Showing posts from 2017

The Implosion of the Kurdistan Dream Spells Disaster for Turkey

For decades the existence of the Regional Government of Kurdistan in northern Iraq has off and on been a useful tool and a source of annoyance for Turkey. It sometimes seemed to be a moderating force in a region racked by the attacks of the radical PKK. But always there was the underlying suspicion that the Kurds were up to something. Something usually meant listening to the siren call of an independent Kurdistan, which might attract the interest of millions of Kurds living in Turkey.

For decades Turkey has lived with this ambivalence. In the end the fear of Kurdish statehood has dominated Turkish policy. The military success of the PKK-aligned Kurdish fighters in northern Syria has led to something approaching panic in the Turkish government and military circles. It then led to a full-scale apoplectic fit when the Kurds of Iraq held a referendum about whether to found an independent Kurdistan. The vote was overwhelmingly in favor of independence. But then there was a sigh of relief …

The Explosion of the Kurdish Crisis

After decades of slow-motion shifts towards Kurdish autonomy/independence/unification, the conflict in this region has shifted into high gear. The Iraqi army has invaded/retaken Kirkuk, which had first been captured by ISIS, then liberated by the Kurdish Peshmerga forces. The inhabitants of the region are almost 50% Kurdish. 
The possibility of this had been hanging over the head of the Kurdish forces for weeks. The underlying cause for the invasion is the existence of  vast reserves of oil in the region. The spark that set of the explosion was a decision by the Kurdistan Regional Government in Northern Iraq (since 1970 officially an autonomous but not independent region in with its capital at Erbil/Hawler). On September 26 the government in Erbil held a referendum which showed that the vast majority of Kurds in Iraq prefer an independent state for their region.

Then all hell broke loose. The Iraqi army attacked the Pershmerga in Kirkuk with overwhelming force. Iran supported its long-t…
On Sunday the 26th of September the Kurds in northern Iraq passed a non-binding referendum expressing an overwhelming interest in establishing an independent Kurdish state (as was promised to them by the Allies at the end of World War I). Some have suggested that the Kurds are at least distantly related to the Medes who were in the region almost three thousand years ago. That is a long time to establish a national identity, especially when everyone else wishes you would go away.

Almost every nation in the region plus the US expressed horror that the Kurds would hold this referendum, in spite of the fact that they have already established a de facto state on Iraqi territory and have been fighting a terror-counter-terror campaign with the Turkish army for a couple of decades. Only Israel, Israel ! for God's sake, supported the Kurds in this. Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria contain large Kurdish minorities. Their concern is inevitable. The US fears another widening war zone in which it…

Do you really think all Muslims are narrow minded, woman hating terrorists?

These are the words which I copied from the tomb in Anatolia of the dervısh Haci Bektaş, a 13th century holy man who founded a group within Islam that still exists in Turkey. Known as the Alevi, they number about twenty-five million and have suffered tremendously from persecution over the centuries. They are open-minded towards those of other religions, and they have for centuries championed the cause of social justice, and they have influenced the thought of modern Turkey before the present regime.

Any road that doesn’t follow science, ends in darkness,
Give education to women,
Control on your tongue, hands and waist, [sexual organs]
The greatest book to read is man himself,
Honesty is the door of a friend,
Being a teacher is to give, not to take,
The universe is for man, and man for the universe,
Science illuminates the paths of truth,
We travel in the way of science, comprehension and human love,
Clean where you’ve settled and deserve the money you’ve made,
Let’s be one, be…

Judging Putin

If we judge Vladimir Putin, from what point of view do we judge him - and from whose perspective? 

Comments on an article by Dmitri Trenin, “Russian is the House that Vladimir Putin Built – and He Will Never Abandon It”. The Guardian, March 27, 2017.
This article is an eloquently written appreciation of Vladimir Putin. It also avoids all of the criticisms that might be brought against him by a frightened West.
One thing struck me at first. There are many similarities and many differences among the following three: Trump, the baby with tantrums grasping at power; Erdogan, the adolescent autocrat wrestling with Gulen, his own personal Trotsky; and Putin, the successful master of the levers of state (if not the economy).
My own reaction begins with this quote at the end of the article: "It is much too early to pass final judgment on Putin. He has kept the country in one piece and restored its global status." There is a wonderful story about Zhou Enlai. When asked what he thought we…

People deserve to get what they want - and get it good and hard.

For the past month or so every liberal blog, newspaper, tweet, or FB post have predicted that President Trump is so frustrated and/or incompetent that he will resign/move to Florida/lock himself in the bathroom and not come out. The fact that none of these predictions show little sign of coming true should indicate that every news source to the Left of Attila the Hun has come down with a terminal case of wishful thinking.

If you believe in democracy (and most Americans do - if their candidate wins), you should realize that America more or less chose Trump to be president. Winging about Hillary won the popular vote is only done by the Losers, as the President might say. The electoral college is -- well the law of the land.

The fact is, the American people, or at least a lot of them, wanted to have this as their President:

They won. They and the RNC and the Russians and the coal miners and the little old men and ladies in the Tea Party and many other well- or ill-intention folk: with the h…

The Rise of Fascism, or Is It the Return of the Robber Barons?

Some thoughts on national suicide
One of the brightest men I know, a retired Russian professor of economics in Moscow, commented that he felt I was perhaps overly disturbed by the rise of fascism. Actually, fascism does not exist. Reading history often blinds one to present reality with the belief that events replicate themselves and unfold according to earlier patterns. 

Fascism was a complex phenomenon which is not being duplicated today. Aspects of it - virulent nationalism, racism, autarky and the control of industry and labor by the state, authoritarian rule - these all exist in some places and to some measure today. But history is no certain guide to the future or even to the present. And Mussolini and Hitler are not reincarnated in modern authoritarian regimes. 

Yesterday my wife was returning to Maastricht from the north of the Netherlands by train. Outside of Utrecht the train suddenly stopped. Some poor man thinking he was making a rational decision threw himself in front of th…
Convergence Theory
A some time ago there was something called convergence theory, the idea that the Soviet Russian  system and the US system would both converge into two freedom-loving humanistic social systems. 
Both states have parliamentary government under presidential direction constrained by law overseen by courts.
The American Congress
The Russian Duma
It turns out that the first part of that theory is valid: just not the freedom-loving humanistic part.

What happened???

This happened:

And this happened:

But much more important, this happened: 

Herbert Block: Cartoonist from 70 years ago shows America's present was also its past.

Could it be that Making America Great Again means returning to a less democratic past? Is it possible that "Great" means "cowardly and mean spirited"?

China's population makes up about 18% of the world's population and Muslims make up about 23% of the world's population. Are you not disturbed that the President's chief adviser and strategist is a madman who believes we should go to war against both these peoples?

Do Americans have to give up the freedoms that they fought and bled for in wars and freedom marches and demonstrations for racial equality? Are Americans really so afraid of believing that all men (and women) are created equal. Will the light of liberty go out?

Did a narrow election won because of a peculiar system of proportional representation really give an administration a mandate to totally destroy the glue that binds society together? Isn't this what we expect from a dictatorship rather than a democratically elected government?


The great Middle East board game

President Trump has just come to the Great Game with an immense stack of chips. He is about to discover that not everyone is playing the same game. The game he knows best is Real Estate Scam or Monopoly, which is played with money and without regard to geo-political realities. Two hints about his future behavior: he once asked why we have nuclear weapons if we don't use them, and his comment that the US should have kept tie Iraqi oil and may get another chance to secure it.

The other major players are as follows:

President Erdogan's great achievement is that he managed to make enemies of Russia (later he mended that), the US, Iran, the Syrian Government, all different brands of Kurds, some Sunni Arabs, Isis and other Jihadists, as well as a fair percentage of his own electorate. The advantage of this is that he does not owe anyone anything. The disadvantage is he is condemned to play Whack a Mole with his opponents popping up out all over the place - disturbingly also within T…

President Erdogan: the Man Who Went to War with Everyone

Turkey had a terrible year in 2016 and within minutes of the opening of 2017, dozens who were celebrating the New Year, were massacred in a posh waterside club in Istanbul. In the past year terror attacks hit military and civilian targets throughout the country including the vital air hub, the Istanbul Ataturk Airport.

But the tragedies of this year did not come out of the blue: they were the result of a series of relationships gone awry over the past
ten years of the present regime.


There was a purge of the army command beginning in 2010 carried out by the governing AKP regime and its Gulenist allies in the judiciary. Hundreds of top army and navy officers were thrown into jail with what everyone now agrees was falsified evidence.

Then there were the Gezi riots in Istanbul in May and June, 2013. These were set off by the government's determination to build an Ottoman monument in a park that was one of the last green area in the city. At the same time, the government attacked…