The US and the Kurds: no debt owed 7

To serve another’s needs at the cost of disservice to one’s own, may be a virtue when a person does it (though we don’t think it is, any more than Ayn Rand did); but when a state serves the interests of another state at the cost of its own, it is incontrovertibly wrong. It is a betrayal of the people by their government.

President Trump, whose responsibility it is to serve American interests before all else and does so unfalteringly, recently announced that he was withdrawing US soldiers from a region of Syria where there are many Kurds, and letting Turkish troops enter the zone – as the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, intends they shall. The reaction of many conservatives, including Trump supporters, as well as liberals and Leftists, has been an outbreak of passionate concern for the Syrian Kurds.

“Turkey is the enemy of the Kurds and will surely slaughter them,” the cry goes up. “The Kurds have been our faithful allies. They helped us, and now we are abandoning them. Betraying them. Letting them down. Who will ever trust us again?”

Sober conservative voices have argued differently. Among them is Andrew C. McCarthy, from whose article in the National Review, disagreeing with that periodical’s editorial position, we quote:

The Kurds have been our allies against ISIS, but it is not for us that they have fought. They fight ISIS for themselves, with our help.

The US has helped the Kurds more than the Kurds have helped the US. 

They are seeking an autonomous zone and, ultimately, statehood. The editorial fails to note that the Kurds we have backed, led by the YPG (People’s Protection Units), are the Syrian branch of the PKK (the Kurdistan Worker’s Party) in Turkey. The PKK is a militant separatist organization with Marxist-Leninist roots.

During the Cold War, the PKK was one of a multitude of murderous terrorist organizations attacking Western interests all over the world, supported in one way or another by the Soviet Union. Russia has continued to support the PKK, and in retaliation Turkey has given material and diplomatic help to Chechnya in its terrorist war against Russia.

Like it or not (and we do not) –

Turkey remains our NATO ally, even though the Erdogan government is one of the more duplicitous and anti-Western actors in a region that teems with them.

McCarthy says he “would be open to considering the removal of both the PKK from the terrorist list and Turkey from NATO”. But he adds:

For now, though, the blunt facts are that the PKK is a terrorist organization and Turkey is our ally.”

(We aren’t entirely in agreement with him there. We too want to see Turkey removed from NATO, but we do not think the PKK should be removed from the terrorist list.)

Why did the US send its military into Syria?

Our intervention in Syria has never been authorized by Congress. Those of us who opposed intervention maintained that congressional authorization was necessary because there was no imminent threat to our nation. Contrary to the [NR’s] editorial’s suggestion, having US forces “deter further genocidal bloodshed in northern Syria” is not a mission for which Americans support committing our men and women in uniform. Such bloodlettings are the Muslim Middle East’s default condition, so the missions would never end.

ISIS is an atrocious organization, its savage cruelty so extreme as to render all words of horror and outrage inadequate for description of it. It cannot but be a good thing that it has been deprived of the territory it ruled with terror. But was anything it did forbidden by the religion in whose name it acted? It is Islam that threatens us all, the whole non-Muslim world.

Barbaric jihadist groups such as ISIS (an offshoot of al-Qaeda) come into existence because of Islamic fundamentalism. But saying so remains de trop in Washington. Instead, we tell ourselves that terrorism emerges due to “vacuums” created in the absence of US forces. On this logic, there should always and forever be US forces and involvement in places where hostility to America vastly outweighs American interests.

In ISIS’s “Caliphate” that appalling ideology could be, and has been, punished by defeat. And by defeating it, the US was serving its own interests. For the duration of the battle, US interests coincided with the interests of groups oppressed by ISIS, including the Kurds. But that battle is over. No debt is owed to those who fought with us. 

The easily foreseeable conflict between Turkey and the Kurds is at hand. We are supposed to see the problem as Trump’s abandoning of US commitments. But why did we make commitments to the Kurds that undermined preexisting commitments to Turkey? The debate is strictly framed as “How can we leave the Kurds to the tender mercies of the Turks?” No one is supposed to ask “What did we expect would happen when we backed a militant organization that is tightly linked to US-designated terrorists and that is the bitter enemy of a NATO ally we knew would not abide its presence on the ally’s border?” No one is supposed to ask “What is the end game here? Are we endorsing the partition of Syria? Did we see a Kurdish autonomous zone as the next Kosovo?” (We might remember that recognition of Kosovo’s split from Serbia, over Russian objections, was exploited by the Kremlin as a rationale for promoting separatism and annexations in Georgia and Ukraine.)

It is true, as the editors observe, that “there are no easy answers in Syria”. That is no excuse for offering an answer that makes no sense: “The United States should have an exit strategy, but one that neither squanders our tactical gains against ISIS nor exposes our allies to unacceptable retribution.” Put aside that our arming of the Kurds has already exposed our allies in Turkey to unacceptable risk. What the editorial poses is not an “exit strategy” but its opposite. In effect, it would keep US forces in Syria interminably, permanently interposed between the Kurds and the Turks. The untidy questions of how that would be justifiable legally or politically go unaddressed.

President Trump, by contrast, has an exit strategy, which is to exit. He promises to cripple Turkey economically if the Kurds are harmed. If early reports of Turkey’s military assault are accurate, the president will soon be put to the test. … For a change, he should have strong support from Congress, which is threatening heavy sanctions if Turkey routs the Kurds.

Americans, however, are not of a mind to do more than that. We are grateful for what the Kurds did in our mutual interest against ISIS.

As they are to us?

We should try to help them, but no one wants to risk war with Turkey over them. The American people’s representatives never endorsed combat operations in Syria, and the president is right that the public wants out. Of course we must prioritize the denial of safe havens from which jihadists can attack American interests. We have to stop pretending, though, that if our intentions toward this neighborhood are pure, its brutal history, enduring hostilities, and significant downside risks can be ignored.

Posted under Kurds, Syria, Turkey, United States by Jillian Becker on Sunday, October 13, 2019

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The necessity and joy of being offensive 1

To generalize for a delightful moment of offensive political incorrectness: Germans notoriously lack a sense of humor.

Of course there have been, and are, some German humorists. But that there should be a national scandal, a huge legal controversy, even headlines across the world about a piece of humorous writing by a German in Germany, can only be astonishing.

It has happened.

Stefan Frank writes at Gatestone:

Who would have thought that there is still a law in Germany that makes “lèse majesté” (offending the dignity of a monarch) a punishable crime? And that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is now benefiting from just that – and that it could plunge Germany into a (further) “national crisis.”

The terms “national crisis” and “governmental crisis” have been coming up again and again. In light of all the massive problems Germany has, this one is about a poem in which a cabaret performer and comedian, Jan Böhmermann, recently insulted the Turkish President.

Erdogan has called for Böhmermann’s head and, as of last week, has Chancellor Merkel on his side.

The story began in March, when a German regional television station aired a music video during a satirical show, in which repression and human rights violations under Erdogan were pilloried in a humorous way. The Turkish government summoned the German ambassador and demanded that the video be removed from the internet and never be shown again. Germans thereby learned that the German ambassador is regularly summoned to Ankara – three times so far this year. According to reports, the Turkish government once complained about teaching material in Saxony’s schools that dealt with the Armenian genocide.

The revelation that Erdogan is so easy to insult inspired some people to see if they could go the extra mile. Cabaret artist Jan Böhmermann published an “Offensive Poem” (its actual title) on ZDF Neo, a tiny state-run entertainment TV channel with a market share of 1%. It contained speculations about the Turkish president’s digestive and sexual preferences. AFP reports that,

In his ‘libelous poem’, which, as comedian Jan Böhmermann smilingly announced on television, openly exceeds the limits of free speech in Germany, Böhmermann accused Erdogan of having sex with goats and sheep, among other things.

Böhmermann apparently mixed these unsubstantiated claims with (as an example) truthful statements on the oppression of minorities in Turkey (Erdogan wanted to “get Kurds, cut Christians,” he said).

In a preemptive surrender, which many Germans view as the real scandal, ZDF immediately deleted the broadcast from its Internet archives – before Erdogan could even complain. “The parody that satirically addresses the Turkish President does not meet the quality requirements the ZDF has in place for satire shows,” the station explained of this step. “For this reason, the passage was removed from the program.” This, as ZDF program director Norbert Himmler said, occurred “in consultation with Jan Böhmermann.” The limits of irony and satire were exceeded in this case

ZDF editors now criticize this course of action, and are asking for the piece to be accessible in the archives once again.

Chancellor Merkel – who is not otherwise known to react quickly to crises – tried to appease Erdogan shortly after the broadcast of the program. In a telephone conversation with Turkish Prime Minister Davutoglu, she called the poem “deliberately hurtful” and “unacceptable”. She probably hoped to settle things without having explicitly to apologize, which many Germans from across the political spectrum would resent. But Erdogan has no intention of settling down. He called for the criminal prosecution of Böhmermann. …

Laws, some of which date back to the German Empire, complicate the issue. Hardly any German has ever heard of them, but they have suddenly become relevant. In Germany, the term “abusive criticism” has primarily been familiar to lawyers; the fact that gross affronts are prohibited in Germany is probably obvious to many citizens. However, little known – and much less accepted – is a law from 1871, which makes the “slander of institutions and officials of foreign states” an offense carrying a penalty of up to five years in prison.

On April 14, Angela Merkel announced that she is granting the Turkish President’s demand for prosecution against Böhmermann – against the objections of her coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party (SPD).

In Germany, justice should decide such a case, not the government, says Merkel. But many commentators believe this justification to be hypocritical; after all, Erdogan supposedly already filed lawsuits as a private individual at the Court in Mainz. What Merkel will now enable is another court case for “lèse majesté.” The Berlin Tagesspiegel writes:

“The majority of Germans are against the fact that she [Merkel] is complying with Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s majesty demands in this way. ‘Majesty’ is, therefore, the appropriate term, because penal code section 103 from the year 1871 is for lèse majesté. So it comes from a time when we were still driving carriages and had an emperor. And the Turks had a sultan.”

Many also consider Merkel’s decision to be particularly absurd because on the same day, the Chancellor announced that she wants to abolish the law on lèse majesté “by 2018.”

Through her decision, Merkel signaled that the Turkish President’s “honor” is more important than that of normal German citizens, who can only take ordinary legal action when they are slandered, and who do not enjoy the privilege of an extended “protection of honor” for “princes.”

Erdogan has managed to extend what he already practices in Turkey to Germany. A few months ago, when nobody in Turkey had even heard of Jan Böhmermann, Die Welt reported:

Paragraph 299 of the Turkish Penal Code, which provides for imprisonment of up to four years for insulting the head of state, has become the most common political offense. As a CHP party inquiry revealed, 98 people were arrested for this reason in the first ten months of last year. 66 were indicted, and 15 were kept in custody. The number of preliminary proceedings is unknown; human rights activists estimate several hundred. ‘With these reactions, Erdogan shows how justified this criticism is,’ said CHP human rights politician Sezgin Tanrikulu of Die Welt. ‘A regime that responds to all criticism with criminal proceedings is moving toward a dictatorship’.

The Turkish penal code – now in Germany?

The Turkish government called the slander of Erdogan a “serious crime against humanity”. The choice of words is reminiscent of how Erdogan once acquitted Sudanese President Omar al Bashir of genocide allegations in Darfur: “Muslims cannot carry out genocide.” Erdogan at the time was expressing an attitude often widespread in the West: crimes are not crimes when Muslims commit them. This also seems to be the view of many German politicians and journalists; rarely is a Muslim despot or demagogue criticized in Germany, while at the same time, no one in Germany has any inhibitions about vilifying Christianity or the Church.

It is this double standard, among other things, that Mathias Döpfner, CEO of the major German publishing house, Axel Springer, denounced in an open letter to Böhmermann … In it, Döpfner calls for “solidarity with Jan Böhmermann.” He also writes:

First, I want to say: I think your poem succeeded. I laughed out loud. So it’s important to me to say that, because in the past few days, there hasn’t been a single article about your text – whether accusatory or taking your side – that didn’t first (and at the same time captatio benevolentiae) emphasize how tasteless and primitive and insulting your satire about Erdogan was.

According to Döpfner, it’s “as if you were to accuse a Formula 1 car manufacturer of having fast cars.” Being offensive is certainly the goal, and has a useful consequence: “It is very revealing what reactions your satire triggered. A focal point and a turning point.” Döpfner evokes various works by German artists, comedians, and cartoonists that are solely about mocking Christians and their faith. “When it comes to the provocation of religious or, more precisely, Christian feelings, anything goes in Germany,” says Döpfner. However, if someone offends Erdogan, that leads to “a kind of national crisis.”

Döpfner remembers how in Turkey, Erdogan proceeded against freedom of speech, minorities, and equality for women by force, and mentions the “excessive and reckless violence of the Turkish army” against the Kurds. Why, of all things, does insulting Erdogan cause such turbulence in Germany? Döpfner writes:

For the small compensation of three billion euros, Erdogan regulates the streams of refugees so that conditions do not get out of control in Germany. You have to understand, Mr. Böhmermann, that the German government apologized to the Turkish government for your insensitive remarks. In the current situation, they are simply ‘not helpful’ – artistic freedom or not. You could easily call it kowtowing. Or as Michel Houellebecq phrased it in the title of his masterpiece on the self-abandonment of the democratic Western world: submission.

Erdogan, who also campaigned in Germany during Turkish elections, appears to consider Germany an appendage of his Great Ottoman Empire. He calls out to Turks in Germany: “Assimilation is a crime against humanity.” He has great power in Germany. This is not only based on German organizations like the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB), which is controlled by the Turkish government, but above all on his ability to provoke upheaval in Germany if he wants. That Chancellor Merkel has delegated even more power to Erdogan in this situation, by imploring him to prevent hundreds of thousands of migrants in Turkey from heading for Europe, has made the situation even worse — particularly because she has explained over and over that this is the only solution to the migrant crisis.

Merkel considers it indecent when Europeans secure their own country’s borders based on current laws, but she gives Erdogan full reign to proceed with migrants at his discretion. …

Böhmermann’s television appearances were canceled; he fears for his life and is under police protection.

Posted under Commentary, Germany, Humor, satire, Turkey, tyranny by Jillian Becker on Wednesday, April 20, 2016

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