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TurkeyTeasers

The results are in and YES has won a narrow 51.4% victory in the Turkish referendum on making the country into a Presidential republic.

This map I found (via Turkish Wikipedia) is the only one to show regional gradations. It shows the percentage of people voting NO.

map-turkey-referendum-2017

It is electorally very typical for Turkey, which consists of three main regional patterns: The rich, cosmopolitan, higher-IQ liberal elites on the western coast and around Ankara, who vote for the Kemalist CHP; the poorer, more religious Turkish conservatives in the Anatolian heartlands, who vote for Erdogan’s AKP and the nationalist MHP; and the impoverished, low-IQ Kurdish minorities in the south-east, who vote for their ethnic minority interest group party, the HDP.

The story of this referendum is that the liberal cosmopolitans and the Kurds joined forces, but failed to stymie Erdogan’s conservative Turkish majority.

Here is a map of the vote from overseas polling stations (via /u/nine6s):

map-turkey-referendum-2017-nine6s

Looks like German “magic dirt” did nothing to make Anatolian Gastarbeiters more liberal. They voted just like their cousins back home.

However, the Turks from the Anglosphere and Asia – most of whom are students, businessmen, etc. – mostly voted NO.

turkey-referendum-2017-observers Was there fraud? Plenty of videos that suggest it (e.g. 1, 2, 3). More suspeciously, the Supreme Elections Board decided to consider unstamped ballots valid, which is against the law. There may about 2.5 million of them, which would easily be enough to tip the election if they are significantly biased towards YES. EU observers were not happy (see their statement on the right). The CHP and HDP say they will be mounting a legal challenge, but with Erdogan having declared victory, it is unlikely anuthing will come out of it.

Brief geopolitical comment: I would note that Trump has rushed to congratulate Erdogan, whereas Putin has been conspicuous in his silence.

This supports the intuition I expressed a couple of days ago that this, in conjunction with Trump’s about-turn on Syria, presages nothing good for Russia.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Elections, Turkey 

I realize everyone is obsessed with North Kora right now, but the Turkish referendum that is set for April 16 may turn out to be even more significant.

Erdogan’s AKP and the MHP nationalists have proposed a set of amendments to the Turkish constitution that would remove the office of the Prime Minister, annul a ban on the President retaining membership of his political party, and vastly increase the Presidency’s power over the legislature and the judiciary. If these proposals are confirmed by the electorate, Turkey becomes an executive Presidency.

In the past week, “Yes” has assumed a lead, though that shouldn’t be weighed too heavily since these polls have been fluctuating widely. However, PredictIt currently gives a 68% chance of “Yes.” This tallies exactly with the odds given by major betting sites.

One curious aspect of Turkish politics is that the AKP is far friendlier towards Turkey’s 3 million Syrian immigrants than the Kemalist CHP, and Erdogan has even gone so far as to moot giving them citizenship – a suggestion that was not well received by most Turks. Another interesting thing I noted is that whereas the constitutional amendment is supported by the MHP leadership, some 65% of its rank and file are prepared to vote “No.”

This might hint at some very curious parallels with Russia. There, for instance, Zhirinovsky’s LDPR slavishly supports the Kremlin, and by extension its Eurasianist (read: Greater Turkestanization) project, even though its base are nationalist xenophobes who refuse to rent out their apartments to people from Central Asia and the Caucasus. I wonder if there is a similar dynamic at play in Turkey, with nationalist MHP voters being mostly opposed to Erdogan’s Ottomanist (read: Islamist-Arabization) project, but nonetheless feeling dutybound to support the Leader out of their authoritarian and neo-imperialist instincts, and hatred of the liberal elites in the cosmopolitan areas.

Anyhow, I suspect that “Yes” will be bad for Syria, and by extension, Russia’s goals in Syria (assuming there’s no convoluted 3D chess involved). Erdogan tilts towards the invade/invite end of the spectrum, and with his power becoming absolute in Turkey, he will have space to resume the “invade” part in Syria with greater vigor. Considering the sharp reversal in US-Russian relations over Syria in the past ten days, and Erdogan’s own unlimited propensity for treachery, I have dark forebodings that Putin might soon come to regret helping him survive the 2016 coup attempt.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Elections, Syrian Civil War, Turkey 

erdogan-have-5-kids

far better than we ever could.

Anyhow, how fast is the Muslim population growing? It’s long been clear that official statistics aren’t quite hacking it, and the situation is likely considerably worse.

Recent observation from Emil Kirkegaard gleaned from his meanderings through demographic statistics:

So, what’s next? There’s a lot to do, but one thing I’ve been thinking of is showing that Muslim populations are actually growing a lot faster than many claim. The reason they claim these low levels of growth is because they rely on official statistics and these data tend to convert 2nd and later generation people into the ‘native’ categories, thus effectively hiding them. However, Muslims are nice enough to use distinctive names, so one can count the number of persons with such names over time and this will show a more realistic growth rate. Preliminary results for Denmark indicate an official stats-based growth rate of 2.5%, whereas first names indicate 5.1%. That’s not a small difference. The growth rate of Danish natives is something like -16% per generation which comes out at about -0.5% per year. You don’t have to be a genius to see how 5.1% vs. -0.5% work out in a few decades.

 
• Tags: Demographics, Eurabia, Turkey 

based-erdogan

I might just turn my blog into the Internet’s number 1 Erdogan fansite.

Seriously, I don’t got what all the fuss is about.

Western politicians love pushing their snouts where they don’t belong – observe the flurry of European and American dignitaries sulking the streets in the runup to Euromaidan (immortalized in the Nuland Cookies meme), or during the 2012 protests against Putin in Moscow.

On those occasions when Russia bars their entry, they go and complain to the media about it.

So the Turks didn’t do nothing wrong.

Good on high energy Erdogan for making a stand. And good on his local fans for chimping out… I mean, campaigning so energetically for Geert Wilders on the streets of Rotterdam. This is so considerate and patriotic of them. /ourguys/!

Obviously I don’t actually care about the Netherlands banning Turkish politicians. If I had to insert a reaction.gif here, it would be the one of Michael Jackson eating popcorn.

Besides, its the sovereign right of the Dutch to decide who come in to politick in their country, and besides, this serves to accelerate the fissure between Turkey and the EU.

Turkey itself has been most cooperative. They have suspended high-level diplomatic relations with the EU. They have called half of North Europe “Nazis” (in the bad sense of the word: Erdogan does like the Nazi political system). They have also said they are reneging on the migrants deal with Europe. The Wall, when?

All of this helps objectively helps Eurosceptic forces, both in the Netherlands itself (which is having a most propitiously timed general election tomorrow) and in Europe generally. Anything bad for the EU is good for Europeans, their cultural and demographic prospects, and frankly for most everyone else on this planet.

It also helps Erdogan paint himself as a victim and increases support for the upcoming Turkish referendum on massively expanding his powers as President. If it passes, Turkey will essentially become a soft dictatorship (as Erdogan himself once said, democracy is like a train; you get off at your destination).

This will further accentuate the rift between the EU, at least so long as its functionaries continue to pay at least lip service to democracy. And eventually, it cannot help but reverberate to some extent on NATO, with which Turkey also has mounting problems in the form of tensions with the US in Syria, and with Greece.

So, my advice to Erdogan: Carry on, my dude! ЖГИ ИСЧО! Russia has your back!

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: European Union, Turkey 

From Turkey’s PISA 2015 National Report:

Science

turkey-pisa-science-scores-2015

Reading

turkey-pisa-reading-scores-2015

Math

turkey-pisa-math-scores-2015

In 2015, Richard Lynn and coauthors did one of their standard national IQ analyses on Turkey (based on the results of PISA 2012).

Summary:

There are seven points of interest in the results. First, the total PISA scores adopted as IQs were significantly positively correlated with per capita income (r = .81), higher educational graduation rate (r = .63) and with educational achievement measured by the YGS examination (r = .87), and significantly negatively correlated with total fertility rate (r = −.89), the infant mortality rate (r = −.80) and the percentage of Kurds (r = −.87).

If Europe’s (and Russia’s) problems with low-IQ, high-fertility minorities with a chip on their shoulder seem bad, Turkey’s are arguably far worse.

 
• Category: Race/Ethnicity • Tags: IQ, PISA, Turkey 

Turkey has a proud and rich history of military coups. As analysts tirelessly point out, they are even sanctioned by the Constitution as a means of preserving secularism.

However, those days have come to an end.

The abortive coup of the past few days was in all likelihood the dying gasp of 20th century Turkey.

I

In Western op-eds over the years, there has been rising disquiet over the AKP’s “Islamization” of Turkish society, including the education system. However, if opinion polls are anything to go by, the Islamization effect has been slight.

According to the World Values Survey, a comprehensive survey of global cultural values that runs in multiyear “waves,” there has been no very significant rise in religious fervor in Turkish society from the first wave in 1989-1993 to the last wave in 2010-2014. A mere 1% of Turks disbelieve in God, but that is barely different from 2% in the mid-1990s (and exactly analogous to the US in the early 1980s and Poland in the early 1990s). The percentage of Turks who listed “religious faith” as one of the more desirable traits for their children fell from 44% to 40% in the last 25 years, and while the percentage of Turks who consider religious faith to be “very important” rose from 60% in the early 1990s to around 80% through the rest of the 1990s and 2000s, in the very last wave of surveys that number fell back to 68%. The percentage of Turks considering themselves to be a “religious person” rose from 73% in the early 1990s, but has remained stable at around 80%-85% ever since. And despite all the mosque building under the AKP, religious attendance has virtually no changes over the past quarter century and only 1% of Turks say they are members of a religious organization.

The banal reality is that Turkey has consistently been a conservative and strongly religious society (even if it is nothing on the scale of Arab countries where half or more of the population supports the death penalty for adultery and apostasy). Some 70% of Turks agree that in conflicts between religious and science, the former is “always” right. This is lower than the 90%+ agreement rate you see in Arab Muslim countries for this question, but is considerably higher than in the more religious Western countries such as the US (39%) and Poland (25%) – or for that matter in Russia (22%), for all the rhetoric about it becoming a theocracy.

On the other hand, a generation ago, masses of bearded men would not have come out onto the streets of Istanbul, charging rifle tanks and putting themselves in the way of tanks, to defend an Islamist President against a military coup. They would not have then proceeded to beat up and in some cases lynch surrending soldiers, most of whom – as it now emerges – were hapless conscripts who were not even aware that they were participating in a coup.

But if this wasn’t a case of the AKP’s Islamization campaign generating many more hardcore Islamists, what actually changed?

II

The answer ultimately lies in Turkish demographics: In short, the devout Muslims have migrated to the cities.

In the past generation, Turkey has urbanized at breakneck speeds. The urban population share of Turkey has increased from 44% in 1980, the data of the last major successful coup, to 73% today. In absolute numbers, this translated in an increase from 20 million to 55 million urban denizens during this period, including a fivefold increase in Istanbul from 3 million to 15 million. The other western coastal cities and Ankara also saw major increases.

From 1965 to today, the share of the Turkish population residing in richer, more heavily urbanized Western Turkey soared from a third to a half, while poorer and more rural Central Turkey and Eastern Turkey fell from a third each to 23% and 28%, respectively. However, Western Turkey also has the country’s lowest fertility rates, at less than the replacement level rate of 2.1 and comparable to those seen in the North-Eastern USA.

turkey-fertility-rate-2000

Total fertility rates in Turkey in 2000.

So where did their new denizens come from?

turkey-internal-migration

Internal migration in Turkey.

They came from the Anatolian hinterlands, whose fertility rates – almost one expected child more in Marmara and the Aegean coast – are comparable to that of Utah, not New England. They are much more conservative, much more religious, and less socioeconomically advanced (Western coastal Turkey has a GDP per capita comparable to Greece, whereas Central Turkey is more comparable to Romania and the Kurdish triangle to the southest converges to more overtly Third World conditions).

These people of Middle Turkey, derided as backwards country bumpkins and Islamist retrogrades by coastal Kemalist latte-sipping urbanites, have their own political vision…

turkey-2011-elections-results

Typical Turkish electoral map (2011 elections).

… which is centered on the social conservatism and political “Islamism Lite” of Erdogan and the AKP. And they continue to have many more babies than the traditional westcoasters, even after moving there: Whereas in 2003 the TFR of urban natives across all of Turkey was a mere 1.68 children per woman, considerably lower than the all Turkish average of 2.23 children per woman, for rural-to-urban migrants it was 2.82 children per women, and only modestly lower than the 3.28 rate for rural natives.

Incidentally, this also explains the strong Islamism, low socioeconomic status, high fertility rates (higher than back home!), and high degree of Erdogan support amongst German Turks. The Gastarbeiters primarily hailed from Middle Turkey, and the migration to Germany was just one aspect of the mass population movement from there to more advanced areas in the second part of the 20th century.

III

And all this, possibly more so than contingent factors like poor planning or the failure to eliminate Erdogan, explains why the military coup failed.

First off, this internal migration of virile Islamists created a class of urbanites in Ankara and especially Istanbul who were ready to go out for and in some cases to lay their lives down for their beliefs. While historically rapid urbanization was associated with political instability and revolution, the major difference is that in Turkey, it is Erdogan who is the candidate of the sans-culottes and of the factory workers. In previous coups, the military could take control to reinstate secularism at will, and what was an aggrieved Muslim in the Anatolian boondocks to do about it? Stew in his own juices. But now, those same people could flood into the streets, having been rapidly mobilized by their neighborhood imams and Erdogan pleading for help on social media.

Second, it should be noted that the economic effects of Anatolian urbanization have worked strongly to the Islamists’ favor. Apart from the direct benefits to people’s pockets that came with the fusion of political Islam and economic liberalization, the construction projects associated with the mass Anatolian relocation to Ionia and Marmara, as well as the industries that sprang up to service their needs (retail, credit, etc.), has created a class of Turkish oligarchs. Moreover, unlike in say Russia, where the oil & gas oligarch class remains somewhat resentful of Putin for circumscribing their power after the 1990s free-for-all when not expropriating their ill-gotten gains outright, the Turkish oligarchs created in the 1990s generally have more reasons to remain loyal to the regime:

The names of those allegedly involved reads like a Who’s Who of Turkey’s ­government-linked oligarchy, whose firms have profited in recent years from the more than $100bn-worth of public contracts awarded by the AKP. Nepotism in the awarding of tenders has long been one of the most visible signs of corruption in Turkey, and in the AKP’s years a coterie of construction firms has risen up around it.

A hostile oligarch class combined with an independent military makes for a highly unstable polity and has been the traditional bane of populist governments in Latin America. Erdogan, however, has successfully coopted the oligarch class through the same mechanisms that won him the support of a critical mass of people in Turkey’s twin capitals.

IV

It is now increasingly evident that a political transformation of cardinal proportions is taking place in Turkey. As of the time of writing, around 30 governors, 100 generals, 2,700 judges, 3,000 soldiers, and 8,000 police have been dismissed or arrested – in short, something like a third of Turkey’s high-level apparat has been purged. Although there remain good grounds to continue to doubt that the coup was “planned” by Erdogan, it’s pretty clear that the Black Book was written long beforehand for just such an occasion.

If Erdogan now uses the opportunity to take Turkey in a much more Islamist direction what do the demographic trends indicate about his chances of longterm success?

First off, it was not that the incidence of religiosity has increased in Turkey. In fact, DESPITE the much higher fertility rates of the Islamists, and more than a decade’s worth of active Islamization, religiosity in Turkey has only modestly increased during the 2000s and actually seems to have started falling again by the time of the fifth WVS (see above). This is quite stunning in that it implies that the global secular trend towards secularism (LOL) is incredibly strong, in that even in Turkey it has succeeded in holding its own against very powerful demographic and propaganda countercurrents. Even if Turkey went so far as to delink itself from the Council of Europe and NATO, it’s not clear why these secularizing forces should stop acting on it.

Second, there is the Kurdish factor. Although the oft made case for similarities between Putin and Erdogan have tended to be overstated, there is one sphere in which I think where the comparison is legitimate: Ethnic policy. Both are “manynationals” who are using ideology to try to glue their country together – Islam is basically the Turkish version of Russia’s WW2 Victory cult with a small dose of “spiritual buckles” like the anti-LGBT law. But if anything Turkey’s problems are more acute. Russia’s only truly “problematic” region in that it combines an aggrieved ethnicity with a high total fertility rate – which at 2.9 children per woman is not even that high – is Chechnya, which only has 1% of Russia’s population. In contrast, Kurdish Turkestan has more than 10% of the Turkish population and almost all of its provinces have a fertility rate of greater than 3 children per woman. Will an even more rigorous Islamization campaign keep them within Turkey or will the gravitational attraction of the incipient Rojava state prove to be unavoidable?

On that particular front, there are few grounds for optimism. It is above all Erdogan’s own foreign policy that enabled the rise of Rojava and it is too late to put the lid on it; certainly it is beyond the capabilities of the SAA itself, which has enough problems dealing with Al Nusra and Islamic State to say nothing of an SDF that is now supported by US airpower. And Turkey’s own military capabilities have, at least in the short-term, been sharply curtailed by Erdogan own purge of as many high-ranking officers (percentage wise) within a couple of days as Stalin only managed to do over the course of a year.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Color Revolution, Demographics, Turkey 

The only two major world political factions that ever seem to be willing to shed their own blood for their beliefs are nationalists and Islamists.

In Ukraine it was the hardened Neo-Nazi thugs of Right Sector who hammered in the last few nails in the Yanukovych regime. They were also reliably the best units of the military forces sent to pacify the Donbass, even though the regular Ukrainian Army had access to plenty of solid Soviet gear while the likes of Azov had to make do with “innovative tanks” i.e. glorified shitwagons. Even the best NAF units were typically not locals defending their land (who always constituted the solid majority) but Russians passionate enough to cross borders to defend and expand the Russian World. And even amongst them, the Nazi elements, such as Rusich Company, though small, were man for man some of the very best warriors of the conflict.

You can also see this in Syria. Apart from a small number of “elite” forces (relatively speaking), such as Tiger Forces and the 4th Armored Division, the great mass of the SAA maintains a passive profile; likewise, the FSA, composed of SAA defectors and the more moderate elements. It is the Islamist Al Nusra and Al Sham who are consistently the most willing to go on the offensive, and they do this with considerable finesse that that is uncharacteristic of typical Arab armies. Its counterpart is, of course, Hezbollah. And then there’s Islamic State – what it lacks in military skill it makes up for in sheer fanaticism. This is going to trigger a lot of people, but in a very real way Islamism IS the Middle East’s version of the Alt Right.

Probably not coincidentally, they also have the best “inspirational” music. Is there any tune on the planet more badass than the Teufelslied? And you can’t deny that the mujahideen can sure come up with a catchy nasheed (despite being hampered by their own ideology’s prohibition on instrumental music).

This is also evident in battles on the streets. The coup plotters in Turkey were either Gulenist Islamists (official regime version), or perhaps they were nationalists angered by Erdosliv (what I currently believe to be the case), but what they almost surely were not was nice boring “Blue Team” liberal democrats. As for the hardcore 10%-20% out of Erdogan’s supporters, who account for half the Turkish population and who charged rifle lines and cut the throats of the tankmen who had moments earlier run over their comrades, their motivations are most certainly not centered around Thomas Jefferson (or Ataturk) either. The apolitical Turkish conscripts, with no steel in their spine, had no chance against the ruthless machinations of the officers who duped them into thinking it was all just an exercise or the Orkish fanaticism of the enraged Islamists.

This is why the Russian liberal reaction to this (as with everything else) has been so typically amusing.

“Well done to the Turks! Maybe we could repeat after them?” opined Mikhail Khodorkovsky on Twitter (the tycoon who has waged a personal vendetta against Putin ever since he put an end to the 1990s).

(Incidentally, one suspects Khodorkovsky’s former lawyer Robert Amsterdam might not be too happy about his former client’s stance. Looks like someone hired him to now attack the Gulenists. Lawyers always were shameless mercenaries…)

The irony is that Moscow’s liberal hamsters have about as much chance of overthrowing the regime as Occupy Wall Street SJWs of living up to their name. Very few people want to throw themselves in front of a tank for Team Blue, Khodorkovsky, and Soros – regardless of how hard they egg them on from the sidelines, or even better, from abroad.

To the extent that “people power” is anything more than an invention of ivory tower ideologues obsessed with social media, it is for the most part only the Nazis and the Islamists who can actually harness it by dint of their maxed out “will to power” stats.

It also means that the only way in which a “people’s revolt” can unseat Putin is if it comes from the nationalists (the liberals are too limp-wristed, and the Islamists are too small in number, Maskvabad tropes regardless). And the only way that can materialize in the conceivable medium-term future is it Putin was to implement Putinsliv (abandonment of the LDNR) for real as opposed to just in the imaginations of some overly fervid minds.

Almost certainly won’t happen, even in this scenario. Unlike Mediterranean and Latin American polities, the Russian Army has no tradition of independent political activism and has almost always been consistently loyal to the party in power. The system has been reinforced by a National Guard. And Putin’s approval ratings remain on the order of 80%. That’s very likely enough to beat any nationalists gone postal into submission.

If not, though, it is precisely the liberals who will be most fondly remembering the good old Putin days.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Alt Right, Asabiya, Russia, Turkey 

Three hours after this story began to break it’s increasingly clear that we are seeing the biggest Happening of 2016 to date, far overshading the Nice terrorist attacks yesterday. As Lenin purportedly said, “Sometimes decades pass and nothing happens; and then sometimes weeks pass and decades happen.”

The initial regime response was to blame the Gulenists, but it is clear now that it is in fact a Kemalist faction within the military (their branding of themselves as a “peace at home council” is a direct allusion to Kemal’s foreign policy). A key question going forwards is to what extent the military is united against Erdogan, or whether it is just the officer ranks taking the lead (in which case rumors of Erdogan’s demise might be “highly exaggerated”). That the head of the General Staff, instead of making statements as the coup leader, has instead been detained, suggests that the second interpretation is closer to the mark. However, it’s well known that Erdogan had replaced the upper ranks of the General Staff with his own loyalists. The question then becomes to what extent the changes percolated down the ranks.

It appears they haven’t – not enough, at any rate, to avert the seventh Turkish military coup since 1913. Ankara and Istanbul are apparently under military control, as are most of the airports and state TV channels. The military has surrounded government buildings across Turkey, including the Parliament and the Presidential Palace, in what currently appears to be an extremely well-executed coup that could not have been carried out if the military had truly been significantly divided. The F-16s seen in the air indicates that the Air Force supports the Army. Erdogan has been reduced to calling on social media for people to go out into the streets, even though the AKP ruling party itself had ironically repeatedly banned both social media and street protests in the past. Even as he calls for this supporters to go out into the streets, latest rumors have Erdogan asking for asylum in Berlin and/or London (there are jokes on Runet that he could soon be the ProFFesor’s new neighbor in Rostov).

The next key question, then, is what will be the response of the other actors in Turkish society and abroad: The people, military units stationed outside Istanbul/Ankara, the Kurds, and the “international community” (aka the US and its allies).

Despite the well publicized problems of its tourist sector, as the Russians boycotted Turkish beaches after the Su-24 shootdown and Europeans increasingly stayed away out of terrorism fears, the wider Turkish economy has not been doing at all badly – growth was 4% in 2015, rising to 4.8% in Q1 2016. In contrast, the last coup in 1980 had been preceeded by one of the worst crises in Turkish economic history, featuring a multi-year recession and triple digit inflation. Erdogan’s approval rating in 2015, at 39%, was still quite respectable, even if significantly down from 62% in 2013. It was also higher than Yanukovych’s 28% approval rating on the eve of Euromaidan. It is reasonable to expect a large level of popular opposition to his ouster, though given the overt violence and military curfews, we might not see the sort of mass marches in support of Erdogan that helped return Charles de Gaulle to power after the insurrections of 1968 (who had in the meantime fled to a French military base in Germany in a curious parallel to Erdogan’s rumored asylum request).

Although a low-intensity civil war against the PKK has reignited under Erdogan, so far as official politics are concerned, the Kurds remain supportive of Erdogan – who at least stresses a more inclusive Islamic “many-national” identity for Turkish citizens (much like official Putinism with regards to Russian minorities) as opposed to the more overtly Turkish civic nationalist Kemalists who oppose him.

Finally, Turkey is a member of NATO, and friends look out for each other. Obama has already stated that all parties in Turkey should “support the democratically elected government of Turkey,” a sentiment that was conspicuously lacking during Euromaidan, even though Yanykovych was just as democratically elected as Erdogan and not any more corrupt, but unlike the Turkish strongman imprisoned zero journalists to Erdogan’s dozens, wasn’t anywhere near as violent at breaking up protests, and hasn’t had family members implicated in buying oil from ISIS. But US double standards on which regimes deserve color revolutions and which do not is hardly breaking news but a long well known and banal reality. And it matters as well. In the event that the coup does end up succeeding, with Turkey’s financial indicators cliff-diving, the position of the military junta will be precaurious and isolated, which might well lead it to strongly reaffirm its loyalty to its Western allies and supranational institutions.

Which probably means that, understandable as it might for Russia to celebrate, doing so might well be a premature. The obvious reason is that the success of the coup is not yet a done deal (indeed, even as I write this, momentum seems to have shifted again as compared with several paragraphs previously).

But another reason is that a Kemalist military junta will not necessarily be any better for Russia (and Syria) than Erdogan, and quite possibly, worse.

Up until the Syrian Civil War, there was a lot of BRICS/”Rise of the Rest”-style triumphalist fanfare over strengthening ties between Turkey and Russia, expressed in Russian tourism to the beaches of Antalya, burgeoning gas projects, and nuclear power plant construction. These sentiments completely reversed after the Turks shot down a Su-24 for crossing into its borders for a few seconds. In recent weeks, however, it appears the Turkish and Russian leadership agreed to bury their differences, with Erdogan sending his apology(-but-not-really) letter to Putin, and Russia lifting the ban on charter holidays to Turkey. And as if on cue, Kremlin propagandists have gone from “remove kebab” mode to hailing yet another victory of Putin and waxing lyrical about the prospects for renewed cooperation.

Observed on a longer timescale, relations between Putin’s Russia and Erdogan’s Turkey have been characterized by pragmatism – or at least as near can be considering the absurdly large scope for geopolitical hostility between them, regardless of which particular faction rules either country.

Consider the following contested spheres of influence:

Central Asia: Especially Azerbaijan, which is closely related to Turkey, while Russia backs Turkey’s bugbear Armenia along with Iran; as well as the Turkic peoples of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, where Turkey is also interested in extending its influence. Clashes here can be expected to accentuate when Russian Eurasianism and/or Turkish Pan-Turanism strengthens.

The Balkans: Turkey is historically a sponsor of its Muslim coreligionists there, while Russia is a historical sponsor of the Orthodox, especially Serbia. The situation there is now fairly calm there, but this might not last whenever the Balkans enters one of its periodic flareups of instability, especially if Russian Pan-Slavism and/or Turkish Islamism becomes more influential.

Crimea: Turkey is a historical sponsor of the Crimean Tatars, who have a divided (if not hostile) relation to Russia. The Ukraine has warmed up greatly to Erdogan’s Turkey, especially after the Su-24 incident (to be expected of a country whose politicians call on ISIS to behead Russian airmen). Not an issue while Russia remains strong, but liable to be a subject of Turkish demands or even claims should Russia’s position weaken, e.g. if Putin is replaced by pro-Western liberals.

Syria: The most recent focal point, as Turkey’s Neo-Ottoman and Russia’s “warm water ports”-national focus both spiked at the same time. There is also a nationalist and Turanist element in this for Turkey; the guy who shot the Russian fighter pilot as he was parachuting down was not an Islamist, but a “Gray Wolf” nationalist and the son of a nationalist MHP politician.

Note that the MHP itself is intimately connected with NATO, Operation Gladio, and the Turkish “deep state” that Erdogan has repressed, but none of which can be at all described as friends of Russia (except perhaps a few marginal Duginist Eurasians). Indeed, it is rather curious that this “Khaki Revolution” has come at the precise time when we are seeing a sort of “Erdosliv,” or the apparent surrender on Turkey’s Neo-Ottoman and Turanian pretensions in Syria (Turkish equivalent of Putinsliv, the much prophesied but as yet unrealized Russian betrayal of the LDNR), which took the form of the restoration of ties with Russia, followed by making up with Israel and amazingly, Syria itself in recent days.

Now if Erdogan was to be now replaced by a military junta, as per above, the new regime will find itself stuck between a rock and a hard place. Not much is known about the motivations of the coup plotters, but let us play a thought experiment. An easy way of (re)gaining favor with the West, as well as appease hostile sentiment within Turkey itself, would be to – ironically – reverse that very same Erdosliv, bearing in mind that the State Department hawks themselves have been in no rush to normalize relations with Assad. In the short term, this might involve reopening munitions supplies to the rebels in Aleppo and Idlib, making the planned SAA offensive against them untenable. Once Hillary Clinton and her R2P/humanitarian bombing clique comes to power, comes to power, even more daring – and perhaps outright apocalyptic – provocations might ensue against Russian forces in Syria.

Or maybe – even probably – not.

Even so, this particular conjunction in Turkish foreign policy developments and the coup against Erdogan is probably not a complete coincidence. And while it is tempting to celebrate unreservedly the troubles of a man who has become close to universally disliked outside Turkey – his human rights abuses amongst liberals, his support of ISIS amongst conservatives, the downing of the Su-24 amongst Russians, his support for Islamists amongst Syrians – it is worth looking closely at what the alternatives to him would entail.

Ultimately, there is a reason that the Russian Empire and the Ottoman Empire fought a war pretty much every other decade. Exchanging Sultans and Tsars for Presidents is probably not going to alter the underlying geopolitical faultlines.

Now to be sure, Turkey’s Neo-Ottoman stance after Erdogan gave up on FM Ahmet Davutoglu’s “zero problems with neighbors” policy until a month ago did lead to competition with Russia along many fronts. But if Turkey was to change in a more Eurasian direction, unlikely as the prospect might be, tensions might diminish over the Balkans (more centered around religion) but might instead intensify over Azerbaijan and Central Asia (more centered around ethno-cultural identity). And if Turkey were to become more explicitly tied to Washington and NATO, especially under a Clinton Presidency, then that might be the worse outcome of them all for Russia, for Syria, and for world peace.

After all, even a hostile but independent Turkey can be feasibly played off against a hostile West, whereas a “nationalist” Turkey in thrall to the neocon globalist agenda might end up turning out to be but a copy, if a more powerful one, of Maidanist Ukraine to the north.

EDIT +6 HOURS AFTER COUP BEGAN

It does increasingly look like the coup has failed. The critical moment appears to have been the failure to arrest Erdogan and other senior members of the government from the outset (though since many of the coup plotters were officers, not generals, they presumably just didn’t have the necessary high level access… they did apparently bomb his hotel, but by that time, he had already left). And, as I suspected, Erdogan’s not insubstantial popularity played its role as well, with crowds coming out to protect him with their bodies and the conscripts doing the gruntwork of the coup being unwilling to get too bloody.

I suspect that Erdogan will now simply be too consumed with domestic factors to pay much heed to foreign policy in the months ahead. This is probably good.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Color Revolution, Geopolitics, Turkey 

My latest for the US-Russia Experts Panel and VoR.

In this latest Panel, Vlad Sobell asks us supposed Russia “experts” whether Freedom House’s “alarmist stance” towards Russia is justified. Well, what do YOU think? I don’t think you need to be an expert to answer this; it’s an elementary issue of common sense and face validity. Consider the following:

Freedom House gives Russia a 5.5/7 on its “freedom” score, in which 7 is totalitarianism (e.g. North Korea) and 1 is complete freedom (e.g. the post-NDAA US).

This would make Putin’s Russia about as “unfree” as the following polities, as we learn from Freedom House:

  • The United Arab Emirates, a “federation of seven absolute dynastic monarchs whose appointees make all legislative and executive decisions”… where there are “no political parties” and court rulings are “subject to review by the political leadership” (quoting Daniel Treisman and Freedom House itself);
  • Bahrain, which recently shot up a ton of Shia demonstrators, and indefinitely arrested doctors for having the temerity to follow the Hippocratic oath and treat wounded protesters;
  • Any of the 1980’s “death-squad democracies” of Central America, in which tens of thousands of Communist sympathizers or just democracy supporters were forcibly disappeared;
  • The Argentinian junta, which “disappeared” tens of thousands of undesirables, some of whom were dropped from planes over the Atlantic Ocean;
  • Yemen, which lives under a strict interpretation of sharia law and where the sole candidate to the Presidency was elected with 100% of the vote in 2012 (which Hillary Clinton described as “another important step forward in their democratic transition process”).

Putin’s Russia is also, we are to believe, a lot more repressive than these polities:

  • South Korea in the 1980’s, a military dictatorship which carried out a massacre in Gwangju on the same scale as that of Tiananmen Square, for which China would be endlessly condemned;
  • Turkey, which bans YouTube from time to time, and today carries the dubious distinction of hosting more imprisoned journalists – 49 of them, according to the CPJ – than any other country, including Syria, Iran, and China. (Russia imprisons none).
  • Mexico under the PRI, which falsified elections throughout the years of its dominance to at least the same extent as United Russia.
  • Singapore, whose parliament makes the Duma look like a vibrant multiparty democracy and uses libel law to sue political opponents into bankruptcy. (In the meantime, Nemtsov is free to continue writing his screeds about Putin’s yachts and Swiss bank accounts).
  • Kuwait, where women only got the vote in 2005.

I’d say it’s pretty obvious that Freedom House has a definite bias which looks something like this: +1 points for being friendly with the West, -1 if not, and -2 if you also happen to have oil, and are thus in special urgent need of a color revolution. Then again, some call me a Kremlin troll, so you might be wiser to trust an organization that was until recently chaired by a former director of the CIA, an avowed neocon given to ranting about Russia’s backsliding into “fascism” among other things. If that’s the case you’re probably also the type who believes Iraq was 45 minutes away from launching WMD’s and that Islamist terrorists “hate us for our freedom.”

PS. If you want a reasonably accurate and well-researched political freedoms rating, check out the Polity IV series. Unfortunately, while it’s a thousand times better than Freedom House, it’s also about a thousand times less well-known.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 

One of the most common tropes against Russia is that critical (independent, democratic, etc) journalists there are dying like flies, presumably because of the “culture of impunity” created by Putin or even on his express orders. It is rarely mentioned that the statistical chances of a Russian journalist dying by homicide is an order of magnitude lower than in several countries widely recognized to be “democratic” such as Brazil, Mexico, Columbia, and the Philippines, or that – unlike Turkey or Israel (!) – Russia does not imprison any journalists on account of their professional work. To this end, I compiled a “Journalism Security Index” to get a more objective picture than the politicized rankings produced by outfits like Freedom House that put Russia on par with Zimbabwe.

As usual in these situations, a few graphs are worth thousands of words.

The graph above shows the numbers of journalists killed in Russia for every year since 1992 as compared with other “democratic” countries like Brazil, Mexico, India, and Colombia. As one can see, the situation has improved greatly in the past three years, with only one journalist (in Dagestan) getting killed in 2011; meanwhile, the situation in Mexico has deteriorated to levels unseen in Russia since the early 1990′s. Does this mean that Felipe Calderón is the next Stalin? Or is it that he is just faced with a drugs war that is rapidly spiraling out of control?

However, even this likely overstates the risks to Russian journalists, because there are simply a great many of them. According to the latest UN data, there were 102,300 newspaper journalists in Russia, far more than in Brazil (6,914) or India (16,079), and while data for the other two does not exist, I will assume that there are as many journalists per capita in Colombia (so 1,670) and three times as many in Mexico (13,027) as in Brazil. You can adjust the latter two figures within the bounds of plausibility but as you will see, this would not make a cardinal difference. So let’s start calculating annual homicides per 100,000 newspaper journalists (latest figure) – a rough but valid proxy for the general level of journalistic peril in any given country.

Wow! You can’t see anything past Colombia! Let’s remove it.

So once you make some necessary adjustments for respective journalist populations, it emerges that Russian journalists have been relatively safe compared to other democratic countries throughout virtually its entire post-Soviet history. They are now safer by orders of magnitude. (The dip in Brazil’s and Mexico’s rates in 2012 are artificial as only half the year has passed).

Finally, homicides per 100,000 journalists are compared with the population as a whole. As one can see from the above graph, Russian journalists were always safer than the average Russian citizen, and are now safer by an order of magnitude. Only one Russian journalist was killed in 2010 and 2011 for a rate of about 0.5/100,000 per year, relative to an overall homicide rate of slightly less than 10/100,000. The average journalist is far less likely to have criminal or binge drinking proclivities than the average citizen (factors that account for the overwhelming bulk of homicides in Russia) so it is right and proper that their homicide rate should also be well below the national average.

The same cannot be said of the other countries we are comparing Russian journalists to. In 2010, the homicide rate in Mexico was 18/100,000 (vs. 77/100,000 for journalists), in Brazil it was 25/100,000 (vs. 14/100,000 for journalists in 2010, but soaring to 87/100,000 in 2011), and in India it was 3.4/100,000 (vs. 12/100,000 for journalists).

It need hardly be mentioned at this point that for most of the “democratic” Yeltsin period, life was riskier for Russian journalists than under “authoritarian” Putin and his “stooge” Medvedev. There were 41 journalists killed in Russia from 1992-1999, compared to 30 from 2000-2008, and 6 from 2009-today (of which 5 occurred in 2009). Does this then mean that Yeltsin, not Putin, was the real Stalin? Of course not. The journalist killings in the 1990′s were a product of the chaos and lawlessness of that time, much like the narco-related killings decimating the ranks of Colombian, Brazilian, and Mexican journalists today. As one can see from the graph above, killings of Russian journalists have always been substantially correlated with the overall homicide rate; the latter began to sustainably decline from the mid-2000′s, and from 2009, journalist killings appear to have followed suit.

Why then does Russia have one of the lousiest reputations for journalist killings in the world, whereas a purely statistical analysis implies that it is in fact now extremely safe relative to several other “democratic” countries like Brazil, Mexico, the Philippines, India, and Colombia, and does not imprison any journalists unlike Turkey or Israel?

Ultimately, I think it has much to do with the unhinged hostility of the Western media to Russia. Case in point, let’s look at The Guardian’s coverage.

When a journalist is killed in Mexico or Brazil, it is reported placidly and matter of factly, the newspaper restricting itself to: Names and identities (four journos from Veracruz; Mario Randolfo Marques Lopes); possible culprits (“the work of the cartels”; “accusing local officials of corruption”); some basic context, e.g. quantity of other journalist killings in the recent past. And apart from a final sentence or two noting that “corruption means it is often difficult to define where the authorities stop and organised crime begins”, that is pretty much the harshest judgment they make.

Now turn to the Guardian’s coverage of the sole Russian journalist killed in the past three years – Khadzhimurad Kamalov, in Dagestan, 2011. The difference begins with the titles. What used to be “Four Mexican journalists murdered in last week” or Brazilian journalist and girlfriend kidnapped and murdered” now becomes “Truth is being murdered in Putin’s bloody Russia.” And it continues in the same vein, with rhetoric being substituted for facts: “Crimes against freedom bathed in slothful impunity”; “Inside Moscow, rulers who pay lip service to human rights parade only an indifference that makes them complicit in these crimes” (is Calderón or Dilma Rousseff complicit in journalist killings in their countries?); “How many more, Mr Putin? How long are we supposed to mourn fellow journalists who died trying to tell us, and their fellow Russians, what a slack, slimy, savage state you run?”

No further comment is necessary.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 

That title sure caught you attention? Good. Now for the 1000-words-in-a-picture evidence.

gdp-human-capital-socialist-bloc-3

Human capital refers to educational attainment, as measured by the results of the PISA and TIMMS standardized tests*. As you can see, there is a very close correlation between human capital and GDP (PPP) per capita. The exceptions all confirm the rule. For now I have only done the post-socialist space, because of its sheer variety – different cultures, different rule-of-law and ease of business environments, difference resource endowments and political systems – which lets me illustrate just how irrelevant all those factors are compared to human capital. The same laws hold at the global level, and I intend to cover it in a consequent post, but that involves a lot more work so for now I’ll just settle for this.

The Near Developed nations have respectable GDP per capita (approaching the poorer members of the classical developed world, such as Portugal and Greece), and levels of human capital that are basically equivalent to those of the rich countries. They are close to converging with the developed world, so growth tends to be relatively slow by the standards of more dynamic (but much poorer) emerging markets, on the order of 3%-5%. Despite their low positions, neither Russia nor Latvia are outliers; more recent calculations by the World Bank give Russia a PPP GDP of $20,000 for 2010, wedging it in with Hungary, Poland, and Lithuania; while Latvia was very severely affected by the late recession. The Czech Republic is close to being a positive outlier: One reason may be its proximity to developed Germany, another the early start of its reforms.

The Red Train is, basically, China. Its searing growth rates aren’t because of its state capitalist system or the Confucian work ethic, but because its human capital is wildly out of line with its economic development. Its high school graduates are ready to operate complex machines and staff the most hi-tech enterprises, but the legacy of Maoist economics – which, hard as it is to believe, were even more inefficient and offered fewer incentives than under Soviet central planning – means that a significant share of the population still uses oxen-pulled plowshares for farming. So it is no wonder that, with its markets freed, the system is straining to catch up – at the pace of 10% per year – to its equilibrium place along with South Korea and Japan. Note also that according to some estimates, China’s PPP GDP is now larger than America’s, which would give a per capita level of $10,000 or so; significantly higher than the figure displayed on the graph.

The Slow Middle are countries with moderate levels of human capital, and they are significantly poorer than the Near Developed nations; for them, convergence to developed country levels is still far away. Their growth rates are modest because their economic development is only slightly, if at all, below the level natural for their degree of human capital. While Turkey and the Balkan countries don’t look that far away from the poorest Near Developed countries, it should be noted that all three are currently suffering from major disbalances that could well end up in Latvian-style crashes. To set themselves on a sustainable development path, they will have to raise their human capital levels by at least another notch. The two negative outliers are Ukraine and Armenia. Ukraine has just been horrendously mismanaged; as I argued in a prior post, it never left the period of “anarchic stasis” that characterized Russia in the 1990′s. That said, the Ukraine may not so much of an outlier; its prices are low, and salaries are comparable to Serbia’s, so its PPP GDP may well be substantially underestimated. Armenia is an even more glaring outlier, with human capital that is comparable to the weaker Near Developed members, but I suppose huge military spending and being blockaded on two sides, and bordering Georgia and Iran on the other two, isn’t conductive to prosperity.

The Doldrums consist of Georgia and Moldova. Georgia has had good management under Saakashvili (it is now far less corrupt than Russia, or its Caucasian neighbors, and Ease of Business is very good by global standards), and Moldova has had bad management; nonetheless, their differences in GDP per capita are modest. The problem is that their schools produce people who are, largely speaking, functionally innumerate; so no matter how hard Saakashvili wills it, Georgia isn’t becoming a Singapore of the Black Sea any time soon. Sustained convergence to developed country levels is out of sight; radical improvements in human capital will first have to be made, and they can’t happen in the space of a few years; they require decades. The Saved By Oil group include Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. They are as wealthy as the Slow Middle, but as stupid as the Doldrums. But in a world of high oil prices they should be relatively well off.

Kyrgyzstan is in the Third World. Although its Soviet-era legacy has enabled it to provide universal primary schooling, the quality of the products of that schooling is comparable to India – at the very bottom of the global heap. It may achieve decent growth of perhaps 4% or 5%, but it will be from a very low base.

There are several conclusions to this. First, there are only really three important factors to economic development. First, above all, human capital, i.e. primarily, the quality of education. It makes sense on an intuitive level and there’s a ton of literature in support but the graph above makes it… graphically clear. Second, resource endowments, when highly concentrated per unit of non-resource extraction based GDP – as in Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, but not quite in Russia – will hugely, and positively, influence the level of GDP (it does play a substantial positive role in Russia but it should be noted that Russia’s oil production per capita is less than Canada’s, and its oil production per unit of GDP is far less than Kazakhstan’s or Azerbaijan’s). Third, political management. Especially incompetent regimes such as the ones in Ukraine will hold it back from achieving the full potential enabled by its human capital; if its monstrously incompetent and repressive of growth, as in Maoist China, the resulting gap between reality and potential can develop to truly vast proportions; consequently, when the most egregious barriers are removed, as during the late 1970′s, growth takes off at truly prodigal rates.

Equally important is the fact that things commonly cited by Thomas Friedman, Davos Man, The Economist, The WSJ, The Financial Times, the respectable experts, etc. etc. as important for economic growth turn out to be largely irrelevant. Ukraine is more democratic than Russia and Kyrgyzstan is more democratic than China, but their growth profiles are much worse regardless. Russia is fairly corrupt – though not nearly to the extent implied by Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index – and so is Hungary, and they both have much poorer Ease of Business indicators, but they are both much better off than cleaner and business-friendly Georgia. Latvia was part of the “clean” Baltics, but that didn’t stop it from tumbling to the bottom of the Near Developed pack in the wake of the global financial crash; is it too much of a coincidence that Estonia, which has a slightly edge in human capital, managed to hang in tight? The three biggest outliers by far in a best fit line on the graph – China, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan – are all patently explainable by a Maoist legacy and oil windfalls.

Suffice to say, most of the former socialist bloc – most of the world, in fact, but that’s for another post – is at precisely the economic development levels implied by their levels of human capital. There are exceptions, most especially China, but to a lesser extent also many of the poorer Near Developed countries, where the distortive legacy of central planning has resulted in lower current economic development levels than should otherwise have been the case had markets been allowed to function; nonetheless, they tend to compensate with respectable growth rates, as the reality – potential gap seeks closure. If you need to blame someone for why your country is poor, don’t bother trotting out the usual canards: State interference, authoritarianism, corruption, anti-Western policies, privatization and liberalization will solve everything! (liberal canards); neocolonialist exploitation (leftist canards); Russian exploitation (East European nationalist canards). More likely than not your countrymen are illiterate, innumerate slobbering buffoons and it’s as simple as that.

* Human capital was calculated by the average of PISA 2000 scores in Math and Science, and of TIMMS 2008 scores in Math and Science. Where data sets for both assessments existed for a particular country, the TIMMS score was – on average – around 7.7% higher than the PISA score, so I adjusted the former down by that amount. The human capital index was calculated by taking the average of the PISA and adjusted TIMMS scores where applicable, or either the PISA score or the adjusted TIMMS score where data for only one of them existed.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 

The Press Freedom Index issues by Reporters Without Borders is a good starting point for assessing journalistic freedoms in global comparative perspective. However, much like all attempts to measure democracy or Transparency International’s assessment of corruption perception, their methodology relies on tallying a number of intangibles that cannot be objectively estimated: Censorship, self-censorship, legal framework, independence. These can barely be quantified and are in any case subject to a wide degree of interpretation based on one’s ideological proclivities; for instance, just how do you go about estimating the degree of self-censorship?

I have decided to strip out these elements and focus only on indicators that can be objectively measured, i.e. the numbers of killed and imprisoned journalists set against the size of the national journalistic pool. Using figures from the Committee to Protect Journalists, I tally the numbers of journalist murders from the past three years – to reflect the fact that journalist killings can have a chilling effect years into the future – and the numbers of imprisoned journalists imprisoned now multiplied by six, so that their aggregate weighting is twice that of journalist killings. The reason I do that is because truly authoritarian regimes typically have a tight clampdown on monopoly violence, including on the various independent criminal elements (e.g. drug cartels, rogue intelligence officers); as such, direct killings of journalists tends to be rare. On the other hand, due to the threat of imprisonment and other harassment, independent journalism is severely circumscribed if at all existent. But instead of just going with this figure, I further adjust it to the size of the national journalist pool, because – for obvious reasons – a few journalist killings in a country the size of India is tragic, but nonetheless qualitatively different from the same number of killings in a country with a far smaller population like Honduras where there is a far bigger chance those journalists would know each other. The resulting figure is the Journalism Security Index; a narrower (but far more objective) measure than the Press Freedom Index, which – by necessity – relies on fallible expert judgments on unquantifiable measures such as self-censorship and journalistic independence.

Scroll down to the bottom to see the full results of the Journalism Security Index 2012.

Some of the rankings will come as a surprise to many people, so let me address those. First, we see a few countries where press freedoms are certainly heavily circumscribed, such as Saudi Arabia, Cuba, and Vietnam, get perfect scores. This reveals the major weakness of the index – it measures not so much press freedom as journalistic security (hence its name). Second, and tied in with this, it only measures the most severe things that can happen to a journalism, i.e. killing or imprisonment. It has no way of accounting for things such as Hungary’s new media laws, the rumored weekly meetings of Russia’s federal TV channel heads with Kremlin officials, or the 42 journalists and counting arrested at Occupy events in the US. Suffice to say that a score of zero on the JSI most certainly does not mean said country is an oasis of press freedom.

This is also not to mention that the CPJ has a fairly rigorous methodology for listing a journalist as imprisoned – it has to be political. For instance, while Turkey “only” has 7 journalists listed as imprisoned, other estimates put the number at more than 70. However, according to Yavuz Baydar, a similar methodology may give a figure of 17 imprisoned journalists in the UK for their part in the News of the World phone hacking scandal. Obviously, a line has to be drawn somewhere.

Third, there may be surprise that Russia is ranked somewhere in the middle, whereas it is near the bottom on most other indices of press freedom. The explanation is fairly simple. Russia does not currently have any imprisoned journalists by the CPJ’s reckoning, and whereas a total of four journalist deaths are recorded for the years 2009-2011, this is both a significant decrease on earlier years and not a catastrophic situation when set against its 143 million strong population (see Gordon Hahn’s Repression of Journalism in Russia in Comparative Perspective from December 2009) or – to be even fairer – the vast size of its journalistic pool, which at 102,300 newspaper journalists is the largest in the world.

On the converse, countries such as Bahrain, Syria, and Afghanistan do really badly because even a small number of journalist killings and imprisonments translate into very high scores because of the hugely circumscribed size of the journalistic pools in those countries. Some may dispute that Israel’s ranking is absurdly low. If so, please take it up with the CPJ. It lists 7 imprisoned journalists; now of them, 3 are under Hamas arrest, so I subtracted them from the Israeli total and gave them to Palestine. Nonetheless, that still leaves 4 Palestinian journalists that are under Israeli imprisonment, all of them without charge.

(In contrast, the sole Russian journalist listed as imprisoned in recent years was one Boris Stomakhin for “inciting hatred” and “making public calls for extremist activity”, writing things such as, “Let tens of new Chechen snipers take their positions in the mountain ridges and the city ruins and let hundreds, thousands of aggressors fall under righteous bullets! No mercy! Death to the Russian occupiers! … The Chechens have the full moral right to bomb everything they want in Russia.” One may dispute the ethics of imprisoning someone for what is, in the end, still an opinion; but one has to note that prosecutions take place in the UK (Samina Malik) and the US (Jubair Ahmad) for essentially equivalent activities).

Whereas countries like Brazil and Mexico have essentially free media, they are – as are Russia and much of the rest of the former Soviet republics – terrorized by the generally high background violence of their societies. In the former, this issue is particularly problematic, as Brazil has a much lower aggregate press pool than Russia; therefore, its three murders in the past three years exert more of a relative effect than Russia’s four.

Please make sure to note the caveats and methodological clarifications that follow below the following table.

Journalism Security Index 2012

Country Impr. Kill. #pop. JSI(p) #journ. JSI
1= Algeria 0 0 37.1 0.0 2,041 0.0
1= Argentina 0 0 40.1 0.0 1,444 0.0
1= Armenia 0 0 3.3 0.0 2,363 0.0
1= Australia 0 0 22.8 0.0 5,416 0.0
1= Bangladesh 0 0 142.3 0.0 2,846 0.0
1= Canada 0 0 34.6 0.0 5,000 0.0
1= Cuba 0 0 11.2 0.0 3,425 0.0
1= France 0 0 65.4 0.0 5,441 0.0
1= Georgia 0 0 4.5 0.0 3,222 0.0
1= Germany 0 0 81.8 0.0 26,000 0.0
1= Hungary 0 0 10.0 0.0 8,661 0.0
1= Italy 0 0 60.8 0.0 8,866 0.0
1= Japan 0 0 127.7 0.0 20,315 0.0
1= Korea 0 0 48.6 0.0 4,034 0.0
1= Poland 0 0 38.1 0.0 32,995 0.0
1= Portugal 0 0 10.6 0.0 4,071 0.0
1= Qatar 0 0 1.7 0.0 136 0.0
1= Saudi Arabia 0 0 27.1 0.0 2,168 0.0
1= Spain 0 0 46.2 0.0 6,745 0.0
1= Sweden 0 0 9.5 0.0 5,392 0.0
1= Ukraine 0 0 45.7 0.0 32,721 0.0
1= UK 0 0 62.3 0.0 13,437 0.0
1= USA 0 0 312.9 0.0 54,134 0.0
1= Vietnam 0 0 87.8 0.0 5,444 0.0
25 Russia 0 4 142.9 0.3 102,300 0.4
26 India 0 1 1,210.2 0.0 16,079 0.6
27 Belarus 0 1 9.5 1.1 6,802 1.5
28 Kazakhstan 1 1 16.7 4.2 11,957 1.7
29 Indonesia 0 4 237.6 0.2 13,634 2.9
30 Azerbaijan 1 1 9.1 7.7 6,516 3.1
31 China 27 0 1,339.7 1.2 82,849 3.3
32 Brazil 0 3 192.4 0.2 6,914 4.3
33 Thailand 1 3 65.9 1.4 7,644 5.2
34 Greece 0 1 10.8 0.9 1,577 6.3
35 Nigeria 0 4 48.3 0.8 6,148 6.5
36 Mexico 0 9 112.3 0.8 13,027 6.9
37 Uzbekistan 5 0 28.0 10.7 6,580 7.6
38 Kyrgyzstan 1 0 5.5 10.9 1,295 7.7
39 Israel 4 1 7.8 32.1 5,585 9.0
40 Peru 0 1 29.8 0.3 1,073 9.3
41 Venezuela 0 1 26.8 0.4 965 10.4
42 Turkey 8 1 74.7 6.6 8,652 10.4
43 Morocco 2 0 32.5 3.7 1,782 11.2
44 Colombia 0 2 46.4 0.4 1,670 12.0
45 Sudan 4 0 30.9 7.8 3,064 13.1
46 Egypt 2 2 81.5 1.7 2,608 15.3
47 Tunisia 0 1 10.7 0.9 589 17.0
48 Myanmar 12 0 48.3 14.9 2,898 41.4
49 Pakistan 0 15 178.6 0.8 3,572 42.0
50 Ethiopia 7 0 82.1 5.1 1,642 42.6
51 Palestine 3 0 4.2 42.9 700 42.9
52 Iran 42 1 76.1 33.2 8,828 48.7
53 Yemen 2 2 23.8 5.9 476 84.0
54 Philippines 0 37 94.0 3.9 4,000 92.5
55 Afghanistan 0 6 24.5 2.4 490 122.4
56 Iraq 0 14 32.1 4.4 1,027 136.3
57 Syria 8 2 21.4 23.4 685 146.0
58 Libya 1 5 6.4 17.2 205 293.0
59 Bahrain 1 2 1.2 66.7 96 312.5
60 Eritrea 28 0 5.4 311.1 108 2592.6

Methodological clarifications: Impr. figures taken from CPJ‘s 2011 Prison Census; Kill. figures taken from CPJ’s numbers of killed journalists from 2009 to 2011; #pop. taken from Wikipedia’s list of official statistics on national populations; #journ. taken from UN data on the numbers of journalists per country.

JSI(p) is the Journalism Security Index calculated only relative to the population; it is more accurate, in narrow terms, than the JSI calculated relative to numbers of journalists (see below why), but suffers from the fact that it underestimates the risks of working in very populous and poor countries where journalists are low as a share of the population and even a few killings can have a chilling effect on their general community.

JSI is the official Journalism Security Index, calculated by (1) tallying the numbers of journalist murders from 2009-2011 and the numbers of imprisoned journalists imprisoned in 2011 multiplied by six so that the aggregate weighting of every imprisoned journalist is twice that of a killed journalist, (2) dividing by the numbers of newspaper journalists in that country, and (3) multiplying that figure by 10,000 to get convenient numbers for the index.

There are two very important caveats to be made about the UN data on journalists. First, it only measures the numbers of newspaper journalists, not the total number of journalists and media workers. As such, it should be viewed as a rough proxy. In some regions, newspapers have a much higher profile relative to TV (e.g. East-Central Europe, Russia, Scandinavia); in others, it is the opposite (e.g. Latin America). Adjusting for this would, for example, narrow the gap between in the JSI between Russia and Brazil. Second, far from all countries have data; many of them are fairly important ones in terms of press freedom issues (e.g. Iran, Israel, Mexico, Bahrain). To fix this, I just extrapolated the per capita figures from other countries with similar literacy and socio-cultural profiles, e.g. I equalized Iran and Mexico with Turkey; Israel and Belarus with Russia; Bahrain with Qatar, and calculated their numbers of journalists by multiplying their population by their estimated journalists per capita figures. Needless to say, this is an extremely inexact method, and may be off by several factors. For that reason, countries with no concrete data from the UN source are marked in italics; note that for them, the JSI may be off by several factors (though most likely not by an order of magnitude).

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 

This is the Karlin Freedom Index for 2012, a political classification system I formulated more than a year ago in response to systemic bias on the part of traditional “freedom indices” such as Freedom House and The Economist Democracy Index (hint: they give massive bonus points for neoliberalism and pro-Western foreign policy orientations).

The explanation: Reconciling democracy with liberalism is really hard: since people are illiberal by nature, there is usually a trade-off between the two. The more frequent result is Semi-Liberal Democracy (describes most “Western” countries), which in turn can degenerate into a full-blown Illiberal Democracy (as did Russia around 1993, or the US and Hungary around 2011). Oligarchy is meant in the sense of rule by a few. It should be noted that some legislation ostensibly enacted to protect the public interest, such as libel laws, surveillance laws and anti-terrorist laws – in practice serve more to undermine liberalism. When they go too far, there appear Semi-Authoritarian states of permanent emergency. In the lower rung, Authoritarianism consolidates all political power unto the state (Semi-Authoritarianism tries to, but isn’t as successful). Totalitarianism extends the political realm over all spheres of life, bringing us into the realm of (Viereck’s) Metapolitics.

Liberal Democracy

  • Iceland – In the wake of its post-financial crisis constitutional reforms, this small country may claim to have the most direct democracy on Earth.
  • Netherlands
  • California (state government)
  • Germany
  • Finland
  • Sweden – Not as high as it might have been due to the politically-motivated prosecution of Assange.
  • Spain
  • Czech Republic


Semi-Liberal Democracy (tends to be corrupted by moneyed interests and/or other influential interest groups)

  • Canada – A good democracy, but a whiff of a downwards trend under Harper. ↓
  • Belgium
  • Italy – Not a personalistic regime once Berlusconi left, but not helped by the fact that an appointed technocrat now runs it.
  • Portugal
  • Australia
  • Brazil – Arbitrary power structures; extra-judicial murders.
  • France – Paternalistic; corporatist surveillance state; discrimination against minorities. ↓
  • Chile
  • Estonia – Has excellent Internet democracy ideas, but is hampered by discrimination against Russophone minorities.
  • Japan – Paternalistic; ultra-high conviction rates; no gun rights; but ceased being an (effectively) one-party state with recent election of DJP. ↑
  • Bulgaria
  • Mexico – Drug cartels challenge to the state may lead to curtailment of freedom. ↓
  • Switzerland – The last canton only gave women the right to vote in the early 1990′s, and the banning of minarets restricts religious freedom.
  • UK – Corporatist surveillance state; repressive libel & PC laws, regulations; no gun rights; strongly trending to Illiberal Democracy. ↓↓
  • India – Strong tradition of debate & power diffusion, marred by caste inequalities, privilege, political cliquishness, bottom-up free speech restrictions.
  • South Korea – Paternalistic; surveillance state; restrictive regulations, freedom of speech restrictions.
  • Poland
  • Indonesia
  • Latvia
  • Colombia – Pursued illiberal policies vs. FARC, but transitioned to a Semi-Liberal Democracy with recent transfer of power. ↑
  • Romania ↓
  • Argentina – New sweeping media laws bring Argentina close to the bottom of the Semi-Liberal Democracy rankings. ↓
  • Ukraine – In “anarchic stasis” since independence; arbitrary power structures; recently trending to Illiberal Democracy. ↓

Illiberal Democracy (tends to feature oligarchies and personalism)

  • USA – Highest prison population; corporatist surveillance state; runs transnational Gulag; increasingly arbitrary power structures; despite strong freedom of speech protections and surviving separation of powers, it can no longer be considered a Semi-Liberal Democracy after its formal legalization of indefinite detention under the NDAA 2012. ↓
  • Armenia
  • Israel – Severe national security-related civil liberties restrictions; growing influence of settler & fundamentalist agendas over the traditional Zionist foundation; severe new NGO laws, and discrimination against Palestinians makes Israel a downwards-trending Illiberal Democracy. ↓
  • Hungary – The recent Constitutional reforms in Hungary have effectively ended separation of powers, constrained the media, and established a basis for indefinite one-party dominance. It is now the only EU member to qualify as an Illiberal Democracy. ↓↓
  • Russia – Super-presidentialism with no real separation of powers; arbitrary power structures; surveillance state; and as recently shown, elections are subject to moderate fraud. However, new reforms (e.g. opening up of the political space), technical measures (e.g. web cameras at polling stations) and permits for opposition protests at the end of 2011 portend an upwards trend. ↑
  • Venezuela – Increasingly illiberal, especially as regards media laws. ↓
  • Thailand
  • Georgia – Arbitrary power structures; opposition protests broken up; main opposition candidate to Saakashvili stripped of Georgian citizenship.
  • Algeria
  • Turkey – Maintains severe restrictions on free speech (a country that has the world’s largest number of imprisoned journalists, many under bizarre conspiracy charges, can’t really be any kind of liberal democracy); ethnic discrimination; arbitrary power structures; paradoxically, both authoritarian & liberal principles strengthening under influence of Gulenists & AKP. ↓

Semi-Authoritarianism (tends to feature permanent states of emergency)

  • Egypt – Despite the revolutionary upheaval, the military retains wide influence and shoots at protesters in Cairo; this cannot be a democratic state of affairs. The future is uncertain. ?
  • Libya
  • Pakistan
  • Singapore – Overt political repression; repressive laws (esp. on libel); surveillance state.
  • Kazakhstan – Overt political repression; Nazarbayev is Caesar.
  • Azerbaijan – Overt political repression; Aliyev is Caesar.
  • Belarus – Elections completely falsified; overt political repression, and getting worse. ↓
  • Iraq – ↓
  • Iran – Overt political repression; though Velayat-e faqih has embedded democratic elements (under formal clerical “guardianship), in recent years, the system is strongly trending to Authoritarianism as the IRGC clan tries to wrestle the old clerics out of power. ↓

Authoritarianism

  • Vietnam
  • China – Overt political repression; no national elections (but exist at village level & in some municipalities); the Internet is restricted by the “Great Firewall”, but print & online getting freer to discuss issues unrelated to a few unacceptable topics (e.g. Communist Party hegemony, Tiananmen, etc); may implement new form of political model of “deliberative dictatorship”; trending towards Semi-Authoritarianism. ↑
  • Cuba – Overt political repression; pervasive Internet & media censorship.
  • Uzbekistan
  • Syria
  • Saudi Arabia – Overt political repression; pervasive censorship; very repressive laws; political Islam permeated everyday life, esp. in regard to women’s rights; one law for the Saud family, another for the rest.

Totalitarianism (the realm of metapolitics)

  • North Korea – Not much to say here.
(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 

As was inevitable, the commentary on Israel’s raid / high seas piracy / legal blockade enforcement / call-it-what-you-will has degenerated into a polarized flame-war between the blind and the deaf, which although very entertaining is also pretty useless*. By far the best analytical article on this issue I’ve found that really cuts through the partisan BS is The Limits of Public Opinion: Arabs, Israelis and the Strategic Balance, a free Stratfor article by George Friedman**.

The most fundamental point is that the current situation suits everyone just fine. The Arab regimes (and the Palestinians themselves) are weak and disunited and no longer represent the strategic threat to Israel that they did during the Cold War. Israel’s actions give them a chance to vent their fury to satiate the “Arab street”, but it is not in their interests to push the envelope any further. In turn, Israel is big enough to accept the verbal lashing in return for keeping its enforcement of the Gaza blockade credible. However, this Flotilla Affair may also presage much more significant long-term developments.

Last week’s events off the coast of Israel continue to resonate. Turkish-Israeli relations have not quite collapsed since then but are at their lowest level since Israel’s founding. U.S.-Israeli tensions have emerged, and European hostility toward Israel continues to intensify. The question has now become whether substantial consequences will follow from the incident. …

The most significant threat to Israel would, of course, be military. International criticism is not without significance, but nations do not change direction absent direct threats to their interests. But powers outside the region are unlikely to exert military power against Israel, and even significant economic or political sanctions are unlikely to happen. Apart from the desire of outside powers to limit their involvement, this is rooted in the fact that significant actions are unlikely from inside the region either.

The first generations of Israelis lived under the threat of conventional military defeat by neighboring countries. More recent generations still faced threats, but not this one. Israel is operating in an advantageous strategic context save for the arena of public opinion and diplomatic relations and the question of Iranian nuclear weapons. All of these issues are significant, but none is as immediate a threat as the specter of a defeat in conventional warfare had been. Israel’s regional enemies are so profoundly divided among themselves and have such divergent relations with Israel that an effective coalition against Israel does not exist — and is unlikely to arise in the near future.

Given this, the probability of an effective, as opposed to rhetorical, shift in the behavior of powers outside the region is unlikely. At every level, Israel’s Arab neighbors are incapable of forming even a partial coalition against Israel. Israel is not forced to calibrate its actions with an eye toward regional consequences, explaining Israel’s willingness to accept broad international condemnation.

Now for more detail on the internal Palestinian divisions between Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza.

To begin to understand how deeply the Arabs are split, simply consider the split among the Palestinians themselves. They are currently divided between two very different and hostile factions. On one side is Fatah, which dominates the West Bank. On the other side is Hamas, which dominates the Gaza Strip. Aside from the geographic division of the Palestinian territories — which causes the Palestinians to behave almost as if they comprised two separate and hostile countries — the two groups have profoundly different ideologies.

Fatah arose from the secular, socialist, Arab-nationalist and militarist movement of Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser in the 1950s. … Hamas arose from the Islamist movement. It was driven by religious motivations quite alien from Fatah and hostile to it.

Hamas and Fatah are playing a zero-sum game. Given their inability to form a coalition and their mutual desire for the other to fail, a victory for one is a defeat for the other. … Though revolutionary movements frequently are torn by sectarianism, these divisions are so deep that even without Israeli manipulation, the threat the Palestinians pose to the Israelis is diminished. With manipulation, the Israelis can pit Fatah against Hamas.

And on why the Arab elites don’t really care that much for Palestinians, despite their rhetoric.

The split within the Palestinians is also reflected in divergent opinions among what used to be called the confrontation states surrounding Israel — Egypt, Jordan and Syria.

Egypt, for example, is directly hostile to Hamas, a religious movement amid a sea of essentially secular Arab states. Hamas’ roots are in Egypt’s largest Islamist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, which the Egyptian state has historically considered its main domestic threat. … For this and other reasons, Egypt has maintained its own blockade of Gaza. Egypt is much closer to Fatah, whose ideology derives from Egyptian secularism, and for this reason, Hamas deeply distrusts Cairo.

Jordan views Fatah with deep distrust. In 1970, Fatah under Arafat tried to stage a revolution against the Hashemite monarchy in Jordan. … The idea of an independent Palestinian state on the West Bank unsettles the Hashemite regime, as Jordan’s population is mostly Palestinian. Meanwhile, Hamas with its Islamist ideology worries Jordan, which has had its own problems with the Muslim Brotherhood. …

Syria is far more interested in Lebanon than it is in the Palestinians. Its co-sponsorship (along with Iran) of Hezbollah has more to do with Syria’s desire to dominate Lebanon than it does with Hezbollah as an anti-Israeli force. Indeed, whenever fighting breaks out between Hezbollah and Israel, the Syrians get nervous and their tensions with Iran increase. And of course, while Hezbollah is anti-Israeli, it is not a Palestinian movement. It is a Lebanese Shiite movement. … So Syria is playing a side game with an anti-Israeli movement that isn’t Palestinian, while also maintaining relations with both factions of the Palestinian movement.

… the Saudis and other Arabian Peninsula regimes remember the threat that Nasser and the PLO posed to their regimes. … And while the Iranians would love to have influence over the Palestinians, Tehran is more than 1,000 miles away. … But Fatah doesn’t trust the Iranians, and Hamas, though a religious movement, is Sunni while Iran is Shiite. Hamas and the Iranians may cooperate on some tactical issues, but they do not share the same vision.

And now on why Israel feels it has a free hand in the short-term to carry out what it views as its optimal security policy.

Given this environment, it is extremely difficult to translate hostility to Israeli policies in Europe and other areas into meaningful levers against Israel. Under these circumstances, the Israelis see the consequences of actions that excite hostility toward Israel from the Arabs and the rest of the world as less dangerous than losing control of Gaza. The more independent Gaza becomes, the greater the threat it poses to Israel. The suppression of Gaza is much safer and is something Fatah ultimately supports, Egypt participates in, Jordan is relieved by and Syria is ultimately indifferent to.

Nations base their actions on risks and rewards. The configuration of the Palestinians and Arabs rewards Israeli assertiveness and provides few rewards for caution. The Israelis do not see global hostility toward Israel translating into a meaningful threat because the Arab reality cancels it out. Therefore, relieving pressure on Hamas makes no sense to the Israelis. Doing so would be as likely to alienate Fatah and Egypt as it would to satisfy the Swedes, for example. As Israel has less interest in the Swedes than in Egypt and Fatah, it proceeds as it has.

A single point sums up the story of Israel and the Gaza blockade-runners: Not one Egyptian aircraft threatened the Israeli naval vessels, nor did any Syrian warship approach the intercept point. The Israelis could be certain of complete command of the sea and air without challenge. And this underscores how the Arab countries no longer have a military force that can challenge the Israelis, nor the will nor interest to acquire one. Where Egyptian and Syrian forces posed a profound threat to Israeli forces in 1973, no such threat exists now. Israel has a completely free hand in the region militarily; it does not have to take into account military counteraction. The threat posed by intifada, suicide bombers, rockets from Lebanon and Gaza, and Hezbollah fighters is real, but it does not threaten the survival of Israel the way the threat from Egypt and Syria once did (and the Israelis see actions like the Gaza blockade as actually reducing the threat of intifada, suicide bombers and rockets). Non-state actors simply lack the force needed to reach this threshold. When we search for the reasons behind Israeli actions, it is this singular military fact that explains Israeli decision-making.

And while the break between Turkey and Israel is real, Turkey alone cannot bring significant pressure to bear on Israel beyond the sphere of public opinion and diplomacy because of the profound divisions in the region. Turkey has the option to reduce or end cooperation with Israel, but it does not have potential allies in the Arab world it would need against Israel. Israel therefore feels buffered against the Turkish reaction. Though its relationship with Turkey is significant to Israel, it is clearly not significant enough for Israel to give in on the blockade and accept the risks from Gaza.

At present, Israel takes the same view of the United States. While the United States became essential to Israeli security after 1967, Israel is far less dependent on the United States today. The quantity of aid the United States supplies Israel has shrunk in significance as the Israeli economy has grown. In the long run, a split with the United States would be significant, but interestingly, in the short run, the Israelis would be able to function quite effectively.

This is my major quibble with this article. I wouldn’t be so sanguine about the longer term consequences of this Israeli-Turkish spat. While Douglas Muir would interpret Erdogan’s grandiose theatrics as a function of internal Turkish politics, this does not mean it is not part of a larger “declaration of what Turkish identity has become”, as suggested by commentator Yigit Karabak. Mubarak might be risk-averse and friendly with Israel, but he is getting old and his successors will probably be more adventurous and in sync with Egyptian national sentiment (which is anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian).

In the meantime, the Turkish economy is growing, its military is rapidly modernizing and it is expanding its influence in the Near East. Turkey is now (arguably) already conventionally superior to Israel. It is also a de facto nuclear power. There are 90 US nuclear weapons at Incirlik Air Base, of which 40 are slated to pass unto Turkish control if it is ever attacked by non-NATO nukes. Though it is true that the US has recently began to make noises about withdrawing its nukes from Turkey and Europe, the Turks have also recently – and perhaps not entirely coincidentally – made deals with Russia about massively expanding its nuclear power capacity. Now I’m not saying that Turkey’s sole or even main goal here is to provide a justification for pursuit of nuclear weapons, as argued in The Real Israeli Raid Fallout: Turkey with a Bomb? by Thomas Barnett***. Nonetheless, in a region with a nuclearizing Iran and intense all-round rivalries, it is a possibility that should not be immediately dismissed.

What emerges is a disquieting prospect for Israeli strategists, one in which Turks throw them down the river in their quest for regional dominance while successfully staying the moral high ground and mobilizing the Arab states in their support.

Israel does, however, face this strategic problem: In the short run, it has freedom of action, but its actions could change the strategic framework in which it operates over the long run. The most significant threat to Israel is not world opinion; though not trivial, world opinion is not decisive. The threat to Israel is that its actions will generate forces in the Arab world that eventually change the balance of power. The politico-military consequences of public opinion is the key question, and it is in this context that Israel must evaluate its split with Turkey.

The most important change for Israel would not be unity among the Palestinians, but a shift in Egyptian policy back toward the position it held prior to Camp David. Egypt is the center of gravity of the Arab world, the largest country and formerly the driving force behind Arab unity. It was the power Israel feared above all others. But Egypt under Mubarak has shifted its stance versus the Palestinians, and far more important, allowed Egypt’s military capability to atrophy.

Should Mubarak’s successor choose to align with these forces and move to rebuild Egypt’s military capability, however, Israel would face a very different regional equation. A hostile Turkey aligned with Egypt could speed Egyptian military recovery and create a significant threat to Israel. Turkish sponsorship of Syrian military expansion would increase the pressure further. Imagine a world in which the Egyptians, Syrians and Turks formed a coalition that revived the Arab threat to Israel and the United States returned to its position of the 1950s when it did not materially support Israel, and it becomes clear that Turkey’s emerging power combined with a political shift in the Arab world could represent a profound danger to Israel.

… The Israelis can’t dismiss the threat that its actions could trigger political processes that cause these countries to revert to prior behavior. … It is remarkable how rapidly military capabilities can revive: Recall that the Egyptian army was shattered in 1967, but by 1973 was able to mount an offensive that frightened Israel quite a bit.

The Israelis have the upper hand in the short term. What they must calculate is whether they will retain the upper hand if they continue on their course. Division in the Arab world, including among the Palestinians, cannot disappear overnight, nor can it quickly generate a strategic military threat. But the current configuration of the Arab world is not fixed. Therefore, defusing the current crisis would seem to be a long-term strategic necessity for Israel. [AK: But defusing the crisis is not in the Turks' interests].

Israel’s actions have generated shifts in public opinion and diplomacy regionally and globally. The Israelis are calculating that these actions will not generate a long-term shift in the strategic posture of the Arab world. If they are wrong about this, recent actions will have been a significant strategic error. If they are right, then this is simply another passing incident. …

* I’ve also gotten some pretty hilarious email feedback about my post on The Geopolitics of Israel vs. Flotilla in which I got called both a “antisimite in objectivist [you mean objective?] apeasement cloth” [sic] and a Zionist extremist. I guess that’s what you get for stepping into this debate, it is every bit as binaried as the Russophile vs. Russophobe one and ten times as vitriolic.

** Yes, I know, Stratfor is a varied quality. Some of their analyses are downright loony, like the nonsense about Poland or Mexico becoming superpowers. But occasionally they are right on the ball (see 1, 2). This time it is one of those latter cases.

*** I would also note that in recent weeks Turkey, along with Brazil, announced a deal with Iran under which it would send some of its low-enriched uranium abroad and voted against the sanctions against Iran on offensive weaponry. In practice this amounts to tacit acceptance of Iran’s right to have nuclear weapons (since even if Iran sent some of its LEU abroad it still thought to have enough to build at least one nuclear weapon). Now Brazil is far away… but why on Earth would Turkey accept a nuclear Iran? (Haven’t the civilizations on the Anatolian and Persian plateaus been in almost permanent conflict with each other from ancient times through the struggles between the Ottomans and the Sassanids?)

Here is my wacky theory. Turkey believes that Israel will not accept a nuclear Iran. The Israelis have said as much. Eventually it could come to an Israeli or US-Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear capabilities, followed by incredibly damaging fallout. The US and Israel will become completely delegitimized in the lands of Islam. The ground will be cleared for Turkey to fill in this space, the Arab rulers either following in its wake or being marginalized or overthrown. Three birds with one stone. Iran out as a regional power – its military will have been decimated should Israel and the US launch serious strikes against its nuclear capabilities and its regime internally discredited – bringing to the fore Azeri (Turkish) separatism. The US influence sidelined out of the region as the resulting oil shock ripples through its debt-loaded economy. Third, this shock and resulting siege mentality may finally spur on the Arabs to recover a united front towards Israel, at which point a Turkey (with latent nuclear capabilities) may offer Israel a deal in which it accepts becoming a client state in exchange for security guarantees.

(Of course, causal chains work in various ways. Fear of exactly this scenario may explain why Israel will not attack Iran after all; perhaps the Israelis consider it better to manage their way though a deteriorated balance of power in the Middle East rather than face the specter of a far superior hegemon in Turkey. And this also, in turn, may explain why the Iranians in turn can feel so confident in getting away with the provocations they do. And why the Americans may be, contrary to all conventional wisdom, secretly seeking some kind of grand bargain with Iran).

PS. This footnote is almost becoming a post in its own right. I’ll probably expand on it a later post.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 

So given that it’s the only game in town, let’s start provocative? The only group who behaved rationally are the Israeli commandos and the Americans. And perhaps the Turkish government.

The Israeli position on the Gaza blockade is understandable (which is not to say optimal). The Palestinians elected Hamas, a militant group to Israel that lobs rockets at them and talks of driving it into the sea – as well as being seen as a defender of and social services provider to the Palestinian people, which accounts for its domestic popularity. Israel is caught between a rock and a hard place. How to dislodge Hamas from power? And how to appease the settler and nationalist lobbies? And do it without attracting (too much) international opprobrium. Some kind of blockade begins to seem like an eminently reasonable idea.

Maintaining this blockade required that it be credibly enforced. By international conventions on the laws of the seas, Israel was well within her rights to conduct a stop and search on the flotilla prior to its embarkation to Gaza. But how stupid do you have to be to do this as an armed boarding in international waters? Now even lawyers can’t defend you, only ideologues are left.

Some of the peace activists and so forth on the ship were idealists, but a large number were clearly fanatics. Sorry, but if you bring knives and iron bars to a gunfight with IDF commandos, you richly deserve your Darwin’s Award. The reaction of the commandos was understandable – it was fire or be lynched. But the blowback, in this age of live Internet feeds and Facebook and Twitter, was both inevitable and inevitably against Israel’s interests. Europeans already hold negative opinions on Israel and need little cause to be reinforced in their views of its badness, and even sentiment in the US may shift towards a plague-on-both-your-houses position.

So Israel screwed up from the get go. Real story – bunch of angry young men attacked IDF soldiers who were reluctant to fire, but eventually had to in order to avoid getting killed. Media story – Israeli pirates assaulted and murdered 9 good-meaning civilians and confiscated their property. Mission accomplished for the anti-Israel propagandists. Total fail for the IDF.

True, they’re somewhat responsive – the IDF spokesperson is busy on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, disseminating material like this video. But even their efforts seem to be subpar, even ham-fisted. Said video purports to show “Weapons Found on the Flotilla Ship Mavi Marmara Used by Activists Against IDF Soldiers”. But if you have a look at it, the only weapons there seem appear to be things like hammers and knifes and machetes and the like – not exactly national security threats to Israel. I mean really, Israel, you’ve seized the boats. What’s so hard about simply “discovering” crates packed full of assault weapons and explosives on the ship? The “Freedom Flotilla” propagandists aren’t afraid to play dirty with information; why can’t you be at least equally ruthless about it?

The United States is stuck in a bind. Israel is a vital geopolitical ally, its bridgehead to the oil-rich Middle East. It can’t throw it down the river. But nor can it really defend it too vigorously, since other allies and semi-allies – the Europeans and Turks – have condemned the action. Hence Obama’s position of ambiguity on the issue is understandable, and the least politically damaging of all possible actions. (It also happens to be the most truthful position).

Finally, the one clear winner in this mess is Turkey. First, using the people on the flotilla as its pawns, Turkey massively raised its prestige in the Muslim world by portraying itself as a defender of the Palestinians (and taking this mantle from regional competitor Iran). Of course, the Turkish state couldn’t care less for the Palestinians or human rights – as is true of every single other Middle East state – but it does care for its image amongst the Arabs, especially given that European rejection and Russian reassertion in the Caucasus has left the Fertile Crescent as its only remaining path for expansion in the near future.

Second, this has given Turkey a convenient excuse to freeze relations with Israel, with loud proclamations about Israeli barbarism, the ordering of Israelis out of Turkey, the cancelling of joint military exercises, and talk of providing the next aid with a military escort. But beneath the surface, things remain more placid – for instance, Turkey still expects Israel to deliver drones. And this attitude is not surprising, since the balance of power between Turkey and Israel has shifted to the former since the end of the Cold War.

During the 1960′s-70′s, Turkey had to contend with a powerful Soviet Union and its high armed client regimes in Syria and Iraq; a close relationship with Israel made manifest sense for both. But the Syrian military is now a shadow of its former self; Iraq is a non-player; and Turkey has reached a temporary accommodation with Russia, freeing itself to pursue its interests in a neo-Ottoman direction. Hence, unshackling itself from being associated to the West or to Israel is important to the success of Turkey’s larger geopolitical ambitions to becoming a hegemon in the Near East (a trend which must bring some disquiet to Israeli strategists).

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
Anatoly Karlin
About Anatoly Karlin

I am a blogger, thinker, and businessman in the SF Bay Area. I’m originally from Russia, spent many years in Britain, and studied at U.C. Berkeley.

One of my tenets is that ideologies tend to suck. As such, I hesitate about attaching labels to myself. That said, if it’s really necessary, I suppose “liberal-conservative neoreactionary” would be close enough.

Though I consider myself part of the Orthodox Church, my philosophy and spiritual views are more influenced by digital physics, Gnosticism, and Russian cosmism than anything specifically Judeo-Christian.


PastClassics
Confederate Flag Day, State Capitol, Raleigh, N.C. -- March 3, 2007
The major media overlooked Communist spies and Madoff’s fraud. What are they missing today?
Are elite university admissions based on meritocracy and diversity as claimed?
The “war hero” candidate buried information about POWs left behind in Vietnam.
The evidence is clear — but often ignored