Arrogantly or fearfully, for it takes courage to compromise, pursuing total victory, decisionmakers condemn themselves to needless defeat.
Playing blindly into the hands of extremists by defining Turkish and Iranian foreign policy goals in sectarian terms, Ankara and Tehran are both undermining their own long-term interests. The only winner is ISIS, which continues to expand.
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu correctly pointed out on Nov. 18 that “not much” separates ISIS from Assad in moral terms–barbaric both [Reuters]. From that honest remark to resolution of Turkey’s foreign policy contradictions will be a long journey, however, and so far there is little public indication that Ankara has made much progress, as suggested by both reports of Ankara’s shortsighted efforts to undermine Kurdish efforts to aid the 1.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey and the initial reports that Biden’s meeting with Erdogan achieved little in terms of finding a joint way forward.
Former leader of Mideast moderates, Erdogan now seems to be choking on the concept. Bluntly put, moderation entails sympathy for others, and Erdogan continues to find Kurdish aspirations a bridge too far, even though they represent 20% of “his” people and the only effective opponent of ISIS. Erdogan should either treat Turkish Kurds as full citizens and support their compatriots across the border with Syria or offer Turkish Kurds the option of independence, slicing off the Kurdish-majority region of southeastern Turkey to form a Kurdish state. Such a state could surely be encouraged to join with Iraqi Kurds and Syrian Kurds to defend that people against ISIS as well as to constitute a solid economic partner exporting oil to Turkey for transshipment to Europe. But Erdogan has evolved from leader of regional moderates to uncertain straddler of a very uncomfortable political fence – playing way too cute with ISIS, alienating the rapidly self-organizing Kurds, and ineffectively opposing Assad in a jumbled policy that both fails to resolve any of Turkey’s foreign policy problems while ruining Turkey’s chances for consolidating a mutually beneficial relationship with Iran.
Turkey and Iran are blindly radicalizing each other, thus playing into the hands of Salafi extremists. With Iran as hydrocarbon exporter and Turkey as middleman, the two regional powers are natural financial allies. But that outcome requires mutual compromise: Tehran must give up Assad, Ankara must given up dreams of a new Turkish Sunni Caliphate, and each must recognize publicly and in their hearts that both Sunnis and Shi’a have a right to live. The road to that outcome starts with a sincere Turkish-Kurdish reconciliation plus joint Turkish-Iranian pursuit of a regime in Damascus, almost surely minus Assad, that represents Syrian Alawi and Sunni interests while also maintaining Iran’s sphere of influence.
Sectarian conflict is the game of extremists. When states define foreign policy in sectarian terms, they are playing a losing game. States need long-term stability, full popular participation in society, economic growth. Extremists need discrimination and war. Whenever foreign policy is structured along sectarian lines, states put their long-term stability at risk.
As long as Ankara and Tehran look, respectively, through Sunni or Shi’i lenses and thus focus on bilateral rivalry, strong as they are, they cancel each other out, leaving the field open to an ISIS that, Kobani notwithstanding, continues to expand its geographic reach and power. Stumbling along their present paths, tripping over each other, Ankara and Tehran are leading the region toward a situation in which ISIS by next summer may well dominate Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Libya while simultaneously achieving massive social influence even inside Turkey itself. Turkish society will be undermined and split even as Iran finds its borders at risk, its regional sphere of influence evaporating, and its options reduced to full scale military intervention, an outcome not likely to be of benefit to either Turkey or Iran.
Two thick, black layers of wool are being pulled over the eyes of Americans: the political hype that Washington politicians are working for the good of the American people and the financial hype that Federal regulation of the financial system is designed to enhance the national welfare. When are people going to see through this double fraud?
Corrupt banks enrich themselves by gambling at a Federal table that covers all their bad bets…with “other people’s money.” Brandeis’ famous phrase, and the title of his landmark analysis of pre-Great Depression financial corruption, might not constitute such a damning condemnation of fraud if it were accomplished exclusively with the money of investors eyes wide open and willing to take the gamble. All capitalism is a gamble, though usually not such a dangerously uninformed one as playing with derivatives (i.e., buying something that is not real but, well, “derived” from something real) or “tranches” (i.e., portions) of a bundle of liar-lone mortgages.
Capitalism reduced to financial manipulation, an ideal set-up in itself that undermines the stability of the financial system, is bad enough, but in a true capitalist system would harm only the irresponsible idiots who choose to gamble their money on an investment they almost certainly do not understand (since the whole point of the operation is to enable the bank to conceal the level of risk from the naïve investor). Immeasurably worse is a financial system based on corporate socialism, i.e., a system in which financial corporations keep their profits when they win but have their losses covered by taxes paid by the public, including all the mature citizens who chose not to participate in the original gambling scheme. The previous sentence describes not only the financial system that produced the 2008 Recession but, all the hot air about reform notwithstanding, the financial system that exists in the U.S. today.
Government essentially has only two purposes: it is either a tool for bullies to exploit the people or a tool of the people to protect society. “Government” is neither good nor bad, any more than a hammer is good or bad. A corrupt Wall St. CEO would find today’s Federal government, which tips the economic table to ensure that a rising proportion of national wealth flows into his hands while slipping him a “get out of jail free” card, very good indeed. A homeowner (a person with one home, probably mortgaged) watching his income fall, his benefits evaporate, and his retirement contract broken by his employer or a social scientist evaluating the long-term health of a nation moving back toward 19th century two-class status, outsourcing jobs, allowing infrastructure (even nuclear weapons sites!) to decay, and coddling a financial elite that focuses on gambling with financial products rather than making real products would find today’s Federal government to be about as good as a hammer with the head rusted off.
The whole debate about “regulation” is a red herring. The business of politicians is to regulate. Let a member of the 99% pull off a bank heist and see whether or not his behavior gets regulated. The issue is whether or not regulations are applied according to a single standard that applies to all. CEOs and workers both are required to drive on the right. But the regulation prohibiting the intentional misrepresentation of investment risk has, to put it politely, separate standards for billionaires and for the rest of us.
The U.S. government is supposed to serve the voters, who are supposed to select their governing representatives on the basis of “one person, one vote,” rather than the “one dollar, one vote” system now in the process of being instituted. When it comes to fraud, the political fraud being slipped past the tired eyes of the American people is even more outrageous than the financial one.
The government of course does not force any citizen to commit a financial crime; it simply refuses to prosecute billionaires for the fraud committed by their corporations even when those corporations are deemed “guilty” and forced to pay fines! Corporations may be criminal but surely not the poor, helpless, little CEO’s! Thus, the sharp reefs of moral hazard sink the ship of state on which society depends: if the powerful are not compelled by convention and law to behave in a moral fashion, they will not.
Bad money drives out good; government policies favoring financial crime will : 1) persuade the honest to turn dishonest, 2) marginalize the honest; or 3) persuade the honest to “leave town” (e.g., drop out of the market, stop voting). The visible result of this process in contemporary America is the explosive rise in the stock market at the same time as the 99% are experiencing vast unemployment, historically high dependence on food stamps, and a shift from high-paying industrial careers to low-paying temporary service jobs. What group will endlessly support a system designed to cheat it?
Perhaps the answer to that question is: “The American worker.” Why the average American worker failed to vote with his feet in support of the Occupy Movement in the face of the overwhelming evidence of corporate-government elite collusion in 2008 is a question sociologists will be pondering for a long time. That elite, and its fast-talking elected representatives, are betting that the American worker will continue to vote against his own best interests.
Republicans now have the Congress, so the question is: can they serve the nation? Let’s keep our eyes wide open for the next two years.
Evidence: On the first day after the election, Nov. 5, in a country where 99% of the population is still suffering from the 2008 Recession caused by corrupt financial behavior in a political environment that coddled fraud, McConnell called for less regulation. McConnell apparently [full text not available] made no reference to avoiding financial fraud, protecting worker rights, preserving clean air, checking on food safety, or any other concern of the “little people.” In sum, on Day 1, McConnell spoke out without caveat in support of the 1%–which of course now includes several new millionaire members of Congress.
It is hard to say whether the American voter is more conservative or confused, but that voter seems unable to tolerate or appreciate open-minded, analytical, sympathetic politics. Any why, indeed, should they, with so few examples by their self-important leaders, of such thinking? As for conservatism, the only thing the right cares to conserve is its own wealth; why so many of the poor continue to elect leaders who merely pillage those who elect them is, on the surface, incomprehensible. But, given the choices (with the exception of Elizabeth Warren), what is a decent patriot to do?
The one lesson that appears to emerge from the whole sorry political mess in America is that a liberal-talking servant of the rich will only give reform a bad name. So now six years have been lost, and we have again in ascendancy across the country the gang we thought had finally been kicked out: those who want imperial war, unrestrained class war, a supine working class taking orders respectfully, and complete freedom to pillage the earth for their personal benefit.
Americans, congratulations: you just voted for bad health care, minimal job benefits, a booming economy for the 1% until the next disaster following by another bailout of the rich–by you, the oh so very generous and trusting American voter. Overseas, you should expect–because you just voted for it–wars endlessly that will further enrich that same 1%.
The great monopolistic elitist party has held another mock election in which anyone with a true reformist program is effectively marginalized (by reserving TV advertizing to those funded by the rich). Even Udall, who tried to stand up to NSA domestic spying, got rejected by the voters. Why not? If we choose to give the rich all our money, if we choose to let the rich run the country, then I guess it only makes sense that we open our hearts (and mail) to them as well. Trust is trust.
But realize what you just did, Mr. or Mrs. Voter. Don’t be whining any more about what you might want your government to do for you. Don’t go asking for good schools, clean air, safe food. You just gave your government to the rich, and trust me — the rich will use it very, very carefully for their own benefit. We will, under McConnell and gang, have big government for sure, very big government, but it will not be for you 99%ers:
- Wall St. will have massive socialist support programs run through the Treasury to keep the taxpayer’s money flowing into its hands;
- trouble-making workers who are not grateful for jobs will be slapped down hard;
- the sick will be given the freedom to take care of themselves.
The victorious rich will, in our paradise, grant you the favor of exactly what you want: freedom. You will have the freedom to be sick and self-medicate, the freedom to stay home without work or to work two part-time jobs without benefits, the freedom to watch endless war on your Chinese-made TV. You voted for it; you got it. Have a nice day.
While Sunni extremists of ISIS slaughter other Sunnis (left in the lurch by Baghdad) in Iraq, Erdogan has succeeded in re-energizing Kurdish aspirations for political justice in Turkey.
On October 6, I warned of the dangers of Erdogan’s apparent desire to use ISIS to attack the Kurds:
A barbaric ISIS takeover of Kobani under the guns of silent Turkish tanks will burn Turkey’s “good neighbor policy” to the ground, give ISIS enormous momentum, ensure Turkish-Kurdish hatred and violence for a generation, probably doom Turkish democracy, and very likely end up leading to a Turkish withdrawal from NATO and transformation into a state destabilized by Sunni radicalism. Kobani is a turning point. Ankara is heading down a slippery slope, and its callousness toward Syrian Kurds will generate an increasingly serious chain of interlocked disasters.[“In a Confusing Mideast, Finally a Clear Moral Choice” on Media With Conscience.]
On Nov. 1 in Diyarbakir, an estimated 15,000 Turkish Kurds took to the dangerous streets to show that rather than cowing them, Erdogan has created a new generation of Kurdish democracy activists. On this day, neither Turkish soldiers nor Turkish police attacked the activists.
If Ankara supported Kurdish aspirations and Baghdad supported Sunni aspirations–instead of playing devious, short-term sectarian games, the Mideast could be a very different place.
Is Washington bungling the opportunity for a U.S.-Iranian entente, thereby opening the door to Russian-Iranian leadership of the fight against Sunni extremism and the resultant consolidation of Iranian emergence on the Mideast stage as an anti-U.S. player?
By late September, Iran was working hard at the U.N. to reach a nuclear accord with the U.S. in order to open the door to Washington’s anti-ISIS coalition. Obama subsequently chose to adopt an insulting public stance, probably with a nervous eye on the highly vocal U.S. war party but conceivably as part of a back-room agreement with Rouhani that holding hands openly would embarrass them both. In any event, at the end of the month Rouhani embarrassed Obama in a much more substantive way by pointing out that the U.S. air campaign, minus a boots-on-the-ground commitment, was mostly “theater,” a point the U.S. war party would have appreciated. With pride and domestic political opponents in the way on both sides, the upshot was that despite the obvious utility to both the U.S. and Iran of cooperation against ISIS, the two sides once again bungled a great opportunity. Tehran has reportedly ordered its renown Quds Force, that worked so hard to prevent consolidation of the neo-con invasion of Iraq, “not to target American troops inside Iraq.” While this may be due to a desire for anti-ISIS cooperation, as argued by Eli Lake, it is explicable simply in long-range, strategic terms: the tenuous U.S. military position in Iraq today is hard to interpret as a threat to Iran, which got pretty much what it wanted with the U.S. withdrawal. So the door to a settlement of the long spat between Tehran and Washington remains open and the need for both sides to walk through that door together remains obvious, but it is not happening, much to the delight of both Salafi and Zionist extremists.
With Washington still unwilling to acknowledge Iran as a legitimate regional power and the ISIS threat still rising, the predictable seems to be happening: Russian-Iranian military cooperation against ISIS. Moscow, effectively frozen out of the Mideast since the collapse of the Soviet Union, sees military cooperation with Tehran as a way to gain access to the Mideast that the West can hardly criticize, a way to remind Washington that it must treat Russia as a world power (including even in Ukraine!), and a reasonable approach to dealing with ISIS. Tehran reminds Washington that it has other options, should Washington refuse to cooperate.
The reported Russian-Iranian cooperation includes the training of Iranians in the operation of MI-35m helicopters already being supplied to Iraq. Designed for both troop transport and combat, these helicopters would both help the anti-ISIS war effort and, with Iranian crews, consolidate Iran’s regional position. While Moscow has not confirmed these reports, it does acknowledge providing arms to both Iraq and Syria. Since Rouhani’s condescending “theater” remark a month ago, Obama’s military tactics may have become somewhat more effective, but the weakness of the U.S. position in the war with ISIS now raging across the center of the Mideast is opening the door to a shift in regional power relationships that could turn out very much to the disadvantage of the U.S.
From the U.S. perspective, it is not really so much the fact of Russian support for Iran’s emergence on the Mideast stage as the context: Russian-Iranian-U.S. cooperation against Salafi extremism would create a very different Mideast from Russian-Iranian victory over ISIS in defiance of a marginalized and ineffective U.S.
To defend its interests in the Mideast effectively, the U.S. of course needs numerous things, e.g., the wisdom to identify its real interests, but above all it needs freedom of movement, something it can only have to the degree that it can establish working relationships with a range of regional actors. To the degree that Russia becomes Iran’s patron against the U.S., the U.S. will be cornered in a most likely subordinate relationship with the Israeli and Saudi right and will thus find itself frequently working against its own long-term interests. The current crack in the edifice of Turkish-U.S. strategic relations has already undermined the potential for effective U.S. Mideast policy.
The urgency for the U.S. of finding an effective Mideast policy is further raised by the slow but ominous decline in Lebanese stability. Fighting in the narrow inhabited back streets of Tripoli on Oct. 25 with helicopters and armored vehicles that left 14 dead has already imperiled the safety of civilians and can only inflame sectarian tensions. With the Lebanese Army taking increasingly violent steps against ISIS-provoked violence, a return to Lebanese civil war, the apparent aim of Sunni radicals, is becoming increasingly likely and should be viewed by Washington strategists as a near-term possibility at least as serious as the fate of Kobani. Lebanon once was part of Syria, and Syrian refugees now constitute an astonishing one-third of the Lebanese population.
A month ago it was not hard to imagine a U.S.-Turkish-Iranian entente against ISIS, with mutual military interests propped up by mutual economic interests and the U.S. benefiting over the long term by seeing moderate Turkey pull Iran in a moderate direction. However, U.S. unwillingness to accept Iran’s emergence as an independent regional power, Turkish hostility to full citizenship for Kurds and perhaps the emergence of a Kurdish state, and Iranian distrust of the U.S. after three decades of hostility combined to scuttle that ship before it was launched. A very different alternative is now emerging in which Russia leads, Turkey sulks, and the U.S. finds itself marginalized. Washington needs to consider this possibility before it becomes reality.
Should Lebanon collapse into civil war in the context of a Russian-Syrian-Iraqi-Iranian military alliance (excluding the U.S.) as the only answer to ISIS, both Saudi and Israeli interference further destabilizing the Mideast would only be expected, with the resulting debacle constituting a genuine nightmare for U.S. national interests.
Both in terms of domestic tranquility and international strategic positioning, Ankara’s decision to watch the destruction of Syrian Kurds in Kobani constitutes a massive defeat for Turkey.
Erdogan has a point in callously bargaining with the lives of Syrian Kurds in order to get a more serious NATO effort against Assad (who is also calmly sitting on the sidelines watching the barbarism of ISIS). A well considered, realistic, tightly coordinated U.S.-Turkish (-Iranian) political strategy to settle the Syrian civil war is a great idea. Sadly, Erdogan’s timing is deplorable, seemingly calculated to make a good point at precisely the moment when it cannot possibly be acted on. The immediate need this week was not to remake the world but to save Kobani. Kobani lost, Erdogan’s goal of settling the Syrian civil war becomes vastly more difficult.
The immediate results of Erdogan’s betrayal of the Kurds with whom he was in the process of negotiating a settlement include:
Straining relations with the U.S.;
Reigniting an internal war with the Kurds, who have now been told in no uncertain terms that Ankara will never treat them as Turkish citizens;
Empowering ISIS and allowing it to install its power directly on the Turkish border;
Permanently sullying his previously impressive moral stature.
Erdogan, possessing the freedom of action that comes with superior force and the time to make a careful decision, calculated carefully, and handed his country a massive defeat.
Did Erdogan knowingly accept this loss in return for some offsetting strategic gain? His adversary Assad has gained time to consolidate his position in southern Syria, while further benefiting from the new rift between Ankara and Washington that will make all the more difficult any smooth Turkish-U.S. coordinated strategy to resolve the Syrian civil war. Erdogan has also demonstrated by proclaiming last-second opposition to ISIS capture of Kobani, but then doing nothing to back up his words, the precise degree to which Ankara can be trusted, which will surely give Tehran, among others, reason for pause. It seems more than likely that his behavior will negatively impact Turkey’s efforts to join the EEC. And how, exactly, are Iraqi Kurds to continue their flourishing economic relationship with a Turkey that has just tossed to the dogs their brothers in Syria? Turkey did, however, gain one apparent new friend on its borders: the Islamic State. We shall see how that works out for Turkish society as black flags wave within sight of Turkish soldiers and Salafi imams proclaim their faith from Turkish mosques.
The intentional sacrifice of Kobani in order to undermine the Kurds also has a deeply troubling broader consequence that Erdogan probably did not consider. For a decade Westerners, who have long since forgotten the cultural superiority of moderate Moorish Granada, have been asking themselves if a Muslim society could be tolerant and democratic. The thoughtful answer to this question, counteracting the behavior of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, has been the moderate Islamic regime of none other than Erdogan, who has campaigned against Turkey’s traditional military dictatorship in favor of democracy and has opened historic negotiations with Turkey’s long-oppressed Kurdish minority. In the wake of his sell-out of Kobani, it takes great optimism to imagine that Turkey will continue its painstaking crawl toward civil liberties and justice for all its citizens. Thus, the question of how contemporary Islam might fit in with the fundamental principles of democratic rights, individual freedoms, civil liberties, and equal opportunity for all citizens regardless of sectarian distinctions has been reopened, sadly, by the one Mideastern leader who appeared to have offered a positive answer.
And, with protest riots, police brutality, and curfews in Kurdish regions of Turkey already appearing while the last defenders of Kobani still fight in front of their homes, Erdogan’s chickens from the sacrifice of Kobani are already flying home to roost.
The imminent [as of Monday morning, October 6] disaster for the integrity of Ankara and Washington, as well as for the Kurdish people, at Kobani seems about the most morally clear-cut situation one can find in the anguished Mideast, and so, the great men who run the world…stand and watch.
If Washington is looking for “good guys” to defend, then the beleaguered Kurds are about the most obvious group around. If Washington is looking for a strategy in a region in which it has caused so much harm only to create chaos that is now blowing back in our faces, then treating Iraqi Kurds like good guys while allowing ISIS to massacre Syrian Kurds hardly constitutes a rational approach to stabilizing the region. If Washington wants to defend U.S. national security, empowering ISIS and teaching the world that Washington cannot figure out how to make a difference even when it attacks constitute a shamefully incompetent twin failure. If Washington cares about the consolidation of Turkish democracy, then watching the Turkish NATO army as it watches ISIS conquer and exterminate the Syrian Kurds is a course of action we…and all freedom-loving Turks will come to regret: democracy and freedom must be shared. Turks will not find freedom by facilitating the slaughter of the abused neighbors.
As for Erdogan and Davutoglu–in whom some have placed so much faith for a new, more civilized approach to politics in the Mideast—Kobani is their moment of truth. How they go down in history will be decided on this battle. A barbaric ISIS takeover of Kobani under the gun s of silent Turkish tanks will burn Turkey’s “good neighbor policy” to the ground, give ISIS enormous momentum, ensure Turkish-Kurdish hatred and violence for a generation, probably doom Turkish democracy, and very likely end up leading to a Turkish withdrawal from NATO and transformation into a state destabilized by Sunni radicalism. Kobani is a turning point. Ankara is heading down a slippery slope, and its callousness toward Syrian Kurds will generate an increasingly serious chain of interlocked disasters.
Now is not the time for arguing over which one more carelessly threw gasoline on the fires of Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. Ankara and Washington need to think about the longterm future, and strategic calculus needs to start with protecting Kobani…today.
The situation is, of course, not that simple. Why, indeed, should Americans or Turks die for Kurds if Kurds will not even unite to defend themselves? Ankara has a point in calling on all Kurds to get on the same page:
… Saleh Muslim, co-chair of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union party (PYD), went to Ankara this weekend to hold meetings with Turkish security officials to discuss possible Turkish assistance in defending Kobani against Isis. Turkey’s government has vowed it will not sit idly by and let Kobani fall.
Turkish media reported that security officials in Ankara urged Muslim to convince the YPG, the armed wing of the PYD that is currently battling Isis in Kobani, to join the ranks of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and to “take an open stance against the Syrian regime” of Bashar al-Assad. [The Guardian 10/5/14.]
But now is also not the time for using the population of Kobani as hostage to a negotiating process between Turkey and various Kurdish factions. Such are not tactics designed to build an effective coalition.
One aspect of the long term is the momentum that Salafi extremists would gain across the region if the world were to permit them slowly and openly to crush a city packed with refugees and representing the last strongpoint of a minority on the brink of extermination. The fall of Kobani would put Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey itself directly on the front line, in addition to reinvigorating the radical Sunni threat to Baghdad.
Second, no one would miss the message that Erdogan had slammed the door in the face of regional Kurdish aspirations and, at least implicitly, cut a deal with Sunni extremism. Anti-Turkish radicalization of Turkish Kurds and the simultaneous radicalization of religiously inclined Turkish Sunnis could be expected, in turn leading to instability within Turkey, Turkish tension between secular and religious Turks, regime crackdowns, and the emergence of a hard-line Turkish regime – be it by radicalized Sunnis or secular militarists.
Third, seeing Ankara turn soft on ISIS and the threat to Assad instantly intensifying would only stiffen Tehran’s resolve to protect their Syrian interests with force, isolating and radicalizing Iran while driving a wedge between Iran and Turkey. Thus, the fading of moderate Sunni Islam would inhibit the rise of moderate Shi’i Islam, no doubt with rapid and dire consequences for both Syria and Lebanon.
Fourth, much to the satisfaction of Western as well as Israeli war parties and Islamic extremists, the monster of Christian-Islamic war would once again raise its ugly head. The world has already seen in this century how easy it is to fan the flames of global religious war, yet it took ISIS only weeks to bait a U.S. administration again into taking the noisy, self-proclaimed, public (yet utterly inept!) lead in yet another coalition of the “willing Western and repressive Sunni states” that serves above all as a bright red target for every unemployed extremist in sight.Not one of these probable consequences is hard to foresee; the combination of all would greatly aggravate the political situation in the Mideast. All of these predictable consequences in the balance, yet Ankara and Washington seem unable to defend a city right on the Turkish border when its civilians are threatened with slaughter. How much more morally compelling could a situation be?
Turkey and Iran occupy very distinct positions in the Mideast political environment, suggesting there is little likelihood of any rapprochement, much less of a moderate one, which would require a significant Iranian shift.
If the emergence of a moderate Turkish-Iranian axis now appears to be not just an historic potential shift toward Mideast stability but also a logical outgrowth of certain current trends, how might it occur and how far along such a path have these two vastly different rivals moved to date? With harsh suppression of peaceful democratic protest and continuing discrimination against its Kurdish minority, Turkey can be viewed as a moderate state only in the chaotic context of the Mideast. Iran’s extremely harsh domestic political environment dominated by a military swallowing the civilian economy and a repressive clerical governing elite sits even further away from the idealized concept of a modernizing, secular, inclusive state symbolized by the green quadrant.
Relatively inclusive and attempting, under Erdogan, if sometimes not too convincingly, to find some resolution to its sectarian conflict with long abused Turkish Kurds, Turkey nonetheless still has a long way to go before building a truly inclusive polity. To put this point in context, however, one could say the same of, for example, the U.S., with its continuing racial discrimination against blacks and growing economic discrimination against both middle and lower classes. Iran may be less exclusionist in sectarian terms but is considerably more so in terms of its treatment of political dissent. Here, the key distinction is not the nature of the discrimination but its harshness.
In terms of the choice between the economy and ideology (unstated in the model, and simply assumed to be the obvious alternative for the purposes of this analysis), Iran and Turkey seem to be widely different, with Turkey much more focused on the pursuit of economic development as a national goal. Iran’s long-standing determination to give priority to its right to nuclear technology at the expense of the wrecking of its economy by U.S.-led economic warfare is the most obvious piece of evidence. Particularly noteworthy was Turkey’s effort to find a compromise over the uranium refining issue, surely with the hope of implementing in return a joint hydrocarbon venture involving serving as the middleman between Iran and Europe, upon which Iran seemed in the end needlessly to throw cold water. Turkey risked its alliance structure for economic gain; Iran suffered economic embargo, risked nuclear attack, and lost a golden opportunity simultaneously to consolidate its strategic position and gain economic advantages in order to make its point about having the right to an independent political position (i.e., the right to nuclear technology and the right to articulate a hostile verbal opposition to Israel). Examination solely of current positions offers strong evidence that the emergence of a moderate Turkish-Iranian axis based on the combination of the pursuit of economic development and an inclusionist domestic polity is a long shot indeed.
But what of trends? The next post in this series will examine recent behavior.
Part 2. Emergence of Iran Scenario