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Posts Tagged ‘Turkey’

Turkey’s Protest Becoming More Violent

Posted by Steve Markowitz on June 20, 2013

Turkey has been an unusual example of stability in a Muslim majority country in the Middle East.  It owes this stability mainly to the actions of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in the 1920s who after seeing the decline of his Ottoman Empire verses the West, made Turkey a secularist country.  This mandate was backed by the military who intervened on various occasions when Islamists attempted to gain governmental powers.

In 2003 Turkey’s current Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was elected.  His party has pursued a more Islamist oriented government.  One early manifestations of this bent was a fraying of Turkey’s relations with Israel, who for many years was a close ally of Turkey.

In recent weeks there have been ominous signs of growing tensions between Turkeys’ Islamists and secularists.  It began innocently enough when a few hundred Turks protested the government’s decision to close an Istanbul park.  Instead of allowing the protests to run their course Prime Minister Erdogan sent in riot police to aggressively disperse protestors.  This act angered secularists who see Erdogan taking powers not allowed under Turkish law.  The protests grew to include tens of thousands and became violent.

On Sunday Turkish riot police ejected all protesters.  In addition, the New York Times reported that the government increased its crackdown on anti-government protestors in other parts of Turkey.  This includes threatening medics who treated injured protestors and blaming the foreign media for causing protests and improperly portraying them.  Erdogan’s aggressive comments this week included:

“We know very well the ones that sheltered in their hotels those who cooperated with terror. Will they not be held accountable? If we do not hold them accountable, then the nation will hold us accountable.”

“You portrayed Turkey differently to the world.  You are left alone with your lies.  This nation is not the one that you misrepresented to the world,” specifically referring to BBC, CNN and Reuters.

More chilling, the Times reports that Erdogan has started counter rallies of Islamists supporters, bussing hundreds of thousands to them.  At one rally Erdogan supporters chanted: “Go gas them, Captain! Break their hands!

It remains to be seen how effective in quelling antigovernment protests Erdogan’s aggressive tactics will be.  Clearly Turkish stability has taken a step backwards.  This is troubling given the instability throughout the Islamic Middle East as exhibited in Libya, Egypt, Iraq and Syria.  It is unrealistic to expect long-term stability in this region until there is a broader awakening throughout Muslim society that includes tolerance for opposing religions and views.


Posted in Middle East | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Suicide bomber attacks American Embassy in Turkey

Posted by Steve Markowitz on February 1, 2013

CNN.com has reported that one was killed and others wounded today as a result of a suicide bombing outside the US Embassy in Ankara, Turkey.  The blast was large enough to blow a hole in the embassy’s wall.

America’s war against terrorism is not going in a positive direction.  One of the first international actions that President Obama took after being inaugurated four years ago was to go on a apology tour for America’s past actions that included his infamous speech in Cairo, Egypt.  Obama’s theory was that it was America’s actions that were to blame for its lack of respect and love from other countries.  Four years later that theory has proven bogus.

Since Obama was elected four years ago, America’s relationship with the greater Islamic world has not improved nor has the violence from radical Islam lessened.  The violence includes individual terrorist acts such as today’s bombing of the American Embassy in Turkey, but it also includes much more significant strategic events such as the so-called the Arab Spring, the war in Libya, the overthrow of Mubarak in Egypt being replaced by the radical Muslim Brotherhood, the ongoing carnage in Syria that is already resulted in the deaths of over 60,000, the various wars in North Africa including Mali, the ongoing war in Afghanistan, and of course the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi that led to the death of the US Ambassador.

Shortly after being elected Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace.  This was a joke given that the decision was made within weeks of Obama’s election.  Since then the world has become an even more dangerous place.  Given the President’s dismal record on foreign policy it is said he is not being held accountable.  The mainstream media has significant culpability in this disconnect.  The disintegration of America’s independent press is perhaps even more dangerous than Obama’s failed foreign policies.

Posted in Mainstream Media, Terrorism | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Egypt and the Arab World’s Devolution

Posted by Steve Markowitz on December 4, 2012

When the Arab Spring started two years ago, Progressives, the Leftist media, and the inept US State Department cheered on believing the revolutions would result in Western-style democracies.  Reality has proven they could not have been more wrong.

The Arab Spring that started in Tunisia, moved throughout the Middle East.  In Libya, with the support of NATO, Qadhafi was kicked out, but replaced by a shaky government that has led to quasi-anarchy and the killing of the US Ambassador and three other Americans.  The Civil War in Syria continues with approximately 40,000 being killed in an outcome still to be determined.  However, it is likely that the Sunni Islamists will ultimately take power.

In Egypt, where the mainstream media parked itself for weeks televising the party (revolution) in Cairo, the country has been taken over by the radical Muslim Brotherhood.  Its leader, Morsi after being democratically elected, has taken total power in the country by decree.

One country still showing signs of stability in the Middle East is Iran, America’s greatest adversary in the region.  At best, all that can be said about the Obama Administration’s Middle East policies is that they have led to no positive benefit towards American interests.  A more realistic interpretation is that the President’s foreign policy has led to increased turmoil in the Middle East and a substantial degrading of American interests.

How the crisis in the Middle East plays out will be determined within the coming months.  Certainly the signs are ominous for the West.  Within the Arab world, Egypt and to a lesser extent Syria, is ground zero.  International expert George Friedman of Strafor.com has published Egypt and the Strategic Balance.  This article, republished below with permission of Stratfor, offers great insight into the strategic struggles occurring within the Middle East.  President Obama would do well to consider an expert such as Friedman for the next Secretary of State, rather than a lifetime State Department stooge like Susan Rice.

Egypt and the Strategic Balance, George Friedman, December 4, 2012

Immediately following the declaration of a cease-fire in Gaza, Egypt was plunged into a massive domestic crisis. Mohammed Morsi, elected in the first presidential election after the fall of Hosni Mubarak, passed a decree that would essentially neuter the independent judiciary by placing his executive powers above the high court and proposed changes to the constitution that would institutionalize the Muslim Brotherhood’s power.  Following the decree, Morsi’s political opponents launched massive demonstrations that threw Egypt into domestic instability and uncertainty.

In the case of most countries, this would not be a matter of international note.  But Egypt is not just another country.  It is the largest Arab country and one that has been the traditional center of the Arab world.  Equally important, if Egypt’s domestic changes translate into shifts in its foreign policy, it could affect the regional balance of power for decades to come.

Morsi’s Challenge to the Nasserite Model

The Arab Spring was seen by some observers to be a largely secular movement aimed at establishing constitutional democracy.  The problem with this theory was that while the demonstrators might have had the strength to force an election, it was not certain that the secular constitutionalists would win it.  They didn’t.  Morsi is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and while there were numerous claims that he was a moderate member, it was simply not understood that he was a man of conviction and honor and that his membership in the Brotherhood was not casual or frivolous.  His intention was to strengthen the role of Islam in Egypt and the control of the Muslim Brotherhood over the various arms of state.  His rhetoric, speed and degree of Islamism might have been less extreme than others, but his intent was clear.

The move on the judiciary signaled his intent to begin consolidating power.  It galvanized opponents of the Muslim Brotherhood, which included secular constitutionalists,  Copts and other groups who formed a coalition that was prepared to take to the streets to oppose his move.  What it did not include, or at least did not visibly include through this point, was the Egyptian military, which refused to be drawn in on either side.

The Egyptian military, led by a young army officer named Gamal Abdel Nasser, founded the modern Egyptian state when it overthrew the British-supported monarchy in the 1950s.  It created a state that was then secular, authoritarian and socialist.  It aligned Egypt with the Soviet Union and against the United States through the 1970s.  ,After the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, who was later assassinated by Islamists, shifted Egypt into an alliance with the United States and signed a peace treaty with Israel.

This treaty was the foundation of the regional balance of power until now. The decision to end the state of war with Israel and use Sinai as a demilitarized buffer between the two countries eliminated the threat of nation-to-nation war between Arabs and Israel.  Egypt was the most powerful Arab country and its hostility to Israel represented Israel’s greatest threat.  By withdrawing from confrontation, the threat to Israel declined dramatically.  Jordan, Syria and Lebanon did not represent a significant threat to Israel and could not launch a war that threatened Israel’s survival.

Egypt’s decision to align with the United States and make peace with Israel shaped the regional balance of power in other ways.  Syria could no longer depend on Egypt, and ultimately turned to Iran for support.  The Arab monarchies that had been under political and at times military pressure from Egypt were relieved of the threat, and the Soviets lost the Egyptian bases that had given them a foothold in the Mediterranean.

The fundamental question in Egypt is whether the election of Morsi represented the end of the regime founded by Nasser or was simply a passing event, with power still in the hands of the military.  Morsi has made a move designed to demonstrate his power and to change the way the Egyptian judiciary works.  The uprising against this move, while significant, did not seem to have the weight needed either to force Morsi to do more than modify his tactics a bit or to threaten his government.  Therefore, it all hangs on whether the military is capable of or interested in intervening.

It is ironic that the demands of the liberals in Egypt should depend on military intervention, and it is unlikely that they will get what they want from the military if it does intervene.  But what is clear is that the Muslim Brotherhood is the dominant force in Egypt, that Morsi is very much a member of the Brotherhood and while his tactics might be more deliberate and circumspect than more radical members might want, it is still headed in the same direction.

For the moment, the protesters in the streets do not appear able to force Morsi’s hand, and the military doesn’t seem likely to intervene.  If that is true, then Egypt has entered a new domestic era with a range of open foreign policy issues.  The first is the future of the treaty with Israel.  The issue is not the treaty per se, but the maintenance of Sinai as a buffer.  One of the consequences of Mubarak’s ouster has been the partial remilitarization of Sinai by Egypt, with Israel’s uneasy support.  Sinai has become a zone in which Islamist radicals are active and launch operations against Israel.  The Egyptian military has moved into Sinai to suppress them, which Israel obviously supports.  But the Egyptians have also established the principle that while Sinai may be a notional buffer zone, in practice the Egyptian military can be present in and responsible for it.  The intent might be one that Israel supports but the outcome could be a Sinai remilitarized by the Egyptians.

A remilitarized Sinai would change the strategic balance, but it would only be the beginning.  The Egyptian army uses American equipment and depends on the United States for spare parts, maintenance and training.  Its equipment is relatively old and it has not been tested in combat for nearly 40 years.  Even if the Egyptian military was in Sinai, it would not pose a significant conventional military threat to Israel in its current form.  These things can change, however.  The transformation of the Egyptian army between 1967 and 1973 was impressive.  The difference is that Egypt had a patron in the Soviet Union then that was prepared to underwrite the cost of the transformation.  Today, there is no global power, except the United States, that would be capable of dramatically and systematically upgrading the Egyptian military and financially supporting the country overall. Still, if the Morsi government succeeds in institutionalizing its power and uses that power to change the dynamic of the Sinai buffer, Israel will lose several layers of security.

A New Regional Alignment?

A look at the rest of the region shows that Egypt is by no means the only country of concern for Israel.  Syria, for example, has an uprising that, in simple terms, largely consists of Sunnis, many of which are Islamists.  That in itself represents a threat to Israel, particularly if the relationship between Syria and Egypt were revived.  There is an ideological kinship, and just as Nasserism had an evangelical dimension, wanting to spread pan-Arab ideology throughout the region, the Muslim Brotherhood has one too.  The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood is also the most organized and coherent opposition group in Syria.  As Morsi consolidates his power in Egypt, his willingness to engage in foreign adventures, or at least covert support, for like-minded insurgents and regimes could very well increase.  At a minimum Israel would have to take this seriously. Similarly, where Gaza was contained not only by Israel but also by pre-Morsi Egypt, Morsi might choose to dramatically change Egypt’s Gaza policy.

Morsi’s rise opens other possibilities as well.  Turkey’s Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party is also engaged in a careful process of reintroducing Islam into a state that was militantly secular.  There are fundamental differences between Egypt and Turkey, but there is also much in common.  Turkey and Egypt are now engaged in parallel processes designed to create modern countries that recognize their Islamic roots. A Turkish-Egyptian relationship would both undergird the Egyptian regime and create a regional force that could shape the Eastern Mediterranean.

This would, of course, affect American strategy, which as we have said in the past, is now rapidly moving away from excessive involvement in the Middle East.  It is not clear how far Morsi would go in breaking with the United States or whether the military would or could draw a line at that point.  Egypt is barely skirting economic disaster at the moment because it is receiving a broad range of financial aid from the West. Moving away from the United States would presumably go well beyond military aid and affect these other types of economic assistance.

The fact is that as Egypt gradually evolves, its relationship with the United States might also change.  The United States’ relationship with Turkey has changed but has not broken since the Justice and Development Party came to power, with Turkey following a more independent direction.  If a similar process occurred in Egypt, the United States would find itself in a very different position in the Eastern Mediterranean, one in which its only ally was Israel, and its relationship with Israel might alienate the critical Turkey-Egypt bloc.

Prior to 1967, the United States was careful not be become overly involved in protecting Israel, leaving that to France.  Assuming that this speculation about a shift in Egypt’s strategic posture came to pass, Israel would not be in serious military danger for quite a while, and the United States could view its support to Israel as flexible.  The United States could conceivably choose to distance itself from Israel in order to maintain its relationships with Egypt and Turkey.  A strategy of selective disengagement and redefined engagement, which appears to be under way in the United States now, could alter relations with Israel.

From an Israeli point of view — it should be remembered that Israel is the dominant power in the region — a shift in Egypt would create significant uncertainty on its frontier.  It would now face uncertainty in Egypt, Syria and Lebanon, and while unlikely, the possibility of uncertainty in Jordan. Where previously it faced hostile powers with substantial military capabilities, it would now face weaker powers that are less predictable.  However, in an age when Israel’s primary concern is with terrorist actions and uprisings in Gaza and the West Bank, this band of uncertainty would be an incubator of such actions.

The worst-case scenario is the re-emergence of confrontational states on its border, armed with conventional weapons and capable of challenging the Israeli military.  That is not an inconceivable evolution but it is not a threat in the near term.  The next-worst-case scenario would be the creation of multiple states on Israel’s border prepared to sponsor or at least tolerate Islamist attacks on Israel from their territory and to underwrite uprisings among the Palestinians.  The effect would be an extended, wearying test of Israel’s ability to deal with unremitting low-intensity threats from multiple directions.

Conventional war is hard to imagine.  It is less difficult to imagine a shift in Egyptian policy that creates a sustained low-intensity conflict not only south of Israel, but also along the entire Israeli periphery as Egypt’s influence is felt.  It is fairly clear that Israel has not absorbed the significance of this change or how it will respond. It may well not have a response.  But if that were the case, then Israel’s conventional dominance would no longer define the balance of power.  And the United States is entering a period of unpredictability in its foreign policy.  The entire region becomes unpredictable.

It is not clear that any of this will come to pass.  Morsi might not be able to impose his will in the country.  He may not survive politically.  The Egyptian military might intervene directly or indirectly. There are several hurdles for Morsi to overcome before he controls the country, and his timeline might be extended for implementing changes.  But for the moment, Morsi appears in charge, he seems to be weathering the challenges and the army has not moved.  Therefore, considering the strategic consequences is appropriate, and those strategic consequences appear substantial.

Posted in Egypt, Middle East | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Turkish Airstrike Kills 35 Civilians

Posted by Steve Markowitz on January 5, 2012

The Kurdish people have been seeking independence and/or autonomy in Middle Eastern countries including Turkey, Iraq and Syria.  Turkey has been particularly aggressive combating this desire, conducting an armed campaign to defeat Kurdish guerrillas since 1984.  In an escalation of the violence, last week the Turkish Air Force bombed the Kurdish village of Sirnak near the Iraqi border resulting in the deaths of 35 civilians.  This led to rioting in some Turkish cities.  Turkey’s largest Kurdish political party, the PDP, called the strike a crime against humanity and asked the United Nations to start an investigation.

It is curious that the Turks justified the attack on the Kurds based on their sovereign right to put down what they see as an armed danger within the country.  This justification is in stark contrast to the approach Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has taken concerning Israel’s similar justification for its conflict with Palestinian terrorists.  For example, when a flotilla of vessels attempted to run Israel’s blockade to Gaza that resulted in nine deaths, the Turks and much of the world went screaming to the United Nations for immediate investigation.  Then, when the United Nations found in September 2011 that the Israelis acted within their sovereign rights, Turkey refused to accept the report.

Turkey’s response on these two very similar issues is nothing short of hypocritical.  It is an inconsistent position that is often seen from many countries.  This type of hypocrisy and inconsistency is also a hallmark of United Nations that has made this organization useless for the purpose that it was formed.

While the difference between terrorists and freedom fighters is often dependent on one’s geopolitical vision, the equivocating on this issue by United Nations has been a major cause of terrorism in recent decades.  Beginning in the late 1960s, the chief purveyors of modern day terrorism, the Palestinian’s, used violence and murder to further political goals.  For these brutal acts they were not castigated, but were instead rewarded, even given a podium at the United Nations when Arafat made his famous entrance with a pistol at his side.  The world today pays a heavy price for this equivocation.

Turkey’s willingness to partner with Palestinian terrorists will ultimately hurt its efforts to put down the Kurdish terrorists and their national aspirations.  It is remarkable that it’s Prime Minister Erdogan cannot see the fallacy in his duplicity policies on terrorism.

Posted in Terrorism, Turkey | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Arab League Imposes Serious Sanctions Syria

Posted by Steve Markowitz on November 28, 2011

The Arab League announced Sunday that it is imposing serious economic sanctions against Syria in response to the Assad regime’s bloody crackdown against protesters that has left some 3,500 dead.  This move is unprecedented by the Arab League that has historically ignored League members’ brutality against their citizens.

The Arab League’s action is a psychological blow against the Assad regime and will be economically painful.  Its effects will be cumulative due to sanctions already imposed by the United States and European Union.  According to the Times, the sanctions include freezing assets, ending relationships with Syria’s central bank, travel restrictions against Syrian officials, and the end to business exchanges.  In addition, Turkey, a non-Arab Muslim country that last year was a key ally of Syria, has backed the sanctions.

Only two Arab countries, Iraq and Lebanon, have not backed the Arab League’s actions.  The inaction by these two Syrian neighbors raises questions about fo their governments’ morality.  They join Iran and Russia who have also placed greed and/or political motivations above the wellbeing and human rights of the Syrian people.

While sanctions do not historically have a good track record when in influencing despot regimes, they have a real chance of positive results in Syria due to the cumulative effects of the many countries involved.  Should they significantly weaken the Syrian economy, their merchant and middle classes that have remained on the sidelines during the protests will be hurt and could be cajoled into action.  Should that occur, there is a significant chance of regime change, the real goal for the sanctions.

The Arab League’s serious sanctions against one of  its own are historic.  Whether this is occurring because of fear by member states for their own power bases or due to changing views of human rights in the Arab  is not as important as the outcome.  Should the despot Assad regime fall, it will good for the Syrian people.  It could also have repercussions in Iran, placing pressure on their mullahs, perhaps the most dangerous despots in the world.

Posted in Syria | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Obama Shows Partisanship and Insensitivity at Thanksgiving Event

Posted by Steve Markowitz on November 24, 2011

It is traditional that the White House is given turkeys for Thanksgiving and then pardons them from becoming edible parts of the celebration.  President Obama continued this tradition, but with what some will feel are inappropriate additions.

While pardoning two turkeys with an appropriate declaration that “we can’t wait to pardon these turkeys,” the President then went into some partisan politics stating: “Some of you may know that recently I’ve been taking a series of executive actions that don’t require congressional approvalWell, here’s another one.  We can’t wait to pardon these turkeys – literally.  Otherwise, they’d end up next to the mashed potatoes and stuffing.” In addition, Obama jokingly made the Sign of the Cross over a critter declaring: “You are hereby pardoned.”

It is remarkable that this President who often complains about the partisan divide in Washington cannot even leave politics out of a Thanksgiving Day tradition.  This same President who asks the Country to be more understanding of the sensitivities of the Islamic faith is rather callous when it comes to a sacred Catholic tradition.

The real turkeys in Washington are not those pardoned by the President.  They are in fact President Obama who refuses to take a public stance on the budgetary problems facing America, as well as both political parties in the Congress and Senate who have been just as negligent.  Last week’s failure of the Super Committee proves this group to be made up of turkeys.

Posted in Politics, President Obama | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Turkey Verses Kurdish Separatists

Posted by Steve Markowitz on September 22, 2011

Earlier this week a car bomb exploded in Ankara, Turkey killing three and injuring 34.  Kurdish militants, who have been under attack from the Turkish military recently, are believed to be behind the bombing.

18% of Turkey’s population is made up of ethnic Kurds.   Since 1984, Turkey has been battling the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), who desire more antimony or an independent Kurdish state.  Recently, the Turkish air force has bombed PKK bases in northern Iraq.  In addition, Turkey is in talks with Iran, who is also concerned about the possibility of an independent Kurdish state, concerning battling the Kurds.

Irrespective of any legitimacy of the Kurdish demands, the use of terrorism against civilians is not excusable, period.  At the same time, the Turks do not come to this issue with clean hands given the recent actions of its Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.  Erdogan was a staunch supporter of the June 2010 flotilla that tried to run an Israeli naval blockade in order to deliver supplies to the terrorist organization in Gaza, Hamas.  While the United Nations has since concluded Israel actions were within its rights, Turkey rejected these findings and has vowed to send more ships to add Hamas.

Turkey’s prosecutor said of this week’s Ankara bombing that it as a terrorist attack “because it has been done in a very public and crowded place, intended to cause great loss of life and property“.  That definition certainly cover the actions of Hamas and other Palestinian militants.  Turkey’s willingness to accept terrorism on behalf of the Palestinian self-determination, but not for the exact same desires of the Kurds, is telling.  His dancing with the devil in other countries’ will ultimately lead to more terrorist violence in Turkey.

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UN Report Finds Israel Gaza Blockade Legal

Posted by Steve Markowitz on September 9, 2011

In May, 2010, a flotilla of six ships attempted to run the Israeli blockade of Gaza to deliver supplies to Hamas.  Five of the six vessels complied with the Israeli Navy’s demand to deliver their supplies through an Israeli port.  The sixth, the Mavi Marmara from Turkey, ignored the warnings and was then boarded by the Israeli military.  The videos below show the violence that ensued that resulted in nine crew members/passengers of the Mavi Marmara being killed.

The Mavi Marmara incident created an immediate condemnation by the United Nations in its typical knee-jerk anti-Israeli reaction.  This reaction was precipitous given the live video evidence that indicates at least some culpability on the part of the attempted blockade runners.

Last week, over a year after the incident, the United Nations finally issued its report on the matter.  A panel, headed by former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer, concluded that:

  • The Israel blockade of Gaza, “was imposed as a legitimate security measure in order to prevent weapons from entering Gaza by sea and its implementation complied with the requirements of international law.”
  • The flotilla “acted recklessly” in its effort to breach the blockade.
  • There are “serious questions about the conduct, true nature and objectives” of the flotilla’s organizers.
  • The Israeli commandos faced “organized and violent resistance from a group of passengers” on the vessel.
  • Israel’s decision to board the vessels with such substantial force at a great distance from the blockade zone and with no final warning immediately prior to the boarding was excessive and unreasonable.”

While the United Nations report did not completely exonerate Israel in the way it handled the interdiction of the Mavi Marmara, it concluded that Israel acted within its rights to enforce the blockade.  It also concluded that the motivations of the attempted blockade runners were not benevolent, as they had claimed.

While it is refreshing to see United Nations issue a fair-minded report on the issue, it is telling that this report took over a year to create and release, while the initial condemnation of Israel was immediate.  It is also telling to compare United Nation’s initial reaction to the Mavi Marmara incident in which nine activists were killed to its muted reaction to the ongoing violence against Syrian protesters where 2,000 have already been killed.

Israel has accepted the findings of the UN report.  Turkey, on the other hand, rejected it.  This is another sign that Turkey s heading in a direction against western interests.

Posted in Israel, Turkey, United Nations | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Saudi Arabia Recalls Ambassador from Syria

Posted by Steve Markowitz on August 8, 2011

While much of the today’s press reports will focus on the economic turmoil caused by the downgrade of the America’s credit rating, there are other tumultuous forces at work worldwide that deserve attention.

Today Saudi Arabia has recalled its Syrian Ambassador.  In a highly unusual move, Saudi King Abdullah demanded that Syria halt the bloodshed that has left nearly 2,000 Syrian protectors killed by Bashar Assad’s regime since March.  In undiplomatic words, the King said: “What is happening in Syria is not acceptable for Saudi Arabia.  Syria should think wisely before it’s too late and issue and enact reforms that are not merely promises but actual reforms.  Either it chooses wisdom on its own or it will be pulled down into the depths of turmoil and loss.

The Saudi actions follow harsh criticism on Saturday by the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council.  Add to this Turkey’s strong condemnation of the Syrian regime and it is becoming obvious that the Bashar Assad’s days are numbered in Syria and we should expect other Islamic and Arab countries to join the exodus from Damascus shortly.

It is disappointing that the United States has yet to pull its ambassador from Syria.  Once again the U.S. under President Obama follows, rather than leads.

While King Abdullah’s actions toward Syria are to be commended, they are not entirely altruistic given his country is one of the most tightly controlled in the world.  The King is keenly aware that the protests sweeping the Arab world will not leave his country unchanged.  His willingness to throw Assad under the bus after that family has ruled Syrian for four decades is an attempted to get ahead of the wave.  It remains to be seen how long the Saudi population will continue to acquiesce to the rule of a monarchy during a time of historic change in the Middle East.

No one should shed tears when the Assad family is swept from power.  However, tumultuous changes have consequences.  On the positive side, the downfall of Assad will greatly weaken the despots in Iran.  Syria has been the only major Arab country that the Persians could count on as an alley.  As supporters of Assad, the Iranians will not be considered a friend of the new Syria.  In addition, Assad’s fail might spur protests in Iran.

On the negative side, we cannot predict what the new Syria will look like.  Will it be pro-West or become friendly to radical Sunni Islamists?  Finally, given the brutality Assad used to put down protests, it is likely that when they come to power the retribution could get ugly.

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While Middle East Boil, Obama is Silent

Posted by Steve Markowitz on August 4, 2011

With most of the media’s attention recently focused on the debt ceiling circus in Washington, little press has been given to other potential world-changing events such as those playing out in the Middle East.  What started in Tunisia in January as a peaceful revolution has since led to what has been dubbed the “Arab Spring” with much broader implications.  Some of these events include:

Egypt – Shortly after the Tunisian dictator fell, Egyptians massed in Cairo and kicked out Hosni Mubarak.  While then viewed by many in the West as a pro-democracy movement, reality has the army still running the country.  There have also been other signs of concern since March.  Last Friday thousands of Muslim Brotherhood supporters and fellow Islamists rallied in Cairo against the current status.  Whether these events lead to positive or negative consequences for the West will be left to history.

Libya – It is now nearly six months since President Obama and NATO chose sides and entered this civil war on behalf of some undefined rebels.  The war has dragged on and the rebels are beginning to fight amongst themselves with a major rebel leader recently assassinated.  Even if Gadhafi’s forces are ultimately defeated, the civil war is likely to continue as Libya will be run by its own clan-based social structure.

Iraq – The Bagdad government is semi-dysfunctional.  Terrorist violence is increasing and Iran’s influence seems to be growing.  Obama’s new Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta, has asked Baghdad to make a “damn” decision about allowing American forces to remain in that country after the New Year.

Turkey – Turkey is showing signs of unrest.  Last week its top military leaders resigned in protest of the 40 generals that were arrested by the Islamic government on questionable charges.  In the past nine decades the military has been the most stable guarantor of power since Ataturk founded the modern Turkish Republic.

Yemen – This country on Saudi Arabia’s southern border has been in a state of civil war since the beginning of the year.  It has also become a haven for anti-Western terrorists.

Bahrain – As the home for the American 5th Fleet, this small Persian Gulf country has played an important strategic role for the United States.  Its majority Shiite population has become restless against Bahrain’s rulers who are Sunnis.  Earlier this year Saudi Arabia sent troops into Bahrain to help quell protests.

Iran – Iran continues to march down the path to acquire nuclear weapons.  While most often the danger of a nuclear Iran is discussed in terms of Israel’s security, its implications are much broader.  The tensions between Shiite Iran and the Sunni Muslim (Arab) world go much deeper.  Should Iran gain nukes we should expect that at least the Saudi’s, Jordan and Turkey will also join the nuclear weapons club.  Yikes.

Syria – President Bashar Assad this week upped the ante with Syrian protestors.  His military attacked protesters killing about 100 adding to the 1,600 already killed since in March.  Assad’s clan is part of an offshoot of Shiite Islam called Alawites that make up only about 10% of the Syrian population.  The majority Sunnis have had enough of the 40 year rule of the Assads.  It is likely that there is more bloodshed to come.  Civil war is a possibility and intervention by Iran is not out of the question.


President Obama has been eerily silent on most of the Middle East events this year.  It is evident that the Administration does not have a strategy for this important region.  Earlier in his presidency, Obama reached out to the Muslim world in a charm offensive designed to bridge the gap between Islam and the West.  It has clearly failed with America’s relationship with Islamic countries showing no improvement.  Obama also focused nearly solely on the Israeli/Palestinian issue in the belief that it was the key to peace in the Middle East.  The events listed above prove the fallacy of this policy.  Not only have the President’s polices not brought stability to the Middle East, they may have helped stoke the flames of instability.

During the recent debt ceiling talks, President Obama often publically lectured the Congress about not doing its job.  The President should start this lecturing by looking in the mirror.

The President has not led in the Middle East, but instead followed with erratic positions and policies.  When Iranians protestors were being killed in the streets two years ago by the Mullahs, Obama remained silent.  While Obama stepped in to assist the Libyan rebels, he offers but few words as Syrians protestors are being killed.  At the same time, Obama has been quite vocal in criticizing our only dependable Middle East alley, Israel, for building homes in Jerusalem.  It is little wonder that Middle East countries do not know where the United States stands.

When Barack Obama was elected president he had no executive or managerial experience.  To many on the Left this did not matter as he would bring “hope” and “change”.  Many independents voted for Obama hoping that he would be a quick learner, irrespective of his lack of experience.  Obama has not brought hope or change, nor has he learned to lead.  The legacy of the Obama presidency will include failure on the economic front, as well a foreign policy devoid of any coherent strategy.  This one-term president will vie with Jimmy Carter as the worst president of the last 100 years.

Incredibly, Barack Obama was awarded the Novel Prize for Peace early in his presidency.  You got to admire the gall of Progressives.

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