March, 2016 Politics

By Nawaf Obaid
Obama abandoned the Arab world. Riyadh is picking up the slack.
Following a thorough explication of Obama’s foreign policy doctrine in a recent Jeffrey Goldberg article, it is now clearer than ever that America and Saudi Arabia are on a collision course over strategic decisions in the Middle East. This is because the “Obama Doctrine” is diametrically opposed to the emerging “Salman Doctrine,” which the Kingdom is developing in order to restore peace and a modicum of stability to the region.

Central Asia Caucasus Analyst, Najia Badykova
On February 29, 2016, the Southern Gas Corridor Advisory Council met in Baku for the second time and asserted that the diversification of EU energy sources remains a key component of the Union’s energy security policy. But the project faces serious hurdles. After many years of discussions with potential gas suppliers, Brussels has only been able to secure 10 billion cubic meters (bcm) of Azerbaijani gas per year for the corridor, a tiny fraction of EU members’ needs.

Author Fehim Taştekin
Many analysts are busy trying to understand the motivation that led to the unexpected declaration recently of a federal system by Syrian Kurds, who until then were promoting a cantonal model that would incorporate divergent ethnic and religious groups.



Project Syndicate, Yuriko Koike
TOKYO – The Association of Southeast Asian Nations has long been envisioned as a foundation stone for stability, security, and increased prosperity in Asia. But with uncertainty plaguing the political systems of Burma, Malaysia, and Thailand, ASEAN may be entering a period of policy and diplomatic inertia. At a time when China’s economic downturn and unilateral territorial claims are posing serious challenges to the region, ASEAN’s weakness could prove highly dangerous.


Asia, Politics


In the first of a two-part series, a Turkish analyst describes his country’s strategic character, and how it is changing through its contact with the Syrian Civil War.

If you follow Iranian foreign policy wonks on Twitter you’ll have come across plenty of photos of Qasim Suleymani. The wiry silver-haired general is often surrounded by a cadre of Shia militants in Iraq, Hezbollah fighters in Syria or Iranian commandos back from special missions. He often has a knowing smile on his lips.

SEMİH İDİZ, hurriyetdailynews
It would come as no surprise to anyone if we were to conjecture that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is not one of Washington’s favorite world leaders at present.

BURAK BEKDİL, hurriyetdailynews
This is from an editorial in The Guardian’s March 19, 1927 issue, titled “Turkish newspaper editors jailed over cartoon”:

“In Constantinople [Istanbul] the profession of satirist is evidently a dangerous trade. A Turkish paper recently published a cartoon which showed the women citizens of that country rising in a balloon by the expedient of throwing out bags of ballast labelled ‘Conscience,’ ‘Honour,’ and ‘Virtue.’

Politics, Turkey

Agence France-Presse
Turkey and the US have agreed that a political settlement may be possible this year in Cyprus, the Mediterranean island divided for four decades.

CCTV footage of the Belgium attacks suspects. Public Domain.

Geopolitical Monitor, Lincoln Clapper
This past week Europe experienced its second major terrorist attack within the last five months. The ISIS-claimed attack in Brussels signifies again just how real and how serious the militant group is about training, equipping, and tactically carrying out an assault in Europe.

 A Palestinian man sits on a rock at Jordan Valley near the West Bank city of Jericho [REUTERS]

Geoffrey Aronson
US Vice-President Joe Biden was not revealing a secret when, during a recent speech to the pro-Israeli lobby AIPAC, he observed that there is "no political will at this moment among Israelis or Palestinians to move forward with serious negotiations".

By M.K. Bhadrakumar
In an abrupt turnaround, Moscow has put out feelers to Turkey signalling interest in calming tensions in the bilateral relations and opening a new page. The Russian civil aviation authorities have lifted the ban on flights to Antalya on the Mediterranean, which is known as the Turkish Riviera and a popular destination for Russian tourists.

Author Mohammed A. Salih
ERBIL, Iraq — The recent declaration of a federal structure in northern Syria by the local Kurdish administration and its Arab and Assyrian allies is likely to put the Syrian Kurds further at odds with neighboring Turkey, as it will pose serious challenges to Ankara amid renewed conflict with its own Kurds..

NURAY MERT, hurriyetdailynews
After the controversial Iranian-Turkish citizen businessman Reza Zarrab was arrested in the U.S. last week, it was not only cheered by thousands of ordinary Turkish citizens but also welcomed by all circles of opposition and dissidence as a fresh chance to weaken the ruling party. This reaction from ordinary citizens who have lost trust in the Turkish judicial system is understandable. But it is quite problematic to expect U.S. justice to compensate for the injustices of Turkey’s over-politicized judicial system and to expect international pressure to compensate for the weakness of opposition here.

Politics, Turkey

BURAK BEKDİL, hurriyetdailynews
It would be unthinkable if the storms of the ruling ideology that is a bizarre blend of neo-Ottomanism, Islamism and nationalism should not conquer academia as it conquered other walks of life; political, cultural and social.


French President Francois Hollande recently came up with some good proposals for reforming the country's notoriously rigid labor laws. Most of them never made it into the bill presented to his cabinet Thursday. It's a lost opportunity his country will have cause to regret.

Europe, Politics

 Aurel Braun
The new visit by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to Moscow is not a game-changer – it’s just a game that reveals President Barack Obama's real strategy to manage rather than resolve conflicts in an election year.


by Raheem Kassam
According to a 2006 survey, 20 percent of British Muslims sympathised with the 7/7 bombers who brought terror to the streets of London.
On the back of the Brussels terror attack it is worthwhile remembering that while a majority of Muslims in the West appear to have no truck with terrorism or extremism, there are a significant number who sympathise with terrorism and repeatedly attempt to justify attacks on the West.


A former CIA director has said the European Union “gets in the way” of security services, further undermining Prime Minister David Cameron’s assertion that remaining within the EU makes the UK safer. His comments come just a day after the former head of Britain’s MI6 security agency, Sir Richard Dearlove, said that membership of the EU actively hampers British security. He argued that, on a range of measures, a British exit is demonstrably better for national security.

Europe, Politics

Yossef Bodansky for Institut für Strategie- Politik- Sicherheits- und Wirtschaftsberatung (ISPSW)
This article was originally published by ISPSW in March 2016.

According to Yossef Bodansky, the mega-trends in the Middle East – namely, the rise of a “Fertile Crescent of Minorities,” the collapse of modern Arab states, and the ascent of tribe-and clan-based local entities in their stead – have reached the point of irreversibility. As a result, he believes Russia will be the big geopolitical winner in the region.

Project Syndicate, Yu Yongding
BEIJING – Since last November, economists and the media alike have been hailing supply-side structural reform as a groundbreaking solution to China’s economic woes. After all, the logic in China goes, demand-side policies, in the form of Keynesian stimulus measures, are useful only for resolving short-term and aggregate problems. Because China’s problems are long term and structural, the country should be focused on supply-side structural reform, even if it means accepting slower GDP growth. Is this the right approach?

China, Geopolitics, Politics

arge grafiti art in "the block", downtown tirana, albania.


By Alex Sakalis

This article was originally published by openDemocracy on 15 March 2016.

Enver Hoxha: The Iron Fist of Albania tells the extraordinary story of how one man held an entire country hostage for 40 years – and got away with it. Between 1944 and 1985, the small Balkan nation of Albania was ruled by a strange, sociopathic and, frankly, completely mad dictator by the name of Enver Hoxha. While Stalinism effectively ended in Europe with the death of its namesake, or at least with the Khruschev reforms that followed, it continued unabated and unquestioned in Albania until 1990.

Author Uri Savir
Israeli-American relations are at an all-time low. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s refusal to meet President Barack Obama, as suggested by the White House, prior to the AIPAC conference on March 20 is another unprecedented blow to the relationship.

BARÇIN YİNANÇ, hurriyetdailynews
Those familiar with the history of the Turkish press, especially foreign observers, may not be convinced if they were told that the media in Turkey was freer in the recent past compared to today.

Politics, Turkey

 Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Photo: AP)

Ben-Dror Yemini
Op-ed: The Turkish president's successful efforts to Islamize his country are responsible for the rise in terrorism, an obvious result; he has only himself to blame.
Up until the last decade, Turkey was the very model of a secular country, despite its absolute majority of Muslim citizens.

The United Arab Emirates' Secular Foreign Policy
By David B. Roberts

The Arab Gulf is characterized by regimes that blend church and state in their foreign policy. Saudi Arabia hosts Islam’s two holiest sites, and its ruling family’s power stems from a bargain its forefathers made with a fundamentalist Sunni religious sect. Iran is the world’s largest Shia state and has backed Shia groups throughout the region since the Iranian Revolution in 1979. Both states have been irresponsible in their tactical and strategic use of Islam in order to further their own foreign policies and to boost domestic political support.

by Daniel Pipes, The Australian,
Originally published under the title "Erdoğan's Despotic Slide in Turkey is Bad News for Europe."

A rhetorical question by the time the Economist ran this cover in June 2013.
The Republic of Turkey, long a democratizing Muslim country solidly in the Western camp, now finds itself internally racked and at the center of two external crises, the civil war in next-door Syria and the illegal immigration that is
changing European politics. The prospects for Turkey and its neighbors are worrisome, if not ominous.


 By George Friedman
The recent attacks strike at the heart of two potential threats to IS.
The attacks in Belgium and Turkey must be considered together. They are attacks in the symbolic heartlands of two potential enemies of the Islamic State, Europe and Turkey. The attacks are meant to destabilize each country and recruit potential operatives from each country’s pool of possible jihadists.
There have been two attacks this week, both apparently by the Islamic State, first in Turkey on March 19 and then today in Belgium.

Ultimately, it remains to be seen whether Obama's renewed focus on the region has been enough to prevent a post-American order in Asia, writes Heydarian [Reuters]

Richard Javad Heydarian

Ultimately, it remains to be seen whether Obama's renewed focus on the region has been enough to prevent a post-American order in Asia, writes Heydarian [Reuters]
"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference," the 20th-century theologian Reinhold Niebuhr once famously wrote. Arguably, this very much sums up the United States President Barack Obama's foreign policy doctrine and his valuation of American priorities in various regions.

Project Syndicate, Carmen Reinhart
CAMBRIDGE – As Chinese policymakers attempt to address what ails their country’s economy, they are pursuing two goals that will almost certainly turn out to be incompatible. Very seldom have central banks been able to maintain a fixed exchange rate over an extended period of time while providing liquidity to troubled banks and an ailing economy.

Author Metin Gurcan
Following spectacular combat gains for two years, the Islamic State (IS) is on the defensive in Iraq and Syria. In 2015, IS lost 14% of the territory it once controlled. It has lost another 8% in just the first three months of this year, according to a new study from IHS Jane's 360.

BURAK BEKDİL, hurriyetdailynews
At the time of the early video productions of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu suggested a rather soft, kind and empathetic diagnosis for the bloodshed: “Past anger, alienations and insults [against the Sunnis] have caused a reaction [which is ISIL]. Such an accumulation of anger [ISIL’s anger] would not have existed if Sunni Arabs in Iraq were not alienated.” Replace the words “Sunni Arabs” with “Turkish Kurds” in his original text perhaps a similar understanding should emerge – minus the Kurds’ similar video productions and the prime minister’s empathetic diagnosis.

Politics, Turkey

SEMİH İDİZ, hurriyetdailynews
Turkey today has been overpowered by a toxic mix of domestic political infighting and a misguided foreign policy that has bred the kind of terrorist attack that we saw once again in Istanbul over the weekend. The country’s misfortune is that the political elite is unable to come together even in the face of such a tragedy, let alone the ones we have seen in Ankara over these past five months, which left so many dead.

Politics, Turkey

Molly Crabapple, theguardian
On Saturday Isis bombed Istiklal Caddesi, the central street of Istanbul’s Beyoglu neighbourhood. Many complain about its chain stores and gentrification, but for me, it will always be the grand boulevard all others aspire to. Istiklal made Broadway look like a neon bauble, and the Champs Élysée seem insipid.

NURAY MERT, hurriyetdailynews
Two blasts have hit Turkey within a week and left us with all kinds of fears. First of all, naturally, we fear for our lives and our safety; there’s no such thing as all continuing our lives as usual, in order to “frustrate the terrorists’ goal of frightening us.” It is a big lie that we can fight and compete with terrorists by not being scared, since it is an asymmetrical situation in which they have bombs and determination to sacrifice their lives for a cause and we have no protection against any weapon and such radical determination. It is both stupid and unfair to expect ordinary people to express similar determination and risk their lives to frustrate terrorists.

Politics, Turkey

By Maxim Trudolyubov
The troika gathered at a polished table surrounded by the insignia of the Russian state and made their pronouncements reluctantly, as if caught in the middle of an absorbing card game. All three looked baffled at themselves during the entire 10-minute news segment devoted to Moscow’s surprise move to withdraw the bulk of Russian forces from Syria.

Washington looks for 'existential threats' in all the wrong places.
Robert S. Leiken

America spent the last thirty years attacking illusory foes or defending purported friends in the Middle East, sacrificing blood and treasure, polarizing our polity and forfeiting influence. Our misadventures resemble a game of blindman’s buff, our record that of a perennial cellar-dwelling football team.
Consecutive American administrations turned the ball over several times without moving it downfield. We barge into Middle East conflicts like a drunken bar brawler. What induced this addiction?

The asymmetrical but rewarding relationship between two Middle East minority nations.
Over the past few years, Israeli politicians—from Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu to President Shimon Peres to Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman—have been publicly advocating the establishment of a Kurdish state. Most recent to weigh in is Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who called this past January for the formation of an independent Kurdistan and urged enhanced policy cooperation between Israel and the Kurds.

By M.K. Bhadrakumar
The parting of ways between Russia and Iran over the Syrian question has always been inevitable. The Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s talks with the Turkish leadership in Istanbul on Saturday may signify that Tehran has begun trimming sails for a new voyage on own steam.

BY TED RALL, Japan Times

NEW YORK – To her enemies and many of her supporters, the brief on Hillary Clinton is that she’s evil but smart. “Smart leadership for the 21st century,” declares her website. Cynical and calculating she may be, people say. Sure, she’s an opportunist. But she knows the American political system inside and out — so she’ll be able to work her Machiavellian magic as president. Hopefully, on our behalf.

Politics, United States

A migrant shaves another at a makeshift camp at the Greek-Macedonian border, near the Greek village of Idomeni

Mark Mardell

Even as people struggle and drown on the river border between Greece and Macedonia the proposed solution to Europe's migration crisis is dissolving before our very eyes.
European Council President Donald Tusk's invitation letter to the two-day summit in Brussels this week admits gloomily "the catalogue of issues to be resolved before we can conclude an agreement is long".
Turkey is the key, and Turkey is the lock. The youthful, populous, problematic Muslim country is a practical conundrum and an existential threat to the EU's self-definition, seen by some as the classic shadow image, the threat of the other.


Olga Pylova
Debates: A number of Russian and foreign experts describe how the West currently views the situation in Ukraine two years after Crimea’s incorporation into Russia.On the eve of the second anniversary of Crimea’s incorporation into Russia, several symbolic events took place, including a visit by former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Kiev and the decision by the EU to prolong sanctions on Russia. Both events hint at the changing tenor of the conversation over Ukraine.

Author Fadi Shafei
RAFAH, Gaza Strip — Many questions are circulating in Gaza about Al-Sabireen Movement for Supporting Palestine - HESN (Movement of Those Who Endure with Patience), whose activities and slogans have been increasing in the Gaza Strip. The movement is mainly concentrated in northern and central Gaza and in al-Shujaiyya neighborhood. Al-Sabireen’s activities are mainly security-oriented due to constant concerns about Israel targeting the movement’s members composed of youth who have split from the Islamic Jihad movement.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump [Reuters]

 Hamid Dabashi
Despite the fact that the majority of US citizens dislike both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump after their respective victories in Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and Illinois, the Democratic and Republican frontrunners are now poised to combat their way into the White House.

Fehim Işık on the news site Haberdar writes that political Islam, represented by AKP and Erdoğan has succeeded in bringing Kemalist nationalism, represented by Baykal (the former CHP leader) and the Turkic nationalism of MHP together on the shared ground of enmity against the Kurds.

 Europe's Faustian Pact with the Sultan

Anyone who haggled about the price of a carpet in a Turkish bazaar knows these guys are more reptilian than Henry Kissinger. They always get what they want by letting you leave with the impression you got what you want for a price way higher than you were initially inclined to pay.


Are recent Russian maneuvers signs of increasing hostilities or just part of a long-term plan? It’s no secret that the relationship between Russia and Turkey is dismal, with the countries clashing over their respective roles in the Syrian civil war. Russia backs the Syrian regime. Turkey backs the regime’s opponents.

After two days of negotiations, Turkey and the European Union reached a compromise agreement on a plan to reduce the flow of migrants from the Middle East to Europe. At a summit concluding March 18, the heads of government of the 28 EU members and their Turkish counterparts approved the plan, which should take effect March 20. While the deal could help reduce the number of migrants arriving in Europe, questions remain about the signatories' ability and commitment to fully enforce it.

Project Syndicate, Abdul Abiad and Shang-Jin Wei
MANILA – There is no doubt that China’s ongoing growth slowdown has had far-reaching effects on the global economy. But its role in the sharp fall in commodity prices that has occurred since 2014 – an outcome that has been devastating for commodity-exporting countries, including once-dynamic emerging economies – is more limited than the conventional wisdom suggests. In fact, China’s slowdown is only a part of the commodity-price story.

China, Economy, Global, Politics

Author Mustafa Akyol
The latest suicide bombing in downtown Ankara that killed 37 civilians naturally shook Turkey and heightened the nation’s worries about terrorism. It also supported, especially for foreign observers, Turkey’s concern over the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) — and by extension, PKK-affiliated Kurdish forces in Syria, even if they are effective against the Islamic State.

Politics, Turkey

Alan Schneider, Director, B’nai B’rith World Center – Jerusalem
Over the last two months, B’nai B’rith International has been at the cusp of an important emerging diplomatic development in the turbulent area of the Eastern Mediterranean—the establishment of a regional geopolitical consensus among the only three stable democracies in the area: Israel, Greece and Cyprus.