Tag Archives: Turkey

A 21st Century Worldview: Interviewing Ahmet Davutoğlu

28 Mar

A 21st Century Worldview: Interviewing Ahmet Davutoğlu

[Prefatory Note: Below is an interview that I conducted with the former Turkish Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, published in Middle East Monitor on March 23-24, 2020. His responses to questions 18-20 concern the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on the world. The interview is long, yet a worthwhile overview how the most important intellectual political figure in Turkey views global and national reality given the shape of recent developments. It was framed to touch upon the main themes of his pathbreaking contribution to the scholarly literature, Systemic Earthquake and the Struggle for World Order, published in 2020 by Cambridge University Press, available via Amazon. (disclosure: I wrote the foreword)  

Davutoğlu has recently formed the Future Party to work in opposition to the AKP led government headed by President Erdoğan, with an intention to mount an electoral challenge in coming years. The main programmatic feature of the Future Party is its advocacy of pluralist & inclusive democracy as distinct from the contentions of majoritarian democracy.]

  1. You were a prominent figure in academic circles before you entered political life. What prompted you to become a politician?

Whatever field we work in, the unavoidable fact is that we live in a certain space and flow of history. Our existence is defined and limited by the dimensions of time and space. If you are an academic in the social sciences, especially international relations, the influence of these space and time dimensions are felt even more deeply. In a sense, they form an existential framework for your own test tube.[i] Theoretical academic studies beyond the test tube draw one into the reality that exists within it; the conclusions one reaches within this reality start influencing one’s academic work’s theoretical perspective.

This intellectual dialectic between academic theory and socio-political reality also applies to me. My journey between these two fields has been a dynamic process rather than a single, sudden decision. I presented my doctoral dissertation in comparative political theory, later published as Alternative Paradigms[ii] in June 1990, two months before Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in the year the Cold War ended. History’s rate of flow has accelerated here in the Middle East. In a sense, the time/space dimension of our ontological existence has been reshaped.

 

It was in this context that I wrote articles criticising the End of History hypothesis that claimed that far from gaining pace, the flow of history, when it came to ideas, had actually slowed to a virtual halt; a theory that gained popularity at that time and found adherents in Turkey as well. In these articles I stressed that we should not be fooled by overly optimistic visions as the Cold War came to an end; on the contrary, we were in a far more intense philosophical-political crisis in which decision-makers in Turkey, a country that lay at the centre of all these shifts, needed to be prepared for all kinds of surprises and alternative scenarios. People took a closer look at my views in the wake of developments in Bosnia, which gave Turkey and the world a psycho-political shock. I rejected offers to enter Turkish politics in the 1995, 1999 and 2002 general elections – offers that came during the establishment of new political parties as well. I said I would remain in academic life with a view to pursuing academic studies, seeking to make sense of all these processes and would only be able to offer theoretical advice.

 

However, it sometimes happens that a person’s own work has a transformative impact on that person’s own life as well. Within a short time of its publication in June 2001, my book Strategic Depth, which analysed regional and global post-Cold War developments and specified Turkey’s strategic position in this new historical context, made a widespread impact in universities and military academies. This led me to accept an invitation to act as chief advisor to the then-prime minister, Abdullah Gül, and later Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. This invitation reflected the change of government in 2002. At the time, Turkey faced three huge issues that would determine its strategic future: the Iraq War, the EU accession process and the Cyprus negotiations.

 

For seven and a half years I served as chief advisor. This period involved me in a large number of policy processes responsive to these three overall challenges, a few noteworthy examples of which are mentioned in the book Systemic Earthquake. For Turkey and for me, it represented a transition from theory to practice, as well as from scholarship and teaching to politics. Because of my determination to get back to academic life, I respectfully turned down Prime Minister Erdoğan’s suggestion that I be included as a parliamentary candidate with a possible ministerial post after the 2007 elections. The reason I gave for declining was that I intended to return to academic life soon after the elections.

The main factor behind my decision to finally enter into politics was the closure case brought against the AK Party (the Justice and Development Party). The case was initiated about eight months after the party’s overwhelming victory with 46.6 per cent of the votes in the July 2007 general elections – a result that was impressive in the Turkish multiparty context. I regarded this case as a declaration of war against democracy in my country, which amounted to a virtual coup attempt. At that point, I went to see Prime Minister Erdoğan and told him that I would not hesitate to take part in politics at a time when our democracy was under threat, and that I was ready to assume any duty to protect democracy. In response, I was appointed as foreign minister in May 2009 and prime minister in August 2014.

In a nutshell, two principal motives prompted my longer-term involvement in political life: the moral untenability of staying aloof from the practical side of the history, of which I was trying to make theoretical sense, and a sense of democratic responsibility to my country and people as they found themselves at the centre of a turbulent historical process that was gaining ever-increasing momentum, and was challenging the leadership of the country to minimise risks and take advantage of opportunities.

  1. This makes me wonder: even with such strong motivational factors, was it difficult for you to make the transition from the academy to the government, having resisted the call for so long? Abandoning teaching and scholarship? Making political compromises in the course of shaping policies and reaching decisions?

Being an academic is not just a profession, but a way of life. You can adapt to changes in your life, but you cannot totally abandon an intellectual calling. Taking on political decision-making roles may limit academia’s field of operation, but cannot erase its nature as something integrated into one’s personality. This limitation is related to the fact that these two areas call for different psychologies and methods, with respect to ethical and professional qualities. The academic life requires pure freedom. The moment one starts self-censoring, one’s freedom of thought evaporates. Yet the diplomatic/political field consists mostly of process management, a process that requires tact, discretion and a certain amount of secrecy. If one discloses one’s views and assessments to the public with an academic’s degree of freedom, one will eventually lose the ability to manage these processes, as well as the confidence of colleagues in government.

This difference in method led me to stop publishing and media activities, including works that were ready for publication, when I assumed duties as chief advisor and ambassador, and started getting involved in diplomatic processes. After continuing my university lectures for about two years, I stopped my teaching activities as well. It seemed to me that my frequent absences abroad in connection with Turkey’s European Union (EU) accession negotiations were imposing unfair burdens on my students.

None of these adjustments meant that I entirely abandoned my identity as an academic, which was very much part and parcel of my personality. There were times when I turned diplomatic/political meetings and even mass campaign rallies into lectures, without being aware of doing so. There were also times when I took refuge from the pressures of diplomatic/political activities by writing and reading. In this context I also took great pleasure in intellectual discourse with counterparts who shared an intellectual/academic background that went beyond the normal diplomatic process. I would also make a point of visiting bookstores in the cities where I found myself, taking full advantage of gaps that allowed me some free time during even the most critical diplomatic talks. Knowing of my proclivities, ambassadorial colleagues involved in our overseas trips would locate the best bookstores in the cities we were visiting, and then make arrangements sensitive to the fact that I might pop out from meetings at any moment to satisfy this book-craving impulse of mine.

All this gave me a deeper understanding of the reason why Ottoman rulers became proficient in some area of handicrafts or fine arts: Süleyman the Magnificent, like his father, in the art of jewellery making, Abdul Hamid in carpentry, Selim III in music, and almost all of them in writing poetry. After intense all-day diplomatic/political activities, it is almost impossible to fall asleep as the issues being discussed agitated my mind to such a degree that sleep became impossible, or it even happened that my dreams would often continue the discussions of the previous day. In such circumstances, the best way to relax is to take refuge in a favourite habit or hobby that will divert you from an intense daily rhythm. So, I would often make a late-night visit to my library before going to bed, or spread books out over my desk after getting the required briefings on long-haul flights and after everyone had gone to sleep, resting my mind and soul by reading and writing. I wrote Civilizations and Cities, published a month after I left the prime ministry, in these intervals during my many long flights.

But no matter how much effort I devoted to making up for what was lacking, I still missed teaching and scholarship. In time, I saw more closely that there are no more loyal friends than books and no more valuable investment in the future than students. When I became foreign minister, diplomats who had worked with me in my capacity as an academic and chief advisor carried on calling me “Professor-Hodja” instead of “Minister” out of habit, which acted as pleasant reminders of the life I had partially left behind. When they apologised for their apparent faux pas, I told them that all posts and positions are transient, but teaching and academic work endures. And today, after I have left my government experiences behind, I would like to reiterate the fact that for those who love it and do it justice, academic work, which is a quest for truth, endures and is invaluable.

 

Politics is ultimately a process of rational negotiation that, by its nature, requires certain compromises. Nevertheless, it remains vital that these political imperatives should not contradict your fundamental beliefs and/or encroach upon your personal integrity. In a sense, politics is the art of being able to adapt ideals to reality, values to interests and principles to solutions. As a scholar who attaches importance to personal integrity, I have faced some severe tests in this regard during my public life. When I found that this process of adaptation was in general no longer possible, I chose to leave the prime ministry, rather than compromise my personal integrity. In light of this personal experience, I advocate more strongly than ever an understanding and a practice of politics that accords priority to personal integrity. I have never swayed from this approach to politics or the lure of political life, and never shall.

  1. I understand that returning to a scholarly life may not have been such a wrench. Nonetheless, do you miss the experience of exercising political influence? You have recently established a new party, Future Party. How do you now envision your future in Turkish politics?

The first thing to say is that my decision to leave the prime ministry did not follow an election defeat or the end of a term limit. On the contrary, it was taken about six months after winning the most overwhelming election victory (49.5 per cent) in the history of Turkish democracy. My decision reflected my principal focus – to prevent differences of view over principles within the party, and the administration of the state to rupture political stability in the country. I also wanted to avoid conflicts of authority between offices of the state over the proper shape of the constitutional order, from turning into a crisis of state. You can imagine how tormented I was in the process of making this decision.

There are two main reasons, to do with my perspective on political and academic life, why the onset of such a sudden and disheartening process did not have a traumatic impact on me. The first, is that I have never seen politics as a career field; on the contrary, I see it as a field of accumulated experience and mission unfolding on the basis of the authority granted by the people. In other words, I have always seen government service and leadership not as permanent property, but as something temporarily entrusted to politicians in the name of public order, to be terminated in the event that the public interest so requires.

The observations I have made during my political life have truly shown me that for those who aim to gain status, money and prestige after becoming a politician, politics begins to take on the characteristics of an ontological field that must on no account be abandoned. Autocratic tendencies develop on just such a psycho-cultural connection between ontology and politics. Seeing the beginning and end of politics as the ultimate career brings about the permanence and sovereignty not of values, but of a status. In a sense, this is to see the concept of glory, which was an inherent value in Roman political culture, as a human condition that has been cleansed of this value.

 

Secondly, I already had a field of mental and intellectual activity that I loved and that made politics meaningful to me. This is why I have had no adjustment problems, in spite of having made an unplanned and unforeseen return to academic life in the wake of a distressing process. The day I announced my resignation I went back to my natural habitat – my library. I focused on half-completed projects and published a book within a month. I published six more books within two and a half years of my resignation, and participated in several national and international conferences.

There was no contradiction in carrying on my publication and conference activities while my political activities continued, even after my resignation. I took care to do my best in both areas, which required two different psychologies. As I stated at a press conference, announcing my decision not to participate in the 24 June parliamentary elections had two distinct and complementary meanings for me – although I was now focusing on my academic work, I had not left politics.

I continued to follow developments in the political domain closely with regular daily briefings. Just as in academic life, certain habits gained in political life persist. You feel responsibility whenever you see negative developments in your country. I, as a former prime minister and former chairman of the party, expressed my concerns and opinions to relevant authorities on different occasions behind closed doors – whenever I had deep concerns regarding the rising populism and polarisation in our society, limitations imposed on democratic rights, stagflation in the economy, spread of corruption and extensive mistrust to judicial system. When these sincere observations and suggestions were not taken into consideration, I prepared and issued a manifesto after the local elections on 31 March 2019, on the need for extensive reforms in the party and state administration. The party administration decided to expel me and my five other colleagues from the party, rather than to understand our concerns and suggestions. There was no other choice for us, but to establish a new party. The main philosophy and objective of the Future Party is to implement inclusive democracy as set forth as my core political vision in the Systemic Earthquake and the Struggle for the World Order: Exclusive Populism versus Inclusive Democracy. The founders’ board of the party composed of 152 leading personalities, represents all ethnic, sectarian and religious segments of the society. For instance, for the first time ever in Turkish politics, representatives of religious minorities (Armenian, Greek and Assyrian citizens) became members of the founders’ board of a party.

 

My most important realisation in all these endeavours, is that I have felt no change in my sense of duty to my country and people. I feel this not only as an academician and politician, but as a citizen. I have consistently regarded this obligatory feeling not as a question of office or position, but as one of principle and morality. What is important for me is to try my hardest to fulfil the needs of each moment.

Moreover, one cannot split a person’s identity according to the activity in which they are currently most involved. The principles, feelings and objectives that have guided me as an academician or a politician are the same. In personal transitions of this kind, those who look at life on the basis of a “divided self” psychology may encounter adjustment problems. In contrast, there is no question of such psychological tension for those who see their areas of work as reflections of the same “self” situated in a different time-space dimension.

  1. In writing Systemic Earthquake, did you benefit from your own earlier scholarship, particularly Strategic Depth, as well as from your recent political experience?

 

Absolutely. Systemic Earthquake is posited on a unique synthesis of these two experiential legacies – one mainly theoretical, the other practical. With respect to historical background and global culture, the perspective of comparative civilisational analysis that I used in Alternative Paradigms, is reflected in this work as well. However, the initial theoretical work on which Systemic Earthquake is directly based, is a paper entitled Civilisational Transformation and Political Consequences that I presented at an International Studies Association congress in March 1991, in the immediate aftermath of the Gulf War, and published in 1994 as a book. In this paper, I argued that contrary to the claims of the End of History hypothesis, the ongoing process going forward was not the end of history, but a comprehensive civilisational transformation in which fresh elements introduced by globalisation were shaking the basis of conventional modern philosophy, and the revival of traditional civilisational basins that would change the Eurocentric concept of world order. Working from these premises, I foresaw that first of all tensions would arise from the reawakening of historical factors as a natural consequence of this transformational process. From this perspective, I anticipated there would be a transition from a unipolar world, to a balance of powers system that itself preceded humankind, finally entering a new phase through the birth pangs of change in the axis of civilisation. Refreshed with new elements, the theoretical framework I depicted at that time also played a role in my subsequent works.

 

In Strategic Depth, published ten years after this paper in 2001, I attempted to examine the geopolitical elements of the comprehensive transformation, then under way in relation to the previous ten years of political developments, and thus define Turkey’s strategic position within these new global and regional configurations. Looked at from the perspective of the framework in Systemic EarthquakeStrategic Depth was written with a view to analysing the 1991 geopolitical earthquake. Systemic Earthquake maintains this theoretical line of interpretation through its analysis of the security (2001), economic (2008) and structural (2011) earthquakes. In this sense, the book was reflective of my academic identity and accumulation of knowledge and experience.

Strategic Depth came from the pen of an academician without any diplomatic experience, Systemic Earthquake reflects the intensive diplomatic and political experiences of someone who had served for seven and a half years as chief advisor to the prime minister, five years as foreign minister and two years as prime minister. In this context, Systemic Earthquake reflects a method and style that includes both these sources of accumulated experience. From this perspective, the inclusion of intensive historical and theoretical analyses in the same framing as political/diplomatic experiences, may challenge the reader with respect to the proper alignment of theory and practice.

  1. Which political leaders have influenced you the most? Are these the ones you most admire?

 

In fact, the life of every leader who has combined historical processes with their own personal quests offers a very serious transfer of experience for anyone keen to draw its lessons. Looking at the lives of great leaders from this perspective, I have found unique instructive qualities in each of them, in terms of human nature, philosophical/intellectual background, historical process and social networks. During my academic life, I designed two courses for particular student groups with this background in mind: first, the intellectual/historical relationship between great intellectual movements that had an impact on humankind and comprehensive political transformations establishing a new order, and secondly, the relationship between intellectual and political leaders who had played a role in the development of national strategies.

It is not right to reduce leaders to a single category in terms of the factors that gave them an enduring place in history, or to evaluate them as individual personalities separate from one another. Leaders in different categories attracted my attention for various reasons, and I tried to learn from their varied experiences and particular talents. The most fundamental lesson to be drawn from the lives of leaders who have pioneered a new order by forging a link between the general flow of human history and the social/historical context in which they live, is the transformative and order-forming power of visionary leadership that recognises and accepts no limits or obstacles. Such leaders include Alexander the Great, who unified almost all of the ancient civilisational basins around a single order; Caesar, who made Rome the centre of a world order by leading to assume a role and reality beyond being a Mediterranean state; Caliph ‘Umar, who, together with a pioneering society without any great experience of governance, led a new order by rapidly spreading a new faith to all the ancient civilisational basins from Iran to Egypt; Mehmed the Conqueror, who established a new order by uniting state traditions drawn from the depths of Asia with the Roman tradition of political governance; and Napoleon, who, through his victories and defeats, had such a profound impact on a Europe being reshaped in every aspect around the system of values, given historical force by the French Revolution.

On the other hand, the most important lesson taught to us by leaders who had an order-restoring impact in periods of major transformation, is the need to establish harmony between the vision being pursued and the actual historical reality in critical transformative processes. In this leadership group I would include Marcus Aurelius, who restored the Roman order in a cosmopolitan context around Stoic thought against Germanic attacks; King Alfred the Great, who led the unification of Anglo-Saxons fragmented by Viking attacks, thereby achieving an English identity; Saladin, who achieved a crucial act of consolidation by uniting many elements of the East, whose order had been deeply challenged by the Crusades; Cardinal Richelieu, who laid the grounds for the era of Louis XIV by uniting France, at that time undergoing a process of ethnic and sectarian disintegration, around a common language and idea of national identity, in spite of the fact that both he and the country were Roman Catholic and therefore owed a form of allegiance to an authority other than the French King (i.e. to the Pope); Bismarck, who pioneered the unification of Germany on the basis of the identity of a modern nation-state, managing in the process to transcend the fragmenting impact of the Thirty Years War that had endured for some two centuries; Lincoln, who ensured the emergence of a United States of America united around shared values from the wreckage of the American Civil War; and Atatürk, who founded the Republic of Turkey by leading anticolonial independence movements after the First World War that destroyed traditional empires.

European Union flags [File photo]

Leaders such as Konrad Adenauer, Winston Churchill, Robert Schuman, Jean Monnet, Paul Henri Spaak, Alcide De Gasperi and Johan Beyen – all of whom pioneered the post-war “new Europe” idea that would later evolve into the EU, a series of developments arising from the ashes of the bitter experiences of the Second World War, the bloodiest conflict in history – are fine examples of the collective rational leadership, the need for which is so keenly felt during and after major crises.

The lives of three twentieth-century leaders with different civilisational and religious identities (Gandhi, Mandela and Alija Izetbegović) provide us with serious lessons and experiences in terms of their forbearance through all the challenging tests they underwent, especially the tensions between ideals and reality, values and power. They never shirked such tests, although often paying the price of confinement or even death.

In summary, whether you support them or not, and whether partisan or foe, the life journey of every figure who has left a mark on history is replete with valuable lessons. It is crucial that we learn from these lessons in light of our shared humanity, and to transfer this learning as sources of guidance in life and reality.

  1. What writers and scholars exerted the greatest influence on your intellectual development, and which were most relevant and important to you in the preparation of this manuscript?

Intellectual development is not a process that emerges in a linear fashion and through specific influences; rather, it is a cumulative work in progress that develops through interaction and internalises itself by reproducing itself at every stage. Therefore, specific, selective and micro-influences may be incomplete.

That said, I would like to list particular names in various fields that I have read with admiration and from whom I have benefited from since the earliest stage of my academic life, to the present day. Among many others, these include paradigm-founders such as Plato, Aristotle, Abu Hamid Al-Ghazālī, Kant and Hegel, who had an influence on intellectual currents carrying their names such as Platonic, Aristotelian, post-Ghazālī, Kantian, Hegelian, etc. Thinkers who played a significant role in the civilisational interaction such as Al-Fārābī, Ibn Rushd and Ibn Sīnā. Thinker-statesmen such as Cicero, Seneca, Nizām Al-Mulk, Thomas Moore, Ahmed Cevdet Pasha, Khayr Al-Dīn Tūnusī Pasha and Sa‘īd Halim Pasha, who endeavoured to establish a sound relationship between intellectual theory and political practice, experienced the tension inherent in this struggle, and in most cases paid a heavy price for it. Leaders like Marcus Aurelius, Winston Churchill and Alija Izetbegović, who produced substantial intellectual works in addition to leading their countries. Historians like Ibn Khaldūn, Arnold Toynbee, Fernand Braudel, Marshall Hodgson, Fuad Köprülü, Halil İnalcık and Kemal Karpat, who used inclusive methodologies while adopting a holistic approach to human history. Political philosophers such as Machiavelli, Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose writings so brilliantly reflected the characteristics of the political culture in which they lived and who had a profound impact on later periods. Modern philosophers/ theoreticians such as Edmund Husserl, Max Weber, Hannah Arendt and Eric Voegelin, who exhibited horizon-expanding approaches in modern thought in their development of conceptual frameworks; and intellectuals/academicians who adopted multidimensional approaches so as to contribute to civilisational interaction, by transcending settled exclusionary molds such as Muhammad Iqbal, Lewis Mumford, Malik bin Nebi, Edward Said, Ernest Gellner, Ali Mazrui, Immanuel Wallerstein, Şerif Mardin, Fred Dallmayr, Richard Falk and Johan Galtung.

Systemic Earthquake is the product of blending the theoretical knowledge I have accumulated through a process of filtering the intellectual works I have studied in the fields of comparative civilisation studies, political history, political sociology, international relations and international political economy.

  1. In general, do you learn more from scholars with whom you agree or from those with whom you disagree? Can you give any examples?

 

In fact, the objective and simultaneous recognition of opposites facilitates learning and correct reasoning. Understanding is a prerequisite for developing an interpretative framework. Even if you end up disagreeing with a person or an idea, you must first understand it correctly. In a sense, understanding something requires an accurate grasp of its opposite. In the words of an old Turkish proverb, “things exist through their opposites.” This is the dialectic of existence. One cannot meaningfully adopt or defend any idea or viewpoint without a proper understanding its opposite. Thinkers with whom I disagree have thus contributed to my accumulation of knowledge as much as those with whom I agree.

I can give an example from the time I was writing my doctoral dissertation in the field of comparative political thought. I was undertaking a comparative study between Niccolò Machiavelli and two thinkers, one who lived in the same historical/cultural basin as Machiavelli (1469–1527) but at a different time, the other who lived around the same time but in a different historical/cultural basin. The first was Rome’s Stoic emperor Marcus Aurelius (121–180) to whom Machiavelli makes reference, the other was Kinalizāde ‘Alī (1510–1572), whose lifespan overlapped with Machiavelli’s and who wrote a book dedicated to an Ottoman Pasha (Semiz ‘Alī Pasha, during the rule of the Süleyman the Magnificent) on the relationship between politics and morality.

Reading Machiavelli’s The Prince, which places power at the center of things and links moral principles to power, Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations, which deals with state governance in relation to the moral teachings of Stoic philosophy, and Kinalizāde ‘Alī’s Akhlāḳ-ı ‘Alāī, which puts the principles of affection, morality, and justice at the center of politics, together, made it possible for me to better understand all three of them.

 

When it came to the relationship between morals and politics, I always felt closer to Marcus Aurelius, whose use of power was seen by Machiavelli as an exception in the relationship between the use of power and morality,[iii] and Kinalizāde ‘Alī than to Machiavelli. However, this did not lead me to conclude that Machiavelli was entirely wrong. My opposition to Machiavelli was over the issue of what kind of a future a person might expect in a world where every leader’s approach made morality subservient to power. However, in terms of the aspect of power that is related to human nature, my better understanding of Machiavelli also provided me with a more realistic context for power-oriented political relationships. In addition, a deep reading of Machiavelli gave me a clearer vision of how psychological factors related to human nature could produce moral deviations, which helped me to develop a kind of warning reflex when engaged in the practice of politics.

 

I still feel an affinity with Marcus Aurelius and Kinalizāde ‘Alī, who were trying intellectually to create the moral basis for expansive imperial orders in political terms, and I have learned a great deal from them. However, I have learned as much from Machiavelli’s work, which consists of advice given to the eponymous Prince with a view to consolidating his power in a fragmented Italy, even though I cannot on principle espouse his views, because learning is not about agreeing but understanding. Everything that allows one to understand is of value as an object of learning.

  1. In a world of sovereign states, is it possible to have a moral foreign policy? What role should respect for international law and the authority of the UN play in developing national policy, especially with respect to security concerns?

 

We may talk of three different types and areas of relationship in assessing the reciprocal actions of nation-states: shared destiny, common interests, and conflicting interests. The area of shared destiny, especially with respect to ecological issues, transcends territorial boundaries. Countries that share the same ecological destiny in the same geography are expected to cooperate on ecological issues even if they are in dispute over most other issues. In this sense, national security becomes a subcomponent of ecological security because, as the book emphasizes, one cannot possibly achieve national security in the absence of existential security. Nation-states that come into conflict over short-term interests or matters of prestige in these kinds of long-term matters over our shared destiny lay the ground for a shared catastrophe that will negatively impact everyone.

The area of common interests between nation-states relates to the existence of a sustainable peace and order that will enable them to coexist. In this sense, there is a direct relationship between national, regional, and global order on the one hand, and peace and order on the other. Respect for borders envisioned under international law and the development of common policies against terrorism and nuclear proliferation may be appraised in this context.

However, conflicts of interest between nation-states are an intrinsic aspect of international relations in spite of areas of shared destiny and common interests. And when a serious conflict of interest arises, the fundamental issue is the existence or lack of rational crisis management, as well as sophisticated diplomatic knowhow.

If the concerned parties behave with reference to the entirety of common normative principles in these kinds of relationships and areas, it means the suitable basis for the implementation of a moral foreign policy exists. In this context, the principal duty of international law and the UN is to consolidate this normative basis and keep nation-states adhering to this common ground as much as possible. In the event that the UN does not perform this function and international law is con- ducted on the basis of interpreting distinct national interests rather than by reference to common normative principles, the basis of shared destiny is weakened, areas of common interests are narrowed, areas of conflicting interests become more apparent, and crisis management becomes harder. In such situations, the basis of foreign policy shifts from ethics to raw power.

The logic of raw power is more and more becoming the organizing principle of major international powers in the conduct of international affairs. This is rather new, because both during the imperial era and ideological competition between socialism and capitalism (liberal democracy), power was accompanied by moral claims. Irrespective of whether these claims were genuine or not, the imperial powers predicated their scramble for power and authority on moral justifications. Likewise, both socialism and capitalism laid claim to legitimacy based on their contention that their ideological programs better fit the humanity’s needs and progress than did that of their ideological rival.

In recent years, there is a decoupling between power and moral claim. Trump represents the crystallization of this trend – power for the sake of power. Unless it is reversed, this trend will leave many fundamental questions of humanity unanswered. A question that this trend will face is whether it is tenable to have universal organizations without universally agreed-upon principles and values underpinning it? Unfortunately, decoupling of power and values and power and principles bodes ill for the course of human progress.

In the event that the UN performs its mission for international order within the framework of international legal norms and the practitioners of international law inspire confidence on the question of treating nation- states equally in terms of their shared destiny and common interests, it becomes less likely that nation- states will come into severe conflict while pursuing their individual interests. The current tendency of tensions between nation-states rapidly to morph into crises and wars stems from the international order’s failure to inspire successful forms of peaceful settlement of disputes.

  1. Do you think that the world map will look very different in a hundred years?

History reflects the dialectic of change and the sustainable order reflects the harmony of the continuity. The future is shaped through the inter- action of elements of change and continuity. Those who defend the order by reference to the permanence of the status quo based on conjunctural maps cannot predict or anticipate the dialectic of historical change; those who get lost in the volatility of geopolitical maps shaken

by ongoing earthquakes fall into the trap of chaos while imagining they are directing, or at least, controlling change.

While the change in the geopolitical map created by a geopolitical earthquake that struck approximately thirty years ago has still not achieved legally grounded stability, claiming that the same map will still be relevant a hundred years from now detaches history from the dynamic of change. The question is not whether there will be change or not, but how it will be directed. An unprincipled and opportunist approach that provokes change in line with its own interests will pave the way for new destructive processes. These will also likely engulf the advocates of such an approach, while a principle-based, visionary approach in managing the birth pangs of change will lead to a new order with far better prospects of viability.

In addition, the head-spinning pace of human mobility and technological innovation is likely to lead to the replacement of a territorial and space-dependent perception of the current world map with the shaping of a space-transcendent perception of the world map, especially when we appreciate the fact that this momentum is set to accelerate even further in the coming century. In such a process of paradigmatic change, non-conventional maps such as demographic maps, ecological maps, and cyber-communication maps will be as influential as territorial political maps of the world; it is a virtual certainty that world order will be dynamically reshaped on this multidimensional basis, but in what patterns cannot be yet discerned.

  1. In addition to law and international public opinion, should ethical principles shape policies? How to balance military necessity against civilian innocence in combat situations?

It is essential that ethical principles shape policies. An understanding of politics that is free of ethical principles ultimately gives rise to an environment in which the rule of the jungle prevails in national and international relations, leaving humankind to face an undesirable future. The alignment of ethical principles and policies is critically important, especially in relation to international humanitarian law.

The exponential increase in the destructive capacity of weapons technology has enormously amplified the imbalance between military capacities, military objectives, and civilian losses unrelated to the object- ives of combat. When it comes to destructive capacity, human history has gone through three stages with respect to types of weapons as underlying technology-based conflict and now stands on the threshold of the fourth.

The first stage was pitched battles in which the destructiveness of war was limited to the soldiers located in the battlefield itself; enemy sides stood face to face and tried to liquidate one another. The second stage saw the introduction of air forces and long-range artillery and, with that, the exposure of troops and civilian targets far beyond the battle lines to the destructiveness of war. Destructiveness thus gained a supraspatial quality and ethical control became considerably more challenging to maintain. With the use of the atom bomb against Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the third stage saw destructiveness becoming supratemporal and impacting future generations. In this case the moral responsibility for the political decision to drop the atom bomb took on a transgenerational dimension.

The fourth stage, at the threshold of which we now stand, involves a destructive capacity that is both supraspatial and supratemporal in such a way as to risk the eradication of the future of all humankind. Albert Einstein’s well-known statement that “I do not know with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones,” a prediction that is used to demonstrate the level that this destructive capacity has reached, indicates the total destruction inherent in a mechanism of war detached from ethical control. As I stressed in the book I wrote immediately after the Cold War,4 the ethico-material imbalance that most strikingly manifests itself in the destructiveness of war technology constitutes one of the most critical dimensions of the comprehensive civilizational crisis that we are going through. Since then, the concept of the ethico-material imbalance that I employed to show the gaps between political mechanisms and moral values has grown wider in almost every field.

In addition, the advent of remote-controlled drones in conflicts and robots developed without moral responsibility and accountability has produced serious issues of ethical control even in conventional wars and limited military operations. In this context, there is now a pressing need for a reconsideration of international conventions on these issues.

 

 

  1. You propose “inclusive democracy” as a desirable political goal. How does this differ from “electoral democracy”? Should the values and procedures of inclusive democracy also inform the structures and practices of global governance?

One of the most fundamental areas of tension in thinking about democracy today lies in this very critical difference between inclusive and electoral democracy. And the source of the threat to Europe, which is seen as the cradle of democracy, by extreme-right and racist currents that use electoral democracy as a base from which to impose an exclusionist political agenda after winning an election through all kinds of populist rhetoric, also reflects this dilemma. The fact that Marine Le Pen got through to the second round in the French elections and that racist parties are on the rise in Holland and Germany makes it clear that if these political currents win an election, even by a small margin, the entire concept of citizenship in constitutional societies will be eroded and fall victim to a polarization based on a binary division. Drawing a distinction between “real” French, German, British, Dutch, Italian, etc. people and “newcomers” or “strangers” means the destruction of inclusive democracy by electoral democracy. An electoral democracy that eradicates inclusive democracy will lead to the revival of the historical experiences of extremism undergone in Europe between the two World Wars.

The only way to overcome this tension is to view electoral democracy and inclusive democracy not as alternatives but as complementary to one another. The process of electoral democracy takes precedence over the principles of inclusive democracy. As a process, electoral democracy is a sine qua non for a real democracy, a real imperative. A lack of respect for the national will expressed in an election means the eradication of the principal gains of democratic history. But inclusive democracy is an absolute prerequisite in terms of enabling the grounding of a real, self-regenerating democracy. Otherwise, as happened in the period between the two World Wars, when a government formed on the basis of the unqualified nature of the one-time results of electoral democracy breaks away from inclusive democracy, electoral democracy is likely to be rendered meaningless, and totally undermined.

In this context, electoral democracy constitutes the infrastructure of a real democracy; inclusive democracy its load-bearing pillars. Without electoral democracy inclusive democracy cannot be realized; without inclusive democracy, electoral democracy degenerates, and cannot flourish through self-regeneration. Electoral democracy makes up the mechanics of democracy, inclusive democracy its organic structure. In other words, electoral democracy is hardware, inclusive democracy is software.

A constitution based on the human rights and human dignity serves to guarantee the complementary relationship between electoral democracy and inclusive democracy. In societies where constitutional consensus and conventions are in crisis, the risk is that inclusive democracy gets hollowed out by coups or populist ideologies, and that electoral democracy becomes a mechanical legitimating instrument of government. The coupism in Turkey and Egypt, which disregards the results of electoral democracy, and the rising extremist trends in Europe to use electoral democracy to destroy the most fundamental elements of inclusive democracy, threaten the future in equal measure.

These principles also apply to global democracy and governance. A UNSC system that fixes five permanent members in place without any electoral process while revolving non-permanent members are selected by means of elections involving the other 188 member states has minimal inclusivity while its electoral attributes reflect an ineffective oligarchic concept of governance. There is also a manifest need for new conventions to protect the rights of countries and indeed all humankind.

To sum up, and as emphasized in various sections of the book, the most pressing condition for a new world order today is the emergence of a new philosophical and implementable set of principles for inclusive national, regional, and global governance.

A protest calling for climate change on 1 June 2017 in Paris, France [kellybdc/Flickr]

  1. World order continues to be state-centric in its fundamental character – that is, with respect to the formation and implementation of policies on matters of global concern – yet the problems (climate change, nuclear weaponry) seem global in scope. How can the pursuit of national interests be reconciled with the realisation of global interests?

It is normal that the international system is state-centric. I think the problem here isn’t that the international order is state-centric. The real problem lies in the definition of sovereignty. Because the division of labour at multiple levels – local, domestic, regional, and global – requires a new understanding of sovereignty backed up by the political will of leaders. Given the hyper-interdependency of the international system and human destiny, the state can’t operate on the basis of the traditional Westphalian conception of the nineteenth- and even early twentieth-century understanding of the sovereignty. The concept and institution of sovereignty is in dire need of redefinition. In a revisionist understanding of sovereignty, the national level shouldn’t be set against the global level. They should be framed in ways that complement each other. In this respect, we should contemplate a new form of sovereignty, which is multi-layered, inclusive, and driven by commitments to the collective good.

From such a perspective, the nation-state is not a competitor of the international order but its building block. What is important is that these building blocks have a strong basis of legitimacy within themselves and that they have the flexibility and dynamism to accommodate the diverse concerns of the international system’s nation-states. When I spoke at international platforms about matters of universal concern like climate change and nuclear weapons, I always mentioned the need to develop first a global awareness and only then to posit this awareness in an international normative framework and convention. On the question of awareness, it is an absolute condition that issues related to the ontological existence of humankind supercede all kinds of concepts of individual state interests, because (and I emphasize this in the book) the political existence of nation-states is impossible without ontological existence. Ignoring the threat to humankind’s common security posed by the excessive pursuit of individual national security presupposes an Armageddon psychology and apocalyptic scenarios.

The most effective method to eliminate such scenarios is the application of legal norms developed in this context, without exception. For example, the inconsistency of certain countries who regard nuclear weapons as a threat but ignore the nuclear armament of other countries in the same region shakes trust and confidence in the international system as a whole and paves the way for every country to take its own measures to arm itself regardless of the threat to collective wellbeing, even survival. It is impossible to overcome individual conflicts of interest in an environment where the interests and concerns of certain nation-states are regarded as more important than those of others.

In this context, it is essential to establish a strong and consistent connection between consciousness of humanity and of citizenship. This can only be achieved through the spread of communications between global civil society and national civil societies and can be realized by the emergence of psychological spheres of influence that transcend the outlook of nation-states. It should not be forgotten that threats such as climate change and nuclear arms whose destructive impact cannot be restricted to the legal and spatial boundaries of nation-states cannot be resolved only by negotiations limited to nation-states.

  1. In this conversation you have talked about how your career has made the shift from academic to political, then back to academic life and now back again to the political domain after establishing a new party. Do you consider this to be your final professional destination? Or would you welcome a future rhythm that involved alternating periods of government service and scholarly life? In this sense, would you describe your present state of mind to be best described as “post-political” or “pre-political,” or some combination?

A person making his or her own decision about personal final destination is like the “end of history” claim for humankind, a claim that I have opposed in this book and on every possible occasion. As Demetrius strikingly said, “An easy existence untroubled by the attacks of Fortune is a Dead Sea.”

If one’s final destination were known, the excitement and energy of life would be lost. Perhaps the most important thing that makes a person happy, even when they cannot know it, is their own final destination. The only thing I know at this point is that neither my personal future nor that of humankind is going to be “an easy existence.” This doesn’t mean I have a pessimistic view about the future. Quite the reverse, the new challenges brought by those “attacks of Fortune” also require fresh paradigmatic initiatives. With the dynamism engendered by these challenges, it is certain that neither my personal future nor the general future of humankind is going to be that “Dead Sea;” the challenge is to find key wavelengths and frequencies able to surf successfully through the continuously rising flow of history, and thereby reach their target. The “future rhythm” you refer to in your question will also to some extent be the work and challenge of this surfing exercise.

I have always approached post- and pre-conceptualization with caution. Every post-situation harbours its own pre-situation. In other words, in the process of history every post-situation is shaped in the womb of a pre-situation. As Wordsworth said, “The child is father of the man.” Could the conditions of the post-Cold War period have been formed without the process of change that occurred in the final years of the Cold War?

This also applies to personal journeys and quests. The academic work Strategic Depth that I wrote in the pre-political period of my life defined my behaviour in the political phase of my life, while my post-political academic works have been shaped by the experiences derived from that same political phase.

When I left the prime ministry, I never said I had left politics behind. In any case, after such a high-profile past in politics, one can’t really remain outside of political debate even if one says “I’m out.” Although I have tried to avoid political polemics in this period, I have remained on the political agenda with both positive and negative comments. So, there is a clear difference between becoming post-governmental and post-political. Regardless of official titles I was and will always be political.

At the early stage of writing Systemic Earthquake in 2017, I was a parliamentarian of my previous party, when the book was published in January 2020 I became Chairman of a new party, Future Party. As I have underlined in my books, history continues to flow personally, nationally, and globally. I do not think there will be a pre- or post-era in my life. But, there will be a difference compared to my previous experiences. Unlike my decision not to write when having an official position which I followed faithfully during my public services as Chief Advisor, Foreign Minister and PM from 2002 until 2016, I am planning to continue my academic publications in the future despite resuming the work of being an active politician.

All these challenges are inherent to politics. But just as one’s personality cannot be divided, nor can one’s life. The key thing is to live an unfragmented life with an undivided integrative personality. One can do this by taking the right steps that bring together the needs of the moment with one’s own conscience. The difference I made in politics came to a large extent from my scholarly past. On the other hand, what is distinctive about my post-political academic works will undoubtedly be fed and influenced by my political experiences. Therefore, I can say that my present state of mind is a combination of both.

As an academician I never underestimated the significance of being a politician, and when I became a politician I tried never to forget my identity as an academician. The first stopped me from getting detached from the reality of the flow of history, while the second kept me from getting imprisoned in constructed conjunctural reality.

  1. In contemplating Turkey’s future in a time of systemic earthquake, what sorts of response would you hope to be forthcoming from political leadership and from civil society?

No scholar can ignore the time–space dimension they encounter within themselves and the experiences they have gained as they generate and develop ideas. In that spirit I naturally drew upon the case of Turkey throughout the book and especially in the chapter entitled “Inclusive National Governance.” I believe that the five main principles I considered with reference to the recommended approach to deal with the systemic earthquake are primarily applicable to my own country. In fact, Turkey constitutes perhaps one of the most striking examples with respect to these principles.

A Daesh sign at the entrance of the city of Al-Qaim, in Iraq’s western Anbar province near the Syrian border, seen on November 3, 2017 [AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images]

If we take a summary view of Turkey in terms of these principles, an inclusive sense of belonging and citizenship is a priority prerequisite for the country’s internal order, because Turkey, with its Ottoman legacy, includes within its borders almost every ethnic and sectarian element of the Balkans, Middle East, Caucasus, and Central Asia. The country’s political leaders and civil society must act in cognizance of this reality and exhibit a stance that does not exclude any ethnic or sectarian identity. People want to see those who govern and represent them by their side at critical periods. During our struggle with terror organisations such as Daesh, the PKK, and (DHKP-C), whose terror activities escalated in 2015 on account of developments in Iraq and Syria, I would spend every weekend with people in the most affected districts, addressing some mass meetings in Kurdish as best I could. I was the first Prime Minister in the history of the Republic to take part in an Alevi gathering at a djemevi (cemevi) and as a minister I paid visits to all the non-Muslim religious centers including the Greek and Armenian Patriarchates and the Chief Rabbinate. These experiences convinced me that the strongest link between political leaders and the people is a shared sense of belonging. Over time, political leaders and civil society groups who neglect this lose not only their administrative but also their representative effectiveness, and of course, diminish their legitimacy.

Secondly, Turkey is a remarkable case when it comes to a nation-state’s geopolitical basis, because apart from the one with Iran, none of the country’s borders rest on sound geopolitical ground. The border with Syria cuts through residential districts, the border with Iraq through mountains, and its Aegean border skirts islets and rocks. The risk of suddenly erupting tensions is always present. The main reason for my advocacy of the “zero problems with neighbouring countries” principle from 2002 onwards was the potential that existed to derive an order from these geopolitical abnormalities. Successfully pursued up until the structural earthquakes that occurred in surrounding countries in 2011, this policy saw the establishment of high-level cooperation mechanisms with Russia, Greece, Iraq, Syria, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine, and Romania, and the development of relations between peoples through mechanisms such as visa waiver and free-trade agreements that were developed with neighbouring countries. Our 2004 negotiations with Greek Cyprus, and the protocols signed with Armenia in 2009[i] showed our determination to achieve normalization (we did not have diplomatic relations with either state before). Today, one of Turkey’s top priorities is the achievement of stability and peace all along its geopolitically sensitive borders.

Thirdly, the freedom–security balance that forms the basis of political legitimacy needs to be painstakingly maintained. It is crucial that a country like Turkey, which has passed the test of being a democratic country in a high-risk geopolitical environment, does not lurch between freedom and security preferences. The fact that in the face of the global security earthquake in the post-9/11 period that shook the world and tended to detach countries from human rights, Turkey made significant strides with respect to the implementation of human rights and freedoms, which are the fundamental elements of inclusivity, and backed this up with a multidimensional foreign policy, enabled the country to make a regional and global difference in those years.

Fourthly, its young and dynamic demography is both a major advantage and a serious challenge for Turkey. Educating and preparing this young and dynamic population for the future requires a policy of sustainable economic development and fair income distribution. It is crucially important that political leaders, the business world, and civil society generally agree on this issue on the basis of shared, rational objectives.

The fifth point is that Turkey is going through an absolutely critical process with regard to the institutional structure of national order. With institutions developed within a deeply rooted state tradition, Turkey faces the need to rebuild its state architecture as a result of the recent constitutional referendum. In this context, the balance between institutional continuity and institutional restructuring needs to be carefully developed to safeguard democratic expectations.

In summary, Turkey’s geography requires multidimensionality, its history inclusivity. If Turkey takes both these elements into account, the ongoing systemic earthquake will present not only risks but opportunities. Turkey needs to find its own distinctive path at a time when the systemic earthquake has encouraged a global trend towards exclusionary autocracy. The course of historical change is determined not by those who act in line with the general trend on the basis of herd mentality but by those who make a distinctive difference. Even if this difference is not sufficiently appreciated in the heated midst of the process, its influence will make itself felt over time. This is how to ensure national legitimacy and international prestige.

  1. Since completing Systemic Earthquake there has been a continuing trend toward demagogic political leadership, coupled with polarized patterns of governance, in many of the most important countries in the world. Does this trend disturb you? Do you expect it to continue?

The most frequently overlooked element in efforts to establish national, regional and global order is the psychological factor. In a psychological atmosphere in which feeling, emotion, and sentiment overwhelms rational thought, rhetorical radicalism subsumes any shared or common view, tactical steps subsume strategy, and impulses subsume principles. While building sustainable order is all about a set of principles generated by a common mindset and the strategic issues based on them, acquiring and keeping hold of conjunctural power is a tactical question based on impulsive and rhetorical radicalism. The growing trend to demagogic political leadership is the psycho-political reflection of rhetorical radicalism; a polarizing and exclusionary understanding of politics, a reflection of its impulsive radicalism. Like everyone with a worldview that envisions a future for humankind based on equality and human dignity, I am seriously concerned about this development. A number of large-scale wars in the past were triggered by reciprocally impulsive reactions that had emerged from such a psycho-political atmosphere.

However, it is impossible to overcome this disturbing development by getting caught up in a psychology of helplessness in the face of such a wave, or turning a blind eye to the conditions that have led to the wave in the first place. What is needed is an accurate analysis of the psychological grounds that have been thrown up by it and the promotion of a vision of order based on humankind’s shared legacy of experiences with the capacity to generate the global momentum required to create a counter-wave.

US President Donald Trump delivers remarks at ‘Keep America Great Rally’ on January 30, 2020 in Des Moines, IA, United States [Kyle Mazza / Anadolu Agency]

  1. The Trump presidency has epitomised this trend, which has also led to an ultra-nationalist foreign policy, which exhibits hostility to international law, the UN, human rights, and cooperative approaches to global problems. Does the world suffer from the loss of a more internationalist style of global leadership associated with pre-Trump American foreign policy?

To use the conceptualisation I have proposed in the book, we might say that Trump represents the most extreme slide into strategic discontinuity in US foreign policy that has been experienced with any post-Cold War change of presidency. In every period changes in the international system have necessitated a paradigmatic renewal in US strategy. As the eighteenth century gave way to the nineteenth, and however much the young United States of America appeared to have been excluded from the international Eurocentric colonialist power struggle, the Monroe Doctrine published in 1823 in line with the new state of affairs in the wake of the Congress of Vienna helped to lay the ground for an internal consolidation around republican principles as well as an American continent-oriented consolidation of power far from the influence of monarchical restoration in Europe. Through the nineteenth century, this founding paradigmatic principle, which was enunciated by the fifth US President James Monroe, recognized as the last of the United States’ founding fathers, constituted a strategic basis unaffected by whichever political party the president happened to be affiliated.

As the nineteenth century gave way to the twentieth, the United States, whose economic prowess had turned the country into a leading actor in international economic-political balances, became an international naval power in the context of the Roosevelt Corollary’s more assertive interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine, after which the beginning of the country’s assertion of influence within the international system through the principles laid out in President Wilson’s Fourteen Points indicated a continuum of change in the US strategic paradigm. The fact that Theodore Roosevelt was a Republican, and Wilson a Democrat, never caused any strategic discontinuity in terms of the United States’ status as a leading actor. The proactive strategy of Franklin Roosevelt (a Democrat, unlike his Republican cousin Theodore) in the Second World War put the United States center stage in the post war international system. Even in this paradigmatic transformation, the “American Century” was one of consensus and continuity in terms of twentieth-century economic-political, geopolitical, and geo-cultural balances in the strategy’s principal elements.

However, as the world moved into the twenty-first century, and in spite of having emerged as the victor of the Cold War, the United States’ strategic paradigm proved unable to forge a coherent and consistent whole. George H. W. Bush’s “new world order,” Bill Clinton’s “humanitarian interventionism,” George W. Bush’s “pre-emptive strike,” Barack Obama’s “multilateralism,” and Trump’s “America First”-oriented conceptualisations contained elements of incoherence and discontinuity as well as being in part reactions to their predecessors’ policies.

In a nutshell, while the nineteenth century was the European, and the twentieth century the American century, the twenty-first, a “Global Century” shaped by the dynamic elements associated with globalization, has a complexity that is hard to comprehend, disentangle, and resolve by reference to just one geographical location. While a multi-dimensional, multi-actor period such as this (in the book we call it the “multiple balance of powers system”) requires a far more sophisticated approach, the US slide towards a one-dimensional, self-centric approach characterized by Trump’s “America First” slogan, with its disregard for international law and norms, is not sustainable either in terms of the functioning and operation of the international system or of US interests.

  1. The rise of China represents the most dramatic geopolitical development in the twenty-first century. Do you think that the rise of China is on balance beneficial or detrimental to the future of world order? Do you believe China can fill the global leadership vacuum created by the Trump withdrawal of the leadership role that the United States played since 1945? Could you envision a more multi-polar global leadership emerging in the future? Or possibly a post-Trump US/China joint leadership? Or is a new Cold War more likely with the United States on one side and either China or Russia, or some combination, on the other?

In the post-Cold War era, especially after the 2008 global crisis, China’s attainment of a leading position in the world economy was a new state of affairs that represented a test for China itself as much as for the world and the other major powers. During its classical periods, China saw itself as the “civilized center of the world,” even “the world itself”; it possessed a strategic paradigm based on protecting itself from potential threats from the world outside, rather than taking any interest in the external world. The Great Wall of China constitutes the most striking manifestation of this strategic mindset paradigm, which was the product of China’s effort to protect its own world from the that which lay beyond. In this context, except for the Hui-origin Muslim Chinese Admiral Zheng He’s overseas expeditions at the beginning of the fifteenth century, China had no concept of a common order, or working to establish contacts with the non-Chinese world. The Opium Wars, which forced China’s strategic culture to change in the mid-nineteenth century, were essentially waged with a view to discontinuing this strategic resistance. Once again China’s confrontation with modernity took place through the inward-looking Maoist methods identified with the Cultural Revolution.

In the post-Cold War period, China’s ever more rapid integration into the international economy along reformist lines pushed China to change its aloof approach towards the outside world that it had adopted in the traditional and modern periods. Indeed, it would be impossible for a global power with an economic structure integrated into the world economy either to remain outside the world political system or to remain indifferent to developments within it. In this sense, Chinese President Xi’s The Belt and Road Initiative project is not just a sign of economic interdependence. It will also reflect China’s inevitable and growing interest in the field of international politics, including the security of the transport corridors that it naturally requires.

In this framework, the main question is what tools and methods are going to be applied by China to further its interests. From the perspective of China’s traditional stance as well as today’s economic-political balances, a scenario in which China gains the status of guarantor of the global order by itself, by filling the vacuum left by the United States in the wake of Trump’s policies, appears unlikely. The scenario in which China assumes a leadership role in conjunction with the United States risks creating a polarization that could bring actors such as the EU, Russia, Japan, and India together in such a way that this kind of quest for balance would frustrate any such joint-leadership project. The move towards the conditions for a new Cold War with the United States at one pole and China at the other is not a burden that an increasingly complex network of economic relations can carry. It should not be forgotten that the previous Cold War did not take place within the same economic model but only ever between blocs of countries with different economic models. It would be very hard to forge an enduring Cold War in a world where the same or similar economic models are interacting in a global economy. In this context, the most likely scenario is a “multiple balance of powers” system with growing Chinese economic-political influence but in which the thematic, sectoral, and geopolitical basis of international relations may be dynamically determined at any moment.

Yet it would be wrong to restrict China’s distinctive and distinguishing features to the realm of economic-political balances in this new period. Every change that occurs in China, home to one-quarter of the world’s population, will also be decisive in the cultural order that includes the scientific and technological elements of the international system. China’s growing influence in the restructuring of the global cultural order will be accompanied by the transformation of the modern, mainly Eurocentric, cultural order. Therefore, this “multiple balance of powers” system’s soft (cultural) aspects need to be taken very seriously and all multinational platforms, especially the UN system, need to have a genuinely peace-promoting and inclusive character. As is emphasized in the text of the book, Pax Universale does not need global Caesars followed by self-centric Neros, but rather Marcus Aureliuses from different cultural basins.

Young boys wear medical masks as a precaution to protect themselves from coronavirus in Kirkuk, Iraq on February 25, 2020 [Ali Makram Ghareeb/Anadolu Agency]

  1. Your book Systemic Earthquakewrites about ruptures that change the international atmosphere in dramatic and unexpected ways. Do you consider the global spread of COVID-19 virus is or could become such a rupture?

Since we are still living through this pandemic, it is hard to make a definitive judgment that it will lead to a global rupture. However, it is at least clear that COVID-19 is set to be a precursor and test bed for probable global-scale ruptures.

Precursor, because COVID-19 has strikingly shown once again that human destiny flows along a single common river that does not allow for the separation of one continent from another or one religious or ethnic community from another. It is both natural and inevitable that with the acceleration of growing global interaction we shall soon see stronger waves and ruptures that will impact our common future.

Test bed, because the stance taken on COVID-19 will determine the course of subsequent ruptures. Broadly speaking, when it comes to this stance there are two options. The first is that just like quarantining people during the pandemic, societies and countries will tend to quarantine themselves on a long-term basis through inward looking policies designed to avoid being affected by global ruptures. It is extremely hard for this introspective attitude, which I define in the book as a cynical reaction against globalization, to deliver a lasting solution with respect to the impact of global rupture. It should not be forgotten that quarantine is a temporary measure; making it permanent means the end of societal life. Likewise, the long-term nature of the restrictive measures taken by countries to mitigate the impact of the epidemic serves to minimize the positive interaction gains of globalization.

The second possible stance is to move forward once again with a shared global-scale ontological consciousness based on a common concern for the existential future of humanity in the face of this global rupture. This shared ontological consciousness will not have the capacity to develop enduring responses to global ruptures unless it transcends the political and economic interests developed individually by political actors and countries. As we underline in the book, where there is no ontological existence, political existence loses its presence and meaning.

  1. This health challenge arises in a historical circumstance in which the world is experiencing trends toward the embrace of ultra-nationalist ideologies and the rise of democratically elected autocrats. Against this background, does the COVID-19 challenge underscore the importance of global cooperation under the auspices of the United Nations?

Absolutely. In order to be able to transform this shared ontological consciousness into a set of global policies, the only tool available to us is the UN, whatever its troubles. Yet if the UN is to be able to carry out this duty, the privileged status it affords to certain countries in terms of their capacity to determine the destiny of humankind needs to be reformed. Having said that humankind needs to move forward with a single and shared ontological consciousness, the current UN structure, based on granting five countries ultimate decision-making status with respect to the political manifestations of this destiny, of its essence runs contrary to this consciousness.

In particular, in the event of ultra-nationalist and autocratic leaders who prioritize their own short-term personal and national interests coming to the fore in these five countries, the UN ceases to be a solution-producing body and turns into a source of problems. In the context of a state of affairs in which these five countries pursue their disparate interests and display mutually polarizing attitudes, it becomes difficult for the UN to mobilize a shared ontological consciousness. The tendency of the US and China to exchange accusations during the COVID-19 crisis has been a cautionary tale. Approaches such as this serve to block the existing UN system and undermine the idea that the UN is the shared mechanism of humanity. Right now, the urgent need is to achieve an inclusive, democratic and participatory United Nations, and to enhance its effectiveness.

  1. In a deeper sense, the COVID-19 eruption suggests the limits of our understanding of what the future will bring to humanity. Does this uncertainty about the future make it more essential than ever to govern societies in accord with ‘the precautionary principle’? Does the ecological fragility of world order, combined with its vulnerability to previously unknown viruses, suggest the need for more flexible democracies or does it portend a post-political future for all levels of social and political order?

Yes, ‘the precautionary principle’ can be an important reference point in overcoming the global vulnerabilities and uncertainties associated with rapid technological development and globalization. However, the success of this principle in practice depends on its unconditional and blanket acceptance and implementation by all parties. Otherwise, non-compliant parties may gain a scientific / technological / economic advantage over their compliant counterparts. In the framework of this principle, the manner in which the United States’ failure to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and Canada’s withdrawal from it prevented the World Charter for Nature adopted by the UN in 1982 and enshrined in the preamble of the 1987 Montreal Protocol from achieving its desired effect, is clear. When ‘the precautionary principle’ framework is correctly defined and implemented without exception, it can prevent or at least limit this kind of vulnerability. And for this to happen, an institutional body and mechanism that is not wrapped up in political concerns but motivated by universal principles needs to be established.

The most effective solution to the ecological vulnerability further exposed by the emergence of viruses previously unknown to the world order is the concept of an inclusive and participatory flexible democracy. This concept of democracy must bring with it a fresh political mindset. Perhaps these developments can be seen as a precursory phase towards a new political understanding, rather than a post-political phase. At the beginning of human history too, human beings basically transitioned to the phase of forming a political society by removing the security risks associated with natural life in the most primitive fashion. This time, humanity will have to develop a new global-scale concept of political societal order in order to bring the ecological risks created by humankind’s own hand under control. Although this concept of order appears post-political from the modern political perspective, from the perspective of a political order based on global governance, it could well take the form of a harbinger.

In any case, all these developments show that we are pushing against the limits of current understandings of political order. Humankind will either turn to a new humanity-oriented concept of global governance, or rupture from human values on the wheels of autocratic structures seeking to exploit all these vulnerabilities. Our primary duty today is to strive to forge the intellectual infrastructure of a new humanity-oriented order of global governance.

Indeed, this is the fundamental purpose of this book, Systemic Earthquake.

[i] For an assessment of these negotiations from a third perspective see Hillary Rodham Clinton, Hard Choices, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014, s. 218-220.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Reflection on the June 24th Turkish Elections (modified and corrected)

18 Jul

[Prefatory Note: This is slightly modified text of an earlier post that seeks to takeaccount of responses from friends, and gave me the opportunity to express these somewhat contrarian views in a clearer way, as well as correct some mistakes. This version will also be published by Sharq Forum in Turkey.]

 

A Reflection on the June 24th Turkish Elections

 

In the days before the Turkish elections there were evident clashing fears and hopes mixed with predictions that mirrored these passions, and anticipated some kind of upset of the Erdoğan game plan for the future of the country. The long simmering intense hostility to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan seemed to have finally found its political voice in the person of a former high school physics teacher, Muharram Ince, the CHP candidate with his own gift of inspirational political oratory that created a feverish enthusiasm at his pre-election rallies, and there were reasons to believe and hope that Turskish citizenry was ready for a change after 16 years of AKP governance.

 

The Turkish economy was believed to be in terrible shape as signaled by the international fall of the lira, the pre-election spike in the cost of staple foods, high unemployment, and a dangerous shortfall in foreign capital needed to neutralize the effects of balance of payments deficits on high interest rates that make borrowing money very expensive. Beyond this there seemed to be present a prevalent a kind of political fatigue, a feeling even among former supporters that this controversial leader had held the reins of power far too long for the good of the country, that he badly damaged the international reputations of Turkey by over-reacting to the failed coup of 2016, that he was weakening the secular ethos of the Ataturk legacy while shifting power, influence, and wealth to emergent business elites spread around Anatolia and among the friends of the AKP, that he was inflicting an expensive gigantism on the country in the form of a presidential palace, world’s largest airport, proposed Istanbul Canal, giant mosques, a third bridge over the Bosporus, a generalized urban blight. Additionally, Turkey’s military campaigns in Syria and Iraq were responsible for a dangerous nationalist fervor as well as exhibiting hostility to legitimate Kurdish grievances and aspirations, as well as being a major cause of the massive refugee influx of recent years.

 

To evaluate this intensely negative portrayal of Turkey as it has played out in Europe and North America it is essential to take account of the concerted and powerful anti-Turkish international campaign that depicts Turkey as in the grip of evil political forces that made it the most illiberal of democracies led by a brutal and unscrupulous autocrat, making it a totally unsuitable and unreliable NATO ally that even dares to flaunt U.S. alliance leadership. This campaign, not ever acknowledged as such, brought together the Fetullah Gũlen network, anti-AKP think tank Kemalists spread around the West, secular leftists united with militant Kurdish activism, an Armenian movement seeking validation from the present Turkish government for its genocidal victimization of over a century ago, and influential Zionist elements disseminating to its influential supporters a steady stream of anti-Turkish propaganda as evident in the material on the websites of such well-funded U.S. NGOs as the Middle East Forum and Gatestone Institute, featuring such notorious personalities as Daniel Pipes and Alan Dershowitz.

 

This anti-Turkish campaign has been effective in (mis)shaping the outlook of international public opinion and of the liberal governments of the West.  It expressed itself most dramatically, and for Turks unmistakenably, when adopting a wait and see approach to the failed coup in 2016, disclosing a thinly disguised wish in the West for regime change in Ankara that disturbed many knowledgeable people in Turkey, including many in the political opposition.  It also continues to give the most negative interpretation to the Turkish response to this violent challenge, even ignoring the evidence by discounting the attribution of responsibility to the Fetullah Gũlen movement, by referring to its role as perpetrator only as ‘alleged.’ More seriously, while unreservedly condemning the post-coup roundup of Turks, including many journalists and academics, it never mentions the degree to which the Fetuallah Gũlen movement operates by stealth, and had for years deeply penetrated all public institutions of Turkish society with its devoted cultic followers, including the military, security, and intelligence sectors. These realities in Turkey are usually conceded by even the most ardent of Erdoğan’s domestic adversaries, but are never mentioned in the international discourse, even in such venerable organs of opinion in the West as the New York Times, The Economist, and BBC.

 

I share the critical view that the Turkish government used the pretext of security to go after a variety of enemies that had little or nothing to do with the coup attempt, but I also acknowledge that almost any government would respond strongly, and from its standpoint, rationally, if faced with a penetrating adversary that operates secretly and showed a willingness to stage a bloody coup to gain its ends of seizing power and taking over the Turkish state. I am old enough to remember the Cold War atmosphere in 1950s United States that obsessed about the alleged Communist tendency ‘to bore from within,’ leading to McCarthyism, a farreaching witch hunt that discredited and severely harmed many innocent and decent persons, weakening the morale and security of the country. I can only imagine the excessive kind of protective measures that the U.S. Government would have taken in that period if the Communist movement had actually tried to take over state power by recourse to a violent coup scenario, especially if perceived as working in tandem with the Soviet government. This refusal of international observers to contextualize the security challenges facing post-coup Turkey is an unmistakable display of an intense anti-Erdoğan bias that distorts perceptions and exaggerates criticisms.

 

It is in this highly charged atmosphere that the people I know best in Turkey by and large approached the recent elections. There was a mood among many secular opponents of Erdoğan that his game was about to come to a welcomed end, and this view included some highly regarded early high profile advisors and officials who had earlier worked on behalf of the AKP, and its charismatic leader. This mood translated into a consensus prediction that the alliance of parties would get enough votes to prevent Erdoğan from receiving the 50%+ votes he needed on June 24thto receive the mandate in the first round of voting to become the president charged with managing the constitutional shift from a parliamentary system to what Erdoğan himself was calling ‘an executive presidency.’ This rejection by more than half of Turkish voters would have meant a second round of voting between Erdoğan and whoever came in second, presumably Ince, to determine who would be the next president of Turkey. The expectation was that if Erdoğan didn’t win a majority in the first round, then he provided a fairly easy target in the runoff election as the opposition parties had agreed in advance to unite if such an eventuality came to pass. If this had happened, the parliamentary system would likely have been restored and retained, and the executive presidency would never become a reality.

 

The second fervent hope of the opposition was that the AKP would go down with their master, undoubtedly winning more seats than any other party, but still falling short of what would be needed to exercise majority control in the Turkish Parliament. It was anticipated that this outcome would be desirable even if Erdoğan were to be elected president as it would greatly diminish his ability to dictate legislative outcomes to Parliament. The more respected public opinion polls also gave credence to these expectations, although there was disagreement about whether Erdoğan might squeak by in the presidential vote either immediately or in the second round of voting, there was a fairly high level of agreement that the AKP, despite its alliance with the far-right MHP, would still not have a governing majority, and hence would be unable to get its way on key issues, including the constitutional revision.

 

The first question the morning after is what went wrong with these expectations. My initial attempt at an answer harkens back to my presence in Cairo shortly after the fall of Mubarak in early 2011. For various reasons I had wide contact with a range of influential persons in Cairo almost all of whom were affiliated with the secularized upper middle class. These folks, while offering a variety of analyses of the Egyptian political scene, shared a hope that in the post-Mubarak circumstance an inclusive democracy would become possible and desirable, and this was mainly understood to mean at the time a willingness to encourage the inclusion of the Muslim Brotherhood as a minority presence in the Egyptian Parliament. It was also coupled with the expectation of electing one of their own, Amr Moussa, former Foreign Minister and Secretary General of the Arab League, as the next president when elections were scheduled to occur in 2012. Egypt had a runoff arrangement similar to the one in Turkey, but Moussa never made it to the second round, having won only 12% of the vote, and the Muslim Brotherhood shocked the secular elites by achieving a political majority, initiating a sequence of events that pushed the country back to renewed secular authoritarianism in a harsher form than what was experienced for 30 years under Mubarak.

 

This underestimation of the grassroots strength of the MB illustrated for me the political myopia that often misleads modernized elites living in a dominant city in their country to believe that the future will unfold as they and their friends hope. I have dubbed this tendency ‘the Cairo Syndrome,’ and although less pronounced in these 2018 Turkish elections than it had been in Egypt, it certainly played its part in aligning advance expectations with wishes. In case my assessment is read as exhibiting Orientalist sympathies I can report the same phenomenon was operative in the U.S, just prior to the 2016 presidential elections when Trump’s victory shocked and brought intense grief to almost all the people in my social circle, as well as shame to the most sophisticated national pundits who earn their living by predicting political outcomes, often relying on abstruse algorithms to wow the public, and then shamelessly, without admitting their mistaken assessment, pronouncing after the fact why what happened was bound to happen.

 

The more illuminating concern is why with all that seemed to work against Erdoğan, he not only won but ran more than 12 percentage points ahead of the AKP, suggesting the persistence of his personal popularity as compared with the weakening of support for his political party. In fact, Erdoğan did not lose any individual support if this election is compared to the prior 12 elections where he had also always prevailed to varying degrees. Part of the explanation is the depth and passion of his base among the poor and pious, and those resident in the non-Kurdish parts of Eastern Turkey or in the interior of the country. The only places where Erdoğan and the AKP finished a distant second was along the Western coastal fringe of the country, including the lead city of Izmir. Despite the inspirational nationalism and modernizing agenda of Ataturk, and his still robust legacy (his picture is still by far the most imposing and common presence in offices, public buildings, and middle class homes), Turkey was and remains culturally very rooted in Islamic cultural and religious traditions in ways that give Erdoğan an authentic aura as the supreme representative of Turkishness that transcends the whys and wherefores of political debate.

 

And then there is the phenomenon of national pride, just as Erdoğan stood up so triumphantly against those who staged the coup, he has stood tall against the world, including the United States and Europe. He has brought much progress in the social and economic spheres to the poor and materially disadvantaged, and helped give Turkey a strong regional and global role that it had never achieved previously in the republican era when its leaders seemed content with their role as a passive junior partner of the West, and in recent decades of the NATO configuration. In a turbulent region and world, Turkey has made some substantial contributions to global public goods that are rarely mentioned: the civilianization of governance overcoming a deeply embedded military tutelage emanating from the Ataturk approach; an extraordinary refugee policy that has settled 4 million Syrians and Iraqis fleeing their countries (far more than all of Europe combined, which has regressively responded to its much smaller numbers by giving rise to a resurgence of the pre-fascist extreme right); humanitarian missions to Somalia, Rohingya, and elsewhere that have brought needed world attention to distressed and victimized people otherwise neglected; a high ranking among countries with respect to per capita expenditures for humanitarian assistance; a serious challenge to the geopolitical manipulation of the UN at the Security Council under the slogan ‘the world is greater than five’ frequently repeated by Erdoğan

 

On balance are the election results good for Turkey? It is not an easy question to answer, and a meaningful appraisal must await indications of how the newly constituted presidential system operates and whether the economic challenges can be effectively addressed. It is not encouraging that governing and legislating seem dependent on agreement with the MHP, an ultra-nationalist political formation, hostile to Kurdish aspirations, and militaristic. Also, Turkey faces an array of difficult internal and international problems, especially serious inflation and a weakened international currency, as well as a disturbing dependency on agricultural imports. These problems seem to have no short-term fix, and would likely magnify societal tensions if an IMF or EU type of austerity regime were to be instituted, or if ignored by a head-in-the-sand posture. Alternative electoral outcomes would also not have generated quick solutions, except that the well funded anti-Turkish international campaign might have celebrated and solidified results more to its liking  by pouring capital into the country to meet the deficit, to build confidence in a new compliant political order, and to fight inflation and capital flight, and such steps would probably have quickly produced a stronger lira, at least temporarily.

 

What Turkey does have now, which it has failed to do during the prior AKP years is to develop a responsible opposition that puts forth alternative policy proposals. Muharram Ince, the forceful presidential candidate of the CHP opposition who by his showing in the election, running seven points ahead of his party, seems to have the leadership capacity and approach needed to create an atmosphere in Tuirkey that is more conducive to the sort of political debate and policy friction that makes constitutional democracy perform at its best. Ince, like Erdoğan, relies on populist and colorful rhetorical language that matches Erdoğan’s own crowd mobilizing style that may have the effect of creating more democratically oriented negotiations and collaborative solutions within government, especially with respect to the altered parliamentary role, in response to national policy challenges.

 

In this world of ‘elected dictators’ let us not demean the impressive democratic achievement of these Turkish elections that belie the irresponsible mutterings of those most disappointed who irresponsibly contend that the outcome was rigged. Surely, a political personality as accomplished as Erdoğan, if exercising the sort of dictatorial powers that his detractors claim, could have done a better job if these accusations were grounded in fact—rigged elections can be usually identified by huge margins of victory, by excluding unwanted parties from qualifying for participation, and by giving the anointed leader the kind of control in the legislative branch that would smooth the work of rulership. The Turkish elections delivered none of these results that are associated with dictatorial rule, voting proceeded without violence, and the polling places were internationally observed and without any notable irregularities reported—the margin of Erdoğan‘s victory was less than 3%, the Kurdish HDP received 11% of the vote allowing it to cross the 10% threshold that not only meant parliamentary participation but denied the AKP its much desired majority, and the AKP ran significantly behind Erdoğan suggesting a pattern of split voting and a lack of the sort of party discipline that is an unmistakable feature of a true autocracy. Closely contested elections of this sort only occur in societies where proceduraldemocracy associated with the primacy of elections is allowed to function even if flawed in various ways , often giving wealthy donors disproportionate and anti-democratic influence. Of course, Erdoğan had the benefits of long-term incumbency, as well as the fruits of his strenuous efforts to tame hostile media, and this unquestionably tilts the process to an uncertain degree, but is a general feature of party-driven politics in the contemporary world and is rarely allowed on its own to cast doubt on the legitimacy of electoral results.

 

Even if these flaws are corrected, or at least mitigated, procedural democracy is not enough, and one hopes that Erdoğan will use his newly acquired powers over judicial and other governmental appointments wisely. More deeply, we can hope that Erdoğan has learned from the Gezi Park experience of 2013 that a majoritarianapproach to governance breeds intense internal conflict and embittered forms of polarization that interfere with the pursuit of his signature goals of economic growth, enhanced regional and international stature, and the growing cultural appreciation of Muslim values and traditions.

 

At this moment, in the immediate afterglow of electoral victory, Erdoğan does seem to be adopting a more inclusive language, speaking of his commitment to the unity of the nation, a theme echoed in the gracious concession comments of Ince who unconditionally accepted the validity of the electoral results putting an end to anti- Erdoğan extremists irresponsibly ready to challenge the results, and pleaded only that the elected leadership now take account of the whole Turkish population of 80 million in the conduct of governance, and not only of those supporting the Erdoğan approach.  If Erdoğan wants to start this new phase of Turkish constitutionalism on a positive note he could not do better than extending an olive branch to imprisoned academics, journalists, and human rights activists through the exercise of his power to pardon, especially as a welcome complement to the declaration that the state of emergency will not be further renewed, an encouraging move, especially as reported opposed by AKP’s alliance partner, the MHP. If the new system moves quickly and effectively to restore international and national confidence in the Turkish economy, prospects are good for political stability and a more robust democratic atmosphere in the country.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Democracy, Development, and Reputation: Vietnam and Turkey

17 Dec

 

 

More than 25 years ago I took part in a major conference in Kuala Lumpur affirming the importance of human rights. At the end of the second day, the convener of the conference, Chandra Muzaffar, a leading advocate of human rights and democracy in Malaysia, arranged for a few of the speakers to meet with the controversial leader of the country, Prime Minister, Mahathir. I was the only Westerner among the 4 or 5 of us given this opportunity. As soon as we entered the room Mahathir looked straight at me while posing a rhetorical question: “Why do Western human rights NGOs and experts look only at our performance with respect to civil and political rights when our natural preoccupation is the promotion of economic and social rights?” Of course, his assertion was meant to challenge the complacent Orientalizing conventional wisdom, reducing the practice of human rights to whether or not a government is doing well or poorly on such issues as free elections and freedom of expression. No one denies the relevance and core vitality of rights, but not more so than whether the bottom strata of the citizenry, as measured by standard of living, can meet their basic material needs. This outlook remains dominant in the West, coloring condescending comments on non-Western human rights failures,, and persisting despite the West’s own downward spiral into the dark domains of illiberalism.

 

I was reminded of this meeting while in Vietnam for two weeks recently. Several Vietnamese intellectuals as well as the rather large Western expat community contended that the government of Vietnam had become repressive in the period since its extraordinarily victory in the Vietnam War. It was accused of harshly punishing critics and dissenters as if more scared of domestic protest than they had been of American B-52 carpet bombing. Such critics were right, of course, to lament this fall from grace on the part of Vietnam’s leaders, who also lacked the charisma and inspirational leadership of their wartime predecessors. At the same time it was unfortunate to fall into the Western trap of focusing on the failures of glasnost, while overlooking the achievements of perestroika, that is, judging political performance as the ACLU might rather than by reference to the overall wellbeing of the Vietnamese people.

 

What I am trying to draw attention to is the remarkable story of Vietnamese economic and social achievements, which center on drastically reducing extreme poverty and stimulating agricultural growth to such a level that Vietnam, previously frequently at the edge of massive famine, had become the third leading rice exporter in the world (after the U.S. and Thailand). In effect, the government of Vietnam, while failing to live up to expectations when it comes to such liberal ideals as transparency, participation, and accountability of their citizenry, was nevertheless successfully building a needs based economy in which there were relatively few below the poverty line and where almost everyone had their health, education, and housing needs met by the state. Not only was this an impressive profile of current Vietnamese society, but it represented a trajectory of steadily improving achievement. Since the 1990s, Vietnamese poverty rate had fallen from about 50% to 7% in 2015 in a period during which roughly 1/3 of the population overcame conditions of food insecurity, according to the UN Special Rapporteur for the Right to Food.

 

These Vietnamese national accomplishments are the normative realities obscured or ignored by the regressive kinds of thinking that validates and invalidates performance in leading capitalist societies of the West—selective quantitative indicators of economic growth and stock market performance. Let us remember that rich countries in the West are at ease living with large pockets of extreme poverty in their own affluent societies as measured by homelessness and extreme poverty, including the absence of health care, educational opportunity, and even food and housing necessities. Shocking figures of inequality are hardly ever taken into serious account. For example, the fact that the three richest Americans—Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Warren Buffet—possess wealth that exceeds the earnings of the entire American working class should occasion revolutionary incitement, but actually it is put to one side as a neutral outcome of moving beyond industrial capitalism.

 

The same one-sidedness is present in the discussion of another of my favorite countries in the world: Turkey—where I have spent several months each year for the last twenty. Of course, the dynamics are very adifferent within each national setting. The discourse in Turkey resembles that of Vietnam far more than that of the United States. The critical focus of anti-government forces has been the democratic failings of AKP since it assumed power in 2002; this criticism has sharpened since a drift toward more authoritarian rule in 2011, the 2013 Gezi Park demonstrations, and spiked sharply, especially in international circles, after the failed FETO coup of 2016 and the often crude and often cruelly implemented overreactions of the Erdogan government to threats that it was entitled to perceive as dangerous. The purge in universities and media of those whose views and activities were deemed unacceptable by the Turkish government, as well as the moves against specific journalists and politicians, especially those associated with supporting the struggle of the Kurdish people, are deeply troubling developments, should worry the society as a whole, and do warrant international criticism.

 

But these negative developments should not be presented as the whole story about Turkey and the AKP/Erdogan leadership. Part of the Turkish problem of perception and accuracy is a tendency of debate toward polarizations of good and evil, secular and religious, and even truth and falsity. This has led negative criticism of Turkish governmental behavior to be misleadingly expressed in the form of unbalanced criticism. In the early phase of AKP governance of the country the standard complaints of an unrelenting opposition were directed at Erdogan as dictatorial and leading the country away from Ataturk secular legacy and toward a religious polity similar to that in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Of course, this line of attack was totally wrong. The early policy priority of the AKP consisted of satisfying European Union criteria for membership, which was actually a major step in the Ataturk direction of Europeanizing the country as the best path to economic modernization. During these early AKP years, the government in Ankara made a parallel effort to get the military out of politics and back in their barracks. Fairly considered, the first decade of AKP leadership dating from say 2002 was notable for achieving fundamental democratizing reforms that many knowledgeable observers of the country could never happen in Turkey. For example, Eric Rouleau, the eminent French journalist of Middle Eastern politics and later French ambassador to Turkey believed that the Turkish military would never give up its tutelage role that was not only well entrenched in the government bureaucracy, but also considered part of the hallowed legacy of Ataturk, as to be unchallengeable. Erdogan’s leadership achieved the impossible. Additionally in this period Turkey managed to break free of its Cold War straight jacket as a NATO pawn pursuing an independent and sensibly assertive foreign policy throughout the Middle East and beyond. The country also achieved a series of successes in trade and investment that led Turkey to be considered one of the most promising of emerging economies.

 

As things got worse from the perspective of political and civil rights, it was difficult for critics to express accurately these disappointments and criticism because the earlier negative comments of the opposition had earlier been so exaggerated. Some of the harshest critics, claiming with varying degrees of accuracy that they had applauded ed what the Erdogan leadership achieved in its early years, but in recent years the management of the Turkish state had fallen from grace. Recent exaggerations claim ‘there are no longer any newspapers in Turkey worth reading’ and the like. I would argue that there has been some decline in the range of media coverage and some lessening of criticism, yet several English language newspapers, including Sabah and Daily Hurryiet remain well worth reading, have useful critical commentaries on government policies and are informative about the major issues of domestic and international policy facing the country.

 

If international assessments were more balanced and less polarized, the AKP leadership would receive considerable credit in domestic and foreign policy from better educated and informed observers of the political scene in Turkey. Criticisms of Turkey’s failed Syrian policies would be set off against the success of Ankara’s African diplomacy, the vitality of its economy despite the obstacles created by the anti-Turkish international campaign, the robustness of its foreign assistance program (second only to that of the U.S., and highest in per capita terms), the care it has accorded over 3 million Syrian (and some Iraqi) refugees, the global attention it has brought to the plight of the Rohingya, and its various regional efforts at conflict resolution (including Cyprus; Israel/Syria; Iran’s nuclear program; Balkan and Caucuses internal relations within their respective regions). Turkey, unlike either Saudi Arabia or Iran, has mostly promoted a politics of reconciliation in the region, and unlike Egypt has done a great deal to help raise the standard of living of its most disadvantaged citizenry. The Turkish government has made Istanbul a global city in many respects, a center for inter-civilizational dialogue and alliance, and a sponsor of conferences dedicated to a more peaceful, prosperous, and humane global future. The TRT World Forum a couple of months ago in Istanbul featured presentations at the opening by the Turkish Prime Minister and at the closing by Erdogan, and in between panels on a variety of world order issues with a fairly wide range of speakers (including myself).

 

My most basic criticism of the anti-government discourse in and about Turkey is along the lines of my sense of what is right in Vietnam. For the bottom 50% or so of Turks the policies of the government have enhanced greatly their material life circumstances when it comes to health, security, housing, public transportation, as well as improved participatory rights of those outside the Western urban sectors. Talking with ‘ordinary’ Turkish workers during this period, such as private car drivers, apartment managers, barbers, fruit sellers, suggest that since the AKP has governed, their lives and that of their families has steadily improved, especially with respect to basic material needs, daily life, and enjoyment of what a modern society has to offer. Often ‘secularists’ deride these AKP supporters, and Erdogan enthusiasts, as uneducated and stupid. Their response when asked why they vote Erdogan adopts the opposite line: ‘Are we stupid?’ Many of these persons actually dislike the Islamic edge of the government identity or think the Syrian policies were a huge mistake, but for what is important for them, the AKP is far superior to alternatives. In effect, there’s nothing the matter with Anatolia, unlike Kansas!

 

It is not at all like the Trump base in America where the policies adopt by the elected leaders are in general materially harmful to much of this angry and alienated American underclass, and what they get from Trump are signals encouraging racism, xenophobia, and nativist patriotism, which seem to generate strong feelings of cultural satisfaction, especially when he punctures political balloons, many of which in any event were filled                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        with liberal hot air as suggested by the many glaring human rights failures during the long period of secular hegemony.

 

In the end we would all like to live in humane societies but in the interim it would diminish polarization and enhance understanding to balance strengths and weaknesses in a more balanced manner, especially with respect to class interests. The weakening of free expression, especially by punishing dissent and

treating criticism as subversion, has horrible effects for the intellectual and creative life that affects especially the sense of wellbeing of the upper echelons of society, but also weakens the innovativeness of those working in the private sector. The material neglect of the underclass causes fundamental deprivations in the daily life of the most economically marginalized portions of societies, hitting minorities especially hard. What I am objecting to is the invisibility of the suffering of the very poor (as in America) and the refusals to acknowledge the public achievement of their improved circumstances (as in Turkey or Vietnam).

 

My argument is not meant to be a reworking of the Huntington argument in the 1970s that developmental priorities tend to make authoritarian rule a palatable prelude to democratically oriented modes of governance. I am not suggesting that it makes sense to defer concerns with democratic practices and human rights, but that normative backsliding should not be the occasion for overlooking how well or badly a government behaves in other spheres of activity. In a sense, this is a search for balance and moderation, and a plea against using ideological brickbats to tear down legitimate governing processes, which undoubtedly need reforms, but do not deserve to be blacklisted except in the most extreme cases, and this is not happening. For instance, the human rights record of Turkey and Vietnam is the target of far more insistent criticism and attack than is the far worse records of Saudi Arabia or Sisi’s Egypt. Again, it is not that being worse elsewhere does not excuse being bad, but it does raise questions about motivation and geopolitical motivation. Vietnam is in a more fortunate position that Turkey because it is valued as part of the U.S. effort to contain Chinese influence, while Turkey is increasingly seen as a thorn in the side of such American allies in the region as Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. In effect, bashing countries for their poor human rights records needs to be geopolitically decoded if it is to be taken seriously.    

 

Interrogating the Qatar Rift

7 Jun

 

The abrupt announcement that Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, UAE, Yemen, the Maldive Islands, and the eastern government in divided Libya have broken all economic and political ties with Qatar has given rise to a tsunami of conjecture, wild speculation, and most of all, to wishful thinking and doomsday worries. There is also a veil of confusion arising from mystifying reports that hackers with alleged Russian connections placed a fake news story that implicated Qatar in the promotion of extremist groups in the region. Given Russian alignments, it makes no sense to create conditions that increase the credibility of anti-Iran forces. And finally the timing and nature of the terrorist suicide attacks of June 7th on the Iranian Parliament and on the tomb of Ayatollah Khomeini adds a particularly mystifying twist to the rapidly unfolding Qatar drama, especially if the ISIS claim of responsibility is substantiated.

 

Four preliminary cautionary observations seem apt: (1) the public explanation given for this rupture is almost certainly disconnected from its true meaning. That is, the break with Qatar is not about strengthening the anti-ISIS, anti-extremist coalition of Arab forces. Such an explanation may play well in the Trump White House, but it is far removed from understanding why this potentially menacing anti-Qatar regional earthquake erupted at this time, and what it is truly about. (2) Any claim to provide a clear account of why? And why now? should be viewed with great skepticism, if not suspicion. There are in the regional context too many actors, crosscurrents, uncertainties, conflicts, mixed and hidden motives and contradictions at play as to make any effort at this stage to give a reliable and coherent account of this Qatar crisis bound to be misleading.

 

(3) Yet despite these caveats, there are several mainly unspoken dimensions of the crisis that can be brought to the surface, and sophisticate our understanding beyond the various self-serving polemical interpretations that are being put forward, including the centrality of Israeli-American backing for a tough line on Iran and the realization that Gulf grievances against Qatar have been brewing for recent years for reasons unrelated to ISIS, and led to an earlier milder confrontation in 2014 that was then quickly overcome with the help of American diplomacy.

 

And (4) The anti-Iran fervor only makes sense from the perspective of the Gulf monarchies (other than Qatar) and Israel, but seems radically inconsistent with American regional interests and counter-ISIS priorities—Iran is not associated with any of the terrorist incidents occurring in Europe and the United States, and ISIS and Iran are pitted against each other on sectarian grounds. Intriguingly, neither Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), nor Israel, that is, the principal antagonists of Qatar, have been ever targeted by ISIS.

 

The main contention of the anti-Qatar Arab governments, led by Saudi Arabia, is that this coordinated diplomatic pushback is motivated by anti-terrorist priorities. On its face this seems to be a ridiculous claim to come from the Saudis, and can only make some sense as part of a calculated effort to throw pursuing dogs in the hunt for ISIS off a course that if followed would inevitably implicate the Riyadh government. It has long been known by intelligence services and academic experts that it is Saudi Arabia, including members of its royal family, that have been funding Jihadi extremism in the Middle East and has for many years been spending billions to spread Salifist extremism throughout the Islamic world.

 

By comparison, although far from innocent or consistent of terrorist linkages, as well as being internally oppressive, especially toward its migrant foreign workers, Qatar is a minor player in this high stakes political imbroglio. For the Saudis to take the lead in this crusade against Qatar may play well in Washington, Tel Aviv, and London, but fools few in the region. Trump has with characteristic ill-informed bravado has taken ill-advised credit for this turn against Qatar, claiming it to be an immediate payoff of his recent visit to the Kingdom, ramping up still further the provocative buildup of pressure on Iran. To claim a political victory given the circumstances rather than admit a geopolitical faux pas might seem strange for any leader other than Trump. It is almost perverse considering that the al-Udeid Air Base is in Qatar, which is the largest American military facility in the Middle East, operated as a regional command center actively used in bombing raids against Iraq and Afghanistan, and serviced by upwards of 10,000 American military personnel.

 

Netanyahu warmongers will certainly be cheered by this course of events and Israel has not hidden its support for the anti-Qatar moves of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). It achieves two Israeli goals: its longtime undertaken to encourage splits and disorder in the Arab world and its campaign to maximize pressures on Iran.

 

Interestingly, Jeremy Corbyn at the start of the week when the momentous British elections are scheduled to take place, called on Teresa May to release a report (prepared while David Cameron was prime minister), supposedly an explosive exposure of Saudi funding and support for Islamic extremism in the Middle East. All in all, a first approximation of the Qatar crisis is to view it as a desperate move by Riyadh to get off the hot seat with respect to its own major responsibility for the origins and buildup of political extremism in the Middle East, which has indirectly produced the inflaming incidents in principal European cities during the last several years. Such a move to isolate and punish Qatar was emboldened by the blundering encouragement of Donald Trump, whether acting on impulse or at the beckoning of Israel’s and Saudi leaders, confusing genuine counter-terrorist priorities with a dysfunctional effort to push Iran against the wall. Trump seems to forget, if he ever knew, that Iran is fighting against ISIS in Syria, has strongly reaffirmed moderate leadership in its recent presidential elections, and if Iran were brought in from the cold could be a major calming influence in the region. True, Iran has given support to Hezbollah and Hamas, but except in Syria not with much effect, and on a scale far smaller than what other actors in the region have been doing to maintain their control and push their agendas. In effect, if Washington pursued national interests in the spirit of political realism, it would regard Iran as a potential ally, and put a large question mark next to its two distorting ‘special relationships,’ with Saudi Arabia and Israel. In effect, reverse its regional alignments in a way that could replace turmoil with stability, but this is not about to happen. The American media, and thoughtful citizens, should at least be wondering ‘why?’ rather than staring into darkness of a starless nighttime sky.

 

But this is not all. The Saudis, along with the UAE and Egypt, have long resented and maybe feared the early willingness of Qatar to give some sanctuary and aid and comfort to various elements of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. It is hardly farfetched to assume that Israel is outraged by the Emir of Qatar’s friendship and earlier support for the Hamas exiled leader, Khaled Mashaal. Saudi Arabia strives to obscure its incoherent approach to political Islam. It loudly proclaims Sunni identity when intervening in Syria, waging war in Yemen, and calling for confrontation with Iran, while totally repudiating its sectarian identity when dealing with societally or democratically oriented Islamic movements in neighboring countries. Such an anti-democratiing orientation was dramatically present when Riyadh and Abu Dhabi scolded Washington for abandoning Mubarak’s harsh authoritarian secular rule in Egypt back in 2011 and then welcoming the anti-Morsi coup led by General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi two years later, even welcoming its bloody suppression of Sunni adherents of the Muslim Brotherhood. As has been long obvious to close and honest observers of the Kingdom, the Saudi monarchy has become so fearful of an internal uprising challenging its oppressive rule that it will oppose any liberalizing or democratizing challenge anywhere in its neighborhood. The Kingdom is particularly wary of its Shia minority that happens to be concentrated in locations near where the main Saudi oil fields are located. Similar concerns also help explain why Bahrain behaves as it does as it also fearful of a domestic Shia led majority opposition, which has made it a strategically dependent, yet ardent, adherent of the anti-Qatar coalition.

 

Also far more relevant than acknowledged is the presence of Al Jazeera in Doha, which at various times has voiced support for the Arab Uprisings of 2011, criticism of the Israeli practices and policies toward the Palestinians, and provided an Arabic media source of relatively independent news coverage throughout the region. Qatar is guilty of other irritants of the dominant Gulf political sensibility. It has arranged academic positions for such prominent Palestinian dissidents as Azmi Bashara and more than its neighbors has given welcome to intellectual refugees from Arab countries, especially Egypt. Given the way the Gulf rulers close off all political space within their borders it is to be expected that they find the relative openness of Qatar a threat as well as consider it to be a negative judgment passed on their style of governance.

 

Qatar is very vulnerable to pressure, but also has certain strengths. Its population of 2.5 million (only 200,000 of whom are citizens), imports at least 40% of its food across the Saudi border, now closed to the 600-800 daily truck traffic. Not surprisingly, this sudden closure has sparked panic among Qataris, who are reportedly stockpiling food and cash. The Doha stock market dropped over 7% on the first day after the Gulf break was announced. Qatar is the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas, and is a major source of Turkish investment capital. Western Europe is wary of this American project to establish an ‘Arab NATO,’ and sees it as one more manifestation of Trump’s dysfunctional and mindless impact on world order.

 

What this portends for the future remains is highly uncertain. Some look upon these moves against Qatar as a tempest in a teapot that will disappear almost as quickly as it emerged. The U.S. Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, and the Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis, have urged mediation and offered reassuring comments about anti-ISIS unity remaining unimpaired. It is true that the existence of the Udeid Air Base in Qatar may in time dilute deference to the Saudi-led desire to squeeze the government in Doha, possibly to the point of its collapse. A more fearsome scenario is that the Trump encouraged confrontation sets the stage for a coup in Qatar that will be quickly supported by Washington as soon as Riyadh gives the green light, and will be promoted as part of the regional buildup against Iran. The notorious ceremony in which King Salmon, Trump, and Sisi were pictured standing above that glowing orb with their arms outstretched can only be reasonably interpreted as a pledge of solidarity among dark forces of intervention. Many of us supposed that George W. Bush’s policy of ‘democracy promotion’ that provided part of the rationale for the disastrous 2003 attack on Iraq was the low point in American foreign policy in the Middle East, but Trump is already proving us wrong.

 

While this kind of ‘great game’ is being played at Qatar’s expense in the Gulf, it is highly unlikely that other major players, especially Iran, Russia, and Turkey will remain passive observers, especially if the crisis lingers or deepens. Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Mohammed Zarif, has non-aggressively tweeted to the effect that “neighbors are permanent; geography can’t be changed,” stating his view that the occasion calls for dialogue, not coercion. If the isolation of Qatar is not quickly ended, it is likely that Iran will start making food available and shipping other supplies to this beleaguered tiny peninsular country whose sovereignty is being so deeply threatened.

 

Russia, has been long collaborating with Iran in Syria, will likely move toward greater solidarity with Tehran, creating a highly unstable balance of power in the Middle East with frightening risks of escalation and miscalculation. Russia will also take advantage of the diplomatic opportunity to tell the world that the U.S. is seeking to raise war fevers and cause havoc by championing aggressive moves that further the ambitions of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Israel. Such Russian diplomacy is likely to play well in Europe where Trump’s recent demeaning words in Brussels to NATO members made the leading governments rethink their security policies, and to view the United States as an increasingly destabilizing force on the global stage, such feeling being reinforced by the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Change Agreement.

 

Turkey seems to believe that its immediate effort should be similar to that of the Tillerson and Mattis approach, having tentatively offered to mediate, and advocates finding a way back to a posture of at least peaceful co-existence between Qatar, the Gulf, and the rest of the Arab world. Turkey has had a positive relationship with Qatar, which includes a small Turkish military facility and large Qatari investments in the Turkish economy.

 

To cool things down, the Foreign Minister of Qatar, Sheik Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, while denying the allegations, has also joined in the call for mediation and even reconciliation. Bowing to Gulf pressures, Qatar has prior to the current crisis withdrawn its welcome from Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood exiles, and seems poised to yield further to the pressures of the moment, given its small size, political vulnerability, and intimations of possible societal panic.

 

While the civilian population of Yemen is faced with imminent famine as an intended consequence of the Saudi intervention, the Saudis seems to be again using food as a weapon, this time to compel Qatar to submit to its regional priorities and become a GCC team player with respect to Iran—joining in the preparation of a sectarian war against Iran while maintaining a repressive hold over political activity at home. One preliminary takeaway is that ISIS dimension is serving as a smokescreen to draw attention away from a far more controversial agenda. The Saudis are deeply implicated in political extremism throughout the region, having likely paid heavily for being treated, temporarily at least, as off limits for Jihadi extremism. Qatar, too is tainted, but mainly by being a minor operative in Syrian violence and in 2015 paying ISIS an amount rumored to be as high as $1 billion to obtain the release of 26 Qataris, including members of the royal family, taken hostage while on a falcon hunting party, of all things, in Iraq. We can gain some glimmers of understanding of what is motivating these Arab governments to act against Qatar, but little sympathy. In comparison, the new U.S. foreign policy in the region defies any understanding beyond its adoption of a cynical and unworkable geopolitical stance, which certainly does not engender any sympathy from the victimized peoples of the region, but rather fear and loathing.  

Turkish Realignment: Prospects amid Uncertainty

3 Dec

In recent months the Turkish President, Recep Teyipp Erdoğan, and his principal advisors have not made it a secret that they are reconsidering Turkey’s relations with neighbors, with the countries of the region, and with leading geopolitical actors.

 

The Early Agenda of AKP

 When the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002 it set about almost immediately to fashion a post-Cold War foreign policy based on the idea that it was time to supersede the Cold War posture of almost total Turkish deference to the United States, especially within NATO and bipolar contexts, and depict a conception of Turkish interests developed in Ankara rather than adhere to Washington’s blueprint. In its early period of national leadership, the AKP seemed to pursue four interrelated international goals:

            –resolve the Cyprus conflict;

            –give priority to seeking full membership in the European Union (EU);

            –improve diplomatic and political relations with Arab World;

            –seek continuity in U.S./NATO/EU relations, but with overall independence.

 

During the Foreign Ministry of Abdullah Gul, reflecting and incorporating some of Ahmet Davutoğlu ideas and his ambitious conception of the proper Turkish international role, this new assertiveness of Turkish foreign policy achieved with impressive results. Turkey’s signature approach of ‘Zero Problems with Neighbors’ (ZPN) was initially seen as the adoption of a regional conflict-resolving perspective, and given early credibility by transforming relations with Syria from hostility to harmony. Syria became the poster child of ZPN, and the new approach was reinforced by a rapid expansion of economic and cultural relations with countries throughout the Arab World. Beyond this, Turkey extended its foreign policy with substantial economic and diplomatic success to the non-Arab parts of the Islamic World, as well as to sub-Saharan Africa. Istanbul, rather than Paris or London, quickly became the preferred hub for a wide variety of international political gatherings of interest to the Global South.

 

There was also a large emphasis placed by during the early AKP years on the acceleration of accession diplomacy with the EU, leading to an unexpected civilianizing of the Turkish government in ways that reduced the leverage of the armed forces in domestic politics and definitely moved in the direction of meeting the preconditions of human rights, democratization, and secularity that would seem to qualify Turkey to become an EU member, comparing favorably with the record of several East European countries that gained membership in the EU without confronting strong accession obstacles. The AKP also had domestic reasons to build a firewall against any future coup by the armed forces whose leadership was imbued with Kemalist belief, including a feared encroachment of political Islam on the governing process.

 

While developing a more pro-active and independent foreign policy, the AKP leadership continued to affirm its relationship with the United States, and as a staunch NATO ally. This affirmation was somewhat tested in 2003 when Washington pressed Turkey to allow a portion of the planned attack on Iraq to proceed from Turkish territory. The Turkish Parliament refused to give its consent, and the Erdoğan leadership under pressure from the United States, submitted the American request a second time with an executive recommendation of approval, but Parliament again withheld consent. It remains uncertain as to whether Erdoğan was pretending to seek parliamentary approval or was genuinely willing to allow Turkey to become directly involved in the attack upon neighboring Iraq. When the attack against Iraq proceeded without UN authorization, Turkey adopted a low profile approach that included a readiness to cooperate with the American-led occupation of Iraq, which sought to restore stability to the country. In effect, the new AKP foreign policy wanted to achieve freedom of maneuver for Turkey but without shaking the foundations of the foreign policy that had guided the ardently secular leadership of the country since the origins of the republic.

 

 

Revising AKP Foreign Policy

 Five major changes of circumstances undermined this early AKP approach to foreign policy: First of all, the deterioration of relations with Israel that became dramatically manifest at the 2009 Davos meetings of the World Economic Forum when Erdoğan sharply confronted the Israeli President, Shimon Peres, on Israel’s massive attack (Cast Lead) on Gaza, and climaxed in 2010 when Israeli commandos attacked the humanitarian flotilla bringing medical supplies to Gaza, killing 9 Turkish nationals on the Mavi Marmara, the largest ship in the flotilla of ships challenging the Israeli blockade. Clearly, Israel was sending a warning message to Turkey that it would push back against any Turkish challenge, including those of civil society, to the Israeli approach to Palestinians living under occupation. This encounter challenged Washington to seek restored normalcy in Israeli-Turkish relations so that it would not have to choose sides or juggle relations with both. Energetic diplomatic efforts by Barack Obama sought to heal this breach between these two principal strategic American allies in the region.

 

The second development involved Turkish reactions to the 2011 uprisings in the Arab World, the so-called ‘Arab Spring.’ It should be remembered that Turkey was among the first countries to affirm unconditionally these uprisings against authoritarian rule, treating the political upheavals as welcome expressions of democratizing passions on the part of the citizenry. Turkish prestige in the region reached an all time high, and there was talk throughout the Middle East of the applicability of ‘the Turkish model.’ It was often overlooked that Erdoğan went to Cairo in the Spring of 2011 to encourage Egyptian political forces to follow the Turkish example of political secularism, and not try to embody religion in the governing process. This view not appreciated at the time in Egypt being interpreted as a neo-Ottoman effort to interfere with Egyptian internal rights of self-determination.

 

The third development was the gradual Turkish realization that their prospects for EU membership were declining despite their internal good faith efforts to comply with accession expectations. The main explanation for this decline involved the rise of Islamophobia in several key countries in Western Europe whose political approval by national referendum would be necessary before Turkish membership could be formally approved. With the virtual disappearance of this European option, the pragmatic case for internal political reform in Turkey was weakened while making the benefits of a geopolitically more equi-distant diplomacy more evident, being implemented through Turkish openings to Iran, Russia, India, and China. In other words, facing a demeaning rejection by the EU even if not directly expressed, Turkey partially turned eastward, or at least contemplated such a turn away from Europe and the West, given dramatic emphasis by Erdoğan’s display of embittered anger in reaction to EU criticism. This dynamic was further aggravated by the controversial 2015 agreement with the EU by which Turkey would slow the flow of Syrian refugees across its borders in exchange for a monetary payment and visa-free travel to Europe for Turks. From a human rights perspective, it should be noted, this kind of treatment of refugees, misleadingly called ‘migrants,’ is highly questionable, instrumentalizing their destiny as an inter-governmental bargaining chip rather than respecting their vulnerability by establishing a humane protective regime.

 

The fourth development relates to the various signs that Erdoğan was assuming a more authoritarian role in the Turkish governing process, especially in the aftermath of the AKP electoral victory in 2011. In these years Erdoğan overtly embraced a majoritarian view of democracy weakening the republican character of the Turkish government. This dynamic was accentuated after he became President of Turkey in 2014, and in response to a renewal of hostility with the large Kurdish minority, especially as represented by the Peoples Workers Party (PKK). Erdoğan’s blunt political style, combined with Turkey’s earlier shows of independence and break with Israel, encouraged a much more critical tone in the international media treatment of the AKP leadership in Turkey. This shift amounted to a sea change if compared to the more balanced approach taken between 2002-2011. The anti-Erdoğan hostility peaked in response to the Gezi Park incident in 2013 when Turkish police used excessive force to break up a series of Istanbul demonstrations by opposition forces. It seems notable that the criticisms of Turkish encroachments on human rights were given far greater international attention than the far worse contemporaneous encroachments by the Sisi regime in Egypt and the Saudi monarchy. This difference in international perceptions reflects the overseas influence of anti-AKP activists as well as the divergence of policy as between Ankara and Washington, Brussels, and Tel Aviv.

 

The fifth development is associated with the failed coup of July 15th.

The Turkish Government and internal Turkish public opinion were strongly convinced that the coup perpetrators were linked to the Fetullah Gülen (or Hizmet) movement, and that the United States Government had some prior knowledge, and if circumstantial evidence is to be trusted, quite possibly signaled a green light to the perpetrators. In the course of the coup, and during its aftermath, neither the US nor Europe expressed their support for the democratically elected government of Turkey, adopting a wait and see attitude that seemed poised to accept, if not welcome, the outcome had the coup been successful. Beyond this the US Government has not been responsive to the Turkish formal extradition request, failing to detain Fetullah Gülen while the legal process proceeded. Again international coverage of post-coup Turkey gives almost all of its attention to the Erdoğan crackdown on those suspected of involvement with the Hizmet movement, which while excessive and troublesome, does not depict the context in which it is reasonable for the AKP leadership to feel threatened from within by the continued Hizmet penetration of the organs of government and as a result of Kurdish militancy and ISIS terrorism. At the same time, it is fully understandable that international forces hostile to the AKP should highlight the massive dismissals from academic institutions and widespread media closures as amounting to a witch hunt.

 

 

A Turkish Foreign Policy Reset?

Against such a background, it is hardly surprising that Turkey should in this period be exploring its foreign policy options. Indeed, the exploration preceded the coup attempt of the past year. The impulse to reset Turkish foreign policy reflected a retreat from the more principled and rigid foreign policy positions associated with Davutoğlu’s influence and the endorsement of a pragmatic attempt to minimize hostile regional and global tensions.

 

Most controversially from an American perspective, the pragmatic turn seemed to regard as its centerpiece improved relations with Russia. The goal was broad based cooperation with Russia in recognition of shared interests, including a possible compromise on how to establish a sustainable ceasefire in Syria. From the perspective of the American national security establishment cooperative Russian/Turkish relations were viewed as an unfavorable development at least until the electoral victory of Donald Trump. When the prospect of Hillary Clinton becoming the next America president was a near certainty, there existed a general expectation that the West would soon confront Russia in a more determined way than during the Obama presidency. In Turkey this encouraged the belief that the US national security establishment was sufficiently opposed to any closeness between Russia and Turkey as to have explained its possible support for the coup attempt of last July, or at minimum, its ambivalence toward the outcome. This suspicion, although widely shared in Turkey, remains without evidence, and is purely conjectural.

 

With Trump becoming the next American president it seems more likely, but by no means assured, that relations between the West and Russia will again be guided by a realist logic of mutual interests. This prospect is also encouraged by the recent emergence in Europe of several political leaders that favor accommodation with Russia. There may be an initial collision of policies if Trump follows through on his campaign pledge to renounce the nuclear agreement with Iran or significantly increases pressure on its implementation.

 

Tensions with the EU over the migration deal and in reaction to freezing accession talks also inclines Turkey to evaluate various additional forms of realignment, including a reported consideration of joining informal international groupings that are led by China and Russia.

 

In the end, if Trump follows through with a non-interventionist approach to the Middle East, and Turkish internal stability is restored, it seems most likely that there will be a weakening of relations with Europe and the United States, but no break, and no move that deserves to be labeled as ‘realignment.’ Turkey will probably place greater emphasis on economic and diplomatic relations with Asia, as well as with a renewal of interactions within the Middle East and North Africa, minimizing ideological differences.

 

 

 

 

Conclusion

There is more uncertainty with respect to global politics than at any time since the end of the Cold War. This uncertainty reflects the rise of authoritarian leaders in many important countries that enjoy the backing of a mobilized right-wing populism that pushes against economic globalization and gives an impetus to exclusionary forms of nationalism. Turkey is part of this wider international trend, and seems caught between contradictory pressures toward continuity and discontinuity in the conduct of its foreign policy. With Trump’s ascendancy the same can be said of the United States.

 

In general, it seems encouraging that Turkey has again seems to be opting for a foreign policy that is pragmatic rather than programmatic and normative, although it is not at this time exerting the kind of wider influence and leadership in the region and beyond that characterized the Davutoğlu approach. The times are different, calling for less ambition and greater stability.

 

How this pragmatic repositioning of Turkey in relation to East and West, North and South, will finally crystallize remains highly uncertain. Whether it results in major changes in orientation depends largely on whether Turkish ties to the West are maintained, Middle East turmoil is contained, and Turkish internal politics calms down.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Uses and Abuses of Uncertainty: The Case of Turkey

9 Sep

 

 

Webs of Uncertainty

 

One of the paradoxes of the digital age with its real time awareness is the degree to which information overloads clouds our imagination with cheaply achieved and false clarity, which in political contexts is often the Mad Men work of selective interpretation or deliberate manipulation. There are two types of uncertainty that complicate our perceptions of reality. There is, first of all, the ontological problems associated with a variety of uncertainties embedded in the unresolvable complexities of our experience in such ways that we make important decisions in the face of serious doubts. And secondly, there are often predispositional problems associated with the sources we choose to rely upon, the intrusion of our opinions, and under the influence of the worldview we adopt that biases understanding, sometimes intentionally, but usually, unwittingly.

 

A fundamental aspect of the human condition, philosophized brilliantly by Jacques Derrida, is a pervasive good faith uncertainty and undecidability that confusingly overlaps with the almost continuous need to act in the lifeworld, and then, despite this, assume responsibility for whatever decisions are taken. In effect, this makes the human condition ‘impossible’ because of this rooted unintelligibility of our experience, depriving the most momentous decisions of our daily life of any firm foundation in decidable fact. This realization is so deeply unsettling as to make its denial a sign of normalcy. Most of us arrange our lives so that this liminal uncertainty can be overlooked most of the time.

 

What is equally disturbing is the degree to which the technicians of public order are shaping our collective future from behind such a dark veil. Of course, this has long been true, but in the past the wider social consequences of disastrous choices tended to be relatively local and the leaders depended on special powers. Now leaders are expected to be ‘certain,’ as well as ‘objective,’ which means the job description includes a willingness to wear a mask of certainty that covers a face that is lined with tensions caused by acute doubt. Such expectations produce dishonesty in the political arena, but like our effort to minimize private uncertainty, many politicians are opportunistically able to treat the uncertain as certain, and by so doing, we drift as a species toward the abyss.

 

In modern times, the magnitude of technological capabilities have been continuously generative of unprecedented catastrophic dangers at the unfamiliarly grand scale of the species as well as habitual human threats and pitfalls experienced at various sub-species levels (nation, family, community). The warnings about climate change have raised this issue to a heightened level of global awareness, accompanied by a fatalistic denialism, as well as a set of politicized responses that up to this point fall well below what is required for a reasonable assurance of species sustainability.

 

 

The Turkish Internal Consensus

 

The experience of political rupture is another circumstance that exposes claims of certainty as pompous posturing, but also can bring forth distinctive forms of denialism that pretends that what is rather certain is mired in the swamps of uncertainty, and what is clear beyond a reasonable doubt, is to be treated as uncertain. Behind this manipulation of uncertainty is a political agenda, usually unacknowledged.

 

These reflections have been prompted by the various reactions to the failed July 15th coup attempt in Turkey. Within Turkey there is a strong consensus (estimated at between 80 and 90%) embracing most of the opposition forces in the country, but with exceptions. The consensus includes even many embittered secular opponents of Erdoğan’s leadership, believing that the attempted coup was the work of the Fethullah Gülen movement and that its leader in residence in the United States should be turned over to the Turkish government to face criminal prosecution for involvement in crimes of terror, murder, treason. Above all, the consensus proudly regards the defeat of the coup attempt as a great patriotic moment of mass support for Turkish democracy. The second element in this consensus is that the United States is somehow involved, and hence is almost certain to find an excuse to avoid extradition or deportation, and distract attention by harping on the importance of protecting the human rights of all Turks. The third element is that it is essential that the Turkish government, to restore a sense of security about the future, eliminate from various sectors of society adherents and operatives of the movement led by Fethullah Gülen. The fourth element is that the attempted coup was carried out in a bloody manner, killing and wounding many innocent civilians, and failed only because initiated ahead of schedule and poorly executed: Erdoğan escaped assassination by a mere 15 minutes and was then able to mobilize quickly the citizenry to take over public spaces in a bold, massive, and brave manner unprecedented in the context of coup politics, and indicative of the depth of anti-coup sentiment among the Turkish people and the intense support bestowed on Erdoğan for defeating the attempt with polls showing his post-coup popularity to have surged to 70% or more. I would maintain that this consensus in Turkey should be treated until reliably refuted as a generally authoritative account of the relevant events, while admitting that there are many complications that emerge if we look more deeply into the full implication of each of these four elements.

 

 

 

Erdoğan’s Critics: Governmental and Civil Society

 

 

In opposition to this consensus, the world press and Western governmental reaction basically ignores this consensus, and treats the coup events as if mired in uncertainty, an outlook coupled with antipathy toward Erdoğan and an overall ambivalence toward Turkey as a legitimate member of Western society despite its NATO membership and its support for the struggle against ISIS. I think there are important differences between the reasons underlying these attitudes that motivate overseas secular and Gülen Turks (and their influential friends around the world) and those that explain the somewhat convergent attitudes of Western governments.

 

To consider the prevailing attitudes of overseas Turks, it starts with hostility toward the Erdoğan leadership, contending corruption, authoritarianism, a hidden Islamic agenda, social conservatism, and a murderous war against Kurdish militants associated with the PKK, as well as against the Syrian Kurdish militia (YPG). This is enough to generate antipathy that expresses itself by either ignoring or rejecting the consensus depicted above as dominating public opinion in Turkey. In this sense, the role and effect of the Gülen movement is either downplayed or problematized, and basically treated as either irrelevant or unproven, and criticism is mounted against all efforts of the Turkish government to rid itself and Turkish society of a secretive religious sect that preaches a message of peace and moderation, while acting subversively and violently. As well, the apparent links between Gülen and the CIA are not even considered worthy of mention.

 

When it comes to Western governments the response also revolves around distrust of Erdoğan, claiming that he is a Putinesque autocrat, but seeming to have their deepest concerns because Turkey is an unreliable ally that no longer can be trusted to follow the diktats of Washington. In this regard, Turkey’s recent turn toward Russia and Iran, initiatives that preceded the coup attempt, are viewed by the United States and Europe as geopolitically unwelcome. Already by 2010 Turkey worried Washington by turning strongly against Israel and by trying in collaboration with Brazil to resolve tensions with Iran by working out an agreement to store Iran’s enriched uranium outside the country. Then, of course, there was the tie to Fethullah Gülen and his movement, the dispersion of influential Gülenists around the world that often impacted on public official perceptions, and the mutually reinforcing distinct viewpoints associated with Gülenists and secularists together have created an informal international media counter-consensus to what is believed within Turkey.

 

I became personally suspicious of the ties with the CIA initially in 2010 when Fethullah Gülen personally and organizationally sided with Israel in the dispute with Turkey arising from Israeli commando attack on the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish passenger vessel that was part of ‘a freedom flotilla’ seeking to break the blockade of Gaza and deliver humanitarian assistance to the entrapped Palestinians. It seemed a peculiar stand to be taken by a movement that purported to be devoted to peace and the spread of Islamic values. Then a couple of years later when invited to meet with some Gülen people in Istanbul my suspicions rose to near certainty. We were shown a short documentary in which James Baker, Madeline Albright, and Bill Clinton, that is, the reigning luminaries of both political parties, made separate appearances in the film to heap praise on Fethullah Gülen and his movement. I have been around long enough to know that this kind of promotional documentary was not an innocent and spontaneous display of enthusiasm for a secretive cult movement led by a mysterious Islamic preacher by the most prominent members of the American political establishment. It could not have happened without a strong government push, and one can only wonder why.

 

I did not believe, at the time, that these signs of governmental engagement was a prelude to a coup, but rather in the nature of a Plan B option in the event that Erdoğan slipped further from favor, and maybe served other purposes as well. There was also the possibility that the Gülen schools all over the world were being used as an effective means to penetrate some societies, such as those in Central Asia, places where American intelligence was weak. It is reported that Graham Fuller, who effectively backed Fethullah Gülen’s controversial request for a green card over the opposition of the State Department and the FBI, believed that such an educational network could be useful in gaining access to and recruits in otherwise closed foreign societies. Fuller had been CIA station chief in Istanbul before his retirement. Fuller claims a purity of intentions, and I have seen no hard evidence to the contrary, but the strong personal connection with Gülen given other confirming circumstantial evidence makes it reasonable to be suspicious.

As with the Turkish critics, the Western governments ignore the context of the coup attempt, and devote most of their attention to the post-coup crackdown on all suspected of any Gülen affiliation. Also, during the coup, diplomatic support for Ankara was not forthcoming, and a wait and see attitude seemed to carry the day. It may be that the West supposed that the coup attempt was the work of discontented Kemalists in the army and elsewhere, and its success would have been welcomed (as with Egypt in 2013). This distancing angered the Turkish government and people, and confirmed for many Turks suspicions about an American involvement as well as its unwillingness to lend support to a popularly elected government.

 

These suspicions are further confirmed by the evident reluctance of the United States to cooperate fully in seeking to grant extradition, which it must be said, does face legal obstacles in the best of circumstances. At the same time, if the U.S. Government wanted to back Turkey in this post-coup attempt atmosphere it could at least put Fethullah Gülen under temporary arrest or consider deporting him. One can only imagine the American reaction if Turkey was seeming to shield a person who was strongly believed by most Americans to be behind a coup attempt or major terrorist incident in the United States. Legalistic excuses would not begin to satisfy the American people in such a situation, and it will not satisfy, much less convince the Turkish people and their leadership given the near certainty, which has been attached to the allegation that Fethullah Gülen masterminded the events of July 15th. It should be recalled that the Russian grant of sanctuary to Edward Snowden was seen in the United States as an unfriendly act that harmed relations between the countries even though the nature of his alleged crime was distinctly ‘political’ in nature, and hence, non-extradictable.

 

An Uncertain Future

 

Among the uncertainties relevant to assessing the situation in Turkey is how the near future unolds. Will the West live with a Turkey that claims the prerogative of a sovereign state to pursue independently its own interests? Will the anti- Erdoğan campaign carry the day in the struggle for the control of world public opinion and shape Western policy toward Turkey? And, of course, will the Turkish government conform formally and in good faith to due process and the rule of law in the course of identifying those who can be reasonably charged with direct and indirect complicity in the coup attempt? (It worth noting that of the 55,000 or so who were originally subject to suspension or detention more than half have been restored to employment or released, according to the Minister of Interior). It is also most important, if Turkey is to regain respect beyond its borders, that it not mingle its legitimate grievances against the Gülen militants, operatives, and financial backers with separate concerns it might have about the opinions and loyalty of pro-Kurdish activists and ardent Kemalists.

 

This unfolding future should gradually tell us which mix of certainties and uncertainties will govern the Turkish internal and international future, and on that may hinge Turkey’s security and overall regional and global orientation, including the future of its relations with the United States, Europe, Russia, Iran, and its own regional neighborhood. Perhaps, underneath the immediacies of the situation, there are deeper forces at work in Turkey and elsewhere that are seeking to find new alignments that befit the realities of the post-Cold War world order. If this possibility were at the core of what is taking place, then it would not be startling to witness Turkey pulling slowly away from NATO, and finding its own path between East and West. At present, this seems unlikely as there remains in Ankara a strong bonding with the West despite these recent strains, but surely international relations have witnessed far stranger realignments over the course of the past century.

Beyond Jewish Identity: Exceptionalism Revisited

20 Aug

Beyond Jewish Identity: Exceptionalism Revisited

 

The problem with Jewish identity is Jewish identity! By this I mean, the hegemonic forms of Jewish exceptionalism to which most Jews are enthralled, including a provocative insistence on willed disaffiliation in a few rate instances. Such a gesture of anti-exceptional exceptionalism is a kind of personal manifesto, a private declaration to the world of independence of Judaism with respect to both articles of faith and ethno-nationalist markers. It is usually rooted in a deep earlier experience of what it meant to be Jewish that is repudiated later on for personal and, sometimes, political reasons.

 

Of course, this kind of perverse exceptionalism also applies, with even greater stringency, to the genuine anti-Semite who attributes a negative exceptionalism to Jews by of hatred, blame, and paranoia. Zionist zealots often manipulate negative exceptionalism to instill fear among Jews about the intentions of their adversaries. It is also a useful instrument in Zionist hands to brand critics of Israel or supporters of BDS, discrediting their good faith by deliberately alleging hatred of a people while what is at stake is harsh criticism of the practices and policies of a state that inflict massive suffering on a vulnerable people. To be called a ‘self-hating Jew’ as I have been is to turn negative exceptionalism into a double-edged razor sharp weapon.

 

Positive exceptionalism, essentialized for many Jews by a variety of readings of Jews as the people chosen by God, as different and superior. It is sometimes concretized by reference to Israel that pulls above its weight when it comes to military power and technological achievement. There is another kind of positive exceptionalism that regards Jews as chosen by God to engage justly in the world seeking peace, abhorring violence. Michael Lerner, Rebecca Vilkomerson, and Marc H. Ellis exemplify the presence of such angels in our midst.

 

Thinking more personally, I acknowledge the importance of being Jewish as a marker of my identity both for myself and for many others in their chose life journey. What this means substantively is obviously very diverse. It eludes me almost altogether as I am not observant of nor familiar with Jewish rituals or traditions, although I have welcomed exposure to them when the occasion has arisen, and it has, although infrequently as my circle of friends is overwhelmingly non-observant. Subjectively, Judaism has never had a greater resonance for me than the rituals and traditions of other world religions, most of whom I have been exposed to from time to time, and which I studied long ago with a strong academic interest in religion as a structure of belief. I always welcomed opportunities to become more deeply immersed in any world religion whenever they arose. I never felt a particular attachment to the religion conferred upon me by the accident of birth, perhaps because in my case, it was not part of my upbringing and socialization experience as a child growing up in the highly secular surroundings of Manhattan.

 

Living part of each year in Turkey for more than twenty years has led my to think about the secular/religious divide that is very deep in Turkish society, and produces cleavages of understanding and polarizing enmities. I believe religion is deeply relevant to the mass of humanity, and has in recent decades been revived in quite diverse settings. In part, this seems a reaction to the modernist failures of community and identity. These failures are evident in the commodified surroundings we daily inhabit whether we wish to or not.  This defining reality of the lifeworld is heavily influenced by neoliberal capitalism as increasingly disseminated by the ambiguous magic of the digital age.

 

In the Turkish case, perhaps due to my experience of friends and colleagues, I find that the secularists tend to be more judgmental than their Islamist counterparts (who by and large accept the idea that religion and secularism can and should coexist so long as there is mutual respect and equal rights).  I interpret this difference as reflecting the fact that secularists held tightly the keys of power in republican Turkey until the Justice and Development Party (AKP) gained an electoral mandate to govern in 2002, and has been reelected time and again ever since. Had the situation been reversed, it is possible that it would be the secularists who would be more open to coexistence and mutual respect, although their pre-AKP record of governance and societal dominance gives little reason for such confidence as their policy was guided by the strong wish to keep religion in its box.

 

I am undoubtedly influenced by the view that unless ethno-nationalism in all its forms is soon superseded by a surge of commitment to species identity the human condition faces a dismal future. This does not mean abandoning a Jewish or other sub-species identities altogether, but it does emphasize another way of conceiving and layering multiple identities, with an insistence on privileging ‘human identity,’ which would reverse almost all that has gone before.  Such a revolutionary hierarchy inverts the ordering of identities that presently exist that works outward from family and immediate neighborhood, and gives least weight to ‘humanity’ or ‘cosmic consciousness.’

 

Such assessments also reflect spatial and psychological location. The meaning of being Jewish would undoubtedly be more central to my daily experience if I were living in Israel, yet no less or more authentic than an identity shaped by living most of the year in California. This affirmation of equivalence is undoubtedly an anathema to many Jews in and out of Israel, especially to adherents of Zionism in any of its many forms. Zionism above all else, as I understand it, embodies a dialectical interaction between negative and positive variants of Jewish exceptionalism, and takes for granted the hypothesis that Jews are deservedly, and for some, unavoidably exceptional.

 

Separating myself from this kind of involvement does not imply any hostility toward religious and ethnic identities so long as they seek openness to the ecumenical dimensions of human identity. To the extent a preferred identity is closed to religious and ethnic otherness, as in a variety of fundamentalisms (including secular fundamentalism), it has become in the twenty-first century the most widespread means to exhibit a collective death wish on behalf of the species. What I find most empowering is a trans-religious spirituality that draws on the insights and wisdom embedded in all the great religions, including the spirit faiths and nature religions of many native peoples. These religious and spiritual constructions of reality impart a far fuller sense of the awe and mystery of life on planet earth than can be gained by mastering what the Western Enlightenment canonized so powerfully through its amoral embrace of instrumental reason. All that reason leaves out is love, empathy, friendship, beauty, insurgent energies, and the indispensable balances and harmonies of co-evolutionary nature. Such spirituality could become a vital source of liberating energy if the human species manages to seize this bio-political moment that is upon us whether or not we realize it. And this also is a warning that the ethno-nationalist moment that continues to hold the political imagination in captivity has become the king’s highway to species extinction.

 

Instead of Jewish exceptionalism  (or American exceptionalism) the call of this bio-political moment is for species exceptionalism.