Tag Archives: Foreign Policy

Walking the Tightrope: Turkey in the New Middle East

The Arab Spring and subsequent events have dramatically re-arranged the power dynamics of the Middle East. Formerly stable nations like Syria and Libya have descended into near-anarchy, while others, like Iraq and Jordan, have been significantly weakened by the rise of the Islamic State and the flood of refugees fleeing conflicts in the region.

Not all have been affected equally, however. While most of their regional neighbors are still reeling from the aftermath of war and revolution, the Turks have emerged almost entirely unscathed. This has left them in a position that is both enviable and vulnerable as they navigate the geopolitics of the new Middle East.

The upheavals of the last few years have diminished the ability of many of the leading nations in the region to project power outside their own borders. While Bashar al-Assad remains president of Syria, much of the country is either contested or under the control of various rebel and Islamist militias and the economy is utterly ruined after four years of war. Jordan, which has long been a bulwark of stability, is finding its resources stretched to the breaking point as it tries to absorb an estimated 1.4 million Syrian refugees, or 20% of Jordan’s population. Iraq’s fragile political framework has degraded considerably since the conquest of much of the north by ISIS, and Iran is still the subject of strict sanctions and international isolation. Meanwhile, Egypt is in the process of rebuilding its economy, confronting domestic Islamist insurgents, and promoting stability and investor confidence, leaving little capacity for regional engagement.

In this environment, Turkey enjoys a number of advantages. With one of the most powerful militaries in the world, membership in NATO, a strategic position between Europe and Asia, and a fast growing population of over 70 million, Turkey possesses a level of security that has escaped most of its neighbors.

Despite the conflict in neighboring Syria and Iraq, the violence has been almost entirely relegated to the other side of the border, and its contentious domestic politics aside, Turkey has been able to maintain a relatively high measure of internal stability. Much like Jordan, Turkey has absorbed an estimated 1.5 million refugees fleeing Syria, and although this has strained the nation’s resources, its much larger economy has so far been able to handle the refugees without large negative spillover effects.

Another key contributor to Turkey’s improved strategic position is the conflict between Russia and the E.U., which has left the Turks in the enviable role of being an essential partner to both sides. The South Stream pipeline, which Russia envisioned as a way to deliver gas to the European market while bypassing Ukraine, was cancelled after the E.U. pressured Bulgaria to block passage through its territory. It has been replaced by the proposed Turkish Stream, which would run a pipeline underneath the Black Sea and through Turkish territory. Although negotiations are still ongoing, Russia has already taken steps to signal its commitment to the new plan, and the continuing hostility between Russia and the E.U. makes it highly likely that any alternative gas route to Europe will run through Turkey.

This leaves Turkey in an ideal negotiating position. It will likely be able to secure a significant discount for its own considerable energy needs from Russia (and in fact is already aggressively negotiating for one), which is seeking access to the large and growing Turkish gas market as well as an economically and politically viable alternative to the aborted South Stream route.

Read the rest at the Project for Study of the 21st Century…

Rand Paul Heads to the Races

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul will announce the official launch of his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in Louisville today. In a video released on Monday foreshadowing his announcement, Paul promised, “On April 7, a different kind of Republican will take on Washington.” But how different is Paul from the other likely Republican candidates? Is he really, as Time Magazine claimed, “The Most Interesting Man in Politics”?

While other more conservative candidates promise to return America to its past glory with tried-and-true policy proposals, Paul has staked positions on many issues that have the potential to remake the economy and Americans’ relationship with their government.

Economic opportunity—and what Paul sees as its catalyst, individual liberty—is a major theme that runs across Paul’s often unconventional positions.

Economic freedom zones are one of Paul’s favored tools to bring growth back to low-income communities. Following the lead of former Congressman Jack Kemp (R-NY), these zones have lower tax burdens, lighter regulation, and reduced union work requirements. To inject more human capital into these labor markets, parents are given greater choice over their children’s educations, and entrepreneurial immigrants are welcomed.

Paul is working with Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) to roll back some of the most destructive aspects of the failed war on drugs. According to Paul and Booker, reforming mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent crimes and expunging non-violent juvenile criminal records could lessen the long-lasting burdens felt by those entangled the American justice system. Current policy makes many people who do not pose threats to society unemployable—creating a cycle of economic immobility. As Paul arguedduring an address at Bowie State University, “If you smoked some pot or grew marijuana plants in college, I think you ought to get a second chance.”

Though Paul is not in favor of federal legalization of recreational marijuana, last month he co-sponsored a bipartisan bill to end the federal ban on medical marijuana, now legal in 23 states. This would allow patients, including veterans suffering from PTSD, to follow their doctors’ recommendations without fear of prosecution. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), who has already declared that he is running for president, also endorses a similar federalist approach to marijuana laws.

Paul’s battle against overcriminalization does not end with harsh drug sentences. He is a vocal opponent of civil asset forfeiture, which allows the government to take property from individuals without even accusing them of a crime. Paul is the sponsor of the Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration (FAIR) Act, which would require law enforcement agencies to show “clear and convincing evidence” that property was connected to criminal action before it could be seized.

Read the rest at the Manhattan Institute’s E21…

About-Face: Canada’s Shift from Peacekeeper to Bomb-Dropper

“Canadians want to live in peace,” declared Prime Minister John Diefenbaker to the nation in 1960 in the midst of the ongoing Cold War.

Those were difficult times. The United States and the Soviet Union were divvying up the world and expanding their influence. Proxy conflicts, spy games, sanctions, and the threat of nuclear war reverberated in headlines across the world.

Yet, despite the pressure from its southern neighbor, Canada kept a cool head and stood firm in its commitment for peace. It avoided the pitfalls of the Vietnam War, struck a friendly relationship with Cuba instead of signing onto the US embargo, and deployed thousands of peacekeepers to United Nations missions in the Suez Canal, Congo, Syria, and elsewhere.

Now, 50 years later, even after avoiding so many disastrous wars throughout the decades, Canada finds itself strategically bombing pieces of the Iraq held by the Islamic State. Ironically, Canada was reluctant to lend soldiers and bombs to the first effort led by the United States in 2003. Now it’s taking center stage and flexing its bombing muscle.

Canada’s UN mission website boasts that “to date, over 125,000 Canadians have served in close to 50 UN missions.”It’s a far cry from the “peacekeepers first” mentality formed by nearly five decades of Canadian foreign policy.

One of the most notorious was the mission in genocide-era Rwanda, headed up by Canadian General Roméo Dallaire from 1993-94. Since that time, however, Canada has slowly shed its peacekeeping prowess for a more dirty role in world affairs.

According to the United Nations, Canada has substantially dropped its number of peacekeepers deployed from the high of 3,336 in 1993 to just 113 today, mostly as military police in war zones across the African continent. In the last decade alone, that number has flatlined.

In the era of Canadian muscle, the military, not the peacekeepers, receives the first call.

Such was the case for Operation Athena, Canada’s support mission for NATO in its occupation of Afghanistan. It began with a few dozen Special Forces commandos in 2001, and expanded to thousands of Canadian soldiers governing the entire provinces of Kandahar and Helmand from 2003 until the withdrawal of combat troops in 2011.

The last Canadian soldiers returned home from Afghanistan in March 2014, after nearly three years of an “advisory and training role,” according to the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Read the rest at the PanAmerican Post…