Blogs > HNN > Can Obama Bring the Audacity of Hope to the Middle East?

Jan 28, 2009 1:17 pm


Can Obama Bring the Audacity of Hope to the Middle East?



On August 1, 2007, at the start of his campaign for President, Barack Obama made a speech to the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC where he laid out his plans for transforming American foreign policy to the Muslim world. “We are not at war with Islam... [and] we will stand with those who are willing to stand up for their future,” he declared to a crowd of foreign policy luminaries.

As President, the question before Barack Obama is whether he is prepared to act on those farsighted words.

Declaring his intention to speak at a “major Islamic forum” within his first 100 days in office, using his first morning as President to halt prosecutions at Guantanamo Bay, repeating his desire to “redefine our struggle” against Islamic extremism and “author our own story” about what America really stands for, all demonstrate that Obama understands the importance of changing the symbolic vocabulary governing how the United State talks about the Muslim world.

But symbols can be dangerous, especially when it comes to the Middle East. Not because the people of the region are too easily taken in by them, as Western Orientalists and viceroys have for two centuries claimed about the “Arab mind.” In fact, quite the opposite: The West, and the US in particular, has a habit of taking its symbols too seriously; of assuming that because our leaders claim that we stand for democracy, peace and development, the policies supporting these goals naturally flow from those words.

As many friends in the Muslim world have said to me, America needs to “walk the talk” of supporting democracy, freedom and development if it wants to begin a new chapter in its relations with the region. Doing so, however, will necessitate President Obama navigating a tightrope of competing agendas and hypocrisies, which have long been the stock and trade of foreign policy-making for great powers.

From “Hope” to Reality

Obama's Democratic predecessor, Bill Clinton, was also a “man from Hope,” promising to refocus American policy towards our highest ideals. Yet when it mattered, he caved in to powerful institutional interests--backing down from his pledge to push China on human rights, allowing Israel to greatly expand its settlements during the peace process he was supposed to shepherd, uttering nary a word as Pakistan built the Taliban into a formidable political and military force, and the region's autocratic leaders maintained their grip on power, many of them helped by continued US aid.

George W. Bush pushed his “freedom agenda” until his final days in office. But most people stopped listening years ago precisely because his policies so clearly vitiated his noble rhetoric.

And herein lies Obama's problem: His view that “America must show -- through deeds as well as words -- that we stand with those who seek a better life” flies in the face of half a century of American policy towards the Middle East. During this time the United States has most always stood not with the people, but with their leaders, regardless of how corrupt, repressive or autocratic they have been.

Americans might be, as Obama eloquently declared, “a compassionate nation that wants a better future for all people.” But like most wealthy countries, the US has rarely helped the world's poor and oppressed obtain a better future if doing so cost its corporations profits or interfered with its strategic interests.

Similarly, Obama's desire to focus US support on “helping nations build independent judicial systems and honest police forces” will quickly come up against the harsh reality that most of our allies in the Middle East and North Africa remain in power precisely through shackled judiciaries and corrupt and repressive police forces.

The President wants to open “America Houses” across the Muslim world to educate Muslims about the United States. But Muslims—particularly those with the education and language skills to visit such places—know our history as well as most Americans (a 2007 Newsweek poll concluded that when it came to history, America was a “dunce-cap nation”), certainly better than most when it comes to the history of US engagement in the Middle East.

Obama's Misreading of History is at the Root of His Policy Dilemmas

There is some evidence that the new President understands this dilemma. In his inaugural speech, Obama explained that “our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age.”

A thoughtful, purposeful writer, one can imagine that Obama placed those sentences next to each other because he understands the link between our own greed, irresponsibility and collective failure to understand that an American way of life based on six percent of the world's population consuming 24 percent of its resources, is inevitably going to produce violence and hatred among those at at the wrong end of the remaining 94 percent. As the US Strategic Space Command (whose mission is to dominate space in order to “protect US interests and investment”) explained in 2000 in its Vision for 2020, globalization is producing a zero-sum game of winners and losers, in which American foreign policy must do whatever it takes to “win.”

In that context, does President Obama understand that Muslims have every right to “blame their society's ills on the West,” at least partly? Well over a century of occupation, imperialism, support for undemocratic leaders and control of local resources, have earned Western governments the opprobrium of the peoples of the Muslim world, and the developing world more broadly.

Indeed, In an inteview with the Dubai-based al-Arabiya network, President Obama argued that "America was not born as a colonial power, and that the same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago, there's no reason why we can't restore that."

The is a dangerous misreading of US-history, which began, after all, with the thirteen colonies. As most school children will confirm, the westward expansion of the United States could not have occurred without the genocidal confinement of Native Americans, and several wars that severed most of the American southwest, from Texas to California, from Mexico.

Certainly the President well knows these facts; that he cannot acknowledge them publicly does not augur well for the possibility of his administration pursuing an honest dialog with the Muslim world.

Similarly, the idea that the United States had "respect and partnership" with the Muslim world only a few decades ago is also inaccurate. The US government had "successful" (strategically and economically) relations with governments of various countries, almost all of whom were authoritarian and extremely corrupt. But the US government has never supported the rights of the peoples of the region to democratic government, freedom, and autonomous development. Quite the opposite.

If President Obama thinks that turning the clock back 20 or 30 years will improve America's standing with the masses of people in the Muslim world, he is in for a rude surprise.

A Welcome Focus on the Middle East, But Hard Choices Lie Ahead

It is clear that President Obama has made the Middle East and larger Muslim world the primary foreign policy issue for his first 100 days—the newly updated Whitehouse.gov website lists only Middle Eastern countries, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, and Israel-Palestine, as his main objectives. And in his inaugural address, he exclaimed: “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

The words are eloquent, but the reality beneath them will not be easily changed. Does President Obama really expect Hosni Mubarak willingly to take the hand that must usher him off the Egyptian stage if Egypt is to move towards democracy and sustainable development?

Will the leaders of most every other country in the Arab world, from Morocco to Iraq, really reverse their pattern of stifling dissent and hoarding wealth that has long ensured their hold on power, unless compelled to do so?

Judging by his initial conversations with the leaders of the region, the answer to these questions is likely no. According to the White House's first press release, the President “appreciated the spirit of partnership and warm nature” that characterized is calls to Mubarak, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Jordan's King Abdullah, and PA President Abbas.

The reality is that a Mideast policy based on the principles Obama outlined at his inauguration will find few partners or warm conversation among the leaders on the other end of the phone line. Indeed, Mubarak, Olmert and Abbas each would have likely hung up the phone cursing.

Sending Special Envoy George Mitchell to the region demonstrates engagement, but not the fundamental rethinking of American policy that is necessary for any change in its relations with the peoples of the Muslim world. Indeed, a look at the text of its Administration's first press release offers an unsettling glimpse at what the substance of Obama's policies toward the region might be.

First, there is not a hint of criticism of Israel's conduct in the war on Gaza (A week later, Secretary of State Clinton similarly refused to criticize Israel during first press conference). Obama “emphasized his determination to work to help consolidate the ceasefire,” but his sole focus will apparently be on stopping Hamas smuggling and supporting the corrupt and ineffective PA President Abbas.

If Obama's pre-inauguration silence about Israel's conduct of the Gaza war was troubling to the peoples of the Muslim world, his Administration's refusal upon taking office to offer any criticism of Israel's actions (particularly when many Israelis and American Jews are apoplectic at the government's actions), or to mention the problem of continued settlements, is deafening.

If this silence continues, it will drown out even the most sincere calls for reform, democratization, or moderation in the Muslim world by his Administration. Even the much-anticipated opening of low level discussions with Hamas will not change the dynamic.

Positive Changes Are Apparent, But Will have Limited Impact

More positively, the President's commitment to change the tenor of American policy towards the Muslim world was demonstrated by the issuing of executive orders that announced the closure of the Guantanamo Bay and other CIA-run prisons, as well as prohibiting the CIA from using coercive interrogation methods.

These measures are extremely important in their own right. But the reality is that they will effect only a few hundred prisoners at most. Far more impactful will be the substance of the Obama Administration's relations with key allies and adversaries in the region, which will impact hundreds of millions of people. Here the President's call for “direct and unconditional” negotiations with Iran is welcome, as is his commitment to focus more energy and money on building accountable political and social institutions in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

But moving beyond words to actions will require Obama make some very difficult choices. Despite its current economic problems, Iran is not a particularly poor country. Indeed, with its massive oil and gas reserves (both of which are likely the second largest in the world) it will not be bought off by offers of US aid or foreign investment, no matter how generous.

Iran will not foreswear its nuclear ambitions unless it can claim a prize equal to such a sacrifice. That prize will undoubtedly be a denuclearization of the region that would include Israel's relinquishing its nuclear weapons. The new Administration in fact is calling for a nuclear-weapon free world, and the Middle East is no doubt among the most important regions for such a process to begin.

But will Obama be willing to pressure Israel to give up its nuclear deterrent for the sake of greater regional, and global stability and security? If Israel's leaders balk, is he prepared to go over their heads to the Israeli people, and failing that, to place America's national security interest ahead of the strategic desire of “America's strongest alley” in the region to maintain its nuclear weapons stockpile?

Will Iraq Set the Pattern?

Obama's pledge to withdraw all US forces from Iraq was a centerpiece of his presidential campaign. Specifically, Obama's stated aim was to remove all troops from the country within sixteen months of taking office. The Status of Forces agreement signed between the US and Iraqi governments last November explicitly mandates a full American withdrawal by December 31, 2011.

Yet almost since the moment the agreement was announced, there have been strong indications that American military leaders would do their best to ensure the timeline is not met. The main thrust of their strategy, which was communicated to Obama by Defense Secretary Gates in December, involves reclassifying tens of thousands of combat troops as “support troops,” tasked with continuing to train and support Iraqi forces and “fight al-Qa'eda” in Iraq.

Obama seems to have gotten the message, because the Administration's plan as described on the White House website states that the US will remove all “combat brigades,” admitting that a “residual force” would remain for an indeterminate period of time. Moreover, while the plan declares that the United States “will not build permanent bases in Iraq,” the reality is that the US doesn't need to build any permanent bases now because they were already constructed amidst the fog of the first years of the occupation.

In fact, already in 2003 Pentagon officials described the money being spent to build long-term bases as “staggering,” and by 2005 at least four “super bases,” housing upwards of 20,000 soldiers each, were in operation. The White House has said nothing about dismantling them, and if tens of thousands of ambiguously named “support troops” are to remain in Iraq, as the Los Angeles Times reported on Obama's first full day in office, there will be no reason for it to do so.

If the Obama Administration blinks on carrying out its signature foreign policy commitment, what are the chances that it will show more spine when taking on even more intractable issues, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or the massive corruption in Afghanistan that has developed under US occupation and tutelage? And who will trust that the United States will keep its word to do so?

Indeed, Obama's challenge in Iraq points to the reality that the Administration cannot attempt merely to change Israeli, Egyptian, or Iranian policies. At the same time the President must begin a transformation in the very structure of political and economic power in the United States that will inevitably bring him into conflict with some of the most powerful forces in the country.

Israel and Egypt receive well over $5 billion dollars in US aid per year, much of it direct military transfers. This aid is the lynchpin of the larger system of military aid and sales that has been worth many tens of billions of dollars just in the last half decade (only last year, the US signed a $20 billion arms sales agreement with Saudi Arabia, which was promptly followed by a $30 billion agreement with Israel, while allies such as Egypt, Pakistan, and Jordan clamored successfully for increases in their military military assistance packages).

Such massive arms transfers make no sense in a region filled with democratic countries at peace with one another. Rather, they've always required a combination of autocratic or repressive governments, manageable levels of conflict with occasional spikes that help ensure sufficiently high oil prices to enable the cycling of petrodollars back and forth between the United State and the region.

In this context, taking on Mideast corruption and authoritarianism will necessitate Obama's taking on what is likely the most powerful industrial and political coalition in the United States. Israeli economists Jonathan Nitzan and Shimshon Bichler have described this loose grouping as the “Arma-Core Petro-Core coalition,” and for half a century and through at least four wars, it has ensured that the financial and strategic interests of the arms and petroleum industries have profoundly shaped American foreign and security policy—culminating with a Bush-Cheney Administration that was cut whole cloth from these industries.

As the last eight years have shown, peace, democracy and sustainable growth cannot come to the Middle East in such a political-economic environment. But can Obama, or any American President, take on this coalition and win? And if he can't, what hope is there for substantive change in US policy towards the region?

Obama Must Take Control, Quickly

In her final weeks as Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice's predicted that the incoming administration's policies would show a marked continuity with those of President Bush. If Obama cannot take control of the competing Middle East agendas within the American foreign policy, military and security establishment, they will frustrate and even sabotage his core foreign policy goals.

To assert his leadership across the board, President Obama will have to put aside diplomatic pleasantries in future conversations with the region's leaders and lay out a clear and unambiguous set of guidelines for US policy. President Mubarak will have to be told in no uncertain terms that he must release political prisoners such as jailed Presidential candidate Ayman Nour and Muslim Brotherhood leaders, and allow a rapid transition to full democracy. Israeli Prime Minister Olmert or his successor must be told that no more US military aid will be forthcoming until Israel begins pulling out of West Bank settlements and commits itself firmly to the creation of a viable Palestinian state.

More broadly, leaders from Morocco to Pakistan, will have to be told that the US is adopting a new standard for judging its relations with the countries of the region. Those countries that fully democratize, put an end to censorship, political imprisonment, torture, and other draconian practices, and respect human, civil and political rights, and work to address growing inequality in their societies, will receive ample support of the United States. Those that don't, won't.

Whether its allies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia, or adversaries such as Iran or Syria, the message and policy has to be the same. If they don't like the terms, they are free to seek aid and support from China or Russia. Governments might find such allies attractive, but their peoples won't, putting the United States in precisely the position of moral authority that President Obama has said should be a major goal of US foreign policy.

At the same time, such a clear and balanced policy will also free Obama to focus on the all-important goals of addressing the challenges posed by global warming, water and food shortages, while beginning the long term process of transforming a global economic system that forces roughly half the world's population to live on $2 per day or less, into one that more equitably and sustainably distributes the world's natural and economic bounties.

Even here, however, the struggle will be far greater than it's being described now. If, as he pledged in his inaugural address, the President wants to work alongside the world's poor “to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow”—he will have to take on Archer Daniels Midland, Bechtel, Monsanto and a host of European, Japanese and Chinese competitors who, aided by US-run institutions like the World Bank and USAID, are gobbling up the world's supplies of fresh water and agricultural land for their own profit, regardless of the social, economic and environmental cost. But their political and financial power is inextricably tied to those supporting the status quo in the Middle East. To win either battle, the President will have to fight both simultaneously.

Obama's historic rise to the Presidency has demonstrated how the “audacity of hope” can spark profound social and political transformation. The President has the power to help spark a similar transformation in the Middle East. If he has the political courage to do so, he will find millions of people across the region willing to carry the flame. The real question is, will Americans push him--and themselves--to make the hard choices necessary to live up to the lofty ideals his election represents.




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wm arenstein - 10/16/2009

For a bit of balance, see who this LeVine really is. Go here:
http://frontpagemag.com/2009/10/14/collaborators-in-the-campus-war-against-israel-and-the-jews-mark-levine-%E2%80%93-by-steven-plaut/?dsq=20190017#comment-20190017


james joseph butler - 2/6/2009

The Shah, Savak, and the CIA created the Iranian revolution of 1979. Anything that Zbig and Carter did in 78-79 was an 11th hour attempt to mediate the inevitable end of a puppet. The Shah was not as effective a dictator as Saddam.


Elliott Aron Green - 2/5/2009

Yes, an Iranian airliner was shot down. But in 1978-1979, the Carter Administration, led by Zbig, was helping Khomeini take over Iran. So how do we explain all that?


james joseph butler - 2/4/2009

As long as we're trying to keep track of America's dizzyingly dopey Middle Eastern, "policy". America accidentally shot down an Iranian airliner, 200+ civilian dead and deliberately shot up Iranian oil platforms and naval vessels, all by way of supporting that "madman" Saddam Hussein.


Elliott Aron Green - 2/4/2009

Ronald Karr, modern Middle Eastern history is a subject very much deliberately muddled by regional powers and outside empires. Now, the CIA is supposed have helped the Ba`ath Party overthrow Abdul-Karim al-Kassam in 1961 or so. And Saddam was a Ba`athist. So there you have grounds for portraying the US as supporting Saddam. On the other hand, I remember listening to Radio Monte Carlo, an official French govt station broadcasting to the Middle East, on a cold January morning in 1990. The announcer was boasting, yes, boasting, that France was the second major weapons supplier to the Saddam's Iraq after the Soviet Union [two years after the Halabja poison gas attack]. He was stating, as it were, Look at all the weapons, advanced weapons, that France sells to Saddam's Iraq, the champion of Arab nationalism. Therefore, all you Arab nationalists should love us French.

A few months later, Saddam was threatening to wipe out half of Israel with his A-bomb. A few months after that, Iraq invaded Kuwait in August of that same year. Now, all of the empires were involved in intrigue with Iran and Iraq and other Middle Eastern states. One reason cited for Bush Sr's war to free Kuwait was that the Saudis were upset with Saddam. At that time, it was not so fashionable to blame Israel for the US attacking Iraq [which Walt-Mearsheimer did falsely]. Anyhow, the politics and history of the modern Middle East are very complex and cannot be clarified by simplistic, left-right, East-West, capitalist-Communist, Orientalist-Islamist, jihadist-Crusader paradigms or slogans.


Elliott Aron Green - 2/4/2009

by the way, a recent book has come out thoroughly considering in detail the international law status of Judea-Samaria and the Gaza Strip. The author is Howard Grief, an attorney in Jerusalem. The book was published by Mazo publishers in Jerusalem and is available on Amazon [at least the UK Amazon] and through other retailers.

Attorney Grief also wrote on this subject in, inter alia, "Legal Rights and Title of Sovereignty of the Jewish People to the Land of Israel ... under International Law," ACPR Pubs., April 2003. This is a booklet of ca. 30 pp available from the Ariel Center for Policy Research, POB 830, Shaarei Tikva 44810 Israel. It summarizes part of the argument of the book.

Returning to the notion of "occupation." It seems to mean the taking or capture of territory belonging to another state, whereas if a state recaptures territory legally belonging to it, then that would be called "liberation." Recall that if Britain had allowed Jewish migration into Israel [the JNH] during the Holocaust --as the UK was bound by its mandate obligation to do-- then there would have been a clear Jewish majority in the country before 1948.


Elliott Aron Green - 2/4/2009

NF, this is after all a complicated subject, not helped by deliberate misinterpretations of international law by various interested parties [and when it comes to Jewish rights and Israel, there are many interested parties that superficially do not seem to be interested parties]. Of course, as an attorney, you well know that interested parties often offer conflicting interpretations of the same law. Nothing less ought to be expected in the int'l law area where the stakes and the passions are so high.

As you point out, the UN charter [Article 80] retained the "Palestine Mandate," more correctly called the Jewish National Home, which was not affected by the partition recommendation or the Arab rejection of same [see, inter alia, my article in Midstream, Feb-March 1999]. Further, the 1949 armistice accords made between Israel and Arab states at Rhodes did not fix borders or legal boundaries but merely armistice lines. This was at the insistence of the Arab states which refused to make peace with Israel, all the less to set legal boundaries. Jordan's UN delegate reiterated this position a few days before the start of the 6 Day War of 1967. He clearly stated: "The Agreement [at Rhodes] did not fix boundaries; if fixed a demarcation line." Now, since there was no accord on the partition recommendation then the whole territory rightfully belonged to Israel as the Jewish state envisaged by the San Remo decision and the League's Mandate of 1922, which recognized the historical connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel ["Palestine" in the League's parlance]. Egypt in Gaza and Jordan [earlier Transjordan] in Judea-Samaria were therefore occupiers of territory --from 1948 to 1967-- belonging to the Jewish National Home.

Now, to the problematic terms "occupation" and "occupied." Since "occupation" is a legal term, Israel's military capture of them in 1967 can be called a "liberation" in a legal sense, since those areas belonged to the JNH, according to the League of Nations and UN charter. As to SC resolution 242 [restated by 338], it uses the word "occupied" without delineating just which territories were "occupied." Sinai had long been part of Egypt [since a pre-WW One British-Ottoman accord]. As to the Golan Heights, they had been part of the Roman province of Judea [IVDAEA] and was thickly settled by Jews in the Roman period, as attested by plentiful archeological remains]. The first survey to set bounds for the Jewish National Home --by French & British experts-- left part of the Golan in the JNH. Later, however, the UK transferred [probably unlawfully] the parts of the Golan in the JNH to the French mandated territory of Syria. So the Golan and Sinai could be considered "occupied" by Israel in 1967. In any case, the Security Council res 242 did not delineate boundaries of "occupied" territory. Further, since the Judea-Samaria & Gaza Strip areas rightly belonged to Israel, then they could not be considered "occupied" by Israel and the Security Council could not legally assign them post-6-Day War to Egypt and Jordan. That is, even if the SC considered JS&G to be "occupied," it was mistaken and did not have the right to reassign JS&G. Hence, "occupied" as a legal term does not apply to JS&G, not even now since there was never any int'l legal instrument to make such an assignment lawfully. The Oslo accords of course did not set up an Arab state but rather autonomous zones. Nor did the Oslo accords forbid Jewish settlement in these areas.

Now, supposing that the territores in question, JS&G were "occupied." Then we ought to look at precedents elsewhere in the world. After WW2, the major powers approved vast annexations of territory by Poland and the USSR at the expense of Germany, Finland, Rumania, Czechoslovakia, and Japan, as well as annexations of Italian lands to Yugoslavia.

In my view, the genocidal aims of the Arabs' 1947-1949 war against the Jews in Israel [recall that Haj Amin el-Husseini, the chief Palestinian Arab leader, had incited the Germans and their satellites to murder more Jews] justified annexations of territories captured from the Arabs whether or not within the Jewish National Home.

In short, the label "occupied" territories does not apply to Judea-Samaria & Gaza Strip. And even if it did, the post-WW 2 precedent of annexations at the expense of Germany and Japan justifies Israeli annexations.


Fahrettin Tahir - 2/2/2009

Art, thank you for the discussion


art eckstein - 2/2/2009

Yes, NF, I think that you, Fahrettin, and I have had a very good discussion here, enlightening.


art eckstein - 2/2/2009

Dear NF,

Edward Spears was an Army officer seconded to coordinating actions with the French General Staff in case of war. In the first pp of his memoir "Liason 1914", he records the intense suspicion and hostility he encountered from his French colleagues, and his own deep embarrassment, when the British declaration of war was long delayed.



N. Friedman - 2/2/2009

Hi Art,

Thank you. I have definitely added some new information to my stock. This has been a delightful debate.

I am not sure that it tells us what the triumvirate in Istanbul knew about any of it. But, your information is interesting on its own.

I do recall that there were some resignations from the government. Tuchman notes that. However, that there was a serious chance of walking away from a treaty, that is news to me. Thank you for explaining this information carefully.


art eckstein - 2/1/2009

Dear NF,

You can read about the indecision of the British govt in, e.g., Niall Ferguson, The Pity of War (1998). At the cabinet meeting on July 31, 1914 only Grey and Churchill were definiely for declaring war on Germany. At least five others (Morley, Burns, Simon, Beauchamp and Hobhouse) were for an immediately declaration of neutrality. On July 30, a group of 22 Liberal members of the Foreign Affairs Committee had warned that any declaration of war would lead to their withdrawal of support from the Govt. Foreign Minister Grey only gained a cabinet commitment to support Belgium if Belgium was invaded by threatening to resign himself (July 31).

What tipped the balance was the invasion of Belgium, which gave Asquith a stronger moral argument. Even so there were some resignations (Morley and Burns; Beauchamp and Simon would have, but pulled back at the last minute).

NF, you write:

"Third, is it not usually the case that there are serious discussion about whether to honor any war treaty, when push comes to shove? Which is to say, the fact that there were discussions does not automatically mean that they were held with an eye toward really not honoring a commitment made."

It is the first sentence that is operative, I think, not the second, and the discussion in 1914 was not pro forma.

The story of the maneuvers in the cabinet on July 30-Aug. 3 are fascinating and (knowing what we now know of the outcome) depressing reading. Niall F. thinks it was in fact not only near-run but the wrong decision; of that I have my doubts.


N. Friedman - 2/1/2009

Art,

You have me at a real disadvantage here. I am well aware that France was very concerned that unless France was playing defense, Britain would not necessarily stand with France in the war. Moreover, I recall reading that such was known by France to be extremely important to Britain - as justification to those who hoped to avoid war -, on top of the fact that such were the terms of the treaty.

Your contention, however, is that Britain seriously contemplated breaking the treaty even if France were not the aggressor. And, this by a Britain which, in the early days of the war, would kick up a ball before charging on the theory that such was the sporting thing to do.

First, why, in your estimate, did Britain decide to honor the treaty?

Second, how many voted against and how many voted for honoring the treaty?

Third, is it not usually the case that there are serious discussion about whether to honor any war treaty, when push comes to shove? Which is to say, the fact that there were discussions does not automatically mean that they were held with an eye toward really not honoring a commitment made.

Is this the version of events as told by either Ms. Tuchman or by John Keegan? Or, is this the construction made by Karsh and Karsh? I am not suggesting that you are wrong here. I am, however, curious because what you write does not jive with what I have read.


art eckstein - 2/1/2009

NF, the Cabinet debates on Aug. 2-3 show there was a very real chance that Britain would not come in--despite the treaty.

But by the general "betrayal" of France I meant the Kitchener Plan to bleed the French against the Germans in 1914 and 1915 and then enter in 1916 with the huge Kitchener Armies which would decide the war and leave Britain with the "lion's share" of the say on its political outcome (vs. weakened Germany and France). Very nasty. I cited the 1986 book by D. M. French on this--and French is a very prominent scholar (esp. archival).

In any case, British Russophobia was very strong, almost as strong as Turkish Russophobia. The British govt had absolutely zero desire to see Russian power increased, and if Turkey had remained neutral I think things would have worked out well for Turkey--as Ataturk foresaw.


N. Friedman - 2/1/2009

Art,

You write: "NF, the alliance of Britain and Russia was extremely fragile: they had been enemies for a century."

Yet, there was a treaty. And, by my memory, the French did all they could to be sure that its terms would have to be fulfilled so that Britain would have to join in on France's side. Hence, France wanted Germany to attack first so as to implicate the treaty, which is, of course, how things played out.

Do you have information that Britain would have welshed on the treaty once it was clear that Germany attacked through Belgium? That is news to me.

Your comments regarding the great game are no doubt true. But, then again, Britain's policy regarding the Ottoman Empire was to attempt to control that empire, as it did in Egypt, etc.. That is something that Germany never did to the Ottoman Empire and it was, if we go by Dadrian's account, very important to the Ottoman Empire. So, I am not sure your view is quite well taken once you get past the generality.


art eckstein - 2/1/2009

NF, the alliance of Britain and Russia was extremely fragile: they had been enemies for a century. Britain had protected Turkey from Russia (as much as it could do easily) through most of that century.

The famous Great Game, of course, was all about the British preventing Russian expansion southeast into the Muslim lands of central Asia, and thus threatening British India. The British saw the Russians as THE great threat to their control there, and control of India was central to their status economically and as a great power. They spent enormous funds in defending the Northwest Frontier against the Russian threat. This fear of Russia had seeped deep into British popular culture as well; just read Kipling's famous novel "Kim" (publ. 1901): the enemies are the Russians.

On all this, and the serious strategic weaknesses of Britain after 1890 re Russia as well as Germany, see Aaron L. Friedberg, The Weary Titan: Britain and the Experience of Relative Decline, 1895-1905.
Note the subtitle after the colon.

Britain might have sacrified a neutral Ottoman empire to Russia; the British, after all, were prepared to betray even the French. But the British saw Russia as a major enemy, the alliance against Germany was an alliance of convenience, and it is more than equally likely that a triumphant Britain would not have allowed Russian assaults on a previously neutral (and well-armed) Turkey.

And about Turkish "weakness". Yes, Turkey was defeated in the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913. But this was because it was overwhelmed by surprise and by huge numbers, and at the end (as in the retaking of Edirne [Adrianople]) and the retaking of much of eastern Thrace, which had been lost in 1912), the fact was that it was fighting well. The war of 1913 ended with successful Turkish offensives. In fact, the war ended with Turkish forces only 25 miles from the Bulgarian capital of Sofia.

This is of a piece with the outstanding Turkish miliary performance against the British in 1915, and puts the latter--and Enver Pasha's dreams (as well as his fears)-- in context.


N. Friedman - 2/1/2009

Art,

You have raised a good point about the Hapsburg Empire. But, again, Russia was the main issue to the Ottoman Empire. It was enemy number one. And, imagining that Britain would restrain Russia, given the long history of double crosses all around, seems a bit rich. Few, after all, knew that WWI was to be a war like pretty much none before it. And, Germany, by contrast, was not going to side with Russia, given its clear alignments.

The point about the Ottoman Empire's military is an interesting one. It, however, has to be interpreted in light of the string of terrible defeats that occurred before WWI. Those, after all, were what had to be primarily in the mind of the Ottoman leaders, not the result of improvements which led to some victories during WWI. After all, humiliating defeat after defeat leads to the view that the same will occur in future circumstances. So, on that point, I disagree with you. I think they had no reason to think their military particularly capable - a mistake on their part but a reasonable one.

I do think it important that Attaturk would have been for neutrality. But, then again, he was a truly great man, the triumvirate were, if we go by the available information, not remotely of his caliber. And, they made some pretty bad mistakes, some pretty gruesome choices, etc., etc. They did not serve their empire well, as the historical record on hindsight shows.


art eckstein - 2/1/2009

I think you have succeeded in getting us to see the other side, Fahrettin.

But it is highly interesting that the Ataturk--as N.F. says, one of history's great figures--was for neutrality (and he was one of the Turkish commanders in the great victory over the British at Gallipoli). And it is interesting again that Ataturk-influenced history views Enver and his triumvirate of 1914 "as nuts". That was sort of my point: the Enver govt had a choice, they made a terrible mistake (and not just out of fear but out of dreams), and the entire Middle East is still paying for it.

I think that NF and I strongly agree that you have made your point, and have succeeded in getting us westerners to see the other side.


Fahrettin Tahir - 2/1/2009

Nobody is proposing that Germany was any better than her enemies or that it would have been better not to be on the losing side. In fact modern Turkish history, influenced by Ataturk treats the unionists (the government party was called the party for union and progess) as nuts. Ataturk for one wanted Turkey to stay neutral. I was just trying to get you guys to understand that the other side also had justifiable reasons for their actions. But of course things are always more complicated than can be expressed in a blog.


art eckstein - 2/1/2009

N.F., I think Fahrettin has some good points but it is more complicated than that. Germany backed the Habsburgs in the very actions in Bosnia which Fahrettin points to. So Enver need not have gone with Germany. See my comments just above.

Britain courted Turkey by offering the Enver govt the two most powerful battleships in the world. There were also implied threats. Things were complicated.

And given that the Turkish Army defeated--in fact humiliated--the British armed forces very seriously three times in 1915, I think that to say that Turkey was 'on the run" is exaggerated. Enver went with Germany not because the Germans offered mere survival but because they offered to back some Turkish revanchism and very large Turkish expansionism towards the East.

Things were complicated.


N. Friedman - 2/1/2009

Fahrettin,

Some of what you write I agree with, although your characterization of the events as genocide and the numbers killed are not, so far as I know, correct. But, your main point that there is a tendency among Western educated people not to understand how the world looked from the viewpoint of Turks and Bosnian Muslims is, I think, very well taken. And, of course, the world is seen by people including their own misconceptions -- and not with a perfect understanding of facts, which I think counters Art's viewpoint rather effectively. So, I think your statements are rather important.

As I understand what an elite in Turkey would have seen in the early 20th Century, the world looked a horrifying place, with the Ottoman Empire being sliced up and with the country itself having internal divisions that seemed to have no solution. So, the decisions made by the country have to be understood with that in mind.

Sympathy for the Ottoman point of view comes out most particularly in Bernard Lewis' writings about the demise of the Ottoman Empire, which are very understanding of how the Turks saw the world.

At the same time, Art has a good point that serious mistakes were made. After all, the decisions made to join Germany did lead to the demise of the Ottoman Empire. And, it turns out that the military had improved dramatically - enough to slice up the Brits. So, it is worth speculating whether remaining neutral would have been a better choice (while, the third alternative of joining on the British side seems, at least to me, to be far fetched). Of course, Attaturk might not have arisen as the leader of a new country. He, so far as I am concerned, is among history's great men. So, 20/20 hindsight is never an easy thing.

Anyway, I appreciated your comment.


art eckstein - 2/1/2009

Fahrettin, I was agreeing with you! That's why I wrote that "Fahrettin has a point".

The Entente offer, when looked at closely, while beneficial to the Ottoman empire, contained an implied threat to its existence--the threat you pointed to. That's what I said. This does not mean that Enver wasn't seriously courted by the Entente and offered advantages for staying neutral--he was. (But he was also implicity threatened.)

But you yourself said that the Enver triumvirate were thugs. I wasn't saying that Enver and his people were worse thugs than anyone else--I was just saying that they were thugs, not victims.

We can only speculate about what would have happened if Enver had accepted the Entente offer and had remained neutral. But it is hard to believe that things would have turned out WORSE for the Ottoman state if Turkey had remained neutral instead of the Enver government allying itself with Germany. I've given the balance-of-power reasons why I think this.

I should point out that Germany had close ties to anti-Ottoman Greece, and had cooperated with Britain in detaching Albania from the Ottoman realm--just to cite two aspects of the situation. So (like Britain herself with the two great battleships scheduled to go Istanbul), Germany played a double game in the Balkans. Also, like all the great European powers, Germany had good relations with governments that hated and feared each other. Germany wasn't purely pro-Turkish. After all, hadn't Germany backed Austria in the very crises in Bosnia in 1878 and in 1908 which eventually led to the terrible events both of 1914 and those which you describe in the 1990s?

Enver was pro-German from 1881, when he was the Ottoman military attache in Berlin--he was impressed with the German army and wanted one like it for himself. But he certainly could not have been happy about German actions supporting the Habsburgs in Bosnia!

Fahrettin, you provide reasons why the Enver govt preferred Germany to the Entente, going back to the Entente states' actions in the two Balkan Wars. Okay. But Enver nevertheless had a choice, and good government is about choices, and (as you said) Enver and his triumvirate were thugs.


N. Friedman - 2/1/2009

Fahrettin,

I agree with you that history is written by people interested in advancing the view they espouse. And, surely Westerners have a difficulty getting into the heads of non-Westerners, just as non-Westerners have difficulty getting into the heads of Westerners.

Moreover, I agree with your assessment of the things here and, in many instances, elsewhere as they were likely seen before WWI by people in Turkey. It was clearly a country on the run, worried about being carved up. And, Russia was doing most of the carving and Britain could hardly have seemed to be such a fine alternative compared to the Germans.

So, I think you are on pretty solid ground.


Fahrettin Tahir - 2/1/2009

Art,

This is the point where I will get personal. I am not an american student who is discussing marx with the history professor but a member of the turkish upper class which has spent the last centuries running the empire. I am much closer to the people making those decisions you disagree with, than you understand. Enver’s daughter was my chemistry teacher, to name one. I qoute marx and trotsky not as primary resources but because their writings confirm what every turk knows, their writings available to you in languages you understand and they should be accepted as neutrals in the hate against the turk. Quoting our enemies’ books which are full of self praise do not change our perception of the threats these people were and remain. You have an ideological problem accepting that the Ottoman government were no worse thugs than their enemies and were reacting in an absolutely rational way to the threats you keep denying. It was all very bloody but there is no reason to presume that the alternative of not knocking out tsarist russia would have been less bloody. In all there were 1 million military dead, ca. 600 000 armenians, 300 000 Greeks and 2,5 million moslem civilian dead, the later never mentioned in western history books. 10 million moslems survived as they would not have if the tsarist empire had been allowed to win the war.
The critical events which led to the misery that aera was were the invasion of Bosnia 1878 and the balkan war 1912. WW1 broke out over the question of who gets to keep ottoman bosnia and would have been avoided if Bosnia had bet left to the Turks as its majority population definitely would have preferred. Turkey would have kept out of the war if the allies had not incited the balkan countries to commit genocide in the Balkan war. After that it was a no holds barred contest to survive. You critize neither event and concentrate on what the turk did wrong. This is an emotional and not scientific attitude.
To give you an example of how the West deals with Turks let us look at Bosnia in the 1990ies. When Bosnia became independant it hat 2,5 million moslems of slavic language and turkish culture, 44% of the population. There are a further 5 million Bosnian moslems living in Turkey where they escaped to save their lives from previous rounds of genocide. Presumably some of them would have returned to an independant Bosnia, turning the country into a second Turkey in Europe. This the west was determined to prevent. They let the serbians murder 250 000 bosnian moslems broke their back, and installed a colonial administration in bosnia. The event immediately disappeared from public attention, concentrating instead on what happened to the armenians in 1915. The serb leader Milosevic was later brought to court over Kosovo, where he had done no wrong because suing him over Bosnia would have meant that he said that he was only doing what western countries told him. Short time later he was murdered to make him shut up.
Instead of trying to talk me out of the turkish historic experience you should try to understand how we perceive the world.


art eckstein - 1/31/2009

We disagree on the alleged over-generalities of IR theory, NF. In any case, IR theory distinguishes Hitler from Churchill very well: one is the leader of a unlimited-revisionist state (Hitler), one is the leader of a status quo state.

But let's not get into a private conversation on this.


art eckstein - 1/31/2009

Having looked more closely, I now think that Fahrettin has a point:

The offer to Turkey from the Entente was that in exchange for firm neutrality in all its aspects, the Ottoman empire would receive a formal guarantee of complete territorial integrity, the end of the Capitulations, perhaps some of the Aegean islands--and of course those two very powerful battleships, whose possession in Turkish hands would have significantly shifted the balance of power in the Aegean, the eastern Med, and the Black Sea.

A good offer, which Turkey should have accepted.

Yet the first clause I cited, if you think about it, has its own sinister aspect to it, the aspect that Fahrettin pointed to. It carries an implied threat, and the statement about neutrality "in all its aspects" looks like a potential escape clause you could drive a freight-train through. If one were suspicious, here would be why.

Yet I think that the Entente was sincere, and that after 4 years Turkey would have been far too tough a nut to take on. Even as it was--and I cannot emphasize this enough--Turkey, far from being "the sick man of Europe"--defeated the British very severely three times in 1915-1916. It was already a tough nut. Given this, perhaps we can see why the Entente made the nice offer it did. It's not a matter of being nice--the British govt was thuggish even to the French, as I have pointed out--but of Turkish power.

If Turkey had sided with the Entente, there's no telling what territorial gains it might have (re)made.

As for the scholarship of the Karshes, I've looked carefully at the footnotes and their citations of British, French and German archival material is very substantial. Archival material is better than memoirs, even Morganthau's, because it is immediately contemporary and on-the-spot. They don't cite much Turkish archival material, but some of the British material is intercepts and some of the German material is reporting on-the-spot of immediate conversations with, e.g., Enver. It's not a perfect job because of the lack of Turkish archival material (though they cite scholars such as Ulrich Trumpener who did), but as a professional scholar I'd say it's good job if not perfect.


N. Friedman - 1/31/2009

Art,

The review was written by R. Stephen Humphreys, about whom I know rather little other than he likes Bernard Lewis, thinks Edward Said's Orientalism is not a great book of intellectual history and Daniel Pipes has quoted him.

What makes you think that Morgenthau's views are all from self-interested Ottoman diplomats? If his book is to be believed, he had a quite a lot of contact with the three rulers - being someone they respected. His book quotes conversations he had with them and time spent with them - which was pretty extensive. He also had contact with the Sultan. So, I think you are being unfair to him and his testimony.

Regarding the nature of things, there is certainly always thuggish behavior by leaders. But, there are degrees of being thuggish. That, you will note, is one of my criticisms of your theory, which does not have any means to distinguish degrees of thuggishness or anything else. Rather, it notes that governments do bad stuff and then, since the theory expects such to exist, it does not explore the matter too closely. Hence, all Europe's leaders in WWII could be called thuggish. But, Hitler and Stalin were in their own league, by an order of magnitude. Your theory has no way to distinguish them from Churchill.

In the case of the triumvirate, their thuggish behavior included carving up the country's civilian population - and that really was on an order of magnitude worse than anything the thuggish Europeans had done to their own. (Of course, the Belgians had carved up the people of the Congo.)


art eckstein - 1/31/2009

The Karshs' used a lot of archives (British, French, German)--which is better than using Marx or Trotsky (or what Morganthau remembers being told by self-interested Ottoman diplomats). If the Karshs' didn't use the Ottoman archives as well, that is a grave fault. On the other hand, some of their PRO material consists of intercepted Ottoman govt telegrams (e.g., p. 369 n. 5). Who wrote the review?

One looks both at systemic and unit aspects--exactly. The 1914 system was thuggish and every government in it were, individually, thugs. There was a synergy involved in that, but there are no innocent victims.


N. Friedman - 1/31/2009

CORRECTION:

Delete this sentence: "Lastly, following your theory of historical writing - about which, at this point, I have read quite a bit by you (SMILE) -, one looks at book systemic and unit aspects."

Substitute the following sentence:

Lastly, following your theory of historical writing - about which, at this point, I have read quite a bit by you (SMILE) -, one looks at both systemic and unit aspects.


N. Friedman - 1/31/2009

CORRECTION:

Strike this sentence: "His account jives well with the extreme scholarly books I have read about the demise of the Ottoman Empire, including Professor Lewis' most famous of his famous books."

Substitute the following:

His account jives well with the other scholarly books I have read about the demise of the Ottoman Empire, including Professor Lewis' most famous of his famous books.


N. Friedman - 1/31/2009

Art,

Maybe you are right. I have no idea.

Morgenthau seems to have had pretty good information about how things worked. His account jives well with the extreme scholarly books I have read about the demise of the Ottoman Empire, including Professor Lewis' most famous of his famous books. I should add that the Karsh book was trashed in the review that appeared in The New York Times.

According to the author of the review, the Karshes make little use of the Ottoman government records - which, if true, makes their telling of what the triumvirate intended into hearsay. As stated in the review:

A second problem lies in the sources used -- or not used -- by the authors. They have searched the Public Record Office in London quite effectively and even found some new veins of ore in that much-exploited mine. But they seem to use only published documents from the French and German archives. Most troubling, they make very little use of the Ottoman archives, which are relatively accessible for much of the period they cover. Surely the Ottomans ought to be allowed some voice of their own.

If the above is correct, what is their basis for knowing better than Morgenthau about what was occurring? And, by the way, Morgenthau describes the incident regarding the ships at great length. He sees it very differently than you do.

Lastly, following your theory of historical writing - about which, at this point, I have read quite a bit by you (SMILE) -, one looks at book systemic and unit aspects. One presumably must also consider the fact that knowledge of the world is not perfect for any actors, etc., etc. I would also think, following your approach, that one sees what well placed observers thought of events as they occurred - and note here your reliance in your book on Polybius and Thucydides.

So, I do not discount Morgenthau, notwithstanding whatever feelers Enver or Talaat may have sent out to all involved. They were - and this is directed specifically at your points above, which suggest they had greater sophistication than, if Morgenthau is correct, they had -, as Morgenthau notes, not well schooled in international affairs or in running an empire or much of anything else. They mad themselves the captives of their sponsors - and the Germans showed up at the right time, having placed themselves as champions of the Ottoman Empire from the latter half of the 19th Century on - as shown in Dadrian seminal work, The History of the Armenian Genocide: Ethnic Conflict from the Balkans to Anatolia to the Caucasus.

So, I am not inclined, at least not yet, to agree with you.

Incidentally, you might take a look at Morgenthau's work, which you can now access online in its entirety. He may not be correct. But, I do not think his views can be so readily dismissed as you have done above. After all, he seems to have had rather good information - better than did many others - on what occurred to the country's Christian population.


art eckstein - 1/31/2009

N.F., re Turkish relations with Britain, I stand by the facts of the battleships built for Turkey by Britain, vs. Morganthau's perceptions of what he was told by self-interested Turkish diplomats. According to Karsh and Karsh, Enver was not motivated by fear.

And Talaat Pasha's memoirs say that the Young Turks were pro-German from the beginning and that it was not 1912 that turned them from Britain and France. It also turns out that in 1914 Talaat made an offer of an alliance to Russia which the Russians actually enthusiastically pursued but they were then ignored by Enver. The Turkish govt had many choices in 1914 (every choice better for everyone than the one they made), and they were NOT being forced into a box.

I'm willing to pursue this but I think Fahrettin has already made the point that the Enver triumvirate were not victims but thugs. This was a succinct version of what I have been trying to say, and to which I then added that the French, Germans, British and Russians were thugs as well. NF, it's the point of my book, as you know.


N. Friedman - 1/31/2009

See this from Ambassador Morgenthau - also quoted above:

Germany's war preparations had for years included the study of internal conditions in other countries; an indispensable part of the imperial programme had been to take advantage of such disorganizations as existed to push her schemes of penetration and conquest. What her emissaries have attempted in France, Italy, and even the United States is apparent, and their success in Russia has greatly changed the course of the war. Clearly such a situation as that which prevailed in Turkey in 1913 and 1914 provided an ideal opportunity for manipulations of this kind. And Germany had one great advantage in Turkey which was not so conspicuously an element in other countries. Talaat and his associates needed Germany almost as badly as Germany needed Talaat. They were altogether new to the business of managing an empire. Their finances were depleted, their army and navy almost in tatters, enemies were constantly attempting to undermine them at home, and the great powers regarded them as seedy adventurers whose career was destined to be brief. Without strong support from an outside source, it was a question how long the new regime could survive. Talaat and his Committee needed some foreign power to organize the army and navy, to finance the nation, to help them reconstruct their industrial system, and to protect them against the encroachments of the encircling nations. Ignorant as they were of foreign statecraft, they needed a skilful adviser to pilot them through all the channels of international intrigue. Where was such a protector to be obtained? Evidently only one of the great European powers could perform this office. Which one should it be? Ten years before Turkey would naturally have appealed to England. But now the Turks regarded England as merely the nation that had despoiled them of Egypt and that had failed to protect Turkey from dismemberment after the Balkan wars. Together with Russia, Great Britain now controlled Persia and thus constituted a constant threat---at least so the Turks believed---against their Asiatic dominions. England was gradually withdrawing her investments from Turkey, English statesmen believed that the task of driving the Turk from Europe was about complete, and the whole Near-Eastern policy of Great Britain hinged on maintaining the organization of the Balkans as it had been determined by the Treaty of Bucharest ---a treaty which Turkey refused to regard as binding and which she was determined to upset. Above all, the Turks feared Russia in 1914, just as they had feared her ever since the days of Peter the Great. Russia was the historic enemy, the nation which had given freedom to Bulgaria and Rumania, which had been most active in dismembering the Ottoman Empire, and which regarded herself as the power that was ultimately to possess Constantinople. This fear of Russia, I cannot too much insist, was the one factor which, above everything else, was forcing Turkey into the arms of Germany. For more than half a century Turkey had regarded England as her surest safeguard against Russian aggression, and now England had become Russia's virtual ally. There was even then a general belief, which the Turkish chieftains shared, that England was entirely willing that Russia should inherit Constantinople and the Dardanelles.

If Morgenthau is correct about the perception of things in Istanbul, then your theory is not correct. They believed in a connection between Britain and Russia.


N. Friedman - 1/31/2009

Art,

If siding with the Ottoman Turks would have placed Britain at odds with France, the world would be very different today.

The Ottoman Empire might, of course, have sat out the war. That was feasible. But, siding with Britain made no logical sense. On your theory, the Ottoman Empire would have to believe that Britain would really change policy on a dime - not an easy feat for any country.

I am thus not sanguine on your view about Britain and the Ottoman Turks teaming up. Britain was siding with all of the Ottoman Turk's enemies. Britain was insisting that the Ottoman Turks abide by the Bucharest Treaty. Britain held pieces of the Ottoman Empire. It could not have been an inviting picture for the Ottoman Turks, employing realpolitik or any other theory.

By contrast, the Germans were not the ally of their arch-enemy Russia and influential with enemy Persia. The Germans did not care what the Ottoman Turks did to solve their internal problems. The Germans controlled no part of the Ottoman Empire and there was no reason to expect such would occur. Hence, the Germans offered something that Britain did not: the potential to re-cast the Ottoman Empire.

So, 20/20 hindsight is wonderful, since it can ignore all the detriments that, at the time, seemed front and center. But, with their heads seeing the world with Germany as the most likely savior, Britain was not in the cards. As explained by Ambassador Morgenthau - who casts things a bit but not entirely different than I do:

Germany's war preparations had for years included the study of internal conditions in other countries; an indispensable part of the imperial programme had been to take advantage of such disorganizations as existed to push her schemes of penetration and conquest. What her emissaries have attempted in France, Italy, and even the United States is apparent, and their success in Russia has greatly changed the course of the war. Clearly such a situation as that which prevailed in Turkey in 1913 and 1914 provided an ideal opportunity for manipulations of this kind. And Germany had one great advantage in Turkey which was not so conspicuously an element in other countries. Talaat and his associates needed Germany almost as badly as Germany needed Talaat. They were altogether new to the business of managing an empire. Their finances were depleted, their army and navy almost in tatters, enemies were constantly attempting to undermine them at home, and the great powers regarded them as seedy adventurers whose career was destined to be brief. Without strong support from an outside source, it was a question how long the new regime could survive. Talaat and his Committee needed some foreign power to organize the army and navy, to finance the nation, to help them reconstruct their industrial system, and to protect them against the encroachments of the encircling nations. Ignorant as they were of foreign statecraft, they needed a skilful adviser to pilot them through all the channels of international intrigue. Where was such a protector to be obtained? Evidently only one of the great European powers could perform this office. Which one should it be? Ten years before Turkey would naturally have appealed to England. But now the Turks regarded England as merely the nation that had despoiled them of Egypt and that had failed to protect Turkey from dismemberment after the Balkan wars. Together with Russia, Great Britain now controlled Persia and thus constituted a constant threat---at least so the Turks believed---against their Asiatic dominions. England was gradually withdrawing her investments from Turkey, English statesmen believed that the task of driving the Turk from Europe was about complete, and the whole Near-Eastern policy of Great Britain hinged on maintaining the organization of the Balkans as it had been determined by the Treaty of Bucharest ---a treaty which Turkey refused to regard as binding and which she was determined to upset. Above all, the Turks feared Russia in 1914, just as they had feared her ever since the days of Peter the Great. Russia was the historic enemy, the nation which had given freedom to Bulgaria and Rumania, which had been most active in dismembering the Ottoman Empire, and which regarded herself as the power that was ultimately to possess Constantinople. This fear of Russia, I cannot too much insist, was the one factor which, above everything else, was forcing Turkey into the arms of Germany. For more than half a century Turkey had regarded England as her surest safeguard against Russian aggression, and now England had become Russia's virtual ally. There was even then a general belief, which the Turkish chieftains shared, that England was entirely willing that Russia should inherit Constantinople and the Dardanelles.

I have no reason to doubt Morgenthau's understanding of the mindset of the triumvirate and other elites. That mindset could not have accepted the British. So, I see a lot of idle speculation in your theory.


art eckstein - 1/31/2009

Farhettin, the British cheated the Turkish govt out of the two battleships. This had an impact in Istanbul, as did the Germans turning over the battlecruiser Goeben to Enver.

On the other hand the Reshidieh and her sister-ship Sultan Osman were so powerful and so fast that in the hands of an enemy state (which Turkey was clearly about to become for Britain) they would have changed the naval balance of power in the entire Mediterranean. The Royal Navy itself had nothing to match against them--nothing--except for the Queen Elizabeth-class battleships which would themselves not begin to be deployed until a full year later, in late 1915.

Again, one must ask why the British were building these ships for Turkey in the first place if the British were so in bed with the Russians. The Great Game is complex, and it is played all by thugs.


Fahrettin Tahir - 1/31/2009

Mr Friedman,

the young Turk government at first pursued a very liberal policy after 1908 but turned fascistic after the Balkan war 1912. 1912 is a key event without which Turkish policy after 1912 can not be understood. In 1912 the Britsh were making money by selling opium to China, a market they had forced by war to open. Would Mr Morgentau or any book in the english speaking world mention anything about the fact that the kaiser was fighting a war against a narco state? That is exactly the type of stuff which hits others.
The British decided to keep the warships before they knew that Turkey would side with the Germans, the Germans offered to compensate one of the reasons for Turkey joining them.
I remember reading in one of Churchills books that he felt it was Turkey's entrance in to WW1 which lengthened the war by 4 years and led to the Russian revolution. With other words, the war could have ended in 1915 and both sides might have made a compromise by which they partition Turkey among them.
There are in Turkey about 15 million people whose ancestors were from the Balkans, that was very painful. The loss of the Arab countries, basically because the British needed the oil, on the other side is not an emotional issue for Turks, more a good riddance feeling.


art eckstein - 1/31/2009

The British were prepared to constrain Russia; they had in the past. They had their own Great Game concerns about the Czar, you know.

The British were prepared to betray even their closer ally the French, too. The Kitchener Plan of 1914 was the create huge British armies which in summer 1916 would deliver the decisive blow against Germany, a purely British victory that would leave Britain to call all the shots in the post-war world (including regarding such French interests as the British were willing at that point to satisfy at no cost to themselves). Unfortunately, the French turned out to be bled far faster by Germany than Kitchener had calculated and troops were committed from late summer 1915. And of course Kitchener overestimated what the impact of the Kitchener Armies would be in any case (cf. the Somme in summer 1916, where they were destroyed). But that was the British plan. If the British were prepared to betray the French, they certainly were prepared to betray Russian interests if Turkey came over to them.

On all this see David M. French, British Strategy and War Aims, 1914-1916 (1986): quite shocking revelations from the archives.

The Enver govt, and the entire Middle East to this day, would have been better off choosing a different path than the aggressive one they chose. No one can know what would have happened. But as it turned out, by 1918, Turkey would have had a fresh and efficient and modern army facing exhausted Allies. As I said, those armed forces were powerful enough in 1915--even as things were--to (a) defeat a combined British-French fleet in the Dardaneles, (b) defeat totally a large British invasion of Gallipoli, and (c) defeat totally a large British force at Kut in Iraq.

And as for British policy, those two superbattleships being build for Turkey are a fact. They were almost complete in Sept. 1914. They would have changed the balance of power in Turkey's favor in the Black Sea, and the Aegean as well.


N. Friedman - 1/31/2009

Art,

The Ottomans might have sided with the British but, frankly, that would have done nothing about their concern about Russia, unless Britain was prepared to restrain Russia. I am not sure that would have worked.


N. Friedman - 1/31/2009

Art,

You are being unfair to me - and you are a friend. As a friend, please re-read what you have quoted. You have my statement wrong when you characterize that as stating: "NF, I think it is a great overstatement to say that the British dominated the Turkish govt for most of the 19th century!" I said before WWI. That did not mean forever before WWI. It did not mean for a century before WWI. It merely meant before WWI. In other words, it was indefinite. And, I should add that I mentioned French influence as well. So, I think you have stretched what I wrote.

In any event, I corrected the minor error in what I stated.


N. Friedman - 1/31/2009

Fahrettin,

The gang/thug thing was the assessment by the US Ambassador of the triumvirate rulers of the Ottoman Empire as they seized power before WWI. That is not an unusual description of people who seize power in a country, at least so far as I know. And, the violence they let loose within the country against the Christian population is consistent with that view of them.

The US was not trying to colonize Ottoman lands. The European powers were trying. The US, while it allied with Britain during WWI, neither declared war on the Ottoman Empire nor went to war against the Ottoman Empire.

I agree with you that the Ottoman Empire's aims in the war relate, in considerable part, to Russia. However, the Ottoman Empire would have been better off - looking back - having stayed out of the war, concentrating instead on solving the problems in the country including economic and political problems as earlier envisioned by the Young Turk revolution. As Enver Pasha declared in July of 1908: "To-day arbitrary government has disappeared. We are all brothers. There are no longer in Turkey Bulgarians, Greeks, Servians, Rumanians, Mussulmans, Jews. Under the same blue sky we are all proud to be Ottomans." (quoted from Ambassador Morgenthau's Story).

Instead, their government pursued a policy of war and which cost millions of lives including of more than a million Ottoman civilians accused of siding secretly with the Russians.


art eckstein - 1/31/2009

NF, I think I quoted you pretty exactly about British alleged dominance of the Turkish govt in the 19th century:

Re: the turkish view (#131610)
by N. Friedman on January 31, 2009 at 9:43 AM
Art,

While the Karsh and Karsh are terrific scholars, I do note that at least one observer, US Ambassador Morgenthau, thought - if his book, Ambassador Morgenthau's Story, chronicling his time as ambassador is accurate - that the British dominated the governance of Ottoman Empire until the eve of WWI.

You weren't just quoting Morganthau, I think--you were accepting his judgment, yes?

I just wanted to correct the record, but this Turkey in 1914 stuff is all a minor dispute among friends, in which group I include both you and Fahrettin. Fahrettin said that the Enver triumvirate were thugs, and I responded that yes they were, and so were the British and the French. I think we are all agreed on this.


art eckstein - 1/31/2009

They are all thugs, Fahrettin--British, French, Russians, Turks. And none are victims. .

Enver had the choice of remaining a favored neutral, or else joining the Allies. Either would have been a far better choice for the Turkish government and its empire than joining Germany, and the British and French tried hard in autumn 1914 to make that happen. The reason Enver joined Germany is because he always favored the Germans from his time as military attache in Berlin, and because he believed German promises of a hugely-enhanced Ottoman power.

As for the British favoring Russia at Turkey's expense after 1910, I'll simply point out that the most obvious use for the two modern super-battleships which the British were building for Enver's govt in 1914 was to overawe the Russians in the Black Sea. These ships were hugely superior to anything the Russians would have had.


Fahrettin Tahir - 1/31/2009

ok the young turk triumvirate were thugs. what were the british french etc who had colonised the world and with the russians, greeks serbs bulgarians etc were trying to exterminate the turks?


Fahrettin Tahir - 1/31/2009


Art,

Beginning with Napoleons invasion of Ottoman Egypt Turkey spent most of the 19th century dependant on Britain for survival especially through support against Russia. The price to be paid was an economic liberalism which prevented economic development. The embassadors of the major powers intervened in every decision the Ottoman government made. This ended at the beginning of WW 1 for the duration of the war. Turkish history does not record that the Brits disliked the young turks.
I was quoting Marx articles in the NY times during the Crimean war 1854, these are not ideological, he was trying to make money by selling articles to the US market. Trotsky was also working as a reporter, which was what I read. I shall quote Churchill (the world crisis 1911-1918 p 275) “The central point of all Pan-Turk schemes was the use of Germany to rid Turkey of the Russian danger...Turkey would secure in the moment of a German victory gains in territory and population in the Caucasus which would at least ward off the Russian danger for several generations.” So he accepts that Turkey was threatened, which is what every Turk would tell you anyway. And what Churchill describes as the Turkish war aims is exactly what happened.
I think you are making the mistake of seeing a Nazi Germany in everybody the US-British-French ever fought. I am afraid this was not so.
Of course one should be critical with ones own history. What I am telling you is historic revisionism, the official history dictated by Ataturk is extremely destuctive abou Ottoman policies which I think should be tretaed more mildly. The young Turks started as a very liberal movement. Preparing for WW 1 the British and the French dropped their support for Turkey, meaning the Turks would pay the price for Russian support of the allies. The consequence was the Balkan war of 1912 when territories which had been turkish populated since the 4th century and had a moslem majority were conquered by the Greeks, Serbs and Bulgarians. Since these were claiming that they had “liberated their own occupied territories” the provisons of the 1907 Den Haag war convention did not apply, genocide against Turks was justified. Nobody opposed them. After what happened in the Balkan war in 1912 the young Tukrs most of whom were from the areas now lost, their relatives murdered, were desperate. All they did including war crimes was a consequence of this desperation. How about a critical look at western policies?
You must look at dreams of Turania from the view point that Turkey in 1914 alone was too weak to defend herself against Russia, but if Turkish speaking Asia would be added, the resulting state would be strong enough to continue to exist. Today we live on a different world, where the Europeans have stopped invading the rest of the world, such a state is not necessary for survival.
If the principle of Thucydides from 400 B.C.is that treaties are kept to only insofar as they express the current balance of power, how would the balance of power have been after the Russians won WW1? The British were building ships for Turkey in 1914 not our of friendship because that was how they made money.
Germany was not as good an ally of Turkey as you might think. The common German Turkish attempt to start a revolt against Britain in India collapsed because the Germany tried to dominate and the Turks would not accept this. After Russia collapsed the Gremans tried to keep all of Caucasia and a local war between Turkey and Germany erupted, where the British supported the Turks and this during WW1! It was not avery good time in history to live. It is also not true that there were no pro British voices in the government, finance minister Cavit (like nationalist theoretician Marcel Samuel Raphael Cohen, renamed Alp Tekin, one of the several very influential ethnic jews in the young turk movement who felt that only turkish nationalism would save the country they loved) resigned when Enver attacked Russia with German ships which replaced the Turkish boats paid for, which Britain kept, as a fait accompli and was convinced that he could not leave his responsibilities at such a critical time. Turkish nationalism was unlike German nationalism not an ethnic but political nationalism fighting for survival of the core coalition of the ottoman empire which redefined itself as Turkish.
What I wrote about the AKP is what the Turkish and German press write. Just acknowledge that a lot of people see it that way. The AKP is even more corrupt and incompetent as the secularists (ok, Turkey has a problem there) but economically and politically very succesful, the difference is western support. What I write is what the Turkish middle class thought at the time and think now. Enver was not reading Karsh to make his decisions. His view of the world was what I heard from my Grandfather who was a young lieutenant in WW1. Consider me as an original source.


N. Friedman - 1/31/2009

Art,

I was not making the Ottoman Empire into victim. My point was to show what its leaders may have been thinking and also to provide some context which the diplomatic history does not reveal.

As for British influence, I did not say that Britain dominated Ottoman governance throughout the 19th Century. I said that Britain and France interfered in the country a lot during that period.

By way of example, I note now that they interfered in the country by pressing extremely hard for the Tanzimet reforms, despised by much the country's ruling class, a number of the Sultans and most especially the military, on the country. While there were, as you note, those in the country which supported the reforms - as noted in Bernard Lewis' famous book, The Emergence of Modern Turkey, that was not something the ruling class generally or even mostly embraced. And, those reforms, in fact, did not do what they were supposed to do anyway. Instead, they eliminated the few existing checks on authoritarian control of the country, which led towards the country's disintegration, as Lewis shows.

My point about dominance of Britain related to the period before WWI. You may, however, be correct that Britain's influence was less than I indicated, since Britain had allied itself with the party seen by the Ottoman Empire as its main enemy, Russia and since the British had substantial influence in Persia. I have re-examined Ambassador Morgenthau's Story and cannot find the portion which led to my noted comment that British was effectively the power behind the throne - or at least I cannot find the passage which led to my earlier comment. Absent a complete re-read of the book, my comment appears to include a mistake. So, I offer what appears below as a correction.

Morgenthau describes a country in somewhat the condition - only far worse off, as he saw it - of the American South immediately following the Civil War.

Of very important concern to the triumvirate, Britain allied itself with Russia. And, Russia was the main enemy of the Ottoman Empire. And, further, Britain's policy was for the support of the Treaty of Bucharest, which the Ottoman Empire wanted to ignore. Britain's policy supported pushing the Ottoman Empire out of Europe. And, the various European powers - but not Germany - had taken slices of the Ottoman Empire. Hence, Germany was the likely ally of the Ottoman Empire, since Germany's goals were consistent with those of the Ottoman Empire.

He also described the fact that, of all the European powers, only Germany had not taken a slice of the Ottoman Empire, which made the Germans, in the mind of the triumvirate, particularly attractive.

He also notes - although this is an aside - that the three leaders were basically thuggish gang leaders, only infinitely worse. They were ruthless and took advantage of the ignorance of their countrymen to gain power by any and all means.

In any event, as he describes it, the country desperately needed help to re-build and to re-cast its military into an effective force - something the Germans were pleased to do, since they wanted an ally to block transportation between Russia and her allies.

As for the Tanzimet reforms vis a vis European powers, the European powers did push hard for the reforms. The reason - in addition to the belief that the Ottoman Empire was unjust to its Christians and Jews - was to gain power over the country. Again, the policy was called "humanitarian intervention." Such can be found in the archives of the British and French government, as shown in Dadrian's book.


N. Friedman - 1/31/2009

Art,

I was not making the Ottoman Empire into victim. My point was to show what its leaders may have been thinking and also to provide some context which the diplomatic history does not reveal.

As for British influence, I did not say that Britain dominated Ottoman governance throughout the 19th Century. I said that Britain and France interfered in the country a lot during that period.

By way of example, I note now that they interfered in the country by pressing extremely hard for the Tanzimet reforms, despised by much the country's ruling class, a number of the Sultans and most especially the military, on the country. While there were, as you note, those in the country which supported the reforms - as noted in Bernard Lewis' famous book, The Emergence of Modern Turkey, that was not something the ruling class generally or even mostly embraced. And, those reforms, in fact, did not do what they were supposed to do anyway. Instead, they eliminated the few existing checks on authoritarian control of the country, which led towards the country's disintegration, as Lewis shows.

My point about dominance of Britain related to the period before WWI. You may, however, be correct that Britain's influence was less than I indicated, since Britain had allied itself with the party seen by the Ottoman Empire as its main enemy, Russia and since the British had substantial influence in Persia. I have re-examined Ambassador Morgenthau's Story and cannot find the portion which led to my noted comment that British was effectively the power behind the throne - or at least I cannot find the passage which led to my earlier comment. Absent a complete re-read of the book, my comment appears to include a mistake. So, I offer what appears below as a correction.

Morgenthau describes a country in somewhat the condition - only far worse off, as he saw it - of the American South immediately following the Civil War.

Of very important concern to the triumvirate, Britain allied itself with Russia. And, Russia was the main enemy of the Ottoman Empire. And, further, Britain's policy was for the support of the Treaty of Bucharest, which the Ottoman Empire wanted to ignore. Britain's policy supported pushing the Ottoman Empire out of Europe. And, the various European powers - but not Germany - had taken slices of the Ottoman Empire. Hence, Germany was the likely ally of the Ottoman Empire, since Germany's goals were consistent with those of the Ottoman Empire.

He also described the fact that, of all the European powers, only Germany had not taken a slice of the Ottoman Empire, which made the Germans, in the mind of the triumvirate, particularly attractive.

He also notes - although this is an aside - that the three leaders were basically thuggish gang leaders, only infinitely worse. They were ruthless and took advantage of the ignorance of their countrymen to gain power by any and all means.

In any event, as he describes it, the country desperately needed help to re-build and to re-cast its military into an effective force - something the Germans were pleased to do, since they wanted an ally to block transportation between Russia and her allies.

As for the Tanzimet reforms vis a vis European powers, the European powers did push hard for the reforms. The reason - in addition to the belief that the Ottoman Empire was unjust to its Christians and Jews - was to gain power over the country. Again, the policy was called "humanitarian intervention." Such can be found in the archives of the British and French government, as shown in Dadrian's book.


art eckstein - 1/31/2009

NF, I think it is a great overstatement to say that the British dominated the Turkish govt for most of the 19th century! Movements such as the Tanzimat and the Young Turks were homegrown, and the British and French didn't like the latter--so how come they were in power? How come they were being courted in 1914? How come the British were building modern battleships for them in 1914?

The issue in any case is what motivated Enver and his government to act in November 1914. It will not do to see them as somehow victims of western aggression. They had goals, expansionist goals (and they were larger than mere revanchist goals), and they were being courted (not threatened) by both sides--which makes perfect strategic sense. I don't condemn those goals--as you know, my view is that every government has such goals. But these WERE the goals which the Germans held out to Enver--not "we will help you survive against those bad Western aggressors" but "we will help restore not merely Ottoman greatness but--in the Caucasus and central Asia at Russian expense--an imperium beyond what the Ottomans achieved," They offered an enlarged and even Turanian empire, founded with German aid. Enver went with the Germans. There were practically no voices in his government in favor of Britain and France. It was a voluntary decision, and the Turkish govt didn't act defensively.

As I said, this is not in my view to condemn them, or anyone. It is the way the world works.


N. Friedman - 1/31/2009

CORRECTION:

Delete the sentence that reads: "And, Germany offered great promise in that regard, not only to get rid of the French but to force the Russians back as well, all without the price of German interference in the country's internal affairs - including even against Christians."

Substitute the following:

And, Germany offered great promise in that regard, not only to get rid of the British and the French but to force the Russians back as well, all without the price of German interference in the country's internal affairs - including even against Christians.


N. Friedman - 1/31/2009

Art,

While the Karsh and Karsh are terrific scholars, I do note that at least one observer, US Ambassador Morgenthau, thought - if his book, Ambassador Morgenthau's Story, chronicling his time as ambassador is accurate - that the British dominated the governance of Ottoman Empire until the eve of WWI, at which point the British were tossed out. Moreover, the Germans had, as Vahakn Dadrian has shown, supported Ottoman aims secretly over the course of many decades - going back even towards the middle of the 19th Century.

So, on throwing the UK out - who had meddled in the Ottoman affairs incessantly - it was not at all unnatural or, without the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, unreasonable for the Ottoman Empire to ally themselves with those who supported them and who had not, up to that point anyway, projected power against Ottoman internal aims or, for the most part, external aims.

Recall that the British and the French treated the Ottoman Empire as they treat Israel today - both badmouthing the country's governance while seeking to undermine the country by championing the rights of various Christian groups. The goal was to gain dominant influence in the region by means of the policy formula of "humanitarian intervention." And, Britain and France were rather successful in its policy. This policy, no doubt, was resented bitterly by the Ottoman government - whether under the Sultans or under the triumvirate rulers during WWI.

You will also recall that Germans put a lot of energy into supporting the Sultan. In fact, the Kaiser was enamored of the Ottoman political system, which gave the Sultan a rather strong hand in the country - given that he was both political and religious leader. The Kaiser thought that such a system would be great for his country (and him) as well.

So, while the Karsh and Karsh's book no doubt accurately reflects the diplomacy, the Ottoman Empire was being pushed, by means of overbearing British and French behavior, toward attempting to counter such influences. And, Germany offered great promise in that regard, not only to get rid of the French but to force the Russians back as well, all without the price of German interference in the country's internal affairs - including even against Christians. And, on top of that, the Germans did not oppose aims to unite Turkish speaking peoples - one of the long standing ideas floating in the Ottoman Empire for re-establishing the empire given its ongoing losses of territory in Europe - in that the Germans were not allied with the Russians.

While I think that there was really very good reason to object strongly to the governance of the Ottoman Empire, whether under the Sultans or after the Young Turk revolution, most particularly for its behavior towards non-Muslims, wanting to be rid of Britain seems a logical place to turn for the Ottoman Empire.

I might also note that, as Ambassador Morgenthau mentions in his book, there was a sense of achieving the desired freedom in the early portion of the war.

I also do not discount Fahrettin's point - although I would not agree with all of his facts - that, from the perspective of the Ottoman Empire, they were in a losing fight for physical survival, having lost war after war in what they perceived to be core Ottoman territory, not to mention all the losses in Russian territory, with the result that millions and millions of people became refugees and very large numbers of people were dying in losing battles.


art eckstein - 1/31/2009

Dear Fahrettin,

1. 1914

Neither Marx nor Trotsky could read Turkish, they had no access to the archives, and what they say is highly ideological (Marxist, needless to say). They are contemporary witnesses to what Marxists thought at the time (1880s or 1914), but so what? What Marxists thought is not necessarily what was occurring. And they are 100 years out of date in terms of actual scholarly research. Their opinions are very very weak reeds on which to build a case.

The modern scholarship is not "the victors congratulating themselves." If you look at th Karshs' footnotes in the chapters I cite you will see the archival research and vast modern scholarship they cite. In 1914 Enver didn't act out of fear, and Turkey wasn't a victim.

You cite specific examples of Europeans violating treaties with Turkey, including over Cyprus. That is impressive evidence of foul play and allows a reasonable suspicion of treaties with the West.

But what you are saying is the principle of Thucydides from 400 B.C.: that treaties are kept to only insofar as they express the current balance of power. Okay--and here, at the same time, you admit that the Entente would have given Turkey the earth and the moon to stay out of WWI. Fahrettin, such a situation of enormous concessions to Turkey (including no doubt huge financial subventions) would have greatly strengthened Turkey, the YT government, and esp. the Turkish armed forces (because that's where most of the Allied money would have gone). Meanwhile, the Turkish Army even as it existed was ALREADY strong and modern enough in 1915 to defeat very large British armies both in Gallipoli AND in Iraq, and Turkey's modern mines and artillery were ALREADY strong enough to defeat a combined British AND French fleet equipped with modern battleships at the Dardenelles (early 1915). How much stronger would these forces have been later, after years of Allied money and technical support? I think that is the answer to the fear of treaties being violated.

Neither the Germans, nor the Entente, is blameless in the tragedy created in the Middle East. Things might well have been better if everything had been left under Turkish hegemony. (The same is true regarding Habsburg hegemony in important parts of southeastern Europe.)

BUT, Fahrettin, Enver Pasha and the Young Turk govt made a disastrous mistake in siding with Germany in November 1914. And the fact must be faced that they made the choice VOLUNTARILY, at a time when they were courted--COURTED not THREATENED--by the Entente. Moreover, modern research shows that they acted not from anxiety or fear of the West, but out of expansionism. Enver in particular had huge dreams of a "Turania" not unlike Fettullah Gulen. Also, Enver had been military attache in Berlin and was always enamored of Germany and its army, which made the Entente task of keeping Turkey at least neutral very difficult.

Like the British, the French, and the Israelis, the Turks need to acknowledge and take responsibility for their own catastrophic mistakes. In this way are lessons learned. There's enough blame to go around, but serious thinkers do not always seek to shift the blame elsewhere.

2. Regarding Iran, there is not the slightest evidence that the CIA secretly supported Khomeini, as you imply. On the contrary: all the evidence--and the terrible criticism that has been made in the U.S. for the past 30 years--is that the CIA blindly supported the SHAH, kept reporting to Carter that everything was okay, couldn't believe that a revolution was occurring.

3. Regarding the AKP, I'd like to see the evidence that the AKP was offering concessions to the West on the Aegean, on Kurdish autonomy, and Cyprus, and that these concessions were taken so seriously in Western foreign ministries that they decided to act, AND that the result was overt (or covert but detectable) Western interference in Turkish politics of such an extent that this interference swung the elections. Isn't it really the case that the secularists losts because (as you yourself admit) they were incompetent and corrupt? Isn't that a simpler explanation?

best,

Art


Fahrettin Tahir - 1/31/2009

Art,

1914

Marx and Trotsky are witnesses for what they aera was thinking, they give the information available at that point to the decision makers of the ottoman empire. Marx is objective and Trotsky, although he hated the tsars, shares their hate for the Turks, this is the point to be seen in what he wrote.

I have no doubt the British would have offered Enver the moon and the stars to keep Turkey out of WWI. The history of 19th century is a chronicle of treaties which held only until the next genocidal war against Turkey. The Istanbul treaty of 1898 regulating the status of Crete held until 1912. The London and Zurich treaties signed by Turkey, Greece and Britain of 1960 and 1961 regulating the status of Cyprus held until 1963. In 2004 Cyprus was admitted into the European Union although these treaties ban Cyprus from entering any international organisation where Turkey and Greece ar no members. Any treaty signed in 1914 would have held until the end of the war, where the victors would have partitioned Turkey. Enver would have been an idiot to trust the British. Russia was hated because the Russians had been working on the extermination of the Turkish people since 1774.

Egypt was Ottoman territory occupied against the wishes of her population by the British. What you call Turania are Turkish speaking countries which at that point had a common written language, until Stalin made local dialects like Tatar and Uzbek to written languages. Liberating them was no less a legitimate target than uniting the Italian, German, Greek and Slavonic speaking countries or the Jews in a common state. Because it did not work countless millions of these people were killed by the Soviets. China continues her brutal occupation of East Turkestan to today. Fethullah Gulens project is not bad because it wants to unite the Turks but because FG and his comrades are dangerous people for the rest of mankind.

What you call modern scholarship is the victors glorifying themselves, or have you seen a single book describing what the Christians of Europe have done to the Moslems of Europe? I have ordered the book you recommend.

US

We have different perceptions of the US. For you it is basically wise country acting rationally and trying to do good. For me the US culture works on quarterly targets, dealing with long range issues this creates when they arise, not very wise. This is how they bankrupted the world and produced all those nasty islamist movements. The policies of the cold war was an exception, from which we all benefitted.

The AKP offered the West concessions on subjects like Cyprus, the Eagean Sea conflict with Greece, Kurdish autonomy in Turkey and Armenian demands on Turkey as well as the prospect of moderate Islam taking taking control of the Middle East, preventing Iranian influence and ending the nuts’ fight against the West. The show Mr Erdogan made in Davos could be a part of this strategy or he could be pouring gas into the fire. No Turkish secularist will trust these people and possibly we know why. Of course the Turks voted for him, but it should be kept in mind that enormous sums fo money was and is mobilized by Arab countries and the West (by opening their markets, enabling economic growth) and this influences the voters. The war of the PKK which was financed by the West against secularist governments on the other hand practically bankrupted Turkey.

If the West is going to try to mend her relationship they will have to take the European moslems, which the Turkish secularists are more seriously. If they can’t even agree with us they will never reach anything with the asiatic polities like Iran.

Iran

The question is not whether Carter wanted the Ayatollahs but the extent to which he actually controlled what US governemt organisations were doing.


art eckstein - 1/31/2009

Fahrettin:

1. 1914

The problem with depending on Marx and Trotsky for your understanding of the wars of the 1880s or the crisis of 1914 is that they are fully 100 years out of date, and very biased. Trotsky, for instance, hated the Czarist regime, and all capitalist states anyway. They did not have access to the Turkish govt archives.

You need to read Chapters 7 and 8 of Efraim and Inari Karsh, Empires of the Sand: The Struggle for Mastery in the Middle East, 1789-1923 (Harvard University Press, 1999). There you will find, on the basis of archival evidence, that Enver Pasha in 1914 rejected many French and English offers to stay out of WWI, and concluded a wartime treaty of alliance with Germany which was extraordinarily favorable to Turkey, foreseeing the return of Turkish dominance in southeast Europe, the destruction of Enver's hated Russia, and the extension of Turkish control throughout "Turania" . Uppermost in Enver's plans was an expedition to reconquer Egypt with German help. Enver's actions "were motivated not by a sense of anxiety and fear but by pure expansionism."

You have got to catch up with modern scholarship on this no doubt painful subject.

The conclusion of mdoern scholarship is that the irresponsible actions of the Turkish govt resulted in catastrophe not just for Turkey but for the entire Middle East. If Turkey had stayed out of WWI, or had sided with the Allies, they would have paid much money to modernize the Turkish armed forces and there is no reason to suppose a Turkish Empire on the victorious side (or even as a powerful neutral) would have suffered in the aftermath.

2. The U.S. did not want the Shah overthrown. The Carter administration did not support the Shah as much as it should have, but it was taken by surprise by events (in the U.S., this is one of the most notorious CIA failures in history), and it was at the beginning naive about Khomeini. Carter was weak, a terrible President. But he was not in favor of Khomeini's revolution.

3. As with N.F., I am skeptical of the idea that the Bush administration welcomed (let alone helped engineer) the rise of the AKP. The Bush administration was fighting a worldwide war against Islamism, of which the AKP is an example. If their plan was to allow the AKP to come to power and expand into "Turania" as Fethullah Gulen wishes (see Enver Pasha's dreams above), and then attempt to crush it, this was indeed (as N.F. says) extraordinarily stupid.

But all you have about U.S. being behind the AKP is "circumstantial evidence" (as you admit), and it is of a very vague sort (so it seems to me). I could be wrong, but I doubt that the Bush Admin was much involved in the rise of the AKP. Once more, it seems to me, the Turkish situation is primarily caused by the Turks, by developments within Turkish society and politics, not by. outsiders.

I admit I could be wrong. To argue that anything was "too stupid" for the Bush Administration to have done is, well, not a strong argument. But I would need much more evidence on this. On the moment I am doubtful of your hypothesis, Fahrettin, but I assure you that I can be convinced.


art eckstein - 1/30/2009

It is especially important to understand that the arms that the US was purveying to Iran were anti-tank missiles, and that there was a huge WAR going on betw Iran and Iraq at that time. In that war,. armored divisions were THE most crucial area where Iraq was very significantly superior to Iran--i.e., in tanks. The U.S. anti-tank missiles would bring about a balance in this very significant military area.

The purveying of those missiles was no ordinary deal. It represented a powerful and very specific lever for Iran to balance Iraqi power in the war.


art eckstein - 1/30/2009

Yes, 1967 was crucial too, and pointed towards the death of national socialism as the answer to Arab/Muslim lack of power--because the genocidal promises made by Arab nationalist governments to annihilate Israel and throw the Jews into the sea resulted instead in a humiliating defeat.

That it was the Jews who inflicted such a defeat raised devastating theological issues as well--as one can see from the Egyptian terrorist Ayman al-Zawahiri's famous "long night of the soul" in June 1967. Had Allah deserted the Faithful? Or...was there no such God as God and Mohammad wasn't his Prophet? We know the result, of course--a redoubling of Zawahiri's religious fanaticism. He wasn't alone--hence the world-shaking events of 1979, twelve years later.

But in any case the United States had NOTHING to do with the Israeli victory of 1967. As NF points out, in 1967, the US was NOT the patron of Israel at all. For instance, the frontline IAF consisted solely of FRENCH aircraft (esp. Mirages).


N. Friedman - 1/30/2009

Fahrettin,

You may well be correct. I, for one, take European newspapers very skeptically. They tend to act as cheerleader for goals that seem far fetched and ill-considered.

You are almost certainly correct that Turkey's future as a democratic and moderate state depends on limiting the influence of Islamists such as those in the current Turkish government.

I do not know the reason for US or European policy regarding Turkey and its Islamists. They seem to be ill-conceived policies.


N. Friedman - 1/30/2009

Mr. Karr,

You write: The preponderance of evidence suggests that from at least 1982, when Reagan proclaimed that an Iranian victory was unacceptable in Iraq, official U.S. policy was that Iran was a terrorist state that must be isolated, and that any nation who traded with Iran, especially helping their war effort, would be considered hostile to the the U.S.

You may be correct that the US government did not want Iran to win. That does not mean, by implication, that the US government wanted Iraq to win. Had we really wanted Iraq to win, we would have armed the country directly.

Instead, we sent secret missions to Iran at the same time we were acting to help Iraq diplomatically. Those are the facts - the picture of the policy pursued, whatever Reagan may have intended (assuming he gave the matter any serious thought).

Presumably, the missions to Iran, selling them arms, had a purpose connected to the Iran Iraq war and presumably - whether the Reagan administration had internal tension or not - Reagan had some connection with the policy his underlings advanced.

I think it is playing politics to argue that when the US arms Iran, it really does not mean the implications of such act - as if we can rely on public statements to trump those acts. So, I do not see your argument as well considered. More than likely, we meant to have it all ways at once.


Fahrettin Tahir - 1/30/2009

I am interpreting circumstantial evidence I read in the European press, like the Economist and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung as well as what Turks tell each other.

I think as things stand it is up to the US and Europe to give a clear signal that they will not allow islamists to ruin Turkey. As long as influential organs of the European press praise them as democratic and moderate and condemn the opposition, I remain convinced that they are only interested in short term gains, which the AKP liars promise them.


Ronald Dale Karr - 1/30/2009

"But if your general point, Mr. Karr, is that Saddam was all along a creature of the U.S., or that the U.S. supported the Saddam regime in some special way, then that is simply WAY off the mark."

I never said or implied either of these points. But your contention that "the U.S. pursued a Machiavellian balanced neutrality policy" seems equally far-fetched. The preponderance of evidence suggests that from at least 1982, when Reagan proclaimed that an Iranian victory was unacceptable in Iraq, official U.S. policy was that Iran was a terrorist state that must be isolated, and that any nation who traded with Iran, especially helping their war effort, would be considered hostile to the the U.S.

This policy was blatantly violated by the U.S. itself in 1985 when we secretly sold arms to the Iranians. You might see this a stroke of Machiavellian genius, but I think most historians would chalk it up to the chaotic state of the Reagan White House at the time, in which various factions in the Pentagon, State Dept., CIA, etc., battled it out without clear direction from the President. At any rate, when this episode passed, the U.S. resumed its previous policy.

So what did the Iraqis gain from our support? Intelligence, to be sure, but even more importantly our help in isolating their enemy. Our boycott largely worked--Iran got precious little outside aid, while as you note, Iraq was showered with favors, with our blessing. No, they got no arms from us, but our approval certainly made it easier for them.

In the end, our dispute, like most historiographical quarrels, is not mostly about facts, since we are largely in agreement, but about how to interpret those facts.


N. Friedman - 1/30/2009

Art,

Tim Furnish's book on Mahdis discusses the 1979 incident at the Great Mosque in great detail. The attack was to establish a Mahdi, which no doubt sent shivers down the bodies of the Saud family. Why? Because the event called their claim to be legitimate and moral rulers into question.

So, your point is very, very well taken. The one point I would add is that the year 1967 was also a very important one. It was the year where Arabs suffered a great humiliation. After more than a decade of promising that Israel and its population would be dispatched to the Sea, the war led instead to the utter defeat of the Arabs. This helped undermine the moral authority of the pan-Arabists and other less religion oriented movements and abetted the effort of Islamists to spread their message.

That, of course, was not the US's doing - since the US was not Israel's patron before the war. It was, in any event, the fact of the backwardness of the Arab regions that was exposed to Arab population by that war. And, the movement that was prepared already to replace the existing movements was a religious one. That movement has grown ever since (and it was, to note, growing before that time as well) but, as you note in your point, that movement grew exponentially after the Iranian revolution and the assault on the Great Mosque.


N. Friedman - 1/30/2009

Larry,

I certainly agree that the printing press does not automatically lead to reason. However, we have no obverse truth that correlates. Which is to say, the absence of the printing press is almost certainly an invitation - a great foment - to irrational religious and political movements. And, that is what we see in the Arab regions, where literacy is not well established.

As for the US, it has fomented some hostility by its actions. Of course, before the end of WWII, the US had little impact on the region while the irrational Islamist movement was already a substantial movement. In that the US has far more control over Korea than Arab states (apart from, just now, Iraq) over the years, one would think, if Professor LeVine's theory were correct, that Korea would, like the Arab regions, be up in arms against the US, with NGO groups interested in flying planes into buildings here. Yet, we find that Koreans now make cars that compete fairly well with American and Japanese cars. By contrast, Arabs have difficulty manufacturing pins (and pretty much everything else). In fact, Westerners found and dig up the oil for Arabs who lack the skills, thus far anyway, to do the same. In Iran - not an Arab country but a country in the same region -, the regime is unable to repair its machinery used to dig up oil, with the result that there are oil shortages - and Iran is more advanced than any Arab country!!!

As for Jews, their main sin to Arabs is their refusal to submit to being ruled by Arabs. In that regard, they share the same problems as the Maronites in Lebanon except that, unlike the Maronites, Jews managed to retain their independence from domination by Muslim Arabs.

Whether Israelis defend themselves or not, either approach seems to be a source of hostility. When land is ceded, it leads to rockets being shot into Israel. When Israel shoots, it leads to hostility.

So, worrying about creating hostility among Arabs ought to be pretty low among the concerns of Israelis. Their concern - a product of a region where the rule of law between states is all but nill - is survival. And, their cost of survival includes fomenting more hostility among neighbors who would hate the Israelis anyway - again, for their refusal to submit to Arab governance.


art eckstein - 1/30/2009

Mr. Stout, the rise of fanatical islamicist fundamentalism to increasing power in the Muslim world since 1980 (and this is a development which in its force simply CANNOT be compared to religion in any western culture, despite what you snidely imply) has TWO main sources and they are both inside the Muslim world.

1. The Iranian Revolution of 1979, which the U.S. opposed.
2. The seizure of the great mosque at Mecca by Islamic radicals, also in 1979. Although this rebellion was put down by the Saudis (with FRENCH help), it changed the policy of the Saudi regime. From that time onward, the image of the Saudi regime, which previously had been a modernizing and technological one, became increasingly based on hyper-religiousity One result was the Saudi govt funding of narrowly fundamentalist Wahabi/Salafist madrassas throughout the Muslim world (buying off radical mullahs) to the tune of at least $100 BILLION in the past 30 years. (Some people claim its $100 BILLION in Egypt alone.) This huge Saudi expenditure of money on missionary work for the narrowest and most bigotted form of islam has had a huge impact on really-existing Islam, all of it negative.

And this has nothing to do with Israel. And this has little to do with the U.S., except indirectly in that the U.S. is generally a force for modernization.

One CANNOT blame these tidal changes within Islam on Israeli or U.S. policy. Israel and the U.S. may play a role but it is a peripheral one. The two world-shaking events of 1979 are where the religious evils and Islamic totalitarianism which we now see are coming from, and these were developments primarily (not totally, but primarily) from WITHIN the ummah. They were in a general way a response to the multi-front failure of Arab Nationalism (and national socialism) to provide the Muslims and the Arabs with POWER. So they have turned to the most narrow forms of their traditional religion to do it.

You must learn, Mr. Stout, to give Muslims AGENCY and RESPONSIBILITY for these developments. Otherwise, you are still claiming that the West is somehow in control over Muslims and over these events--an attitude which is, um, a fundamentally imperialist one.


art eckstein - 1/30/2009

Mr. Karr, it is precisely because of the facts I have presented above that Fahrettin yesterday wrote here on this thread that the U.S. supported IRAN in the 1980s. IRAN, not Iraq.

Fahrettin argued that the US saw Iran as a potential weapon vs. the USSR (which at that time was of course in Afghanistan and which was also...well...fervently supporting IRAQ at that time with, e.g., thousands of tons of weapons, hundreds of tanks and SAMS, plus thousands of Iraqi officers--THOUSANDS, Mr. Karr--trained in the USSR. Iraqi officers trained in the U.S. in this period? NONE).

Now, I think that Fahrettin went way too far the other way from you regarding U.S. policy, Mr. Karr. I don't think the U.S. sided esp with Iran, rather it was neutral, helping and hindering both sides a bit. But one can see from the facts I presented above why Fahrettin would posit his position that the U.S. eventually sided with IRAN in the 1980s, and not Iraq.

As I said, it looks to me that the U.S. pursued a Machiavellian balanced neutrality policy.

But if your general point, Mr. Karr, is that Saddam was all along a creature of the U.S., or that the U.S. supported the Saddam regime in some special way, then that is simply WAY off the mark.

Other great powers--France (Germany too) but especially the USSR--were FAR FAR more involved with Saddam's regime. And the very deep involvement of the USSR in support of Saddam should bring you up short in terms of sheer logic regarding Saddam as a creature of the U.S. But in addition to the logic here, there are the FACTS about, e.g., where U.S. military hardware went.


N. Friedman - 1/30/2009

Fahrettin,

If the US is really supporting the Islamists in Turkey, that is not a very smart move.

Attaturk's revolution was a great one and he was a great man, worthy of respect and admiration. To empower those who might jeopardize his and his followers' accomplishments strikes me as shortsighted and naive.

I hope you are wrong. I would be interested in seeing some evidence for what you write.


Larry N Stout - 1/30/2009

There is no shortage of vile and fanatical persons brandishing the sword of Islam. That doesn't diminish the fact that the U.S. and Israel have each fomented, directly and indirectly militaristic fundamentalism through their foreign policy stances and actions. Nor do we have to look outside of the U.S. and Israel to find vile and fanatical persons, regligious and otherwise, in positions of power. My point about the printing press was simply that literacy does not come prepackaged with reason and reasonableness; if there is a positive correlation, it is weak. The veneer of civilization is quickly stripped away, given sufficient (and all too common) stresses.


N. Friedman - 1/30/2009

Art,

Professor Crone is a terrific scholar. I read her book God's Rule - Government and Islam: Six Centuries of Medieval Islamic Political Thought and began, but did not finish, her book Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World.

Regarding the first mentioned book, it is fascinating and brilliant. The second book, Hagarism, struck me as rank speculation. Moreover, writing a history of Islam's beginnings that ignores almost entirely Muslim sources is not, to me, well premised since, as I see it, it does not follow automatically that such sources are all wrong or that where they disagree with non-Muslim sources, the Muslim sources must be wrong. So, I gave up on that book after reading about half of it.

God's Rule, on the other hand, is worth slugging through. Moreover, it provides evidence for the sort of NGO terrorism we have today. Described is the fact that Muslims would move to the remote regions of Muslim ruled land and raid into infidel lands, often in direct opposition to what a ruler wanted.

Be that as it all may, the issue with the failure of intellectual independence for immigrants from the Muslim regions is a real one.


art eckstein - 1/30/2009

Yes, Mr. Karr, the Reagan initiative to Iran was surreptitious--it was kept secret from congress. But Mr. Karr, the Reagan initiatve--complete with a nice cake brought to Tehran by Col. North in search of mullahs to talk to and perhaps repair U.S.-Iranian relations: it um, HAPPENED. That it was surreptitious changes nothing. North was working direclty for the White House.

So it wasn't even the thousands of U.S. anti-tank missles that went to Iran--they were part of a broader diplomatic effort to re-engage with the mullahs. But insofar as we are talking weapons, the score is: Thousands of U.S. anti-tank missles went to Iran, whereas Saddam's armed forces never received one single weapon from the U.S. That's not a pro-Iraqi position!

Saddam did receive some intelligence, yes. That's why I said that the U.S. was neutral in the war.


Fahrettin Tahir - 1/30/2009

Art,

For the turkish motivations in ww1 I will refer to karl marx, leo trotsky and winston churchill. Karl marx writes in one of his articles about the crimean war, taht the turkish paschas would know how to modernize turkey but the russians would not let them. Russia made war on turkey every 20 years between 1774 and 1912. When it was not making war it was organising terrorism of the christian minorities in Turkey. In this time 5 million moslems were killed to make islam disappear from europe. Leo trotsky who covered the balkan war 1912, when turkey in europe was erased from the map after the europeans encouraged the balkan christinas to attack turkey, writes that the major powers had agreed on the partition of anatolia. It was clear: this was to be the end not only of the ottoman empire but the turks as a people. Churchill writes that they had offered the ottoman government a limited period in which turkey could continue to exist but these had seen the chance to finish tsarist russia, with which they were obsessed, off for once and for all with german help. Indeed, this is exactly what happened. Communist russia was not as aggressive against turkey as the tsarist empire, the british incited greek invasion of anatolia in 1920 could be defeated by whatever was left of the imperial army and modern turkey could be born and later supported by the nato. The policy was brillant and successful. You can only criticize it if you can presume that Turkey was not threatened. This is simply not true.

The Shah of Iran was installed in power by the british, as musaddeq tried to nationalize the oil and overthrew the shah, they brought him back to power. When he later nationalised the oil and iran began a very rapid economic development the ayatollah revolution took place. The shah was heard complaining that the us had used her influence on the iranian army to prevent him from ending the ayatollahs revolt. The point would be of course to prevent iran from becoming strong enough to dominate the middle east and destabilize the soviet union by using radical islam. The ayatollah fulfil the requirement that they do nothing to economically catch up with the west, which would really change the balance of power in the world. They are a containable nuisance as long as they don’t have the bomb.

Egypt was a country which had her own automonous political culture in the ottoman empire, wheras syria and iraq were not. They were directly rules provinces and when they were made independant countries could not develop one in the time available. They were grabbed by horrible baas people. This is why Egypt is a relatively sane place wheras syria and iraq are not.

Turkey was being run by elected and incompetent secularist people until 2002. In 2001 the us engineered a run on the turkish lira and used her influence on some turkish politicians to make an early election in the middle of the crisis to hieve the akp into power. Later us representatives complained that the AKP had promised to support them in the iraq war but had not done so. This is no attempt to excuse the secularists or the people who vote for them, just one of the factors which made the akp the governement party. In 2008 the economist was threatening turkish army that they would not be able to pay the debts if they ovethrew the akp. In germany the influential frankfurter allgemeine zeitung is full of comments that the akp is the new calvinist islam and that they are the new democratic elite which is replacing the old nationalist generals. It does not bother them that erdogan is on record as saying democracy is a streetcar, he gets out when he reaches the station where he wants to go to.

The influential trio running Turkey are PM erdogan, president gul and behind the curtains a certain fethullah gulen. Translated the man’s name means the laughing conqueror for allah. He escaped to the us after he was filmed telling his supporters that they first had to take over the state institutions before they can take over the the state. 2008 he applied for a us residence visum saying he was running a 25 bn$ business empire. His people control 500 schools worldwide to propagate his islamist ideology, he is training the elites of his planned islamist greater turkish empire. You must remember that most of central asia speaks turkish. In all over 200 million people. It is not clear where the money comes from but the turkish left is convinced that the cia is financially and organisationally behind him. He represents the islam they want to see, at least until he is strong enough. His people are growing ever more influential in the justice and police organisations and are behind the ergenekon conspiracy with which they are trying to knock out the army.

Turkish secularists are convinced that the islamist are supported by the us and are geeting ever more anti western, the talk is of cooperating with china and russia to get rid of the islamists and the us.


art eckstein - 1/30/2009

There is another aspect to this. As Patricia Crone the eminent Islamic scholar at Princeton once explained to me, in the absence of a strong tradition of independent thinking, many Muslims even in Europe draw their opinions from those of the imam. The local imam is thus crucial in shaping wide swathes of public opinion.

As an example, when "Dr. Fadl" the terrorist theorist revoked his belief in killing innocent civilians, he was castigated by those of the Muslim Brotherhood offshoot of which he was a leader for leading them down the wrong path. They took no responsibility for their own decisions (for instance, in killing dozens of European tourists in Upper Egypt): if there had been a moral failing, it was the imam's responsibility; he was the leader.

When you then have ignorant or bigoted imams (a real problem now in Europe, let alone the Middle East), you see where that leads in terms of dealing with society.

NONE of this has ANYTHING to do with "imperialism", etc. It is a weakness inherent in Muslim society as it has evolved over the past 200 years or so.

The problem is made worse by the disapperance of the western-influenced class of notables who used to have moderating influence in the Middle East: destroyed by national socialism policies in (e.g.) Egypt and Iraq, destroyed by fanatical versions of Islam in Iran. Again, these are devlopments WITHIN Muslim Middle Eastern society. Though if you want to look outside to blame national socialist policies for destroying the notables, the candidate is the USSR, who supported these policies in Egypt and Iraq.

No doubt there will be some here who will somehow blame the US for the fanaticism of the Iranian mullahs which destroyed the Iranian notable class, but that would be a very strained argument, since it would be assigning no agency at all to internal developments within Iranian Islam, or Iranian Muslim-influenced beliefs and decisions, or to charismatic leaders such as the vile Khomeini.


Ronald Dale Karr - 1/30/2009

The U.S. was hardly neutral in the Iran-Iraq War! True, the Reagan Administration supplied arms to Iran. But this was done surreptitiously, completely contrary to official U.S. policy of isolating Iran as a terrorist state. In fact, nobody in the Reagan administration, except one Marine light colonel, would acknowledge having authorized the sale! Once the arms sales was revealed (Contragate), the U.S. provided aid only to Iraq. Despite Saddam's brutality to his own people and his use of chemical warfare, U.S. support was undiminished, until he threatened our oil supply.


Peter Kovachev - 1/30/2009

Yes, yes, all very good, Mr Green, but as you can see Professor LeVine's articles are increasing in size and frequency (sign of the messianic age?), and you should appreciate that he may not have the time to answer or even ponder your points. I'll attempt to help out here...and no, no thanks are necessary from you or the good prof.

The term "democracy," and functioning simulacrae therof, are tools in the valiant struggle for international socialism and mandatory, internationally-imposed policy of Palestinianism. Thus, the correct interpretation of "democracy" should be as a "dictatorship of the proletariat." Fore some inexplicable reason, the term "dictatorship" throws the ignorant masses off a besides this (as any other) concept can only understood by an enlightened few in Middle eastern studies faculties and the halls of the UN and not to forget, your very own State Department. So, let's not waste time on dancing angels; "it's good thing," is all anyone here needs to know.

Hostile reactionary types like you say that democracy requires "preconditions," such as developed free enterprise economies, equality under and the rule of law, freedom of expression, individual liberties, complex legal systems, instituted checks and balances and a slew of other egg-heady twiddle. Nice try! Like, as if anyone out there can assemble all that junk together in one place.

Forget all that. To be called a "democracy" (for tax purposes, or impressing one's date) all you really need to do is to declare that everyone has a vote and to go through photogenic motions of elections...at least once. The media will help with that. Just have a lots of women and children milling around rubble for the cameras. No one will mind if there is really only one party to vote for, if there are a number of inconsequential or pretend opposition parties, or if you use bribery, expropriation and outright murder as part of your "democratic strategy." Names are important too, hence don't forget to append "Democratic Republic of..." before your country's name.

So, where's the problem?


N. Friedman - 1/30/2009

I think we are in basic agreement.


N. Friedman - 1/30/2009

Take back part of my last post.

That there are Americans who still have religious sensibility is something to be considered in understanding the US. On that score, you are correct - although Jews do not see typically see Israel in eschatological terms. That is more of a Christian thing and it is hardly limited to the US. I should add that much objection to Israel has its roots in religion as well, most particular among Christians in Europe who believe in supersessionism in its neo-Marcion Palestinian Replacement Theology approach.

My point, in any event, is not that superstition or religion has been driven out of the West including the US but that it plays a far more dominant public and private role in the Arab regions. And, a driving force for that was the late arrival of the printing press, most particularly to the Arab regions.

Your comment related to the arrival of the printing press to America, however, misses the point. When settlement became seriously established in America, the press - already a part of the fabric of life in Europe - arrived here as well. In that regard, your point was way off base.


N. Friedman - 1/30/2009

Mr. Stout,

The culture that arrived in America had been exposed to the printing press for centuries. So, your point is nonsensical.


art eckstein - 1/30/2009

I agree that in the Middle East (outside of Israel) we are dealing with a culture in which there are very significant patches of illiteracy. There is thus a large danger of ignorance and bigotry. One of the things that constant reading eventually can teach is a rational approach to complex evidence: that is, logic of argument, weight of evidence.

Not that newspapers don't make effective propaganda--look at the highly literature culture of Nazi Germany! But this does mean that we are dealing with large parts of a population that depends for information on, um, vivid images culled from al-Jazeera, and the fulminations of imams who are often themselves ignorant.

Example of the latter point: Irshad Manji once asked al-Hindi, one of the heads of Hamas, what exact passage in the Koran justified suicide bombing of civilians. There was a long and excruciatingly embarrassing scene in which al-Hindi searched fruitlessly through the Book, and then had his aides do the same. Then her camera-batteries died, and she had to leave. She was lucky, her translator said--"Better that the camera dies than you."


Peter Kovachev - 1/30/2009

Bingo, bango, bongo. Darn those pesky little factoids that get in the way of a jolly anti-US yarn. Iran/Iraq, tomey-to\tomaah-tow, such splitting of hairs. And now back to you, Mr Kerr. Calling Mr Kerr?


Larry N Stout - 1/30/2009

"What was Europe like for the century or two after the printing press came into use? It was still in the throws of superstition and its effects."

The printing press was first used in America in 1639. Three hundred and seventy years later, how many millions of Christians and Jews in the USA firmly believe in, and long for, an apocalyptic eschatology centered on "Israel"? (Dubya no doubt among them, but he would have to ask his AEI theologians first.)


N. Friedman - 1/30/2009

Art,

I do not doubt the reputation of those involved in determining literacy. What I do doubt is the possibility of such a dramatic improvement between 2002 and 2007. During that time, schools were not exactly operating on a normal schedule. And, on top of that, doing surveys was hazardous business - life threatening, to be exact. And, before that, doing surveys under Saddam was no easy feat either, although it perhaps did not carry as strong a threat of death.

So, reputable or not, I do not believe that they knew in 2007 the literacy rate although clearly it was very low by world standards. My bet is that the earlier figure is closer to the facts of things. And, given the war, I do not believe that the literacy rate could have improved so dramatically.

What I also do believe is that literacy is not sufficiently ingrained in Iraq or anywhere else in the Arab regions, which is why superstition is so widespread. If, for example, you read Nonie Darwish's book, Now They Call Me Infidel, she describes how reference to the "evil eye" remains an everyday part of life in the Arab regions where she lived. That is something which has largely disappeared in more literate, modern cultures.

In short, the lack of literacy had lead to a society which has been retarded as compared with more literate parts of the world. And, a major part of that is not even the question of literacy per se but the late arrival of the printing press and what it represents to society.


art eckstein - 1/30/2009

The U.S. gave weapons to IRAN, not Iraq in the 1980s. Iraqi weapons were overwhelmingly Soviet and French--NO U.S. weapons. There is no doubt that the U.S. encouraged Saddam to attack Iran--not that he needed the encouragement. But when push came to shove, the U.S. backed (and opposed) both sides in that war, giving intelligence to Saddam and weapons to Iran, and to make the U.S. a supporter of Iraq when we were selling anti-tank missles to Iran during the war (remembe Iran-Contra?) is illogical. The U.S. agricultural chemicals turned out to be dual use re biological weapons. But OTHER countries (including EGYPT) provided WMD much more directly, so to blame the U.S. is again illogical:

The Dutch gave 4,261 tons of precursors for sarin, tabun, mustard, and tear gasses to Iraq. Egypt gave 2,400 tons of tabun and sarin precursors to Iraq and 28,500 tons of weapons designed for carrying chemical munitions. India gave 2,343 tons of precursors to VX, tabun, Sarin, and mustard gasses. Luxembourg gave Iraq 650 tons of mustard gas precursors. Spain gave Iraq 57,500 munitions designed for carrying chemical weapons.

Get the point?


art eckstein - 1/30/2009

N.F., these are figures from reputable organizations, and must at the least indicate an improvement of some sort in overall literacy between Nov. 2002 and 2007.

These are not improvements in which Ms. Paul will wish to believe, but I don't see how one can avoid the general trend.

In general, of course, LP's view of Iraq as somehow a paradise of Ph.D.'s before March 2003 is absurd. The illiteracy rate was 58% according to PBS Frontline, which is not much different from the general illiteracy-rate in Muslim countries from the Magreb to the Gulf (about 55%).


Ronald Dale Karr - 1/30/2009

Are you saying that the U.S. didn't support Iraq in the 1980s or encourage Saddam to fight Iran? Didn't we supply Saddam with billions in "agricultural credits" up to the day he invaded Kuwait? And where did his biological and chemical WMDs come from--the Soviet Union? (as a wag once noted, We know that Saddam has WMDs--because we have the receipts!)


N. Friedman - 1/30/2009

Art,

Well, 5 years is not enough time, especially during a period of unrest as was the case in Iraq, to account for the improvement in literacy. More than likely, neither figure tells the complete story, which is that literacy came late to the Arab regions, in large part due to the absence of the printing press for Muslims (as was the law in the Ottoman Empire) until the 18th Century in Turkish areas and the 19th Century in many Arab areas. As a result, literacy is not deeply ingrained in the thinking of average people in that part of the world. And, that has bad consequences, as can be plainly seen.

What was Europe like for the century or two after the printing press came into use? It was still in the throws of superstition and its effects.

So, I do think that this is important to understanding things.


N. Friedman - 1/30/2009

Elliott,

UN 242 refers to the captured land as land that is occupied. Such is part of one of the two principles set forth for resolving the dispute. That provision reads:

1. Affirms that the fulfillment of Charter principles requires the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East which should include the application of both the following principles:

(i) Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict;

(ii) Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force


Further, the acceptance or rejection by Arab states of partition does not alter the Palestine Mandate which was, in fact, made part and parcel of the UN Charter, per its provision on existing mandates.


Peter Kovachev - 1/30/2009

"NF, I somehow think that our ineffable propagandist Lorraine Paul is going to be VERY disappointed with these facts..."

Not at all. She'll simply say that "her sources" show nothing of the kind, that she doesn't trust the internet as a reliable source of information, and that your facts are a Zionist Likudnik running-dog capitalist-colonialist-imperialist trick..."Jewish science," as it were.


Elliott Aron Green - 1/30/2009

Prof LeVine, you complain that Pres Clinton did not force Israel to prevent Jews from coming to live in the formerly Jordanian-occupied areas of Judea and Samaria.

First, the Oslo accords do not forbid Jewish settlement in those places.
Second, Jews who go to live in those places are exercising their fundamental human right to live in those places. Further, this right was recognized as a national right by the League of Nations in the Mandate for Palestine [1922] which set up the Jewish National Home, obliging the UK to foster "close settlement" of Jews on the land. This principle was not affected by the UNGeneral Assembly partition recommendation of 11-29-1947, which was rejected by the Arab side.

Third, two gross misinterpretations of international law seem to support your position. It is falsely claimed a) that these areas [Judea-Samaria are "occupied territory," whereas they are parts of the Jewish National Home occupied by Jordan between 1948-1967. Neither SCRes 242 nor 338 nor the Oslo accords have cancelled that status.
b) that Geneva Convention IV forbids Jewish settlement in those areas. Indeed, Geneva IV forbids "transfer" of population to "occupied territory," which was meant to fill in the void in international law which did not forbid German Nazi transfer of Jews from throughout the occupied countries to Poland and its death camps. However, the Jews moving to Judea-Samaria go willingly, indeed eagerly. They are not transferred in the sense of Geneva IV. Further, as said in point a), Judea-Samaria are not "occupied," but even if they were the movement of Jews to those areas would not be forbidden.

Methinks, Sir, that you ought to think more about Jewish human and national rights.


Elliott Aron Green - 1/30/2009

Prof LeVine, you need to look more closely at the problem of instituting of democracy in Arab/Muslim lands. If democracy is interpreted as majority rule, then it is likely that the Muslim Brotherhood could be democratically elected to power in Egypt. However, if democracy means human rights for all humans, equal rights, then election of MB would not be democratic regardless of a majority vote. This is because MB fundamentally denies human equality. Only Muslims have rights, according to MB. As it is, the Coptic Christians in Egypt, descendants of the ancient, pre-Arab invasion Egyptians, are regularly ill-treated, discriminated against, persecuted, etc. How can majority rule be democratic in Saudi Arabia where the majority might also vote for an equivalent of the MB?? Indeed, the State Dept is trying to see the MB as a democratic force. This certainly justifies seeing US policy as a problem in the ME, as I do. But you do not seem to take into account the paradox or problematics of democracy in a country where the majority does not believe in human rights in principle. Doesn't there have to be some reeducation first, as there was in post-1945 Japan and Germany??


art eckstein - 1/29/2009

Yes, N.F:

Tthe 2007 literacy rate among adults in Iraq was 74%, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affaris:

http://iys.cidi.org/humanitarian//hsr/iraq/ixl16.html

By contrast, in November 2002, according to a PBS Frontline story, the adult literacy rate was...58%.

http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/stories/iraq/facts.html.

NF, I somehow think that our ineffable propagandist Lorraine Paul is going to be VERY disappointed with these facts...


N. Friedman - 1/29/2009

Art,

Thank you for your kind words.


N. Friedman - 1/29/2009

Ms. Lorraine,

As for Iraq and its literacy, statistics say it is about 74%, which is not all that high, even for the Arab regions. For example, the rate in Saudi Arabia is 84.3% - which is not a high figure by world standards. The rate, by contrast, in Vietnam is about 90.3%. And, that is the real point here. I might add that the rate for women in the Arab regions is about 52%.

And, of those who are literate in the Arab regions, the level of literacy is extremely low. And, that is as true in Iraq as in the rest of the Arab regions. Which is to say, while Iraq has more PhD's than, for example, Egypt, they are the tip of an iceberg which is not very literate.

Now, people who are illiterate are prone to listen to religious demagogues who tell them to go kill themselves for a cause and to believe that, in the afterlife, 72 virgins will comfort them for their martyrdom. There was a time when European Christians could be similarly motivated to do heinous things.

This is not to say that literate people cannot be motivated to do bad things. They can. It is to say that illiteracy is fertile territory for those interested in motivating people to do bad things.


Lorraine Paul - 1/29/2009

"Where literacy is low, superstition and extremism flourish. Which is exactly what we see in the ARAB (my emphasis) world."

If this is true, Mr Friedman, how do you explain the high literacy rate in Iraq - before the invasion? It is my understanding that there were more PhD holders in Iraq than in the rest of the mid-east. Is my information wrong, if not, why was Iraq the exception to your statement?


A. M. Eckstein - 1/29/2009

Fahrettin, in my view you are correct about both Pakistan under Zia, and about Afghanistan in the 1980s. And I think you are correct about the currupting influence of oil.

I also enjoyed the image of the British, confronting the Ottomans in WWI, going to the bandits in the desert, who had no political culture, arming these bandits and making them rulers of polities, and the modern Middle East mess is the result. I'll never look at "Lawrence of Arabia" the same way again!

(Though surely the Sherifs of Mecca are not to be put in the same category as Auda abu Tayi...)

But you know, Fahrettin, the British and French governments had begged the Young Turk govt to stay out of WWI. The Turkish govt was seduced by the prospect of increased Turkish power via being on the winning side--Germany. Thus Turkish action was a large part of the story--of the tragedy that then occurred in the Middle East and is still occurring. So is Turkish responsibility.

And your paradigm about western responsibility doesn't work for Syria, Egypt or Iraq after the early 1950s at the latest. These are the major reigon states other than Turkey, and all those dictators were homegrown and definitely not bandits from out in the desert. They were backed by the USSR, not by Britain and the US.

And I don't think the U.S. backed the ayatollahs in Iran in the 1980s, as you say.

And surely the rise of the dangerous Islamsts in Turkey ( I agree with you about their ruthless character) is the result of the voluntary choice of a majority of Turkish voters, rather than the result of a plot by the US "to create a new Islam compatible with captialism". What is your evidence for such a U.S. conspiracy?

But like I say, I'll never look at "Lawrence of Arabia" the same way again...


A. M. Eckstein - 1/29/2009

NF lays out the issues very well. I think his is a devastating response to LeVine's piece.


N. Friedman - 1/29/2009

As Professor Eckstein notes above, the portions of the Arab regions over which the US had no direct influence fared about the same as those parts over which the US had a lot or little influence.

The same problems afflicted those countries where the US had influence as afflicted those where the US had no influence. How, then, can the US be blamed so broadly?

More broadly, if Western influence is bad, then how is it that Korea has thrived with a large US army in that country?

In short, the thesis of the article is wrong.

There are real issues for Muslim Arabs. Most of them stem back to Ottoman times, where the Arabs fell further and further behind. One reason for this is that the printing press did not appear in much of the Arab world - at least for Muslims, anyway - until the 19th Century. As a result of retardation in developing a literate culture, literacy remains remarkably low in that part of the world. And, that is the main reason - that plus the fact that the presence of oil means that Arabs can afford not to become more literate.

Where literacy is low, superstition and extremism flourish. Which is exactly what we see in the Arab world.

So, efforts to claim the US should appease Arabs by saying nasty things about Israel or about ourselves in the US or about the West in general miss the point. In fact, whatever sins we have committed contribute rather little to the main problems in that part of the world. Otherwise, Korea would have the same sorts of problems because, in fact, the US has more control over Korea than over Arabs.


Fahrettin Tahir - 1/29/2009

Sorry but this time I see things differently.
Actually India is in a miserable state. It was one the richest countries on the world, when the British came and is now one of the poorest.
The colonial problem is not the 25 years of British rule in the Middle east. It is the Middle east the British engineered as a region which would allow them to steal the oil. For 1000 years the region was stable, the last 500 years of that as moslem provinces of the moslem ottoman empire, a country with a very elegant political culture, which continues in turkey but no longer in the arab world, except perhaps in Egypt. Remember the film Lawrence of arabia. The British went to the bandits in the desert, gave them money and weapons to fight the ottoman empire and made them the leaders of independant countries. Being bandits they had no political culture nor a real legitimacy to run the countries they were given. The british and later the USA helped them to stay in power in return for being let to steal the oil. To this day this has not changed. The oil money ends up in the usa, the arabs stay poor and miserable. And of course such people do not have the abilities to understand and address the problems of the middle east. By preventing the nationalisation of the iranian oil with a coup in the 1950ies and hoping to use the ayatollahs against russia in the 19080ies the USA assured that the ayatollahs came to power. Irak was invaded to steal the oil. Just as everybody thought nothing could be bloodier than saddam hussein, came W. In Turkey it was US intervention in form of an economic crisis at the wrong point which brought the islamists to power, and who knows where they will take the country. They are presently busy prosecuting the secularists with an invented conspiracy. That is how fascism begins. The US were hoping that the islamists would run the country to us instructions, which the secularist nationalists were refusing to do. Besides they are expected to invent a new islam which would be compatible with capitalism. This was nothing else than a repetition of lawrence of arabia going to the bandits in the desert to make them a force to fight the ottoman empire. Your beloved USA is a monster wrecking the middle east and then claiming that the arabs are too stupid to manage their business. Next they will bomb Turkey and say the islamo facists forced them to, conveniently forgetting that it was their own stupidity and greed which brought these people to power, just as it was the USA which had zia ul hak overthrow the secularist government of pakistan to have a base from which islamist nuts could wage a war against the russian supported government of afghanistan which was trying to send girls to school, thus committing a horrible crime against what idiots think is islam. By no coincidence this pakistan now scares everybody and afganistan the nuts trained by the us in the 1980ies are fighting anybody they can find and if they find nobody to fight then each other.
The positive side is that Mr Obama can now do a lot of things differently to put his satellites in order. My Churchill was right when he said the Americans would always dothe right thing after they did every thing wrong which they could. We shall see.


A. M. Eckstein - 1/29/2009

The WEST is responsible for the ills of Arab politics and society?

Professor LeVine seems to forget that it was the USSR that supported and still supports the dictatorship in Syria; that it was the USSR that supported Nasser's "pharoah-ship" (after ca. 1955) and then Sadat's, until 1976; that it was the USSR that supported Saddam Hussein in Iraq until 1990 (and thereafter his weapons came from France, and NEVER from the U.S.), that it is the USSR and then Russia that has close ties of support to the Iranian mullahs.

Moreover, the idea that the Saudis need U.S. help to stay in power is absurd--they conquered Arabia by themselves, and they have powerful secret-police organizations of their own, and they can buy anything they need without the U.S.

The U.S. does prop up Mubarak now (though with occasional pressure on him to liberalize), and the Gulf States (some of which are liberal in Arab terms: Kuwait, Bahrein).

There is a strong tendency in "third-worldism" to view the "victim du jour" as not responsible for his or her own actions. India had 200 years of British imperialism and is not a dictatorship. The British were in the Middle East as rulers for 25 years. It's not "imperialism" that explains current dictatorships. There are deep pathologies in Arab (and, I fear, within broader) Muslim culture that lead to states with 14 different secret police organizations. This has to be faced, and these polities given agency in their own fates.



Larry N Stout - 1/28/2009

A trenchant and cogent analysis!

We knew when Obama performed obeisance before AIPAC a second time during his campaign, and from the language he used there, that he could not be the complete "honest broker" with the Palestinians. His appointment of pathologic hardliner Rahm (Just how neocon is he? A Douglas Feith in sheep's clothing, likewise with the President's ear?) as Chief of Staff, and his nomination (i.e., appointment) of diplomat-antithesis Hillary for Secretary of State, firmly establish his severely limited political power, as presidents go, for the nonce. With so many having so much to lose from his "change", how can he accrue sufficient power to effect material change? Corporations are nowadays more powerful than governments, we've long since been told. I don't recall that the USA was cited as an exception.