Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Vacuumous, or Tom Talks Turkey

There are vacuums in Turkey—a few of them—observes Tom Friedman from Istanbul (and it’s hard to argue with him about that, as his latest NYT column is proof of the existence of at least one).  He loves the place—“Turkey is a country that had me at hello”—and he had high hopes for it last time he visited, five years ago, when he saw all the promise of it: “a country at the hinge of Europe and the Middle East . . . at once modern, secular, Muslim, democratic,” balancing “good relations with the Arabs, Israel and the West.”

Yet today, to his shock, he finds Turkey has an “Islamist government seemingly focused not on joining the European Union but the Arab League—no, scratch that, on joining the Hamas-Hezbollah-Iran resistance front against Israel”!
Mr. Friedman’s the kind of guy who must see something to believe it—no watching or reading the news for him, apparently, not even in the pages of the newspaper that pays him some $300,000 per annum to discourse with so much flaccid listlessness—so here he is, sojourning among the Turks again, explaining to us, in case we, too, have shunned the news, that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has joined the radical jihadi camp, and warning us that “this could have enormous implications.” 

Erdogan is smart, charismatic and can be very pragmatic. He’s no dictator. I’d love to see him be the most popular leader on the Arab street, but not by being more radical than the Arab radicals and by catering to Hamas, but by being more of a democracy advocate than the undemocratic Arab leaders and mediating in a balanced way between all Palestinians and Israel. That is not where Erdogan is at, though, and it’s troubling.

The vacuums, as he sees them, are these:

·     “The E.U.’s rejection of Turkey, a hugely bad move, has been a key factor prompting Turkey to move closer to Iran and the Arab world.”
·     There is “no leadership in the Arab-Muslim world. Egypt is adrift. Saudi Arabia is asleep. Syria is too small. And Iraq is too fragile.”
·      “Israel’s failure to apply its creativity to solving the Palestinian problem is another dangerous vacuum.”
·     “Finally, there is a vacuum inside Turkey. The secular opposition parties have been in disarray most of the decade, the army has been cowed by wiretaps and the press has been increasingly intimidated into self-censorship because of government pressures.”

This is terribly troubling stuff, indeed! Yes, others have mentioned some (or all) of it before, but what happy providence for the New York Times to have the scrutinizing Friedman gaze to cast upon it again.

Still, all is not storm clouds and raindrops: “Maybe,” suggests Mr. Friedman, “President Obama should invite [Erdogan] for a weekend at Camp David to clear the air before U.S.-Turkey relations get where they’re going—over a cliff.” And if a weekend at Camp David with Mr. Obama should be a bust with respect to Erdoganic air-clearing—no more than so many cliff-hanging dust motes—there’s always Mr. Friedman’s preferred venue for all things modern, China—which, after all, as a “one-party autocracy” “can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century”—to step in to fill the vacuum.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, great a "tea" summit. What a nightmare. Can you see the blogosphere: "Who's a teabagger now?"

    Speaking of "not applying creativity" to problems, hasn't Tommy noticed that more BO doesn't work anymore. There's a term that I learned in Econ 101, oh yeah, DIMINISHING RETURNS.

    But he's right, there is a vacuum. It's the "American Leadership" vacuum. Instead of sitting on rugs in Camp David, why don't we just lambaste Turkey for OK'ing the flotilla to begin with? And while we're at it, tell them to get the hell out of Cyprus and make a few passing references to Armenia...

    Then invite Israel to some war games.