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TURKS DIVIDED AS ERDOGAN EXPANDS POWER; TRUMP RESETS FOREIGN POLICY WITH SYRIA RAID
Volume X1, No. 4,029 • Apr. 18, 2017 • April 18, 2017
Turkey: Divided We Stand: Burak Bekdil, BESA, Apr. 18, 2017 — On April 16, 2017, nearly half of all voting Turks objected to a new constitutional order that grants Recep Tayyip Erdoğan unchecked powers in a “Turkish-style” executive presidency.
How Erdogan's Victory Might Be Europe's Defeat: Abigail R. Esman, IPT, Apr. 17, 2017— Over lunch in Istanbul last week, a friend and I spoke about the upcoming Turkish referendum.
The Great Reversal — For Now: Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post, Apr. 13, 2017— The world is agog at Donald Trump’s head-snapping foreign policy reversal. He runs on a platform of America First.
Restoring Deterrence, One Bomb at a Time?: Victor Davis Hanson, National Review, Apr. 17, 2017 — The Tomahawk volley attack, for all its ostentatious symbolism, served larger strategic purposes.
Blood Libels in Europe, Asia, Africa and Recently the US: Reuven Brenner, Asia Times, Apr. 18, 2017
In Supporting Erdogan, Turks Cite Economic and Religious Gains: Patrick Kingsley, New York Times, Apr. 17, 2017
Report: Trump to Step on Hezbollah’s Neck while Going for Iran’s Jugular: David Israel, Jewish Press, Apr. 16, 2017 The Price of Obama’s Mendacity: Bret Stephens, Wall Street Journal, Apr. 10, 2017
BESA, Apr. 18, 2017
On April 16, 2017, nearly half of all voting Turks objected to a new constitutional order that grants Recep Tayyip Erdoğan unchecked powers in a “Turkish-style” executive presidency. At the ballot box, 51.4% of registered voters agreed to give Erdoğan what he so powerfully craved: legitimacy for the powers he has unconstitutionally exercised since he became Turkey’s first directly elected president in August 2014. That result left 48.6% of Turks frustrated and isolated. Turkey’s divide is now deeper and its politics more fragile, and the worsening political polarization promises turmoil.
With his new powers, Erdoğan will be able to further consolidate his rule. As head of the state, the government, and the ruling party, he can now appoint vice presidents, cabinet ministers, state bureaucrats, and senior judges. He can propose budgets and issue government decrees. All of this is now legitimate – although an opposition party is claiming election fraud. Its claim is based on a ruling by the Supreme Board of Elections that votes on papers without official seals are to be declared valid, a clear violation of Turkey’s electoral laws.
Political co-habitation will be much harder now. Protests and the use of brutal police force, especially if vote-rigging claims become more serious allegations, will not be unlikely. Erdoğan’s promise to reinstate the death penalty will finally break the weakening chains keeping Turkey anchored at the European bay, a turn of events that will almost inevitably spark economic and financial chaos. Ankara will have its hands full introducing a new constitutional regime without national consensus. Even the country’s post-military coup constitution of 1982 won over 91% of voter support. A regime change so radical that it includes abolishing the office of prime minister and substantially weakening parliament based on the approval of only slightly more than half the population will not build nationwide political peace.
Was the vote on April 16 a success story for Erdoğan? It depends on the criteria. Erdoğan won almost exactly the same vote he won in the presidential election of August 2014 (51.5% vs. 51.4%). Not a bad score. But the president’s Yes campaign was run (ironically) by two major parties: his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). In theory, the two parties should have won over 60% of the vote on April 16, as their combined vote in the November 1, 2015 parliamentary election was 61.4%. But the Yes campaign’s 51.4% was 10 percentage points lower than the combined vote for the two parties, suggesting that even some AKP and/or MHP voters opposed changing the country’s political regime to favor a disproportionately powerful president.
Can Erdoğan comfortably rule a country of 80 million people with the support of slightly over half the population? The answer is yes and no. Erdoğan has often protested that he did not advocate an executive presidential system “for his own sake and benefit.” He reminded his fans at rallies that “he is merely a mortal” and the system he wanted would remain in place long after his death. But did he want to install the system in order to ensure his own one-man rule until his death? Again, the answer is yes and no. Erdoğan certainly wanted expanded powers for himself, but he also wanted them in the interests of political Islam. In his ideal world, he would be a powerful president for life – and after his death, he would be succeeded by another Islamist (likely chosen by Erdoğan himself). The new system would thus further advance political Islam in Turkey and the Middle East.
The story behind the presidential system goes back to June 7, 2015, another occasion on which the Turks went to the ballot box. Although his doing so was totally illegitimate, President Erdoğan, who was supposed to be non-partisan, campaigned for the AKP. With slightly over 40% of the nationwide vote, the AKP lost its parliamentary majority for the first time since it rose to power in 2002. Then-prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu had to negotiate a coalition government with opposition parties, including the Islamists’ archenemy, the secular Republican People’s Party (CHP). Erdoğan objected to this idea and set new elections for November 1, 2015. On that occasion, his AKP won a landslide victory, garnering nearly 50% of the vote and forming a single-party government.
Despite the happy ending for Erdoğan and his Islamist cohort, the June 7 episode deeply worried his strategists. The possibility of another Turkish popular vote forcing a coalition alliance with a secular party had to be eliminated. The only way to do that was to change the presidential system. Under the new system, smaller parties will be gradually made irrelevant (as they are in the US), leaving two major actors on the stage: an Islamist/nationalist party addressing Turkey’s less educated, conservative masses; and a secular, liberal party representing better-educated and more urban Turks. Turkey’s conservative/secular divide typically gives the former group 70-75% of nationwide support and the latter the remaining 25-30%. Such a political set-up would make the election of a secular government and president highly unlikely and a coalition government out of the question…
[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]
Abigail R. Esman
IPT, Apr. 17, 2017
Over lunch in Istanbul last week, a friend and I spoke about the upcoming Turkish referendum. "Many European Turks are likely to vote 'yes,'" I cautioned my friend, whom I knew was planning to vote 'no,' or against the measure to grant President Recep Tayyip Erdogan unlimited powers. A "yes" vote, by contrast, would end the democratic parliamentary government established by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the republic, and in the eyes of most Western leaders, establish Erdogan as the Muslim world's newest dictator.
My friend was visibly angered. "Then let them, with all their rights and freedoms, come here to live," she retorted. "How dare they think that they can take these rights from us when we are the ones who have to live with the result?"
The outcome of Sunday's referendum showed a Turkey split almost exactly in half, with 51 percent "yes" and just under 49 percent voting "no." Or did it? It is too soon to make a full analysis of the vote results – which some rights groups have already contested – but one thing was immediately made clear: the vast majority of Turks living throughout Europe voted in support of Erdogan's rule, even as the majority of those living in major Turkish cities – Izmir, Ankara and Istanbul – voted against it. If only the votes of Turks living in the country had been counted, would the results have been the same? Or would they show that Turkey's residents support a secular, Western democracy while Europe's Turks do not?
If my friends in Istanbul who voted "no" woke this morning afraid for their country's future, so, too, should my friends in much of Europe. In the Netherlands, for instance, a whopping 71 percent of Dutch-Turks who participated in the vote chose "yes." As the results of the referendum became known, thousands descended on the Turkish Consulate in Rotterdam, waving Turkish flags and celebrating the victory of an Islamist leader who had pledged to "raise a new, religious generation," end secular education, and who has imprisoned countless journalists, writers, artists, and others who have dared to criticize him.
It was not only in Holland. According to the Daily Sabah, 75 percent of Belgian Turks who voted opted for "yes," as did 73 percent in Austria, 65 percent in France, and 63 percent in Germany. Only Switzerland, Sweden, and the United Kingdom showed majorities with "no" votes. And of these three, Sweden is effectively the only member of the EU. American-Turks, however, showed the greatest resistance, with 83 percent voting "no." Still, some prominent Islamist voices spoke out in support of Erdogan, including former Muslim American Society president and political activist Esam Omeish, who celebrated the referendum results on his Facebook page with a photo of himself holding a Turkish flag that reads "evet," or "yes."
In Europe, some have argued, as did "Volkan," a pseudonym for the owner of the popular DutchTurks.nl blog, that the results were self-inflicted, the result of having antagonized Turkey and Erdogan in recent months. Holland, for instance, refused entry to pro-Erdogan officials seeking to campaign on his behalf. Germany, where rallies were similarly blocked, has also been outspoken in its criticism of Erdogan's imprisonment of a German-Turkish journalist. But such explanations do not account for the results in Austria and France, or for the similar outcome of the November 2015 election, in which majorities in Germany, the Netherlands, and France all voted for Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP).
What I did not tell my friend, as we sat watching the sunlight dance over the Bosphorus, was that the European Turks who were voting to change the Turkish Constitution, who were effectively choosing to establish a more fundamentalist, Islamist Turkey in place of the secular, Western democracy that has been in place since 1923, have no interest in the "freedoms" that she spoke of. That they have them in Europe is meaningless: they don't want them. They don't want them in Turkey, where they come from; and they don't want them in Europe, where they now live. Not for themselves. And not for anybody else. Indeed, as the IPT noted after the November 2015 elections, of the 4.6 million Turks living in Europe, a majority seems to prefer to live in an Islamic state, and not a secular one.
This is the frightening lesson that Europe must learn from the results of the April 16 referendum. While its leaders now confer about the "proper" response to Erdogan in his new role and what they expect of him as the leader of a clearly-divided country, they might also consider their response to his supporters who are not just Turkish citizens, but Europe's own. How to reckon with Europeans who choose against European norms and values, who actively vote against the separation of church and state, who seek a more Islamized society? What does this say about the failure of integration? More, what does it say – or threaten – about Europe's potential future? And what can be done to save it?
Washington Post, Apr. 13, 2017
The world is agog at Donald Trump’s head-snapping foreign policy reversal. He runs on a platform of America First. He renounces the role of world policeman. He excoriates parasitic foreigners that (I paraphrase) suck dry our precious bodily fluids — and these are allies! On April 4, Trump declared: “I don’t want to be the president of the world. I’m the president of the United States. And from now on, it’s going to be America First.”
A week earlier, both his secretary of state and U.N. ambassador had said that the regime of Bashar Assad is a reality and that changing it is no longer an American priority. Then last week, Assad drops chemical weapons on rebel-held territory and Trump launches 59 Tomahawk missiles into Syria. This was, in part, an emotional reaction to images of children dying of sarin poisoning. And, in part, seizing the opportunity to redeem Barack Obama’s unenforced red line on chemical weapons.
Whatever the reason, moral or strategic, Trump acted. And effectively reset his entire foreign policy. True, in and of itself, the raid will not decisively alter the course of Syria’s civil war. Assad and his Iranian, Russian and Hezbollah co-combatants still have the upper hand — but no longer a free hand. After six years of U.S. passivity, there are limits now and America will enforce them. Nor was the raid the beginning of a campaign for regime change. It was, however, a reassertion of an American stake in both the conduct and the outcome of the war. America’s abdication is over. Be warned.
Moreover, the very swiftness of the response carried a message to the wider world. Obama is gone. No more elaborate forensic investigations. No agonized presidential handwringing over the moral dilemmas of a fallen world. It took Obama 10 months to decide what to do in Afghanistan. It took Trump 63 hours to make Assad pay for his chemical-weapons duplicity. America demonstrated its capacity for swift, decisive action. And in defense, mind you, of an abstract international norm — a rationale that dramatically overrides the constraints of America First.
Trump’s inaugural address had boldly rejected the 70-year American consensus to bear the burdens of world leadership. Less than three months later, the Syrian raid abruptly changed that course with a renewed interventionism — not, to be sure, in the service of a crusade for democracy, but in the service of concrete strategic objectives, broadly defined and extending far beyond our shores. To the North Pacific, for example. The Syria strike sent a message to both China and North Korea that Trump’s threats of unilateral action against Pyongyang’s nukes and missiles are serious. A pre-emptive strike against those facilities is still unlikely but today conceivable. Even more conceivable — perhaps even probable — is a shoot-down of a North Korean missile in flight.
The message to Russia was equally clear. Don’t push too far in Syria and, by extension, in Europe. We’re not seeking a fight, but you don’t set the rules. Syria shared the Sharyat base with Russian troops. Russian barracks were left untouched, but we were clearly not deterred by their proximity. The larger lesson is this: In the end, national interest prevails. Populist isolationism sounds great, rouses crowds and may even win elections. But contraWhite House adviser Steve Bannon, it’s not a governing foreign policy for the United States. Bannon may have written the come-home-America inaugural address. But it was the old hands, Trump’s traditionally internationalist foreign policy team led by Defense Secretary James Mattis and national security adviser H.R. McMaster, who rewrote the script with the Syria strike.
Assad violated the international taboo on chemical weapons. Who would enforce it, if not us? Candidate Trump would have replied: None of our business. President Trump brought out the Tomahawks. His foreign policy has gone from mere homeland protection to defending certain interests, values and strategic assets abroad. These endure over time. Hence the fundamental continuity of our post-World War II engagement abroad. With apologies to Lord Palmerston, we don’t have permanent enthusiasms, but we do have permanent interests. And they have a way of asserting themselves. Which is why Bannonism is in eclipse. This is not to say that things could not change tomorrow. We’ve just witnessed one about-face. With a president who counts unpredictability as a virtue, he could well reverse course again. For now, however, the traditionalists are in the saddle. U.S. policy has been normalized. The world is on notice: Eight years of sleepwalking is over. America is back.
Victor Davis Hanson
National Review, Apr. 17, 2017
The Tomahawk volley attack, for all its ostentatious symbolism, served larger strategic purposes. It reminded a world without morality that there is still a shred of a rule or two: Do not use nerve gas on the battlefield or against civilians. The past faux redline from Obama, the systematic use of chlorine gas by Syria, and its contextualization by the Obama administration had insidiously eroded that old battlefield prohibition. Trump was right to seek to revive it.
The subsequent MOAB bomb strike in Afghanistan is useful against ISIS’s subterranean nests, and in signaling the Taliban and ISIS that the U.S. too can be unpredictable and has not quite written off its 16-year commitment. But as in the case of the Tomahawk strikes against Syria, it also fulfilled the larger purpose of reminding enemies, such as Islamic terrorists, North Korea, and Iran (which all stash weapons of destruction in caves and the like) that the U.S. is capable of anything. In other words, apparently anywhere Trump thinks that he can make a point about deterrence, with good odds of not getting Americans killed or starting a war (he used Tomahawks not pilots where Russian planes were in the vicinity), he will probably drop a bomb or shoot off a missile or send in an iconic carrier fleet.
The message reminds the world that the Obama administration’s “lead from behind,” “don’t do stupid sh**,” plastic red-button reset, Cairo Speech foreign policy followed no historical arc that bent anywhere. And the U.S. was previously on the wrong, not the right, side of both history and the traditions of U.S. bipartisan foreign policy — an aberration from the past, not a blueprint of the future.
Like Ronald Reagan, who, after Jimmy Carter’s managed declinism, shelled Lebanon, bombed Gaddafi, and invaded Grenada, Trump is trying to thread the needle between becoming bogged down somewhere and doing nothing. No president in recent memory also has outsourced such responsibility to his military advisers, whom Trump refers to as “our” or “my” “generals.” He can afford to for now, because he has made excellent appointments at Defense, State, National Security, and Homeland Security. These are men who justifiably have won broad bipartisan support and who believe in the ancient ways of military and spiritual deterrence, balance of power, and alliances rather than the U.N., presidential sonorousness, or soft power to keep the peace.
These opportunistic deterrent expressions are likewise intended to remind several parties in particular that the Obama hiatus is over. Apparently, Trump will not necessarily reset the Obama reset of the Bush reset with Russia. Instead, he probably believes that Putin will soon agree that the 2009–16 era was an abnormal condition in which a far weaker Russia bullied friends and connived against almost everything the U.S. was for. And such asymmetry could not be expected to go on. A return to normal relations is not brinkmanship; it should settle down to tense competition, some cooperation, and grudging respect among two powerful rivals. Who knows, Putin may come to respect (and even prefer) an American leader who is unpredictable and unapologetically tough without being sanctimonious, sermonizing — and weak. The old canard is largely true: Russia has no natural interests in seeing a radical Islamic and nuclear Iran on its border, other than the fact that this change would irritate and aggravate the U.S., which might satisfy Putin. But if Russia no longer felt a need to automatically oppose everything America sought (or if it feared to do so), then many of its unsavory alliances might no longer may seem all that useful.
Trump’s strikes and displays of naval power, and the reactions to them, also remind North Korea that it has no friends and could prove a liability to China (as Syria could to Russia) rather than a useful rabid animal to be occasionally unleashed so that it might bark and nip at Westernized Asia and the U.S. If North Korea’s antics imperil China’s commercial buccaneering or lead to a nuclear Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan on China’s borders, or to U.S. commercial restrictionism, then China could see North Korea’s insanity as not worth the cost. Additionally, if tensions rise, North Korea’s own military elite could remove the unhinged Kim Jong-un after concluding that he’s expendable. Or regional powers, despite differences, might collectively conclude that they can’t live with daily threats of nuclear launchings.
Again, Trump is trying to act unpredictably and forcefully against Pyongyang, the world’s most detested government — on the logic that without war, he can prompt greater containment before the unsustainable status quo leads to a conflagration. This is a sort of post–Cold War brinkmanship. By now, Iran knows that it cannot send another missile toward an American carrier, hijack an American boat, or cheat flagrantly on the Iran Deal without earning some response from a man who dislikes both the revolutionary government and what Iran has done to the U.S. over the past eight years.
The general aims of these iconic acts are to remind the world of U.S. strength and that the new president has the willingness to use it to prevent some weaker entity from doing something stupid. The general aims of these iconic acts are to remind the world of U.S. strength and that the new president has the willingness to use it to prevent some weaker entity from doing something stupid on the misapprehension that the U.S. is in decline rather than reemerging from a temporarily and self-imposed recessional. Once deterrence is reestablished (and only once it is achieved), then the U.S. will be able to appeal to Russia and China to find areas of mutual concern (radical Islam, nuclear proliferation in Asia, rogue nations that threaten the international order, etc.)…
[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]
Blood Libels in Europe, Asia, Africa and Recently the US: Reuven Brenner, Asia Times, Apr. 18, 2017—With Passover and “fake news” in the news, consider the “blood libels” that Jews and other groups have long been subjected to. The accusations against Jews first appeared during the 12th century AD. They spread during the 13th and 14th centuries, trials reaching their highest number in the Holy Roman Empire two generations before the Reformation.
In Supporting Erdogan, Turks Cite Economic and Religious Gains: Patrick Kingsley, New York Times, Apr. 17, 2017 —Merve Arslan, a teacher, struggles to reconcile her own perception of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey with that of his critics. “He’s not a dictator,” Ms. Arslan, 28, said. “He’s a democrat.”
Report: Trump to Step on Hezbollah’s Neck while Going for Iran’s Jugular: David Israel, Jewish Press, Apr. 16, 2017—The US congress will amend the 2015 HR2297, Hezbollah Financing Prevention Act (HIFPA), aimed at preventing Hezbollah and associated entities from gaining access to international financial and other institutions, According to a US-based source who spoke to the Lebanese daily Annahar.
The Price of Obama’s Mendacity: Bret Stephens, Wall Street Journal, Apr. 10, 2017—Last week’s cruise-missile strike against a Syrian air base in response to Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons has reopened debate about the wisdom of Barack Obama’s decision to forgo a similar strike, under similar circumstances, in 2013.
Prof. Frederick Krantz, Director (Canadian Institute for Jewish Research)
Prof. Harold Waller (McGill University)
Prof. Ira Robinson, Associate Chairman (Department of Religion, Concordia University)
Baruch Cohen, Research Chairman (Canadian Institute for Jewish Research)
Rob Coles (Canadian Institute for Jewish Research)