Monday, October 26, 2015

Open Grave: Western Media Memory Hole Pre-Dug for Turkey

Turkey would seem to have every element that makes the heart of an idealistic Western journo go pitty-pat:
Democracy under attack, journalists getting detained and beaten up, fascism on the march, moderate, middle-class protesters getting shredded by Islamic suicide bombers with alleged government connivance, rampant skullduggery in the run-up to a crucial election on November 1, Turkish government backing ISIL and murdering Kurds in northern Iraq, the overall horror presided over by a sinister supervillain from a palace with the size and aesthetic of an Atlantic City casino…

…add to that brave, eloquent and, most importantly, English-speaking local journalists desperate to get the word out.

Whaddya get today with a Google search for Turkey?

Turkey ‘shoot out with ISIS’ leaves police and suspects dead via the Beeb, with the Guardian, Reuters, ABC News & USA Today running the same story.

This action, I suspect, was a PR op meant to deflect attention from Turkey’s “soft on ISIL” rep, solidified by the fact that one of the suicide bombers who been able to perpetrate the horror at the Ankara train station thanks to zero security provided by the Turkish police was the member of a “well-known” ISIL cell, “well known” because the cell had also harbored his brother, the suicide bomber who had killed 32 Kurdish activists at Suruc on July 20.

What else did the Western media give us?

A couple stemwinders on Erdogan’s coalition options if the AKP doesn’t win an absolute majority on November 1;

And some joshing about Turkey playing with the idea of postponing daylight savings to avoid confusion on election day.

Inside Turkey, the “slaughter the usual suspects” ISIL story didn’t even make the top 3 at Hurriyet Daily News.  Readers continued their love affair with the account of the bizarre musings of a pro-Erdogan pundit in Canada:

A pro-Justice and Development Party (AKP) columnist has claimed that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan would be the ‘caliph,’ or leader of Sunni Muslims in the world, under the much-anticipated presidential system.

Yeni Akit columnist Abdurrahman Dilipak said the rooms of the controversial presidential palace would be reserved for the representatives from nations under the caliphate, adding that Turkey’s caliphate had never been abolished.

“If Tayyip Erdoğan shifts to a presidential system, he will probably assign advisors from the regions under the caliphate and open representative agencies of all Islam Union nations in that 1,005-room [the presidential palace]…

Meanwhile, here’s some stories that showed up on Twitter in the last three days:

UNBELIEVABLE: There is not even a court judgement ordering a seizure of major conglomorate that owns TVs & newspaper. Sheer banditry.

The judge at Ankara 5th Penal Court of Peace, a year old court dubbed by #Erdogan as special project, orders seizure of #Turkey media group.

Those tweets courtesy of Abdullah Bozkurt@abdbozkurt , a Zaman journalist.  Follow him!  Retweet him!

Here’s some interesting items I tweeted courtesy of Today’s Zaman (follow me! retweet me! @chinahand):

CHP has secret Oslo documents that Kılıçdaroğlu claimed to have seen (this concerns rumors of a secret deal between Erdogan and Kurdish militants)

And that’s in addition to the big bang/disappointing squib...

CHP deputies: gov't rejects probe into Turkey's role in Syrian chemical attack

That's the allegation by opposition lawmakers that they have a dossier documenting Turkey’s organization of the notorious 2014 sarin gas attack at Ghouta, Syria, as a false flag operation, organized with the purpose of drawing the US into direct military action against Assad.

The US was ready to go to war over this incident, in which 1300 people died.  That’s four times as many people as died in the MH17 shootdown.  Even applying the “brown on the ground” casualty discount rate vs. air travelers, many of whom if not all were Western and middle class, the US intervention angle—and the corroboration the report apparently provides to Seymour Hersh’s story  —would seem to make it newsworthy.

But zip in the United States.  CounterPunch ran my story, basically a stub post blockquoting the Today’s Zaman report; five days later it’s still the top hit when you google “Turkey Syria Sarin”.

There are a multitude of excuses for not running with the various stories concerning Erdogan/AKP/deep state wet work coming out of Turkey. 

The stories are coming out courtesy of the CHP, an opposition party hoping for a big day on November 1 that will force the AKP to abandon single-party rule and enter a coalition with it; and they are running in Today’s Zaman, which is associated with the Gulen movement, once a BFF and now arch-enemy of Erdogan.  So there’s that whole election/grudge/bias/mudflinging angle.

But that’s a story in itself.  The AKP refused to enter into a coalition with the CHP after the last general election, in July 2015, preferring a hung parliament and betting on the possibility that “somehow” it would reverse its slide into unpopularity in order to do better on November 1 and preserve its one-party rule.  “Somehow” looks a lot like a terror/repression/suppression campaign against the AKP’s opponents, including bombing of opposition demonstrations, burning down opposition political offices, beating up of journalists, censoring and shutdown of undesirable media outlets…

Even if journos have decided to ignore their liberal bleeding heart leanings and get in touch with their cynical realpolitik side, there are still good Turkey stories out there to be covered.

There’s that story about Turkish consulates showering fake travel documents on Uyghurs to travel to Turkey, and maybe on to Syria to live in and fight from a rumored Uyghur militant colony near Idlib in Syria.  Zero interest; fortunately for posterity,  I blogged the stuffing out of that one.

There’s another interesting story line, about the refugee crisis, the biggest, most heartwrenchingesque thing going, from Hurriyet Daily News, the other big prestige Turkish daily with an English edition and international reach:

The "promises" relate to the long-stalled accession negotiations between the EU and Turkey.  The think tank expert says:

We have had a sudden revitalization in the process, and this is linked to the Syrian crisis and the influx of refugees to the EU…A new effort had to be made; some sweeteners had to be offered to Turkey. So we have some proposals from the EU to convince Turkey of a more cooperative approach." 

The “sweetener” discussions opened with an offer of Euro 3 billion from the EU.

Read any exploration in the Western press of the interesting possibility that there might be more to the outflow of refugees than a seemingly spontaneous hive-mind conclusion that there’s no going back to Syria—and the sudden incapacity of Turkey’s relief and border control apparatus might have something to do with Turkey’s demand for a haven/No Fly Zone for the in northern Syria for refugees and/or militants looking for some rest and recuperation…or else?

Didn’t think so.

Well, Today’s Zaman had this:

It contains the quote, "Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said Turkey should not be expected to turn itself into a 'concentration camp' for refugees," and goes on to say:

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday there were "strong indications" a new wave of migration was starting from Aleppo and renewed calls for a "safe zone" in Syria to protect civilians, an idea that has won little international backing. 
Kinda screams "refugee flows as TK weapon" doesn't it?  But *crickets*

As I said on Twitter, somebody is doing their job on Turkish news, and doing it well.  

Too bad "somebody" is not "journalists", instead it's a collective term for diplos and lobbyists inside and outside Turkey doing their best to keep a lid on the story of a US ally, European neighbor, and NATO member whose democracy is threatening to come apart at the seams. 

I will resist stepping into the rhetorical minefield of “Is Turkey worse than China.”  But I am willing to say “Western reporting on Turkey is worse than Western reporting on China.”

Friday, October 23, 2015

Anxious Hours in Pivotland: Where's My Sailthrough?!!

This was an anxious week in Pivotland© , the Beltway district in which milsec types congregate to formulate, promote, and profit from the forward strategy toward the PRC.

President Obama has been laggard in executing a cherished pivot initiative, the defiant US Navy sailthrough within 12 miles of the PRC’s faux-island holdings in the South China Sea.

Bonnie Glaser, the Princess of the Pivot at CSIS, all-capped her frustration in a tweet on October 16:

US-China confrontation looms in troubled waters of South China Sea. Stop talking and DO THE FONOP ALREADY!

“FONOP” as in “Freedom of Navigation Op.”  I might point out that a naval sailthrough within a country’s claimed 12-mile territorial limit is not automatically a piece of sovereignty-repudiating outrance.  Naval vessels are free to sail within other countries’ 12 mile limit in innocent passage from Point A to Point B.  

In fact, the PLA Navy just did that, sending flotilla through US territorial seas in the Aleutian Islands, pointedly, in September just prior to Xi Jinping’s visit to the United States.  And the US Navy was good with that:
“The five PLAN ships transited expeditiously and continuously through the Aleutian Island chain in a manner consistent with international law.”

 The Chinese stunt appeared to me to be a successful piece of inoculation by the PRC, one that neutralized the “presumptuous Chinese humbled by superior U.S. power in the place they wish was their back yard” narrative that I think the China hawks hope to advance by executing a South China Sea sailthrough.

And it emphasized the unwelcome point that any South China Sea sailthrough under international law is meaningless in terms of the territorial, island-building, and sovereignty assertions the U.S. is purporting to challenge.

So, sailthrough upside rather limited.

What about the downside?

Perhaps President Obama is mindful that a sailthrough, in addition to serving as a polarizing piece of anti-PRC theater for the military pivot, will provide the PRC with a further pretext for overtly and irrevocably militarizing the islands.

[O]fficials with China’s foreign ministry are claiming military facilities on a series of artificial islands are “for defense purposes only” in reaction to “high-profile display[s] of military strength and frequent and large-scale military drills by certain countries and their allies in the South China Sea …”

Referring to the U.S. and its several multi-national maritime security exercises in the region, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying statement came a day after a joint U.S. and Australian statement issued on Tuesday in which Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Australian Minister of Defense Marise Payne urged caution on militarizing the South China Sea region.

He is also, I imagine, mindful that sailthrough enthusiasm among our allies is not strong or even universal, despite a flurry of statements and articles that appear to be attempting to logroll the White House by pre-emptively declaring that U.S. credibility is at stake if the much-bruited, never officially announced, and tactically and strategically dubious sailthrough doesn’t happen.

I would guess that allies’ enthusiasm for sending naval vessels to participate in the sailthrough, thereby exposing themselves to the PRC’s economic and diplomatic retaliation, is not high.

On October 15, this unpromising report came out of Australia (bear in mind it's from the Trade minister.  Logrolling cuts both ways; let's see which way Australia actually jumps after the Ministry of Defence has had its say):

Australia wouldn't take part in any U.S. naval patrols aimed at testing China's territorial claims in the South China Sea and isn't taking sides in disputes over one of the world's busiest shipping lanes, Trade Minister Andrew Robb said.

Robb's remarks came after foreign Minister Julie Bishop met U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Secretary of State John Kerry this week and said Australia is "on the same page" with the U.S. on the sea, a $5 trillion-a-year shipping route that the American navy has patrolled largely unchallenged since World War II.

And for some allies, even providing lip service to U.S. efforts to uphold the international order against Chinese encroachments seems to be a challenge.

ROK President Park’s recent visit to Washington apparently did not yield all that the US desired in terms of pivot-related enthusiasm.

Park has worked to warm up ties with China and raised some eyebrows in Washington when she attended Beijing's military parade to mark the end of World War Two last month. 

Obama said the United States wanted to see a strong South Korean relationship with China, just as it wanted such a relationship itself, but Washington wanted to see Seoul speak out when Beijing did things that weakened international rules. 

Obama was apparently referring to China's behavior in pursuit of maritime claims in the South China Sea and the East China Sea, which has alarmed Asian neighbors.

President Park took a decidedly different tack:

Ms. Park said several times during the press conference that China’s cooperation is needed with the U.S. on issues such as nuclear talks with North Korea to economic development. She said her government wants to “fully utilize” China’s influence in regional issues.

The conventional narrative is that the ROK’s current tilt toward the PRC results from a combination of fear and greed.  

But a third reason is that the United States is locked into a deep-tongued, slobbery embrace with Shinzo Abe’s Japan as America’s indispensable pivot partner.

South Korean hostility toward Japan is, of course, partly related toward Prime Minister Abe’s ostentatious nostalgia for a powerful Japan of the kind that killed Korea’s men, raped its women, and sought to obliterate its culture during the 1930s and 40s.

But it has more to do with the fact that the ROK and Japan are locked in a zero-sum economic battle   and Abe is doing his best to eat South Korea’s dosirak:

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is continuing with "Abenomics," an economic policy based on massive quantitative easing and weakening of the yen, which Japan claims will save it from its "lost" two decades.

While Japan has partly succeeded in boosting its economy, that seems to be based on the sacrifice of other countries, of which Korea has been hit the hardest.

Korea is concerned that it will be the biggest victim of Japan's "beggar thy neighbor" policy.

"Countries like Korea and Germany, where exports take a huge part and the domestic market is relatively small, are damaged most. Korea is especially so, as its export items overlap with those of Japan," Lee said.

Korea has been suffering from the massive quantitative easing by Japan as the won/yen rate has fallen to the lowest level in more than seven years. The Hyundai Research Institute warns that Korea may see its exports, the only sustaining pillar of an economy that has lost steam, decrease by 8.8 percent due to the weak yen. 


[T]he international community seems to be tolerating Japan's manipulation as it has been in such a long slump.

For “international community,” read “United States” in my opinion.   The Obama administration is completely in the tank for Abe since keeping Abe happy is essential if he is going to push unpopular  pivot-friendly initiatives like constitutional reinterpretation and Futenma relocation down the throats of the Japanese electorate.

In self-defense, the ROK has little choice but to tilt to the PRC, thereby seriously complicating the US pursuit of regional leadership status not only on the South China Sea issue, but on North Korea as well.

So far the pivot, in addition to delivering tensions with the PRC, has done a good job of revealing divisions and uncertainty among America’s allies.

And it will be rather difficult for the sailthrough to deliver the galvanizing “freedom (+ Vietnam) vs. PRC despotism” confrontation that papers over the rifts, something that I imagine weighs on President Obama’s mind as he considers his options.

If the sailthrough happens—and even if it doesn’t—the United States will continue to wrestle with fundamental and intractable contradictions within the alliance.

And undoubtedly, the Beltway consensus will be that the only way out is more, better, and more resolute escalation.

Or, as the busy pivoteers at the Pentagon and think tanks put it: Ka-ching!