March 2009 Archives

Guest Voice  |  March 4, 2009 10:55 AM

Turkish Perspectives on George Mitchell's Middle East Tour

Common Ground News Service asked two Turkish journalists this question: What would you like to see come of U.S. Middle East special envoy George Mitchell's visit to Turkey? Their distinct answers give an interesting perspective on prospects for U.S. mediation efforts in the region.

Mitchell Won't Make Progress Without Hamas

George Mitchell has taken on a very challenging and tough mission. The last thing he needs is to have his impartiality as a mediator questioned from the get-go.

By Defne Samyeli

Istanbul - I remember feeling a sudden surge of optimism when I first heard that George Mitchell was to be the special envoy to the Middle East. His appointment was a clear sign of the US administration's sincere willingness to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict. However, as the special envoy takes his second tour in the region, I admit that the initial optimism has already - let's just say - lost its intensity.

Mitchell is a first-rate diplomat. His track record has earned him the respect of the international community. Back in 2002, he had successfully established a reputation for impartiality on the Israel-Palestine issue when he called for freezing Israeli settlement activities, as well as for intensifying Palestinian efforts to crack down on terrorism.

But a fundamental change has taken place since then; there is a new lead player in the conflict-torn region: Hamas.

Hamas representatives voiced resentment when Mitchell did not make any attempt to communicate with them on his first visit to the region last month.

"Not negotiating with the terrorists" is one thing, but it is hard to justify not even setting foot in Gaza while claiming to be "sincere" about healing this shattered piece of land.

Reputable and credible as Mitchell is, what this tells us is that there remains too much rigidity in US foreign policy. Whether we like it or not, Hamas is one of the major players in this conflict and it's essential for the US envoy to at least listen to what Hamas has to say. No offer or deal on can be brought to the table unless accepted and supported by both Israelis and Palestinians.

On this second visit, Mitchell is again expected to go to the Fatah-controlled West Bank and skip Gaza. This will be interpreted in the Middle East as renewed affirmation that American policy favors Fatah over Hamas, so that US mediation in the conflict is unlikely to be impartial.

This obviously reduces the United States' chance of success in mediating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

George Mitchell has taken on a very challenging and tough mission. The last thing he needs is to have his impartiality as a mediator questioned from the get-go.

Defne Samyeli is a columnist/journalist for the daily Gunes of Turkey. She has previously worked as a News Director, Editor and Evening News Anchor for 17 years. The article was written for the Common Ground News Service.


Message to America: Help Turkey Help You

Obama needs Turkey to help the U.S. meet its goals for the Middle East - but it must help Turkey get back on track first.

By Pelin Turgut

Istanbul - When Barack Obama was elected U.S. president, Turkish pundits instantly likened him to Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Like Obama, Erdogan is a political outsider. He is a grassroots leader who campaigned on a slogan of change and was rewarded with a landslide electoral victory -twice, in 2002 and 2007- becoming the first single-party government in decades.

Turks overwhelmingly elected Erdogan not because of his Islamic credentials (the hardline Islamic vote in Turkey is generally around 10 percent while the AKP won with 47 percent in 2007), but because he represented a young, new breed of politician, the hope of more democracy, an end to corruption and cronyism, and economic stability.

But six years on, Erdogan is faltering and Turkey appears to have lost its way. A determined campaign to make Turkey an EU member has stalled, replaced by a more pro-Arab foreign policy in the Middle East; Erdogan has failed to resolve the two-decade old Kurdish conflict in the southeast (which spills over into Iraq); he brooks little tolerance of media opposition and abandoned plans to democratize the constitution in favor of a bitterly divisive overnight bid to allow headscarves in universities.

Under the AKP, Turkish society has become increasingly polarized.

The message Obama's Middle East envoy George Mitchell needs to take back to Washington is this: help Turkey get back on track on EU membership, democratization and resolving the Kurdish conflict. During the Bush regime, Turkey became one of the most anti-American nations in the world - a recent Pew Global study found only 12 percent of the Turkish people approve of the United States - and yet it is a key ally, or "peace partner" as Mitchell mentioned yesterday, in a troubled region.

Obama needs Turkey's support to succeed in Iran, Iraq, Aghanistan and possibly even in brokering an Arab-Israeli peace deal.

After years of being led by a Western-educated elite - the so-called "white Turks"- Erdogan's victory finally gave the conservative Anatolian hinterland a much-needed political voice. The task now is to balance two visions of the country's future. Turkey can yet find its identity - both Western and Eastern, politically secular and mainly Muslim, constitutionally liberal and socially inclusive.

But with European leaders frustratingly myopic over Europe's future and focused on their own internal political dynamics, it's up to Ankara to restructure ties with the new U.S. administration, and up to Washington - through the likes of George Mitchell - to extend Ankara a helping hand.

Pelin Turgut writes about Turkey for publications like TIME magazine and The Independent on a variety of political and cultural issues. {She is also co-founder of the !f Istanbul International Independent Film Festival, the region's premier festival dedicated to cutting-edge local and international cinema}. The article was written for the Common Ground News Service.

Guest Voice  |  March 5, 2009 11:59 AM

Security Is No Savior to Poor Countries

By Diana Fu

Paul Collier, "savior" of the so-called "bottom billion states," has concocted a new and extended game plan to wrest the failing states in Africa and Asia out of their misery. The answer, he argues in Wars, Guns, and Votes, which was released today, is security. He argues that the bottom billion states -- those that are at the bottom of the world economy and are home to a billion people--direly need security more than they need hurriedly-installed democratic elections. Once long-term security is in place, the bottom billion economies are expected to grow, furbishing the conditions for the birth of true democracy. He is half right. A fa├žade of democracy does no good aside from allowing donors to tick off the "mission accomplished" box. As Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe has shown, warped elections can be bedfellows of autocracy and violence.

But installing long-term peacekeepers in the bottom billion countries as an "incentive" for good governance is not necessarily a viable path towards economic and political salvation. Reason number one: China, a goliath hungry for resources, offers African dictators no-strings-attached aid in exchange for oil and mineral contracts. Reason number two: Western countries' political will to rescue the bottom billion is about as scant as bank credit at the moment. These two reasons combined are enough to spoil Collier's recipe for bottom billion growth.

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Guest Voice  |  March 9, 2009 12:54 PM

Samuel Huntington, Misunderstood

Amina Chaudary
Amina Chaudary

I am the only Muslim to whom Samuel Huntington ever gave a formal interview. I'm convinced that his critics have misjudged him.

By Amina Chaudary

The late Samuel Huntington will probably be best known for his controversial thesis - The Clash of Civilizations - which defined a worldview for many after the fall of the Soviet Union. In it, Huntington set forth the idea that civilizations, as opposed to just nations, would be an important factor in shaping the future of global politics. While his thesis addressed several different civilizations, it was perhaps most famous for its assertion that Islamic civilization constituted a coherent and opposing force to the Western world.

I am the only Muslim to whom Huntington granted a formal interview during his lifetime. My interactions with him led me to believe that what many people thought of him and his ideas - especially many people in the "Muslim world" - probably misrepresented what he actually believed.

Our interview also happened to be his last; several weeks later, he suffered a stroke and retired to Cape Cod. The symbolic timing of such an event itself is remarkable considering the political and intellectual arc that Huntington's thought generated around the world. When I interviewed him, fifteen years had passed since he first published his famous thesis, and much about the world had changed. He appeared more interested in identifying areas of cooperation between the "Christian West" and the "Muslim world" than his critics give him credit for.

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Guest Voice  |  March 18, 2009 9:18 AM

A New Dawn in Pakistan

Today is a new dawn in Pakistan - not a perfect dawn, but a dawn nonetheless. As millions celebrate the reinstatement of the twice-deposed Pakistani Chief Justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, doubts about the country's democratic experiment are being cautiously laid to rest amidst economic and security woes. Pakistan's adolescent democracy is heading toward its rite of passage. But growing up is never easy. Pakistan continues to face impervious Islamist insurgents in the north and intransigent ethnic separatists in the south, and is surrounded by domineering Indians to the east and ambivalent Americans and Afghans to the west. While its unique ways and means beckon U.S. support, Pakistan is considered a bankrupt nuclear-armed tinderbox. Will this new dawn push political parties, lawyers, students, journalists - and yes, the historically skeptical military - to reset the system and salvage Pakistan?

Yes it will; and it should. A mentor of mine in Islamabad told me recently that he had protested against dictators in the sixties and eighties, but had never imagined a day when Pakistan - at the brink of a breakup, economic collapse, and military losses - would then almost suddenly pull back and reunite in unprecedented ways. He reinforced the dictum buried deep in the Pakistani creed: dictators steal dreams, politicians steal hope, and the people steal power from both. For more than sixty years the Pakistani people have been stuck in a tug-of-war between ineffective politicians and towering generals; between democracy without governance and autocracy without law; between a state strengthening a nation and competing nations weakening it; between Islam as a unifying identity and a national identity crisis; and between countries we learn to hate (India) and countries we can't learn to love (the United States).

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Guest Voice  |  March 31, 2009 1:54 AM

Draw the Line on Israel's Settlements

By Lara Friedman and Hagit Ofran

From the earliest days of the peace process, it was clear that Israel's settlements would be one of the most contentious issues on the Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli domestic agendas. Conventional wisdom has held that serious Israeli action on settlements must be put off until a deal is ready to be signed. This is based on the logic that given the huge amount of political capital it will cost any Israeli government either to freeze settlements or to pursue peace, no Israeli government can do both at the same time. This logic has been advanced in Israel and in Washington since the time of Yitzhak Rabin, and has been largely accepted by every U.S. government since George H.W. Bush.

But such logic is a dangerous trap. Far from smoothing the path to peace, these settlements' continued expansion directly undermines any chance of reaching a peace agreement. We say this with conviction born of experience from 15 years of peace efforts.

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