It’s always worth re-examining something we all just think of as normal. I would never call myself a journalist. I don’t do the hard work of cultivating sources and ferreting out things that are hidden from us. But what I hope the MFF is good at is re-interpreting things we all know, connecting the dots, and laying out why certain aspects of our common knowledge are troubling. That’s what today’s video attempts to do. We have come to see it as normal that actors all over the world seek to take advantage of US elections to get away with things. Why should they care what happens in this country? And what does it say about the true dimensions of US power that they do?
Over the course of Trump’s presidency, outraged politicians across the US system took many principled stands against Saudi Arabia. With a president who was so shamefully subservient to crown prince Muhammad Bin Salman, Congress, and every democratic politician running for president was free to condemn the country, and propose a number of concrete ways to punish and humiliate the Kingdom’s out of control leadership. My guess is that it is going to be shocking how quickly all of that evaporates.
But, as I lay out in today’s video, that’s not necessarily a reason for despair. An emotionally satisfying blow-up with Saudi Arabia is vastly less important than the end of the invasion of Yemen and the speedy restoration of the Iran Nuclear Deal. That ought to be our true measure of success in dealing with Saudi Arabia.
I wrote this video about a month ago, but then got cold feet. I’m glad I did, because the Vienna attack occurred the day I was going to upload it. That attack was initially sold as a serious, organized, multi-person act of terror. It’s now clear that it was committed by just another lone psycho. This video’s central message, that what we are seeing now is nothing compared to five years ago, and that Islamist terrorism has largely run its course, seems pretty clearly true to me.
One interesting aspect, that I left out of the video because it was already too long, is the difference between the US and French attitudes towards counter-terror. Even under Trump there’s a serious effort to move away from worrying about Islam. A Saudi military officer, likely affiliated with Al Qaeda, shot up a US military base last fall, killing 3 US soldiers! It’s been forgotten completely. The French government, on the other hand, is eager to make the actions of lone psychos the centerpiece of its domestic political agenda. What explains this difference?
Well, it’s quite cynical. The US military industrial complex, from defense contractors to the military to the media that promotes them, it’s all moving on to China. We don’t need to freak out about Islam to justify our pentagon budgets anymore. But France’s military budgets depend on fighting “Terrorism” in Africa. So they remain very big on demonizing Islam. Grim. But hard to deny.
Syria makes me so sad. If you’ve been with me through the Trump years, you’ll remember that I’ve periodically celebrated Trump’s approach to Syria. The truth is I got played.
The fact that Trump hasn’t gone whole hog and launched Iraq 2003 2.0 in Syria is a good thing, but Obama accomplished that too. We were promised more. Over and over. Today’s video makes clear how little was delivered.
It really is amazing how committed Washington, DC can be to utterly fantastical narratives. If Turkey experiences real consequences for turning on the S-400 missile system it has purchased from Russia, it will be because of the damage this choice has done to US defense contractors who feel left out. But that won’t be the story that US congresspeople use to explain the collapse of the 70 year old relationship with Turkey. No, they’ll blame it on Turkey’s choosing to side with Russia.
DC has been trying to sell this idea for years. Despite the fact that Turkey shot down a Russian jet in 2015. Despite the fact that Russia and Turkey are involved in the most serious cold war between great powers that Western Eurasia has seen since the 1980s. Today’s video lays out how Russia and Turkey are now facing off against each other in not one but three separate regions. Today’s video also explains the real reason Turkey could be about to fall out of NATO.
YouTube comments are great. A week or so back I issued a pretty clear condemnation of Azerbaijan’s actions over the past ten days. They have launched a military attack on the Azeri regions that Armenia has occupied for the past three decades. I still believe that Azerbaijan is the driving force behind the new hostilities and that they should knock it off. But the outraged comments from Azeri nationalists helped me see that my analysis was neglecting some really important aspects of the conflict.
With every video I learn a ton more about every topic I cover. Not just about the actual events that have occurred, but about which events and actions are most important to the people involved. As irritating as an occasionally abusive comment section can be, I’ve learned a ton. Today’s video seems geared to piss everybody off, both Turks for acknowledging the Armenian Genocide, and Armenians for pointing out the parallels that their 1990s behavior presents with the Ottomans in 1915. It should be another fun and educational comment section!
It’s basically impossible to over-state how stupid the current US position in Syria is. What’s going on there is a proxy war between two clearly opposed sides. Obviously it would be preferable if Syria was still whole, and half a million people hadn’t died, but it is possible to envision a fairly stable frozen conflict, that would allow everybody to move on and rebuild. There being no justice in the world, this frozen conflict would also work out pretty well for the US. Worried about Iran? Turkey’s there to balance them. Worried about Turkey’s growing influence in the region? Russia and Iran are there to confront Turkey. Want to shield the Kurds from Turkey’s (alleged) genocidal plots? Assad, who the Kurds have been working with closely since 2011, would be happy to do it.
The United States is the only thing standing in the way of a more peaceful situation that works out better for the United States. Our insistence, with Israel, on being everybody’s enemy, all at once, keeps Syria in a permanently unbalanced state. Thanks to the Russians, the meat grinder stopped a number of years ago, but it could tip over into a mass death situation again at any moment. It almost did this past spring. My hope is that today’s video can help to illustrate how much better off we would be if we just left.
Today’s video is a particularly crotchety one. I sometimes worry a bit that I’m insufficiently respectful to the heads of state of these countries in videos like this one. But in reality it’s these politicians that are being disrespectful of their duties to their countries. The East Mediterranean issue is fundamentally not a very serious one, yet Turkey, France and Greece are committing military forces as if real issues are at stake. This kind of thing could back fire terribly. I don’t think it will. But the reckless actions that these men are taking are certainly not going to get me to treat them respectfully. I hope you enjoy my explanation of one of the more requested topics in recent months.
Man, I was really hoping to make it to Egypt one last time before I started critiquing the Sisi regime. Oh well! This regime could have as much as a decade to go, so no pyramids for me for the foreseeable. I feel like Egypt’s dictatorship forced my hand a little bit, by threatening to invade Libya to back up one of the region’s most pointless strong men, Khalifa Haftar. It’s a shame. I do hear mixed things about Egypt under Sisi. Some claim the economy has turned around, though I don’t see much proof of it. Some claim that he brings stability, but it looks to me like the sort of stability the Shah of Iran provided in the 1970s.
If your regime is based savage repression, as Sisi’s very much is, it tends to lead to bad decisions. I believe that this threatened intervention in Libya is potentially one of those very bad decisions. Today’s video lays out why Libya is a conflict that Egypt should avoid getting more involved in.
As promised, I’m going to spend this week’s blog post weighing in on “When Turkey Destroyed It’s Christians“, an infuriating article written by two academics, Benny Morris and Dror Ze’evi, and published by the Wall Street Journal this past May…
In 1915, the Young Turk government that was losing World War I for the Ottoman Empire embarked on a program of genocide against its Armenian minority. Outside of Turkey you won’t find anyone who disputes that, and you certainly won’t find anyone to dispute that here. The Armenian Genocide happened, full stop. Bludgeoning the Turks with this fact until they admit it is a fair thing to do.
That’s not what this Wall Street Journal article does. It attempts something much more sweeping and sinister. With the US-Turkish relationship more fraught than it has been since at least the 1970s, we should be trying to understand Turkey better. Instead, the two authors offer us a highly prejudiced and incomplete essay damning Turkey in irresponsibly sweeping terms over its history with its Christian minority. The Wall Street Journal has given these arguments credibility they do not deserve by publishing them. The article, and the book it is based on, argues that across four decades and three completely different governments, the loss of territory on three continents, and the immolation of a 600 year old empire, the Turks engaged in a conscious multi-decade program of anti-Christian genocide that is directly comparable to the Final Solution cooked up by the Nazis. The authors actually say that in the closing paragraph of their article. By doing so they manage to cheapen the Holocaust, the Armenian Genocide, and commit a pretty horrific slur against the Turkish people. To my mind it’s quite similar to saying that the pre-Nazi Weimar German government of the 1920s and 1930s and the post World War II West German government are just as guilty of Genocide as the Nazis are, implying that there is something naturally evil about the Turks. These authors seem to be motivated by exactly the same sorts of blind nationalist disrespect for history that Armenian Genocide deniers are. The lead “historian” on this is Benny Morris, an Israeli scholar who distinguished himself in his youth by pointing out that the foundation of Israel involved more ethnic cleansing of Arabs than is usually admitted. He has spent his career since writing about why ethnic cleansing to found the Israeli state was actually a good thing. He’s a figure associated with justifying the political projects of his own country, and not an expert on this era. Dror Ze-evi, the second author, does appear to be an Ottomanist, but he’s either not a good one, or he knows he’s being dishonest.
If you’re familiar with the history, you’re already aware of how deeply insulting it is to tar Ataturk and the Ottoman sultans with the crimes of the Young Turk Genocidaires, but let’s run through this a bit. It takes a lot for me to defend the late Ottoman Sultans, but the outright Nazi comparison does the trick. The fundamental historical point that the WSJ article never mentions is that across the 19th century, the Ottoman empire was losing territory. As they lost territory, their central lands in Anatolia filled up with ethnically cleansed Muslims from across Europe. If you walk through central Athens, you will find multiple former mosques or burnt out relics of them. Well over 100,000 Turks were kicked out of Greek territory after Greece’s independence in 1830. There are churches in Istanbul today, but there are no mosques in Athens. The Russians repeatedly invaded Ottoman territory, usually forced back more by pressure from the other European powers rather than Ottoman strength. Serbian, Romanian and Bulgarian independence happened in stages of mixed sovereignty and self determination. As these territories became more self-governed, atrocities against Muslims, some of whom had been there for 600 years, became more frequent. To its eternal shame the Ottomans engaged in atrocities as well. Interestingly the WSJ article does not mention the Bulgarian massacres, which were some of the worst anti-Christian massacres carried out by the Ottoman government. This is because mentioning those atrocities would require acknowledging the other side of the story, decaying Ottoman control in Europe and the accompanying ethnic cleansing of Muslims. It’s kind of hard to write a hit piece alleging one-sided Turkish ethnic cleansing if you mention actions that were carried out by Muslim populations that no longer exist. The late Ottoman sultanate was a brutal, vicious, failure, losing miserably and committing great atrocities. But were they Nazis? No. Were they even as bad as the Russians, Belgians and Americans of the time? No. They just failed where the Russians, Belgians and Americans succeeded, so their atrocities are harder to wave away.
The Young Turk government that took power from the Sultan in 1908 initially included a lot of propaganda about a new understanding between Turks and minorities. Some of its leaders may even have believed that propaganda. Under the pressures of losing World War I, they carried out a genocide against the Armenians in 1915. Nothing to defend here. Though I would argue that the writers of the WSJ article ARE defending the Young Turks, by pretending that their horrific actions were part of some over-arching Turkish plot, not their own unique responsibility.
It’s the last bit of the WSJ article argument that is truly outrageous. After the Ottomans lost World War One, the victorious allies, chiefly Britain, offered a whole bunch of Turkish territory to Greece. This left out the inconvenient fact that the Turks still held that territory at the end of hostilities with the allies. The Greeks invaded, sweeping across Anatolia, carrying out all manner of atrocities against local Turks as they went. The Turks under Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish republic, rallied and pushed them out, committing atrocities against local Greeks as they went. At the end of the war, after the invading Greeks had been pushed out, a population transfer was agreed. 1.5 million Christians were moved to Greece, and Half a million Muslims were moved to Turkey. This imbalance is explained by the fact that as Greece expanded throughout the 19th century, they had ethnically cleansed all Muslims as they went, while the Ottomans didn’t get started on systematically extirpating Christians until 1915. The Population transfer was a horrible thing, and not something that the international community would accept today. At the time however, it was seen as an appropriate solution. What’s important to remember here, is that unlike the situation with the Armenians, the Greek government was equally at fault for what happened to the Greeks of Anatolia, if not vastly more culpable than the Turkish government. The WSJ article doesn’t mention any of this detail at all. It simply slots the end of Greek presence in Anatolia into its fairy tale of Turkish evil.
History is important. Harvard, the WSJ, and these “scholars” may not think so, but I do. The Wall Street Journal’s brand may be fading in the Murdoch era, but it still matters. People reflexively believe things that are printed there. Because I lived in Turkey for 6 years, multiple people have reached out to me to talk about this article. I see it pop up on twitter all the time, especially in light of the recent non-existent anti-Kurdish genocide in Northern Syria. Turkish history is not a topic that many in the US have really dived into. If the WSJ says something about it, it will believed. Many Americans now believe that the Turks had a four decade, concerted, out of nowhere plot to murder all of its Christians. That’s not true. The fact that this article exists is an example of the “Plot against Turkey” I talk about in today’s video.