was only after al-Qaeda turned its guns on Saudi Arabia itself that the king and his princes woke up to the danger that it posed.

Likewise, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while nurturing a reputation as a secularist, flirted with extremists. His father Hafez al-Assad may have crushed the Muslim Brotherhood in Hama in 1982 but, contrary to Tom Friedman’s caricature of Assad and his so-called “Hama Rules,” he was not simply a brute with zero tolerance toward Islamism. Rather, Hafez al-Assad was a brute who almost immediately after his massacre began trying to co-opt the survivors. He and, subsequently, his son Bashar quietly began to tolerate greater Islamic conservatism. Bashar went farther and actively supported jihadists so long as they kept their jihad external to Syria. Hence, Syria became the underground railroad for Islamist terrorists infiltrating into Iraq to rain chaos against not only American servicemen, but far more ordinary Iraqi citizens. That Islamists co-opted the uprising against Bashar al-Assad should not surprise: There is always blowback.

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Over the last couple decades, a pattern has emerged: Governments tolerate if not encourage Islamist extremism, so long as the jihadists, takfiris, radicals, militants, or whatever the name of the day is understand the devil’s bargain: They can be as radical as they want, so long as their terrorism is for export only.

Hence, for decades, Saudi princes pumped money into the coffers of extremist groups and eventually al-Qaeda, immune to criticism from the outside world. Even after 9/11, the Saudi royal family was decidedly insincere in its approach toward terrorism. It was only after al-Qaeda turned its guns on Saudi Arabia itself that the king and his princes woke up to the danger that it posed.

Likewise, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while nurturing a reputation as a secularist, flirted with extremists. His father Hafez al-Assad may have crushed the Muslim Brotherhood in Hama in 1982 but, contrary to Tom Friedman’s caricature of Assad and his so-called “Hama Rules,” he was not simply a brute with zero tolerance toward Islamism. Rather, Hafez al-Assad was a brute who almost immediately after his massacre began trying to co-opt the survivors. He and, subsequently, his son Bashar quietly began to tolerate greater Islamic conservatism. Bashar went farther and actively supported jihadists so long as they kept their jihad external to Syria. Hence, Syria became the underground railroad for Islamist terrorists infiltrating into Iraq to rain chaos against not only American servicemen, but far more ordinary Iraqi citizens. That Islamists co-opted the uprising against Bashar al-Assad should not surprise: There is always blowback.

Iraq experienced much the same phenomenon: Islamist extremism did not begin with the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003; it predated it. That “Allahu Akhbar” appeared on Iraq’s flag in the wake of the 1991 uprising was no coincidence. Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein established morality squads which, in order to appease Islamist feelings, conducted activities such as beheading women for alleged morality infractions. It was a short leap for some young radicals in al-Anbar in 2003 to start waging violence in the name of religion against Iraqi Shi’ites when, in the decade previous, Saddam Hussein encouraged them to do much the same thing.

So who is next? If I were a Turk living in Istanbul or Ankara, I would be very worried about al-Qaeda violence on my doorstep. Istanbul, of course, has already been subject to al-Qaeda attacks but nothing compared to what could be on the horizon. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has remained uncomfortably close to al-Qaeda financiers. Turkey has also been quite supportive of the Nusra Front and perhaps even the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), so long as they targeted Syria’s secular Kurds. Now, after months of denial, it now appears that a suicide bombing in Reyhanli, which the Turkish government blamed on the Syrian regime, was in fact conducted by Syria’s al-Qaeda-linked opposition.

The Turkish government may have thought—like the Saudis, Syrians, Iraqis, Pakistanis, and others before them—that they could channel al-Qaeda or that group’s fellow-travelers against their strategic adversaries. They were wrong. When al-Qaeda comes to Turkey, whether this year, next, or in 2016, Turks should understand that the man who effectively invited them was none other than Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

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