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February 6, 2012

Would Turkey Intervene in Syria?

Emre Uslu doesn't think so:

Even if Turkey changes its position and is willing to intervene in Syria, Turkey would not form a collation with the Arab League to conduct such a military operation. There are two reasons for this. First, the Turkish political elite have a deep distrust of the West, especially since the EU abandoned Cyprus and left Turkey alone in many cases. Hence, Turkey would not intervene in Syria because the Turkish political elite think that such action would backfire and open new doors for other countries to intervene in Turkey’s domestic affairs if the Kurdish question gets out of control. For Turkey, there must be international recognition that international force is needed prior to intervention. It seems that US policy makers are trying to build a coalition that consists of the Arab League and Turkey, but this is not enough for Turkey to intervene.

Second, Turkey has its own fears. Especially Iranian influence over some proxy organizations in Turkey and Bashar al-Assad’s influence on Turkey’s Alevi community make Turkey think twice when it comes to a military intervention in Syria. Pro-Iranian Turkish journalists, for instance, have threatened Turkey, stating Turkey’s Alevi community is unhappy with Turkey’s policies regarding Syria.

November 15, 2011

Turkey Takes on Syria

Turkey on Tuesday canceled plans for oil exploration in Syria, while also threatening to cut electricity supplies after a spate of attacks by supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad on its diplomatic missions,

Energy Minister Taner Yildiz announced that Turkey had shelved plans for Turkey's petroleum company, TPAO, to jointly explore oil with Syria's state oil company in six wells within Syria. Yildiz also threatened that Turkey could review supplies of electricity to the troubled country if tensions continue. - AP

There's been a lot of talk of late about how Turkey is becoming a defacto enemy of the United States, but the events unfolding in Syria are a good reminder of why Turkey is a useful partner. It's far better to have Turkey dealing with Syria than the U.S.

September 16, 2011

Powell Doctrine and the Gaza Flotilla

Michael Rubin thinks the Israeli response to the Mavi Marmara flotilla incident, where nine civilians were killed attempting to break the blockade of Gaza, is reminiscent of the Powell Doctrine:

Now let’s consider the Powell Doctrine through the same lens. Part of the Powell Doctrine declares, “When a nation is engaging in war, every resource and tool should be used to achieve decisive force against the enemy, minimizing U.S. casualties and ending the conflict quickly by forcing the weaker force to capitulate.”

Certainly, the Powell Doctrine formed the basis of the decisive and overwhelming victory against Saddam Hussein in 1991. The idea that when engaging militarily, once should calibrate military power to the weakest combatant is one of the most curious—and stupid—conclusions of armchair international law advocates and human rights experts. It’s time to put the proportionality arguments where they belong—in the dustbin of bad ideas.

I'm not sure how this is analogous. First, this is a very narrow reading of the Powell Doctrine, whose tenets Powell sketched out in Foreign Affairs as a series of questions:

Is a vital national security interest threatened? Do we have a clear, attainable objective? Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analysed? Have all other non-violent policy means been exhausted? Is there a plausible exit strategy? Have the consequences been fully considered? Is the action supported by the American people? Does the US have broad international support?

The Powell Doctrine was also concerned with the use of military force against a rival military in a war - not against civilian protesters engaged in a reckless protest/provocation. If Rubin thinks calibrating military power to the weakest combatant is a stupid argument, he's entitled to that contention (and in the case of an outright war I would not disagree). But by invoking the Powell Doctrine here he's asserting that the participants in the blockade running were combatants engaged in a war. That is, I think, an untenable assertion. By that logic, Israel would have been justified in sinking the entire ship outright and then bombing the Turkish port from which it sailed, or even striking at the offices of the flotilla organizers in Turkey.

The Powell Doctrine is a serviceable idea when the U.S. engages another military, but I can't imagine its authors would endorse the concept for use against civilian protesters - no matter how belligerent said protesters were. (And, for the record, I think the Israeli commandos that stormed the ship were justified in defending themselves against club-wielding protesters.)

September 8, 2011

Should the U.S. Dump Turkey Over Israel?

Bloomberg argues that the U.S. should reassess its alliance with Turkey. Here's the logic:

For Turkey the impact of a rupture with Israel may be less direct. Both the Obama and Bush administrations have made constructive relations with Turkey a priority. The U.S. strongly supported Turkey’s accession to the European Union and lobbied EU members on its behalf. Turkey’s positive image in the U.S., including in Congress, is largely based on its reputation as a democratic, tolerant nation that is a force for moderation in the Middle East. This image has shielded Turkey from criticism for its 37-year occupation of northern Cyprus and its denial of the Armenian genocide. But Turkey’s diplomatic flap with Israel could lead Americans and others to take a second look at where Erdogan is headed. Such a policy review is overdue.

I can understand why Israel would want to take a hard look at relations with Turkey - after all, the diplomatic flap involves them, not the United States. But the question is - how much should Turkey's behavior toward Israel count in the U.S.-Turkey relationship?

June 10, 2011

Interactive Guide to Turkey's Election





In anticipation of Sunday's big election in Turkey, the Economist has put together this interactive guide.

January 12, 2011

Playing the Middle East

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Stephen Kinzer imagines U.S. foreign policy doing a 180:

One could be a "power triangle" linking the US with Turkey and Iran. These two countries make intriguing partners for two reasons. First, their societies have long experience with democracy – although for reasons having to do in part with foreign intervention, Iran has not managed to produce a government worthy of its vibrant society. Second, these two countries share many security interests with the west. Projecting Turkey's example as a counter-balance to Islamic radicalism should be a vital priority. As for Iran, it has unique ability to stabilise Iraq, can also do much to help calm Afghanistan, and is a bitter enemy of radical Sunni movements like al-Qaida and the Taliban. Contrast this alignment of interests to the dubious logic of western partnerships with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, so-called allies who also support some of the west's most violent enemies.

I think the point about close ties with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan is well taken. When you look at the trajectory of America's post 9-11 foreign policy, the regimes most directly implicated in that slaughter were (with the exception of the Taliban) embraced by Washington, while those with very little to do with international terrorism of the al-Qaeda variety (Iran and Iraq) were made the object of our ire.

That said, and leaving aside the rather dubious assertion that Iran could stabilize Iraq (aren't they just as likely to destabilize Iraq's Sunni minority?) I think Kinzer is making much the same mistake he's decrying. Trying to play one set of Middle Eastern regimes of another set is a mug's game.

(AP Photo)

December 9, 2010

Turkey's Growing Role in Baghdad

Ibrahim al-Sumaidaie explains:

"With the rising pressure of the international community and increase of sanctions and hints of military actions against Iran, the near future will witness a rise for the Turkish role," he said.

"The Turkish role has the blessing of the international community and is backed by Arab countries. It has not met any Iraqi objection, as happened with the Saudis, who faced objections from the Shi'ites, or with the Iranians, who faced objections from the Sunnis," he said.

September 27, 2010

Zakaria: Israel Can't Afford a Rival Turkey

Zakaria, in his final column for Newsweek, elaborates on Turkey's new foreign policy.

September 14, 2010

Turkey and the Freedom Agenda

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There's been some interesting reactions to Turkey's recent constitutional referendum.

The first is Commentary's J.E. Dyer who laments the constitutional reforms, suggesting that any moves to weaken Turkey's secular military removes a useful "check" against Islamism, despite the fact that this "check" is often exercised via anti-democratic coups.

The second reaction is Thomas Barnett, whose piece in World Politics Review ran on the front page yesterday afternoon, arguing that Turkey is an ideal strategic partner for the U.S. in the Muslim world:

If America could be magically granted its ideal Muslim strategic partner, what would we ask for? Would we want a country that fell in line with every U.S. foreign policy stance? Not if the regime was to have any credibility with the Islamic world. No, ideally, the government would be just Islamist enough to be seen as preserving the nation's religious and cultural identity, even as it aggressively modernized its society and connected its economy to the larger world. It would have an activist foreign policy that emphasized diplomacy, multilateralism and regional stability, while also maintaining sufficient independence from America to demonstrate that it was not Washington's proxy, but rather a confident great power navigating the currents of history. In sum, it would serve as an example to its co-religionists of how a Muslim state can progressively improve itself amid globalization's deepening embrace -- while remaining a Muslim state.

I seem to recall during the Bush-era that "spreading freedom" in the Greater Middle East was supposed to be the great calling of our times. Yet many of the same proponents of the freedom agenda are now raising alarm bells about creeping Islamism in Turkey. So what was going to happen if the Bush administration's freedom agenda actually succeeded in places like Saudi Arabia, or Egypt? Would the Middle East have become secular, more hospitable to Israel and more reliably supportive of Washington's foreign policy goals?

(AP Photo)

September 8, 2010

How Turks View Their Institutions

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Pew Research offers some insights gleaned from their Global Attitudes survey:

Throughout the country's history, the military has a played a major role in Turkish politics, and it continues to be a popular institution: 72% say it is having a very or somewhat good influence on the way things are going in Turkey. However, this is down from 85% in 2007. And the number of Turks who believe the military is having a very good impact has declined from 57% to 30% over this period. Confidence in the military has dropped most steeply among the nation's Kurdish population -- just 37% of Kurds give the military a positive rating, compared with 64% in the 2007 poll....

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ratings have slipped over that last three years. Currently, 52% say he is having a good impact and 43% say he is having a bad impact, while in 2007 63% described his impact as good and 33% as bad. Unsurprisingly, Erdogan gets his highest marks from supporters of his own AKP, 90% of whom think he is having a positive effect. The prime minister receives especially strong ratings in the Central Anatolia region of the country (71% good), which is a stronghold of the AKP.

Views about Erdogan are also correlated with religiosity. Two-thirds (67%) of Muslim Turks who pray five times a day assign the prime minister a positive rating. Among those who pray at least once a week but less than five times daily, views are essentially split (51% good, 47% bad). And among those who hardly ever pray or only do so during religious holidays, just 36% say Erdogan is having good impact.

Although Erdogan's ratings have declined since 2007, he still gets considerably better marks than former Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit received in 2002 -- at the time, only 7% of Turks felt he was having a good influence on the country.

(AP Photo)

August 16, 2010

Turkey: Between al-Qaeda and a Hard Place

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Al-Qaeda's not happy:

An audio tape purportedly from Al-Qaeda's second-in-command, Egyptian-born Ayman al-Zawahri, has been posted on Islamist websites....

The speaker chastises Turkish authorities who "appear to sympathize with the Palestinians through statements and by sending some relief aid, but it actually recognizes Israel, engages in trade, carries out military training and shares information with it."

Neither is the U.S.:

U.S. President Barack Obama has warned the Turkish prime minister that his country's strained ties with Israel and increasing support of Iran could hinder an arms deal between Ankara and Washington, the Financial Times reported on Monday.

“The president has said to [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan that some of the actions that Turkey has taken have caused questions to be raised on the Hill [Congress] . . . about whether we can have confidence in Turkey as an ally," one senior administration official told the Financial Times.

You can't please all of the people, all of the time but I suspect that the later message will have far more resonance than the former. But I wonder, as far as the Middle East is concerned, if being slammed by both the U.S. and al-Qaeda isn't something of a regional sweet spot.

(AP Photo)

July 29, 2010

Understanding Cameron

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David Cameron's recent trip to Turkey and his comments regarding the flotilla incident ("completely unacceptable") and conditions in Gaza (a "prison") have provoked some push back. The central theme of the criticism seems to be that Cameron is (A) misguided; (B.) trying to bolster his politically correct bona fides.

There is another explanation, however, and that is that Cameron knew what he was doing:

Nonetheless, the very fact that the Prime Minister is prepared to set out Britain's stall as having an independent and sympathetic policy towards a Muslim country, and could go on to India to express the desire for a new, more equal relationship with the rising economies, does say something important about Cameron's confidence in his approach to foreign affairs. It also says something about the way in which he defines British interests as primarily commercial.

Plus ça change, as he might say if the language of diplomacy was still French and not English. It is now 35 years since a British Prime Minister defined "export-led growth" as the "Holy Grail of British policy".

See also this. At the beginning of the month, Cameron's foreign secretary, William Hague, laid out a vision of British foreign policy that placed the emphasis on improving bilateral ties with emerging powers in the service of boosting Britain's economy. Forging good ties with Turkey would certainly fall under that rubric.

(AP Photo)

July 28, 2010

Turkey's AKP Trailing

Via Angus Reid:

Turkey’s governing party is not the most popular political organization in the country, according to a poll by Sonar Arastirma. 33.5 per cent of respondents would vote for the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) in the next legislative election, up one point since May.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is a close second with 31.1 per cent, followed by the National Action Party (MHP) with 15.5 per cent. Support is lower for the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), the Felicity Party (SP), the Democratic Left Party (DSP), and the Turkish Democratic Party (DP).

July 8, 2010

Turkey Still Sees EU Possibility

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Speaking in Britain, Turkey's foreign minister affirmed the country's desire to join the European Union:

Ahmet Davutoglu, the foreign minister, said in London on Thursday prior to a meeting with William Hague, his UK counterpart, that Turkey was continuing to work very hard on its integration into Europe. He acknowledged that Turkey's accession to the EU had been made harder by opposition from Germany and from France in particular, and by problems over the future of Cyprus, where the dispute with Greece is still very much alive in spite of optimism of a resolution in recent years.

The irony is that, economically speaking at least, Turkey is on much sounder footing than many countries in the EU.

(AP Photo)

June 25, 2010

Rebuilding American Alliances Around Turkey & Iran

That is the essence of Stephen Kinzer's provocative article in the American Prospect. It's worth reading in full but the jist of it is that unlike the Gulf monarchies and Presidents-for-Life that we currently accommodate, Iran and Turkey have democratic traditions and Iran especially has a population that craves democracy and is nominally pro-American. Turkey is emerging as a major power in the Middle East and Iran's power, while still hobbled by sanctions and tyrannical rule, is latent but nonetheless formidable. I'm not sure I buy the whole argument in Kinzer's piece, but I thought I'd throw it out there.

[Hat tip: Thomas Barnett]

June 11, 2010

Be Careful What You Wish For

We—the government and the people of the United States—need to stand up for the Iranian people. We need to make their goals our goals, their interests our interests, their work our work. - John McCain
For years, the primary U.S. interests in Iran were getting it to drop support for Hezbollah and Hamas and to ensure that its civilian nuclear program was not surreptitiously used to manufacturer a nuclear weapon. In Senator McCain's speech to the National Endowment for Democracy, from which the above is taken, there is no discussion at all as to what the Iranian people's goals are with respect to those American priorities. He does not argue that a democratic and free Iran would abandon Hezbollah or would forswear nuclear weapons. Both things, mind you, are possible (especially, I think, ditching nukes), but it seems strange to me that we are told to treat as one American and Iranian interests without evidence that they actually converge.

There are two possible explanations for this. The first is that Senator McCain believes it is more important for the Iranian people to be free than for the U.S. to get satisfaction on the issues it cares about. There's probably a constituency for that view among some proponents of human rights in the Middle East, but it definitely cuts against the mainstream view in U.S. foreign policy circles.

The second explanation is that Senator McCain believes that a free Iran will naturally conform its domestic and foreign policies in a manner that pleases the United States. Or if it doesn't, it will at least moderate the policies we don't like, which would be a positive step. In his speech, he does seem to lean in that direction. While that's not an unreasonable assumption, it's important to recognize that it is an assumption. There's no way to know how a free Iran chooses to conduct its foreign policy.

Look at Turkey. From the period of 2003-2010, Turkey was the freest country in the Middle East outside of Israel. But because it bucked American demands over Iraq and has taken to using demagogic language over Israel, a growing number of commentators (and, incidentally, McCain supporters and self-styled advocates for Iranian democracy) are calling on the U.S. to boot them out of NATO and warning in the starkest tones about Turkey's "slouching toward Islamism." Some have even claimed that Turkey has "gone mad."

If I were an Iranian protester observing American political discourse since the Green movement began, what would I notice? During the last 12 months, the voices who claimed they want to see democracy take root in Iran were vastly more concerned with the foreign policy of a free Turkey than an unfree Saudi Arabia. I would notice that the voluminous output of anti-Semitism in Saudi Arabia was ignored, while the demagoguery of Turkey's leaders was treated as evidence of a nascent Islamist rogue state and regional competitor.

I would conclude that the same voices professing solidarity with my cause are less concerned with political freedom than with geopolitical orientation.

June 10, 2010

Poll: Israeli Views of Turkey

Via AFP:

Some 78 percent of Jewish Israelis now view Turkey, once Israel's only Muslim ally in the Middle East, as an enemy nation, according to a poll published on Thursday.

The sharp switch in public attitude towards Turkey comes in the wake of a May 31 raid by Israeli commandos on an aid flotilla bound for Gaza, which left nine Turkish activists dead.

The poll, published in the pro-government Yisrael Hayom daily, asked participants: "Do you believe that in light of recent events Turkey has become an enemy state?"

It said 78 percent of those surveyed answered yes, while 22 percent said no....

The poll also indicated that 91 percent of Jewish Israelis believed Israel should stop future flotillas trying to breach its Gaza blockade. Five percent were opposed and four percent had no answer, the poll said.

June 7, 2010

Photo of the Day

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(Rajab Erdogan, born June 6 in the Gaza Strip, was named by his parents after Turkey's Prime Minister. AP Photo)

Is the Gaza Blockade Legal?

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Last week, I posed a couple of questions to the Israeli Foreign Ministry - in addition to our readers - regarding the legality of Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip. The MFA was kind enough to respond, via Twitter, directing me toward this BBC interview with University College London Lecturer Dr. Douglas Guilfoyle. The interview is definitely worth a listen, as Dr. Guilfoyle is rather knowledgeable on shipping interdiction and law of the sea.

This, however, only left me with more questions, so I decided to e-mail Dr. Guilfoyle myself in order to better understand the legalese of blockades, armed conflict and law of the sea. He was kind enough to respond with his own thoughts on the matter:

RealClearWorld: In your expertise, is the Israeli naval blockade of the Gaza Strip legal?

Dr. Guilfoyle: Problem 1. The San Remo Manual deals only with blockade as a tool of international armed conflict. There is a separate law applicable to non-international armed conflicts (NIAC). Most navy lawyers will tell you there is no authoritative statement of the law of naval warfare in NIACs.

Problem 2. An international armed conflict can only exist between States. Whatever status it may have, Palestinian territory is not part of any recognized State. If there is an armed conflict between Israel and Gaza it is thus a NIAC, and the right to invoke blockade is uncertain.

That said, the definition of an IAC under Additional Protocol II to the 1949 Geneva Conventions includes struggles by 'peoples fighting ... against alien occupation and against racist regimes in the exercise of their right of self-determination.' Thus, it is open to Palestinian groups to argue that they are engaged in such a struggle and that the conflict is correctly to be classified as an IAC.

Problem 3. If Israel invokes blockade as a tool of war against Hamas, it implicitly recognises Hamas as a party to an armed conflict (old fashioned term 'belligerent'). Hamas may thus attack Israeli soldiers legally and its members must be given prisoner of war status if captured. If Hamas is a belligerent in a NIAC its legal categorization would be as an 'organised armed group.'

RCW: What's the difference between 'international armed conflict' and 'non-international armed conflict'?

Dr. Guilfoyle: The generally accepted test was stated in Prosecutor v. Tadić (PDF):

'[A]n armed conflict exists whenever there is a resort to armed force between States or protracted armed violence between governmental authorities and organized armed groups or between such groups within a State.'

On this basis, an international armed conflict occurs whenever there is recourse to violence between states; a non-international armed conflict requires ‘protracted armed violence’ (which may be a question of intensity more so than duration) involving armed groups organised along military lines.

Each classification thus turns on a criterion of identity regarding the parties involved and, in the case of non-international armed conflicts, a further threshold level of violence is required. If these criteria are not met there is no armed conflict and the laws of armed conflict have no application.

To be an 'armed group' further requirements must be met.

In ‘situations ... such as riots, [and] isolated and sporadic acts of violence’ the laws of armed conflict have no application.

RCW: The Israeli Foreign Ministry has repeatedly referred to Hamas as a 'regime.' Is this defined anywhere in international law?

Dr. Guilfoyle: 'Regime' is a term without legal significance. I presume it is used to avoid conceding that Hamas is the government of a State and to suggest that the people of Gaza themselves are not the target of operations (deliberately attacking or starving civilians during an armed conflict is a war crime; that said, the laws of war do not prevent 'incidental' damage to civilians where this is proportionate to legitimate military objectives).

RCW: What kind of liberty does international law grant a State to filter aid and supplies to a blockaded enemy?

Dr. Guilfoyle: There is no definitive list of material a blockading State must let through. A blockading State may not starve the civilian population or deprive it of its means of survival. It must allow humanitarian supplies through, but it's entitled to exercise a high degree of control over how that happens.

In addition, as I've said repeatedly, a blockade should not be continued if the 'damage to civilian population is going to be excessive in relation to the military advantage.'

RCW: Does history provide any examples that are comparable to the Gaza blockade?

Dr. Guilfoyle: The Allies claimed during World War II to be enforcing a long-range blockade against the Axis powers in the Atlantic and extensively interdicted and diverted neutral vessels; although there was dispute over the legality of the practice at the time, as historically blockades had to be close to the coast (see my piece in the Times Online).

If the Gaza Strip blockade is considered a NIAC, precedents are fewer. The U.S. Civil War has been cited widely in current debates, and there may be some nineteenth century Latin American examples. I am unaware of any relevant practice arising from the recent Sri Lankan NIAC between government forces and the Tamil Tigers, though that conflict did have notable maritime elements.
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MY TAKE: There remains a whole lot of legal ambiguity and uncertainty about Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip. The Israeli government, as far as I know, has never designated its war with Hamas as anything more than an 'armed conflict.' Deliberate or not, this is a vague definition which permits the government to operate in the grey area of international law.

And language, as Dr. Guilfoyle points out, is key in this case. The lexicon matters, as not all blockades - despite the oversimplifications of a select few - are created equal.

Bottom line, the Israeli government could clear a lot of this up if it publicly stated which type of armed conflict it was engaged in against Hamas. There's obviously a humanitarian argument to be made against the blockade's prolonged application, but the foreign ministry could make its case more clearly on last week's flotilla incident with some better adjectives and definitions.

For those who make an emotional appeal, arguing that the blockade is essential for Israeli security, I'd have to ask how counting the caloric intake of Gazans is strategically consistent with that end (and this, yet again, is an arguable exploitation of legal ambiguity). Keep in mind that it was the Israeli government, not the polemics of Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International, that took this conversation in a legalistic direction - and for that I applaud them. The foreign ministry deserves some credit for engaging its critics and the curious as it has.

But questions still remain, and they've thus far failed to answer them all. If the blockade truly passes legal muster then these answers should be easy enough to provide.

(AP Photo)

June 2, 2010

What Is Hamas?

The Israeli Foreign Ministry points RCW toward a Q&A conducted with MFA legal expert Sarah Weiss Maudi on the legality of the Gaza Strip blockade:

I'm glad to see the Israeli government engaging the media in this fashion, as I believe the debate over the blockade's legitimacy will only grow larger and louder as a result of this week's incident.

Something I find rather interesting about Ms. Weiss Maudi's defense of the blockade is her reliance on the international Law of Armed Conflict, coupled with her repeated reference to "the Hamas regime." Her defense, as international and maritime law expert Douglas Guilfoyle notes, is correct so long as the blockade doesn't "cause excessive damage to the civilian population in relation to the military advantage gained."

In other words, so long as Israel can demonstrate that the blockade is consistent with relative military gains against, as Ms. Weiss Maudi puts it, an enemy "Hamas regime" - and not just a punitive form of collective punishment against Gazans as a whole - then the blockade and boarding of vessels in international waters are both legitimate measures consistent with international law.

Indeed, Israel continues to insist that materials carried aboard the flotilla were likely intended for military purposes, which - perhaps? - makes the blockade and raid legit.

One (possible) problem: Hamas isn't the Palestinian government, but merely one party claiming leadership of that "regime." Another snag: Gaza isn't a state, nor does it represent the geographic entirety of the theoretical state of Palestine.

Kevin Jon Heller goes further:

Israel’s defense of the blockade thus appears to create a serious dilemma for it. Insofar as Israel insists that it is not currently occupying Gaza, it cannot plausibly claim that it is involved in an IAC with Hamas. And if it is not currently involved in an IAC with Hamas, it is difficult to see how it can legally justify the blockade of Gaza. Its blockade of Gaza, therefore, seems to depend on its willingness to concede that it is occupying Gaza and is thus in an IAC with Hamas. But Israel does not want to do that, because it would then be bound by the very restrictive rules of belligerent occupation in the Fourth Geneva Convention.
If the “cost” of the blockade is formally recognizing Hamas as a belligerent, maintaining the blockade would mean recognizing Hamas fighters as privileged combatants. (Just as the armed forces of any state are privileged combatants.) That would be fundamentally unacceptable to Israel, because Hamas fighters would then be entitled to attack Israeli combatants and would have to be treated as POWs upon capture.

My sense, or fear, is that Jerusalem is selectively cherry picking the international edicts it chooses to abide by. But perhaps I'm wrong, which is why I open the floor up to the legal beagles hiding amongst our readership.

My question(s): What is Hamas, and does Israel's answer to that question affect the legality of the Gaza blockade? You can email me with your take, or simply leave a comment here on the blog. I'll promote the more illuminating answers.

We Love Democracy! Oh Wait...

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Talk about cognitive dissonance. I was always under the impression that neoconservatives were enthusiastic supporters of the "freedom agenda" - especially in the Middle East. My mistake. Here's Matthew Continetti in the Weekly Standard on Turkey's support for the Gaza aid flotilla:

The main factor behind these developments is the rise of Recip Tayipp Erdogan's AKP. Some years ago, Christopher Caldwell pointed out in our pages that as Turkey democratized, it would also become more Islamic. And that means certain elements, influential elements, of its government and society would become more Islamist. The trend that few have noticed is that these elements are pulling Turkey out of the Western alliance structure and toward the Middle East. The break began in 2003 when the Turks denied the U.S. Fourth Infantry the ability to invade Iraq from the north.

Since 2005, Americans have been worrying about Iran's ambitions for regional hegemony. Maybe it's time we started worrying about Turkey's regional ambitions as well. The Turks ruled the region from 1453 to 1922, after all. A renascence of Turkish power, in an Islamist guise, would cause all sorts of troubles no one can anticipate.

I guess we should all be thankful that President Bush's "freedom agenda" failed, right? This is Turkey - a NATO ally and prospective (although increasingly less likely) candidate for EU membership. Now imagine democracy taking root in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Iran and elsewhere - would it surprise anyone if the regional atmosphere got a lot less friendly toward the U.S. and Israel?

As I said earlier, it's very difficult to be an honest proponent of Middle East democracy and an advocate for perpetual American hegemony in the region. The emergence of true democracies is likely to reorient the geopolitics of the region in a manner that the staunchest hegemonists would sharply disapprove of. I wonder which aspiration they'll jettison first.

Update: Daniel Larison has more thoughts on Turkey here and here:

The trouble that a lot of Americans seem to have with all this is that whenever Turkey deviates from Washington’s script they view Turkey’s relations with its eastern and northern neighbors as evidence of a “drift” out of the orbit of the West. Of course, we are the ones drawing the lines and defining Turkish behavior such that they cannot pursue their interests without being perceived as a competitor or worse. In many parts of the world the U.S. encourages and welcomes economic cooperation and improved relations between neighbors, but in other regions the very same behaviors that we laud in Europe are viewed with suspicion and alarm. After a while, any nation, even one with a long-standing good relationship with the U.S., would grow weary of this treatment.

(AP Photo)

June 1, 2010

Turkey's Flotilla Gambit

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Thomas Barnett has an interesting theory as to why Turkey has been pushing Israel's buttons of late:

Turkey's deputy prime minister called the raid "a dark stain on the history of humanity." So now Ankara has its bloody shirt, which will be used — once Tehran inevitably announces the weaponization of its nukes — to justify Turkey's rapid reach for the same. Just like Tehran cannot openly rationalize its bid for regional supremacy vis-à-vis archrival Saudi Arabia, Turkey requires an appropriate villain for its nuclear morality play. Anybody watching the deterioration of Turkish-Israeli relations over the past year knew that some cause célèbre was in the works. Suddenly, if perhaps on purpose, Turkey can claim that — despite its efforts to broker a non-nuclear peace in the region (including a recent enrichment deal engineered with Brazil) — it needs its own deterrent against Israel's nuclear arsenal, too.

I don't think it's unreasonable to interpret Turkey's out front role in this escapade as being a bid for regional leadership. And very soon such leadership may indeed entail being a nuclear power.

(AP Photo)

May 21, 2010

Peripheral Foreign Policy

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Roger Cohen is frustrated by the Obama administration's reaction to the Turkish-Brazilian nuclear fuel deal with Iran:

Brazil and Turkey represent the emergent post-Western world. It will continue to emerge; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should therefore be less trigger-happy in killing with faint praise the “sincere efforts” of Brasilia and Ankara.

The West’s ability to impose solutions to global issues like Iran’s nuclear program has unraveled. America, engaged in two inconclusive wars in Muslim countries, cannot afford a third. The first decade of the 21st century has delineated the limits of U.S. power: It is great but no longer determinative.

Lots of Americans, including the Tea Party diehards busy baying at wolves, are angry about this. They will learn that facts are facts.

This strikes me as somewhat contradictory. Cohen laments the Obama administration's rejection of the fuel swap deal - which he concedes is an insufficient deal that fails to meet the Western demands put forth last year - because 1. You don't want to hurt feelings in Ankara and Brasilia, because they are emerging powers whom you might need down the road, and 2. this deal, while well short of the October arrangement, may have served as a "tenuous bridge between "mendacious" Iranians and “bullying” Americans."

First, the latter point: Spinning a deal for the sake of public perception and reaching a substantive deal are obviously two different things. Cohen asserts that this deal would've been a huge P.R. victory which, I suppose, it could have been. But if the administration is serious about nonproliferation it was necessary to knock this deal down right out the gate - which it apparently did.

And spin spins both ways. While Washington and the West certainly could have spun this deal to their advantage, so too could have the Iranians - as they already have. The whole point of this deal was not only to build trust between Tehran and Washington, but to assuage Western and regional concerns about Iranian enrichment. This week's trilateral deal fails to do that, and thus it fails to actually take time off the so-called Doomsday Clock.

In other words, accept this deal and you basically gave Iran seven months to set the terms of negotiation while rebuffing your own immediate concerns. Clenched fist, check.

As for Brazil and Turkey, what exactly was Obama to do? Accept the deal, and you accept the Turkish-Iranian argument that the deal represents the death knell of sanctions, which the U.S. never agreed to and never will. Cohen may view this deal as a beginning, but Tehran and Ankara are spinning it differently. And as Greg noted yesterday, China and Russia simply matter more than Brazil and Turkey do, especially on the matter of Iranian proliferation.

Will this hurt U.S. efforts down the road when, at some unforeseen moment, Washington needs Ankara or Brasilia? Perhaps. But that's the point: A multi-polar world doesn't guarantee a less divisive one where everyone gets along and hugs out their problems. Quite the contrary.

For much of the 20th century - and the first few years of the 21st - American power was rather easy: Either you're with us, or you're with the evildoer behind door #1. Make your choice. There was a kind of cold clarity in this arrangement, and in some ways the U.S. excelled at it. But as other powers emerge, they also come to the table with years - decades, even - of experience at playing a weaker hand inside global institutions like the UN. They know how to check the maneuverings and desires of other states, just as they too have been checked.

Washington isn't very good at this game, and it's going to take some time for the United States to rebuild capital and use its still preponderantly stronger military and economy to its advantage. This may require a more prudent, interests-based foreign policy designed to keep larger powers in your corner - which, in turn, will mean less peripheral meddling in said powers' backyards.

So will Ankara and Brasilia remember this? Probably. Welcome to the new world order.

UPDATE: Larison offers his thoughts on the matter.

(AP Photo)