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Tussle between America and Turkey: The Whole Story

Michael Samuel

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An economic tussle between the US and Turkey has heightened over the past few months. Both countries are continuously imposing sanctions to paralyze each other economically. But why they are doing so? First of all, we have to keep in view the main reasons behind this tussle.

This tussle started after failed coup attempt by the Turkish Army on July 15, 2016 on which, a week after, Recep Tayyip Erdogan blamed US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen for failed bloody coup attempt to topple Erdogan’s government and behind this failed coup attempt for Marshall Law, Gulen network was of intention to remove Erdogan from the way and to promote his philosophy of moderate Islam. According to Gulen, Turkey was heading backward because of Erdogan’s conventional and orthodox policies. Erdogan then accused Gulen of conspiring to overthrow him from the government by building a network and officially declared the Gulen movement a terrorist organization in 2016. Erdogan and Gulen were once allies until Gullen opened a corruption probe into Erdogan’s inner circle in 2013. Turkey’s repetitive requests for Fethullah Gulen’s extradition from the US to face trial were rejected by the US saying they need a proper evidence of Gulen’s involvement first.

Fethullah Gulen is a Turkish Preacher, imam, and writer, currently living in self-imposed exile in the United States. He is the founder of Gulen movement known as Hizmet which is 3 to 6 million strong volunteer-based movement mostly focused on education, hard work, altruism, and modesty. This movement serves in Europe, the United States, Asia, and Africa.

This rift intensified more when Andrew Brunson, an American pastor, currently living in Turkey, arrested by the Turkish government in October 2016, has taken to the court to face trials over an allegation of alleged espionage on behalf of Kurdish insurgents and Gullen network and involvement in the failed coup attempt in 2016. He was under detention of Turkish government for 600 days, almost 2 years, is now released from jail due to health issues and placed under house arrest on July 25, 2018. The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, welcomed Andrew Brunson’s release from prison but said it is not far enough and demanded his complete release as they have not seen any credible evidence against Mr. Brunson but Turkish authorities neglected continuous demand for Brunson’s release by American policymakers.

Donald Trump rebuked Turkish authorities over their decision for not releasing their man in his tweet and said, “this is a total disgrace that Turkey will not release a respected American pastor, Andrew Brunson, from prison. He has been held hostage far too long. Erdogan should do something to free this wonderful Christian husband and father. He has done nothing wrong and his family needs him.” Turkish prosecutors are seeking a maximum prison sentence of 35 years for the pastor and the court has also imposed a travel ban on him.

The US’s Vice President, Mike Pence in response to this, threatened Turkey in his interview and said, “on behalf of the United States of America, release pastor Andrew Brunson now or be prepared to face the consequences.” Trump also said I thought Ankara and Washington had a deal that if Washington will help in the release of Turkish citizen in Israel on behalf of Ankara, they will fully release the pastor. Trump claimed, he urged the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu for the release of a Turkish citizen. However, Israel had even released Turkish citizen named Ebru Ozkan, on whom allegations are imposed that he was involved in abetting Hamas but Turkey instead, did not keep its words and moved the pastor to house arrest. Not fair. Not right.

In retaliation to Turkey’s betrayal, Trump administration levied sanctions on two Turkish ministers (Minister of Justice, Abdulhamit Gul and Minister of Interior, Suleyman Soylu) over propaganda on Andrew Brunson, and also banned their entry into the US and made their assets even frozen to suppress Turkish government on August 1, 2018. In addition to this, Trump further reacted in ire and said, we are cutting back on Turkey and announced a doubling of tariffs on Turkey on August 10, 2018. He said in his tweet, “I have just authorized a doubling of tariffs on steel and aluminum with respect to Turkey as their currency, the Turkish Lira, slides rapidly downward against our very strong dollar. Aluminum will now be 20% and steel 50%. Our relations with Turkey are not good at this time.” He did not care much about that Turkey is their NATO ally. Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin said, Turkey has “not proven to be a good friend” and we are ready to slap Turkey with more sanctions if President Recep Tayyip Erdogan refuses the quick release of an American pastor on August 16, 2018.

In reciprocation to the US’s operations, Turkey took immediate steps by imposing heavy tariffs on products imported from the United States including cars, alcohol, and tobacco also on rice, nuts, cosmetics, paper, machines etc. Turkey placed 140% on alcohol, 120% on cars and 60% on tobacco and slaps sanctions on 2 US officials i.e., minister of Interior and Minister of Justice. Banned their entry into Turkey and had also frozen their assets. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a press conference, “our nation will boycott U.S. electronic goods. We will stop bringing iPhone. He said, if they have their iPhone, we have South Korea’s Samsung as an alternative. In our own country, we have a Vestel.”

Supporters were strongly fascinated by Erdogan’s statement that “don’t forget, if they have their dollars, we have our people, our God. We are working hard. Look at what we were 16 years ago and look at us now.” As their deliberated trade tensions are at its peak, Turkish Lira shattered badly against the US’s mounting dollar and tumbled up to 5%. Investors started to pull out their money from banks. Such withdrawals have also hurt other currencies. Argentine peso and Indian rupee touched their weakest level against the US dollar. Turkey’s economy is suffering severely due to escalating sanctions by the US and is facing a currency crisis. Loss of $12 billion or more is expected to both countries amid their crumbling relations. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), it is also expected that these actions by the US can cause a loss of more than $500 billion to the whole world. It seemed like the only way for Turkey to get out of this crisis is by securing the help of IMF’s rescue bailout but Turkey’s Finance Minister Berat Albayrak said in a conference, there is no need to be panic, we will easily overcome this economic crisis and will emerge even stronger than before. He is taking its investors in confidence and also talks to France and Germany. Turkey is insistent that no matter what happens, they will not seek the help of IMF. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and French President Emmanuelle Macron have agreed to improve bilateral relations as Turkey is passing through the dire strait. Turkey’s Finance Minister Berat Albayrak engaged with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and have agreed to meet in Berlin to take steps for further enhancement of economic cooperation.

Turkish Lira was up 4% against US dollar following the conference call and reassuring words from French President Macron and Germany’s Chancellor Merkel. Qatar pledged to invest $15 billion in Turkey’s financial sector which will also help to stabilize and bolster their economy. Pakistan, Iran, and Russia have also announced to help Turkey in their impassable time and deplored the US’s sanction on Turkey. Russian foreign minister calls US sanctions illegitimate. He further added that they are devising to end the US dollar’s dominance and envisaging to trade with Turkey and other countries as an alternative currency. Turkey’s president Erdogan also denied to stop trading with Iran after the cancellation of a nuclear deal between Iran and America and is likely thinking forward to purchase Russian Air Defense System if needed which America does not like.

On August 20, 2018, some assailants opened fire on the US Embassy in the capital Ankara. It has been suspected that this attack was carried out as a result of increased tensions between two NATO allies. Turkish Lira plunged further against the dollar after their spat with the United States on August 29, 2018. It has lost almost more than a quarter of its value. On the same day, Turkish media reported that Mohammad Ahmad, known as the spiritual son of Andrew Brunson, has been accused of being the link between the pastor and the Gulenist terror group. As on August 17, 2018, Turkish court in the province of Izmir, rejected an appeal to release Brunson, the lawyer of Brunson on August 30, 2018, has now decided that they would go to European Court of Human Rights.

The only way for both countries to reinstate their extremely disturbed relations is by reconciliation and consensus. Otherwise, the entire world would have to suffer from their delicate and shabby relationship.

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Americas

Venezuelan refugee crisis and how it is altering the surrounding regions

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Venezuela’s migration crisis has been in the news lately and recent UN polls show that nearly 2.3 million have already migrated from their homeland over the past few years. However, other estimates show a figure closer to four million Venezuelan immigrants.

This crisis is rapidly sinking its claws in the neighbouring countries and if the amount of people migrating keeps increasing, it might become the worst man-made disasters since the First and Second World Wars after the Syrian refugee crisis. The Syrian crisis gave birth to more than six million refugees, and although the number here is still around half of that toll, the Venezuelan crisis doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. The inflation over there is nearly a million percent – a number so absurd that the common people around the world are not able to even grasp the sheer magnitude of the situations developing every day in this country. The minimum monthly wage is a few American dollars, putting essentials like food – particularly rations like chicken – into the category of luxurious items. The economy has shrunk by half in five years. To explain the extent of this downfall, Girish Gupta – founder of Data Drum and former investigative, multimedia journalist in Venezuela/LatAm – tweeted: If you’d bought a million dollars in Venezuela’s local currency when President Nicolás Maduro came to power in 2013, it’d now be worth $3.40. Diseases that were once overcome – like measles and diphtheria – are making a comeback. Infant mortality rates are going up while approximately 1.3 million refugees who have already escaped Venezuela were suffering from malnourishment (according to UN officials).

However, these are not the last of the Venezuelans’ problems; the nations to whom the refugees sought to escape to are closing their doors on their faces – literally. Sunday saw Ecuador closing border crossings with Colombia to people who don’t have passports. This was seen as a certain way to reduce the bulk of refugees from entering other countries as passports are fairly difficult to obtain amidst the economical and political chaos. Jonnayker Lien, a migrant standing outside the Peruvian border with his entire family said, “Imagine people like us who have sold everything, down to our beds, to come here, and they close the door on us. We don’t know where to sleep, and we don’t have money to go back.” Crisis broke out in the town of Pacaraima, north Brazil, after local throngs started struggling against the refugees and pushed them back to the border. Already a penurious town, the locals resent sharing their remaining resources with these migrants. However, even a strong military force could not stop these migrants from coming into Brazil. Peru had twenty thousand migrants arriving in the past week.

An emergency regional summit has been called by officials from Ecuador where Venezuela and its neighbours could deal with the crisis. Yukiko Iriyama, a representative in Colombia for the U.N. refugee agency said, “The capacity of the region is overwhelmed. The magnitude of the situation really requires a regional comprehensive approach.” The recently implemented passport checks by Peru and Ecuador aimed to reduce the flow of refugees into the countries. However, all it did was reduce the legal way of entering into these nations and increased the illegal border crossings.  To deal with this disaster and the refugee predicament, representatives from Colombia, Ecuador and Peru will meet in Bogota next week. Christian Kruger, the head of Colombia’s migration authoritysaid in a statement, “The exodus of Venezuelan citizens is not a problem exclusive to Colombia, Peru, Ecuador or a single country. This is a regional problem and as such we must address it. Demanding passports from a nation that does not have them and whose government does not facilitate the issuance of this document is to encourage irregularity.” Peru is also calling a meeting at an individual level of the permanent council of the Organization of American States to discuss the migration.

The toll of migrants entering Colombia is around a million in fifteen months but nations like Chile, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru are also receiving these refugees. Low skilled Venezuelans have flooded some Latin American job markets to find work and send money back home. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told Colombian Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo that he will set up a UN team that will respond to the crisis. UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said that Guterres “told him that he would put together an internal coordination mechanism to make sure that the UN regional response is well coordinated.” “This is something that is not uncommon in these types of crises,” he added. Dany Bahar of the Brookings Institution suggested declaring this as a refugee crisis in order to seek help, saying, “It is up to the United Nations, together with the Organization of American States, to step up and recognize this problem as a refugee crisis so that the world can turn the proper attention to it and provide solutions.” He also added that none of the nations in the regionhave taken the initiative to provide a sustainable solution to the problem.

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Trump: The Symbol of America’s Isolation in the World

Mohammad Ghaderi

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The president of the United States, who came to power in 2016 with the slogan of “Reviving Washington’s Power”, has become the messenger of failure and defeat of his country in the West Asian region and in the international system. The U.S. numerous military and political defeats in countries such as Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon were so outstanding that there’s no way Trump can brag about his achievements in the region.

On the other hand, many Democrats in the United States, and even the traditional Republicans, have been criticizing the President’s costly and barren foreign policy in West Asia. In such a situation, Trump attempts to attribute this failure to the country’s previous administrations and condemn them over what is happening in today’s world, especially in the West Asian region, and he blames Obama for Washington’s constant and extensive failures in this area.

Besides, Trump’s other projections about the hard conditions of the U.S. in West Asia are noteworthy. In his recent remarks, Donald Trump said that if he wasn’t at top of the U.S. political and executive equations, Iran would capture the Middle East (West Asia)! This is while Islamic Republic of Iran created stability in the West Asian region, and besides, has stood against the long-term, medium-term, and short-term and destructive goals of the United States and its allies in the region.

Trump’s strategic weakness in the West Asia is an important issue which can’t be easily overlooked. Of course this strategic weakness did exist during Obama’s presidency, but the truth is that it reached its peak during Trump’s presidency. And in the future, this weakness will bring severe blows to the United States.

The fact is that the strategic calculations of the United States in the West Asia region have all failed. And many of the pre-assumptions that Washington called them “strategic propositions”, have never turned into reality for some reasons, including the vigilance of the Resistance movement in the region. This is the reason why America is so confused in confronting the equations of West Asia.

Under such circumstances, the only way before the President of the United States is to leave the region and confess to his defeat; an issue that many American analysts and strategists have noted. It shouldn’t be forgotten that in spite of his campaign slogans for stopping the military intervention in the region, the current president of the United States has intensified conflicts and created constant security crises in West Asia.

The direct, perfect, and comprehensive support of Donald Trump for takfiri terrorists reflects this fact. Trump started his support for ISIL since the beginning of his presence at the White House in early 2017, and he stood for the terrorists until the fall of ISIL in Syria. Even now, Trump is attempting to revive terrorist and takfiri groups in Iraq and Syria.

Despite passing half of his presidency, Trump has claimed that the defeat in Yemen, Syria and Iraq was Obama’s legacy. There is no doubt that Obama and his two secretaries of state, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, played a major role in creating terrorist and takfiri groups (especially ISIL), and committed bloodshed in Syria and Iraq.

There is also little ambiguity in the strategic, operational and even tactical defeat of the Obama administration in the battlefields of Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. However, Trump can’t deny his share in this defeat, and pretend as if he’s the messenger of the victory of the United States in these scenes! The fact is that Trump completed the military and political defeats of the United States in the West Asia region. Today, the United States is defeated in the battlefield, and can well see that its pieces had failed in these wars.

On the other hand, the White House has lost the political arena of the region. The failure of the United States in the Lebanese and Iraqi elections, on the one hand, and the popular support for the resistance groups in Yemen and Syria, has left Trump and his companions disappointed in the region. In such a situation, attributing the recent and ongoing defeats of the United States to the Obama administration is completely expectable, and at the same time, unacceptable!

Finally, we can see that just like Obama, George W Bush, Clinton, Bush, Reagan and Carter, Trump is stuck in this strategic miscalculation in the West Asian region. Undoubtedly, in his last days in power, Trump will also understand that there’s no way he can overcome this strategic weakness through Saudi and Emirati petrodollars.

However, it seems that the scope of Trump’s defeat in West Asia would be wider than the previous presidents of the United States. Undoubtedly, in the near future, Trump, John Bolton, Mike Pompeo and Nikki Haley will become the symbols of failure in the US foreign policy, especially in the West Asia. In other words, the president of the United States and his companions at the White House will have to admit to defeat in the West Asian region at a great expense, and this is exactly what frightens the American authorities.

first published in our partner Tehran Times

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Weather and White House Turmoil as Elections Loom

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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Hurricane Michael wreaked havoc as it traversed the Florida panhandle.  The first Category 5 hurricane to hit the area since 1881 when records began, its 155 mph winds (only 5 mph short of Category 6) felled massive trees, blew away houses, collapsed buildings and left devastation in its wake.  Relatively fast moving at 14 mph, it was soon gone continuing as a Category 3 into neighboring Georgia and then further up its northeasterly path.  It seemed to signify a stamp of approval for the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on holding earth to a 1.5 degree Celsius warming issued a couple of days earlier.  We are at one degree now so storms can only be expected to get worse.

In northeastern Turkey, a 300-year old stone bridge disappeared overnight.  Villagers convinced it had been stolen called in the police.  Further investigation concluded it had been washed away by a flash flood caused by a sudden summer thunderstorm further upstream — clearly far more intense than in the previous three centuries.

Ever more powerful hurricanes, monsoons and forest fires point to a proliferation of extreme weather events that experts relate to global warming.  Yet President Donald Trump and his administration remain obdurate in climate change denial.

Thins are certainly warming up in the White House.  Nikki Haley announced her resignation in an amicable meeting with the president.  A staunch defender of many of Mr. Trump’s most egregious foreign policy changes, the UN Representative will be leaving at the end of the year to pursue opportunities in the private sector.  So said the announcement.  An astute and ambitious politician she has probably reassessed the costs versus benefits of remaining in a Trump administration.  Some tout her as a future presidential candidate.  Should she be successful she will be the first woman president, who also happens to be of Indian and Sikh ancestry.

The rap singer Kanye West visited the president in the Oval office.  A ten-minute rant/rap praising him was followed by a hug for which Mr. West ran round the wide desk that had been seemingly cleared of all paraphernalia for the performance.  He is one of the eight percent of blacks voting Republican.  Sporting the Trump trademark, Make-America-Great-Again red hat, he claimed it made him Superman, his favorite superhero.  And some suggested it was all further proof the place had gone insane.

A little over three weeks remain to the U.S. midterm elections on November 6th.  Their proximity is evidenced not by rallies or debates rather by the barrage of negative TV ads blasting opponents with accusations of shenanigans almost unworthy of a felon.  A couple of months of this and you lose any enthusiasm for voting.  Perhaps it is one reason why nearly half the electorate stays home.  Given such a backdrop, the furor over ‘Russian meddling’ in elections appears to be a trifle misplaced.  Others call the whole business a ‘witch hunt’ and state flatly the U.S. does the same.

The old idiom, ‘put your own house in order’ is particularly apt when we realize the beginning of this affair  was a Democratic National Committee email leak showing ‘the party’s leadership had worked to sabotage Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign’.  It resulted in the resignation of DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Always fair, aboveboard elections?  Not bloody likely, as the British would say.  Given the rewards, it’s against human nature.

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