Opinion

The Great Debate

You never know who you’re going to meet on Turkey’s ‘jihadi highway’

Smugglers carrying blue jerry cans on horses ride back to Syria along the wire fences after ferrying fuel smuggled into Turkey from over the border in Syria, in Hatay province

Turkey’s border with Syria, like all borders, allows passage both ways – at least for the right price.

Refugees fleeing north to escape a three-year civil war and Islamic extremists heading south to fight Syrian President Bashar al-Assad all need a little help to make the crossing.

And in towns like Kilis, located just a few miles from Syria, they find it.

“We smuggle,” a 12-year-old boy wearing Adidas shorts and Velcro sandals told me as he hung out on a metal fence with his friends. “We’re the kids of the area, so we’ll walk where we want. It’s easy.”

The boy, who smuggles people across the border for around 50 to 100 Turkish lira (22 to 44 dollars), doesn’t reveal who his customers are or their motivations for making the crossing.

Of course, it’s not just children involved in the border-crossing business.

Abou Mahmoud, the owner of a road-side eatery offering falafels, cans of orange soda and kebabs, claims to have served at least 100 foreign fighters headed to Syria. They included men from France, Sudan, Egypt and Afghanistan.

A NATO ally stays on sidelines of fight against Islamic State

U.S. President Barack Obama listens as he hosts a bilateral meeting with Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan during the NATO Summit at the Celtic Manor Resort in Newport, Wales, in the United Kingdom

Few countries are in a better position than Turkey to help the United States fight Islamic State. The moderate Islamic country shares a 750 mile border with Syria, is a NATO member and a long-time ally of America. But don’t hold your breath for Turkey’s support.

For a long time, Turks have resented the “curse of strategic significance” related to its forming NATO’s southern flank. They felt it enabled the military to keep a watchful eye over their politicians. Likewise, it fueled the politicians’  sense of impunity that shielded them from the need for reform.

This was part of the reason why, at the time of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Turkey refused to provide logistic support for the U.S.-led invasion to bring down Saddam Hussein. The chaos into which Iraq then descended after 2003 only reinforced the ruling AK party’s supporters of the validity of Turkey’s bid to go its own way.

Iraq airstrikes: You read the news, now get the context

Relatives mourn the death of a Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) fighter, killed during clashes with Islamic State fighters in the Iraqi city of Rabia on the Iraqi-Syrian border, during his funeral in Ras al-Ain

Once you read the latest news about the U.S. airstrikes and humanitarian drops in Iraq, turn to commentary for the context you need to fully understand what is happening and how we got here. Here is a quick tour:

You can start with incisive background from Spencer Ackerman, national security editor at the Guardian. He provides additional framework for the Obama administration’s decision to use air power. It’s about far more than protecting U.S. advisers in Irbil, Ackerman says. He lays out why the White House felt compelled to protect the pro-U.S. Kurds against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS). Ackerman then looks at the possible military hardware involved. His reporting continues today with Dan Roberts here.

While you’re on the Guardian site, read the explainer about the Yazidis, the Iraqi religious minority sect besieged atop Mount Sinjar.

from Compass:

Putin’s action is no surprise

Surprise is the least forgivable sin of statecraft. Yet nothing has so characterized the Ukraine crisis as the West's continuing surprise at Russia's behavior.

The past 30 days have provided almost daily reminders of the deep disconnect between Western expectations of what statecraft would -- and ought to -- look like in the 21st century, and the reality of how the Kremlin seeks to assert its interests in the world.

From the outset of this crisis, the West consistently underestimated the strategic significance of Ukraine, and Crimea, to Russia. The West also assumed that the threat, and subsequent reality, of economic sanctions would alter Russian President Vladimir Putin’s strategic calculus. One month later, Russia has irreversibly annexed a region of Ukraine and left the West divided and floundering in its response.

In Turkey, taking on West wins elections

Is Turkish leader crazy, or crazy like a fox?

Confronted by a series of revelations involving corruption, Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan countered by banning Twitter by court order last Friday. He has now moved onto other social media networks — blocking YouTube on Thursday.

Though another court ordered Erdogan’s Twitter ban to be lifted this week, his repressive regime looks intent on lashing out at social media as part of a broad policy aimed at controlling the important municipal elections on Sunday.

This is all part of Erdogan’s calculated effort, as Amnesty International describes, to “silence and smear those speaking out against the government’s crackdown on the protest movement, including doctors, lawyers and journalists.” This crackdown has, not surprisingly, resulted not only in massive protests within Turkey, but exasperation from Turkey’s allies in the West.

Turkey cashes in on the Iran talks

You may have thought the Geneva deal struck last month between Iran and the P5+1 nations (the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany) was a sweet one for Tehran — getting billions in sanctions relief in exchange for mere promises to halt its nuclear program.

But Turkey may be an even bigger winner. It just needs to open its doors and wait for Iranian funds to pour in.

Iran was Turkey’s third largest export market in 2012. In fact, Turkey is reportedly exporting more than 20,000 products to Iran right now; among them gold and silver. It turns out that the Geneva deal also loosened sanctions on precious metals.

U.S. Mideast policy: Keeping our friends closer

It is time for Washington to change the parameters of the debate on its foreign policy toward the greater Middle East. It is not a choice between human rights and security — rather, the two goals should go hand in hand.

The United States does not need to lose its longtime allies in the Middle East and beyond in order to promote human rights and democracy. In fact, U.S. allies will be more likely to undertake political reform if they feel that Washington is a close partner.

A number of U.S. allies in the Middle East have recently expressed concern regarding Washington’s frequent flips in policies toward the region. The Obama administration’s policy toward the challenges arising from the Middle East has indeed been a series of zigzags: bold moves and initiatives, accompanied by retreats and withdrawals.

from David Rohde:

The global middle class awakens

People stand during a silent protest at Taksim Square in Istanbul June 18, 2013.  REUTERS/Marko Djurica

Alper, a 26-year-old Turkish corporate lawyer, has benefited enormously from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s rule. He is one of millions of young Turks who rode the country’s economic boom to a lifestyle his grandparents could scarcely imagine.

Yet he loathes Erdogan, participated in the Taksim Square demonstrations and is taking part in the new “standing man” protests in Istanbul.

Why Erdogan doesn’t get it

Protesters run as riot police fire teargas during a protest at Taksim Square in Istanbul June 11, 2013. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan doesn’t get it. Turkey’s strongman is still fighting the Deep State

He doesn’t understand that the crowd filling Gezi Park in the scruffy center of Istanbul is the most precious creation of Turkey’s boom – an ambitious, creative, new generation. Erdogan doesn’t see the beauty in this kaleidoscope of mini-groups – Turkish and Kurdish, Marxist and Kemalist, Armenian and Islamist – all demanding that he listen to the public, rather than bulldoze Istanbul in his image.

Building a new future for Turkey

The crisis in Syria and the confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program have highlighted the renewed importance of one of the oldest and most enduring relationships of the United States: its alliance with Turkey. The U.S.-Turkey partnership was forged during the Korean conflict and the Cold War, and Washington and Ankara stood shoulder-to-shoulder to confront the Soviet challenge. Now, the two countries have an opportunity to work together to help shape the Middle East, ensure the stability of Iraq, contain Iranian ambitions, end the Assad regime in Syria and ensure reliable energy supplies to Europe.

In the past decade, Turkey has become the 17th-largest economy in the world and undertaken far-reaching political reforms. It has gone from being a cautious actor in international affairs to being an influential player in its neighborhood and beyond. In a new Council on Foreign Relations report, a bipartisan panel we chaired makes the case that the two countries should define a new partnership of close coordination in confronting today’s challenges.

There are, however, questions raised about Turkey’s commitment to the West. This is a function of three factors: the rise of the Islamist-oriented Justice and Development Party (AKP); the broadening of Turkey’s foreign policy ambitions under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan; and the failure in the West to understand the dramatic changes in Turkey over the last decade.

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