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US-Turkish visa spat: A fight for basic freedoms

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Moves by the United States and Turkey that largely ban travel of their nationals between the two countries is about more than two long-standing NATO allies having a spat amid shifting alliances in a volatile part of the world. It is a fight between two leaders, US President Donald J. Trump and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, confronted with the limitations and fallout of their shared desire to redefine or restrict basic freedoms.

The spat erupted when the US embassy in Ankara announced this weekend that it was suspending the issuance of non-immigrant visas as part of a reassessment of the “commitment of the government of Turkey to the security of U.S. mission facilities and personnel.” The embassy stopped short of banning travel by all visa holders.

Hours later, the Turkish Embassy in Washington went a step further by declaring that it had suspended all visa operations for US citizens, effectively banning all US passport holders from travelling to the country. “This measure will apply to sticker visas as well as e-Visas and border visas,” the embassy said. Turkey’s currency plunged in the wake of the announcement in early morning trading on Asian markets.

The spat is the latest escalation of tensions in a relationship that has been fraying for several years  as a result of increasingly authoritarian policies adopted by Mr. Erdogan, differences over the conflict in Syria, US cooperation with Syrian Kurds, the separate indictments in the United States of an Turkish-Iranian businessman on charges of busting sanctions on Iran and 15 Turkish security guards for involvement in a street brawl, and Turkish allegations of US interference in its domestic affairs.

The latest spat highlights the risks of Mr. Trump’s empathy for authoritarian and autocratic leaders that contrasts starkly with a stress on basic freedoms and the rule of law adopted by his predecessors. Mr. Trump last month described relations with Turkey as “the closest we’ve ever been.”

The spat amounts to the White House getting a taste of its own medicine of ignoring abuse of human rights by some of its closest allies. As a result, US nationals and government employees have become the victims of seemingly arbitrary crackdowns for political rather than national security reasons that violate basic freedoms and make a mockery of the rule of law.

The spat erupted after Turkey indicted in the last year two Turkish nationals working at US diplomatic missions in the country and detained at least a dozen other US nationals, including a Christian missionary, on charges of having ties to Fethullah Gulen, an aging Turkish preacher who has lived in exile in Pennsylvania for the past two decades.

Mr. Erdogan blames Mr. Gulen, the leader of one of the world’s richest Islamic movements and most far-flung education systems, for having last year engineered a failed military attempt to remove him from office. Some 250 people died in the attempt in which dissident Turkish tank commanders fired at the Turkish parliament building in Ankara.

The indictment of the Turkish nationals and arrests of Americans were part of a massive crackdown on government critics that involved the firing up to 150,000 public servants, arrest of tens of thousands, curbing of press freedoms and granting the president wide-ranging powers. Mr. Erdogan has repeatedly justified the crackdown as a legitimate response to the failed coup.

The targeting of Turkish nationals employed by the US government appeared to be a crude attempt to persuade the Trump administration to extradite Mr. Gulen, who has denied having any association with the attempted coup.

The administrations of both Mr Trump and President Barack Obama have rejected Turkish extradition requests because Turkey had provided insufficient evidence to substantiate it’s claim that the preacher was responsible for the failed coup.

Mr. Erdogan also wants the release of Reza Zarrab, a Turkish-Iranian businessman with ties to Turkey’s ruling elite, who was arrested in Miami last year for helping Iran evade sanctions.

Mr. Erdogan last month suggested that he would be willing to swap Andrew Brunson, the detained missionary who ran a small Protestant church in the coastal city of İzmir, for Mr. Gulen. “‘Give us the pastor back,’ they say. You have one pastor (Gulen) as well. Give him to us. Then we will try (Mr. Brunson) and give him to you,” Mr. Erdogan said.

The spat constitutes a serious deterioration of US Turkish relations at a time that Turkish-backed rebels are battling Islamic militants in Syria’s Idlib province. The fighting aims to drive back Al-Qaeda-linked forces and prevent the emergence of a Syrian Kurdish entity on Turkey’s border in the wake of a recent Iraqi Kurdish vote for independence. It also comes as Turkey has forged closer ties with Iran to confront Kurdish moves and has stepped up co-operation with Russia in Syria.

Turkey is not the only country to detain US nationals or green card holders. Ola Al-Qaradawi, a 55-year-old research assistant and daughter of controversial Qatar-based religious scholar Yousef al-Qaradawi who has a green card, and her husband, Hossam Khalaf, have been held in solitary confinement since last year. Their only crime appears to be that she is related to a spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The United States has no consular obligations but Congressman Adam Smith, the top Democrat on the powerful House Armed Services Committee, has taken up their case.

Egyptian general-turned-president Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, who came to power in a military coup in 2013 that toppled the country’s first and only democratically elected president, has gone much further than Mr. Erdogan in brutally cracking down on opponents and freedoms.

In a rare break with apparent US neglect of abuse of human rights among its allies, Mr. Trump has cut military aid to Egypt, citing legal restrictions imposed on non-governmental organizations. The real reason was more likely Egypt’s relations with North Korea.

The Trump administration has suggested that it would review its aid decision if Egypt breaks off diplomatic relations with North Korea. Acting on US intelligence, Egyptian authorities seized in August a boatload of $23 million worth of rocket-propelled grenades shipped from North Korea and destined for Egypt. Egypt has denied that it was the intended end-user.

To be fair, the repressive policies of Messrs. Erdogan and Al-Sisi as well as Mr. Trump’s attitudes towards authoritarianism and autocracy and his efforts to redefine basic freedoms in the United States enjoy the support of segments of their populations.

As a result, the plight of US nationals and government employees in Turkey is unlikely to persuade Mr Trump to return to the more assertive advocacy of basic rights and the rule of law of his predecessors. It does, however, demonstrate that tacit endorsement of authoritarian or autocratic rule is not without risk for US citizens as well as foreign nationals employed by the US government.

Moreover, it suggests that lack of respect for human rights and the rule of law constitutes a slippery slope that ultimately could put US national security interests at risk on a far larger scale. That has been evident since the 2011 popular Arab revolts that has heralded an era of often volatile and violent transition in the Middle East for which no end is in sight. It is a convoluted and bloody process of change that poses multiple, often unpredictable challenges, many of which are exacerbated rather than alleviated by autocratic and authoritarian rule.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title, Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and three forthcoming books, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africaas well as Creating Frankenstein: The Saudi Export of Ultra-conservatism and China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom.

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‘Guns Don’t Kill People, People Kill People’: Time to retire

Mohammad Ghaderi

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Again, another mass shooting, again a school, again a troubled teen, a racist, a white supremacist, a Bloods or Crips gangster, a refugee, a war veteran, a mad policeman, a terrorist from al-Qaeda, al-Nusra Front or from the ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant/Daesh) terrorist outfits … what difference does it make and again dead bodies lying on the ground in their blood. Who believes they were alive seconds ago. The story goes on and to my surprise it is having less effect than it used to have years ago. Why?

We are getting bad. We are not hurt anymore. Too much violence has made us numb.

What does the motto on the entrance of the United Nations building says? A poem by the Iranian influential poet Sa’adi, from the 13th century, the medieval period. The poem has many translations however one is this:

The sons of Adam are limbs of each other,
Having been created of one essence.
When the calamity of time affects one limb
The other limbs cannot remain at rest.
If you have no sympathy for the troubles of others,
You are unworthy to be called by the name of a Human.

Give it a thought, try to put it in practice, politician and statesmen in the United Nations, New York, United States. It is ludicrous that almost all of them call for end of wars, urge foe peace and tranquil but at the same time produce and sell arms.

War, violence and killing is simply unacceptable, nasty and painful in any kind and form, whether it occurs in a house, street, city, countries like Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Palestine or the United States of America.

U.S. teen confesses to mass shooting at Florida Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School

A troubled teen with alleged ties to a white supremacist group confessed on Thursday to murdering 17 people at his former high school in Florida, as the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) admitted it had received a tip-off about the 19-year-old gunman yet failed to stop him.

As Americans reeled from the country’s worst school massacre since the horror at Sandy Hook six years ago, the U.S. President Donald Trump suggested the root cause of the violence was a crisis of mental health — and defied calls to address gun control.

Terrified students hid in closets and under desks on Wednesday at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, texting for help as the gunman, Nikolas Cruz, stalked the school with a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle.

Cruz has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder, appearing on Thursday afternoon before a judge who ordered him held without bond.

After being read his legal rights, “Cruz stated that he was the gunman who entered the school campus armed with a AR-15 and began shooting students that he saw in the hallways and on the school grounds,” court documents showed.

Cruz also admitted he discarded his rifle — which he bought legally in Florida — and tactical gear in order to blend in with the crowd to flee the campus, the documents showed.

The recent mass shooting at a school in Florida is the latest reminder that the United States is a “very violent country,” a journalist in Detroit says.

After the shooting, he stopped at a Wal-Mart store and then McDonald’s, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel told reporters. He was detained 40 minutes later, after police identified him using school security camera footage.

Expelled from school for disciplinary reasons, Cruz was known to be fixated on firearms — and had reportedly been identified as a potential threat to his classmates.

In a somber televised address to the nation in response to the 18th school shooting so far this year, Trump vowed to make mental health a priority — after tweeting about the “many signs” the gunman was “mentally disturbed” — while avoiding any talk of gun curbs.

Earlier in the day, Trump had asserted that “neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!”

But U.S. authorities themselves were under scrutiny, after the FBI confirmed it was alerted last September to a message posted on YouTube, in which a user named Nikolas Cruz vowed: “I’m going to be a professional school shooter.”

In a statement, the FBI said it had carried out “database reviews and other checks” but was unable to identify the person who made the post.

Trump cites mental health, not guns, in speech on shooting

Declaring the nation united and grieving with “one heavy heart,” Trump promised on Thursday to tackle school safety and “the difficult issue of mental health” in response to the deadly shooting in Florida. He made no mention of the scourge of gun violence.

Not always a natural in the role of national comforter, Trump spoke deliberately, at one point directly addressing children who may feel “lost, alone, confused or even scared.”

“I want you to know that you are never alone and you never will be,” Trump said. “You have people who care about you, who love you, and who will do anything at all to protect you.”

However, the ones killed were alone when they were shot in cold blood in fear and hope. The ones who lost their precious lives had many hopes and ambitions.

Now they are dead, and it could be every and each one of us, at a school, stadium, concert hall, cinema, home, Middle East, Americas… anywhere, it could be.

Such incidents are cause of sorrow and pain, I cannot explain how I felt when I saw the horrible pictures of the Florida High School shooting, just like how I felt when I saw the massacre committed by the ISIL terrorists killing cadets in Camp Speicher in Tikrit, Iraq. At the time of the attack there were between 4,000 and 11,000 unarmed cadets in the camp. ISIL terrorists singled out Shia and non-Muslim cadets from Sunni ones and murdered them.

Who arms and supports terrorist groups like ISIL? No one can be so naeive to believe that they have just popped out. I recall the U.S. President Trump as saying on his election campaign to Hillary Clinton that the U.S. created ISIL. Well done!

While Trump stressed the importance of mental health and school safety improvements, his latest budget request would slash Medicaid, the major source of federal funding for treating mental health problems, and cut school safety programs by more than a third. Last year, he signed a resolution blocking an Obama-era rule designed to keep guns out of the hands of certain mentally disabled people.

Trump’s silence on guns was noted with displeasure by many who are seeking tougher firearm restrictions. But the White House said the president wanted to keep his remarks focused on the victims.

Before he was a candidate, Trump at one point favored some tighter gun regulations. But he embraced gun rights as a candidate, and the National Rifle Association spent $30 million in support of his campaign.

During his brief, televised statement, Trump said he wanted to work to “create a culture in our country that embraces the dignity of life,” a phrase likely to resonate with his conservative base.

In contrast, former President Barack Obama tweeted out a call for “long overdue, common-sense gun safety laws.” Obama wrote: “We are grieving with Parkland. But we are not powerless. Caring for our kids is our first job.”

In reacting to previous mass shootings, Trump has largely focused on mental health as a cause, dismissing questions about gun control. After a shooting at a Texas church in November left more than two dozen dead, the president said, “This isn’t a guns situation.”
The US has averaged one school shooting every 60 hours since the beginning of 2018, data shows.

Trump was criticized in early August for saying that both white nationalists and counter-protesters were responsible for the violent clashes at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

While Trump has offered somber responses to some tragedies, he has also drawn criticism for other reactions.

After the Orlando shootings at a gay nightclub that left 49 dead in June 2016, then-candidate Trump tweeted, “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism.” In the wake of a deadly terror attack in London last June, he went after Mayor Sadiq Khan on Twitter.

Sadiq Khan compares the US president’s rhetoric against Islam to tactics used by ISIL to inspire terror attacks in Western cities.

First published in our partner Tehran Times

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On Jettisoning Failed Leaders and Mass Shootings in the U.S.

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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The scene is the House of Commons; the date May 7, 1940.  A simple motion to adjourn for the ten-day Whitsun recess is of little concern to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain who has a comfortable 213 seat majority.  Then things take a turn.  A plan approved by the first Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill to land troops in Norway and engage the Germans directly has been a disaster with huge losses, and the eventual naval evacuation of the expeditionary force — an Arctic Dardanelles planned by the same man.

Chamberlain rises to defend Churchill and the conduct of the war in what has now come to be known as the “Norway Debate”.  In the most unlikely of scenarios and with no evidence of Winston trying to put his name forward — in fact the opposite — when the tide turns against Chamberlain, within three days as more favored candidates are shed, he has become prime minister.  Such is the parliamentary system.  Margaret Thatcher is another example, toppled shortly after success at the polls.

The American system, however, puts the president beyond such reach other than through a laborious impeachment.  Analogous to the third Roman Emperor Caligula, Donald Trump, too, has no military or political experience.  Caligula made his horse a senator or some say consul; Trump has the equivalent running government departments and agencies.  Caligula declared himself a god; Trump tweeted he is a ‘stable genius.’  If Caligula’s reign ended with assassination, Trump’s will be more prosaic — just disaffected voters.

Another mass shooting this time at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.  Seventeen are dead and  many more injured.  The gunman, identified as Nikolas Cruz, used an AR-15 assault type rifle, a weapon far deadlier than a pistol — perhaps he watched the coverage of the Las Vegas shooting.  He was a former pupil who had been suspended from the school, and who students recalled as disturbed and scary.

President Trump in his remarks following the incident did not bring up the obvious question of why an AR-15 was so easily available for purchase.  Gun owners and the gun lobby are part of his constituency.

Following a mass shooting in April 1996 when a man armed with two semi-automatic rifles killed 35 people in Port Arthur, Tasmania, the Australian government put together strict gun laws.  They were supplemented with a mandatory gun-buyback program through which 650,000 firearms were destroyed.  Did the program work?  The data tells the story more vividly:  From 1979 to 1996, Australia suffered 13 mass shootings; since 1997 it has had none.

Under his usual theme of ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people’, President Trump continues to talk about finding ways to deal better with disturbed people.  The sure Australian way is to stop them acquiring guns.

Lost in the Florida school story was another shooting the same day when trigger-happy guards let loose at a National Security Agency entrance.  The forested area is a confused mass of entries and exits.  It has happened before that somebody inadvertently makes a wrong turn and panics when faced with shouting armed guards.  In this incident, bullet holes can be seen in the windshield and the three men in the car were injured.

Introducing the Gates Foundation’s annual philanthropic letter a few days ago, Bill and Melinda Gates appealed to Donald Trump to not cut foreign aid — “even a 10 percent cut could lead to 5 million deaths in the next decade”, Bill Gates warned.  Will President Trump listen?

Despite the many wonderful aspects the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, when it comes to jettisoning incompetent leaders, it is difficult to best the parliamentary system for immediacy.

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Trump’s new nuclear doctrine just rhetoric

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Recently the US President Donald Trump unveiled his new nuclear doctrine which had remained unchanged since 2010. Many experts consider Trump’s new doctrine which enjoys many ambiguities as just campaign rhetoric. To shed more light on the issue we reached out to Prof. Filip Kovacevic, University of San Francisco geopolitics.

The US new nuclear doctrine was published several days ago. This document had remained unchanged since 2010. What are the reasons for new changes?

According to the US military establishment, the most important reason for changes is that the world has been a more dangerous and geopolitically unstable place. What the generals are not saying, though, is that it was their own actions which are responsible for this state of affairs. The hegemonic US foreign policy, the attempt to force a neo-liberal Pax Americana on the diversity and richness of the world’s cultures and traditions, is the cause of the present world problems.

Of course, you won’t find this stated openly in the doctrine. What you will find there, in a typical manipulative fashion, are the accusations of others for the problems that the US foreign policy has caused itself. In fact, this hypocritical pattern of behavior, where you take the legitimate reactions of others to your own provocations and aggressive moves as the main cause of tensions and conflicts, goes back many decades into the past.

What is the most significant difference between the new doctrine and the previous one?

In my opinion, the most significant difference is that a lot more money will be poured into the development of nuclear weapons. This will inevitably lead to a nuclear arms race with other states and to the proliferation of nuclear weapons as more and more countries will want to acquire them. But it will bring tremendous profits to the US military-industrial complex. In fact, the Trump administration is completely under the control of this section of the US corporate oligarchy. Trump is essentially breaking down all the institutional checks and balances in the US political system and paving a way for a military dictatorship. I have no doubt that the next US president will be a military officer. This means that we are about to see more wars and more deaths around the world, including in the Middle East. Many old, frozen conflicts will be re-opened across Asia and, apparently, the US is also setting a stage for the first-time use of a low yield nuclear weapon. Let’s not forget, though, that the bombs with depleted uranium have already been extensively used in the US /NATO conflicts, starting with the attack on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1999, causing horrific public health and environmental problems for generations to come.

In new doctrine, the use of nuclear weapons is allowed in extraordinary situation. There are some ambiguities around this. What are those extraordinary situations exactly?

The fact that the US reserves the right to respond with a nuclear weapon to a non-nuclear attack is nothing new. In fact, the US dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki even though there was no nuclear threat from the Imperial Japan. However, what is new in this doctrine is that now the US considers the potential use of a nuclear weapon against a large-scale cyber-attack. This is extremely worrying, because, as is well known, it is very difficult to correctly attribute the source of a cyber-attack. This could make a false-flag attack by some rogue terrorist faction or by the inside provocateurs misinterpreted as an attack by another nuclear power and lead to the nuclear annihilation of all life on Earth.

As the US considers the first strike on Russia acceptable, it means the spirit of the cold war is governing this new doctrine. Why has the US taken this approach?

Provoked by the rapid and aggressive expansion of the US political, economic, and cultural influence in Central and Eastern Europe under the umbrella of NATO, Russia has embarked on the campaign of re-arming and strengthening its defense and security apparatus in recent years. It appears that the US thought that Russia would cave in under its demands and accept to be a third-rate power in Eurasia. However, this was a serious misunderstanding of the Russian history and tradition. Now that Russia pushes back, the US establishment does not know what else to do but to make threats. However, these are empty threats because any kind of use of nuclear weapons against Russia or against its allies within the Collective Security Treaty Organization would quickly lead to mutual destruction. The spirit of the old Cold War has returned, and it will be with us for a long time to come. Accordingly, we will see the flare-up of proxy conflicts and covert actions across the world.

How do you assess the US new doctrine toward Iran? What are the new points?

Iran is one of only four states separately mentioned in the doctrine. The others are Russia, China, and North Korea. Iran is given the least coverage because it is not seen as an immediate nuclear danger to the US .The main emphasis is on what will happen after the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) ends in 2031. It is stated that after this period, Iran will be able to produce a nuclear weapon within a year. Interestingly, there is no mention of the US getting out of the JCPOA before that time, which is in contradiction to what the US president Donald Trump has been saying recently. It appears that Trump’s statements are just campaign rhetoric intended to please some important and wealthy interest groups, but that, in reality, it will be difficult for the US to get out of the JCPOA, considering that all other signatories are still backing it. However, this is not to say that the US will not use all other means at its disposal, including its vast media and intelligence resources, to sow discord within the Iranian political elite and create an economic and political crisis in the country.

First published in our partner Mehr News Agency

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