Terry Gross of NPR’s Fresh Air has a great interview with New York Times correspondent John Burns, who was in Iraq when Saddam released his prisoners. He’s won two Pulitzer prizes and comes across as a journalist’s journalist. I highly recommend this interview, especially for Burns’ recounting of his interview with Palestinian Liberation Front leader Abu Abbas, the man who masterminded the hijacking of the Achille Lauro.
Justice and Development Party in Turkey poised to win an absolute majority in Parliament.
Reuters is reporting that Turkey’s Justice and Welfare Party (AKP) is winning 33.6 percent of the vote in Sunday’s national elections, possibly giving the Islamist party 280 seats out of 550 in Turkey’s parliament. If that percentage holds, and the returns are still early, that would give the AKP, which has projected a pro-Western, moderate image to the country, enough seats to form a government without partnering with anyone.
The Republican People’s Party (CHP) established by modern Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, was second with 19.2 percent, and the True Path Party (DYP), headed by former prime minister Tansu Ciller, just made it over the parliamentary threshold with 10.9 percent.
The nightmare scenario is this: The AKP gains an absolute majority and doesn’t form a coalition. The United States attacks Iraq while the Islamists in Ankara drag their feet in helping war on a fellow Muslim nation. The Turkish generals force the government out of power, unwilling to endanger their security relationship with either the United States or Israel, both of which would be threatened in the event that Turkey is a reluctant ally in the region. Democracy in Turkey is set back — again.
I don’t know that this will happen, but if AKP does take power, the new leadership will have to walk a very careful line.
There is some cause for optimism, however, since in the majority of cases, a vote for AKP is a protest vote against the corruption and incompetence of the current ruling parties. There is not a deep support for Islamic law in Turkey or a turning away from secularism and the West, which is a policy that bedeviled Prime Minister Erbakan of the Welfare Party in 1997. The majority of Turks want a secular, EU-member country. But they’re disgusted with Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit’s mismanagement of the economy and the power grabs that have characterized most coalition governments in recent years.
So the real question is not what the military will do, but is the AKP as moderate as it says, has it learned the lessons of the Welfare Party? Will it see the election results as a mandate to affect sweeping change (which would be a mistake, in my opinion) or realize this is an historic opportunity to create a gradual freeing of religious expression in Turkey. Time — and final election results — will tell.
In a press conference yesterday President Bush made a cryptic comment that if Saddam Hussein complies with the UNSC resolutions, then that means “the regime has changed.” He also signaled a newfound respect for diplomacy.
“We’ve tried diplomacy,” Mr. Bush said when asked about the issue today. “We’re trying it one more time. I believe the free world, if we make up our mind to, can disarm this man peacefully.”
At the same time he said, “The stated policy of our government, the previous administration and this administration, is regime change — because we don’t believe he is going to change.”
“However, if he were to meet all the conditions of the United Nations, the conditions that I’ve described very clearly in terms that everybody can understand, that in itself will signal the regime has changed.”
Those were the last words of the brief Oval Office appearance, and aides shooed reporters out before they could ask follow-up questions.
At the same time that the U.S. is trying diplomacy “one more time,” it is growing increasingly impatient with the Security Council on resolutions authorizing force against Iraq if — when? — it fails to meet demands.
I don’t know about you, but I’m thoroughly confused by all of this.
Which may be the point. A little ambiguity, some might call it madness, in foreign affairs can sometimes be a good thing. Nixon was said to be very good at this, convincing the Russians and the Chinese that he was so damn crazy he might just blow the hell out of them. But this is a different time and shouldn’t the American people be kinda, you know, informed every once in a while? Seeing as we’re a democracy ‘n’ stuff.
Or it may be that Bush keeps raising the hurdles for Saddam so that the dictator is bound to fail. Open up the country to weapon inspectors? Got it. Release some prisoners? Yup. Now, I don’t want to feel sympathetic for Saddam Husein. I don’t want to think, “Poor guy, he can’t win for losing,” but Bush’s drumbeat of war booms steadily, and the policy toward Iraq shows the same inflexibility and doubletalk that characterized Bush’s economic policy (which, according to The Onion, involves overthrowing Saddam.)