Posts Tagged ‘Tayyip Recep Erdogan’

MOSCOW, ANKARA AND WASHINGTON

A look at three of the world’s prominent capitals reveals something disturbing. Although Russia, Turkey and the United States represent three very different cultures, Moscow, Ankara and Washington increasingly have come to share much in common.

Russia, primarily but hardly solely an Orthodox Christian nation, long has evidenced a strong penchant for autocracy. Its leadership’s ideology has covered many different ideological approaches—monarchy, communism and now kleptocracy. It’s the last trait on which I focus. Under Vladimir Putin, Russia’s post-communist foray into free markets has produced sparse capitalism aside from sales of oil and gas, and plentiful oligarchy. Putin’s friends and associates enjoy government contracts, cozy relationships with banks and permission to corner markets. Political and journalistic opponents face prison or death in startling numbers.

Turkey, a member of NATO, evolved from the Ottoman Empire that waned in the nineteenth century as “the sick man of Europe” then following World War One suffered its death blow. Under Kemal Ataturk, a secular government arose. Military rule slowly morphed into democracy producing a vital economy and a major geopolitical role in the Middle East. But Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an Islamist, has steadily guided the rise of Muslim influence in Turkish life accompanied by an erosion of Turkish democracy. Last July, he cracked down on a coup and imprisoned large numbers of politicians, military officers, academics, artists and journalists. This past Sunday, his constitutional referendum narrowly won. It will abandon Turkey’s parliamentary system and make Erdogan president with broad powers while negating the legislature and courts.

How does Washington fit here? How does it not? Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner maintain offices in the White House, represent the nation in meetings with foreign government officials yet still run their businesses. They represent a real threat of cronyism as witnessed by Ivanka’s company being granted three copyrights by China on the same day she had dinner with her father and Chinese President Xi Jinping at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate.

Ivanka denied any violation of ethics. After all, she said, she didn’t apply for the patents. Her lawyers did. What could be more tone deaf? Of course, her lawyers filed the papers. Companies of almost any size hire in-house and/or outside legal counsel to perform both specialized and routine tasks. Now, Chinese businessmen—and government officials connected to them—will expect periodic favors from the White House in return for preferential treatment granted Ivanka. To deny that represents not naïveté but callous cynicism.

Can a true kleptocracy be far behind? Mr. Trump insists he will not release his tax returns since he’s being audited. Some time ago, however, the head of the IRS stated that release of his returns was fine. What then is the problem? Do Trump’s returns hide investments and/or loans from Russian companies and individuals close to the Kremlin? Would they reveal legal tax breaks Mr. Trump has taken and wishes to extend in tax-reform legislation? Does businessman Trump seek to use the presidency for financial gain? Is he okay with relatives and friends doing the same?

Three capitals. Three cultures. One dishearteningly similar approach to government of the leaders, by the leaders, for the leaders. Sadly, many of the Americans who will be hurt most are voters who giddily put Donald Trump in a position to screw them.

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FOUR TOUGH TRUTHS

In the movie A Few Good Men (1992), Jack Nicholson is the Marine colonel commanding the U.S. base at Guantanamo. He famously tells a court martial, “You can’t handle the truth.” Given Tuesday’s election in Israel, last November’s American Congressional election and the state of the world, a number of regrettable truths confront us.

Truth #1: The victory of Israel’s Likud party, headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, is scary. Likud won 30 of the Knesset’s 120 seats—hardly a mandate. The problem? Trailing in the polls, Bibi played to the worst fears and prejudices of the rabid right, warning that Israeli Arabs were voting (legally) in big numbers. He also said that he would never allow a Palestinian state—after long accepting a two-state solution given a partner on the other side. (Frustrating truth: Mahmoud Abbas was never that partner.) Yesterday, Bibi backtracked. He’s been misunderstood. He favors a Palestinian state under conditions that guarantee Israeli security. I do, too. But can anyone believe Bibi? His campaign rhetoric sent a statement to Jews in Israel and the Diaspora, as well as to the world community: “We can hate as much as they do.” Oh wait. Just kidding.

Truth #2: The American political system isn’t working on the national scale—and needs an overhaul. President Obama seems out of touch to too many Americans. (Age-old truth: you can’t please all of the people all of the time.) His vaunted communications skills are way overrated. Worse, Congress makes a mockery of our democracy. Republicans detoured around the president and welcomed Netanyahu to speak before Congress in great part because they, like Bibi, pander to the far right. Allied truth: Money talks. Says who? The Supreme Court. Corporations have as much right to speak out as people. Only lots more cash. (Do I hear the Koch brothers wheezing in approval or is that Sheldon Adelson?) Grating truth: Many Republicans oppose the president because a Black man (defined in the U.S.A. as anyone with a drop of Black blood) sits in the White House. Mr. Obama can change his policies. He can never change his genetics.

Truth #3: Democracy may not always be the answer. How has it done in Iraq? Shiites continue to suppress Sunnis in a continuation of a religious conflict going back 13 centuries. Turkey’s Islamist president Tayyip Recep Erdogan has turned democracy into a sham. Iran’s elected officials, including the president, fall under the thumb of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei. And would you really praise democracy in Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood? Nasty truth: enlightened autocracy might work better in some cases. That’s the position of the noted journalist/scholar Robert Kaplan in his recent book, Asia’s Cauldron. Kaplan cites the incredible flowering of Singapore under Lee Kwan Yew and Malaysia under Mahathir Mohamad (whom Kaplan nonetheless recognizes as an anti-Semite). And no, I’m not a fan of Vladimir Putin, elected by, but hardly accountable to, the Russian people. By the way, he’s wonderfully satirized (and wonderfully played by Lars Mikkelsen) in this season’s Netflix hit House of Cards.

Truth #4: The Giants will not win the World Series. It’s 2015, people—an odd numbered year. The Giants just don’t do that. Joyful truth: they’ll still help take our minds off Truths 1–3.

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