28east

Politics, religion, and culture where East meets West

Archive for December 2011

Turkey approves South Stream

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According to RT, “There’s no stopping South Stream.” As of yesterday, Turkey has approved the $20 billion natural gas pipeline’s progress through its territorial waters in the Black Sea. Meanwhile, Nabucco, the proposed alternative pipeline (supported by the US and EU, concerned about Russian energy dependency), hovers around $33.7 billion—with considerable complications.

Turkey, of course, “said the two pipelines should complement each other.”

After receiving permission to build South Stream on Wednesday, Gazprom said two long-term gas supply contracts with Turkey would be extended to 2021 and 2025 and pledged to increase deliveries to Turkey in 2012. Turkey told Gazprom in October it would halt imports of Russian gas through a pipeline across Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria after failing to agree a discount on supplies.

In return Gazprom has granted Turkey’s state gas importer Botas a discount on the gas it buys through contracts for 8 bcm a year and 16bcm/yr, and has agreed to an easing of take-or-pay commitments on the contracts, he said confirming that the level of discount is not being made public.

Lest we forget Turkey’s own dependence on Russian energy.

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Written by M. James

December 29, 2011 at 4:35 pm

Islamism drives Turkish foreign policy

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What Drives Turkish Foreign Policy?
Svante E. Cornell; Middle East Quarterly; Winter 2012

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, AKP) was reelected to a third term in June 2011. This remarkable achievement was mainly the result of the opposition’s weakness and the rapid economic growth that has made Turkey the world’s sixteenth largest economy. But Ankara’s growing international profile also played a role in the continued public support for the conservative, Islamist party. Indeed, in a highly unusual fashion, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan began his victory speech by saluting “friendly and brotherly nations from Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, Amman, Cairo, Sarajevo, Baku, and Nicosia.”[1] “The Middle East, the Caucasus, and the Balkans have won as much as Turkey,” he claimed, pledging to take on an even greater role in regional and international affairs. By 2023, the republic’s centennial, the AKP has promised that Turkey will be among the world’s ten leading powers.

At the same time, Turkey’s growing profile has been controversial. As Ankara developed increasingly warm ties with rogue states such as Iran, Syria, and Sudan while curtailing its once cordial relations with Israel and using stronger rhetoric against the United States and Europe, it generated often heated debates on whether it has distanced itself from the West. Turkey continues to function within the European security infrastructure—although more uneasily than before—but has a rupture with the West already taken place, and if so, is it irreversible?

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Written by M. James

December 20, 2011 at 2:51 pm

Why Syria?

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The Department of History, United States Military Academy.

In 333 B.C., Alexander the Great laid siege to the Mediterranean port of Tyre. It was early in the young Macedonian king’s campaign in Asia, and besieging an island fortress for several months wasn’t in the playbook. But Tyre simply couldn’t be ignored. It was the last Persian port in the Mediterranean—and leaving a Persian navy in the Mediterranean was not an option (as the Peloponnesian War demonstrated).

Which is why he sacrificed time, troops, and manpower building a kilometer-long stone causeway to the walls of the city, complete with siege towers and naval support. After more setbacks than he could have anticipated, Alexander breached the walls and concluded the siege, ending Tyre’s service as a Persian port and securing the Mediterranean from Persian naval power.

A few hundred miles up the coast and a couple thousand years later, the Syrian port city of Latakia faces a similar predicament—sans siege towers and brilliant generals. Latakia is the new Persian Empire’s (Iran’s) attempt at a naval base on the Mediterranean, and while it may not be as well-established, defensible, or suitable for a large naval presence (yet), it’s a port. Much to Israel’s chagrin, as you can see. Take away Iran’s Syrian port at Latakia and the new Persian Empire will have a hard time projecting power in the Mediterranean. Cue an unstable Syria.

But first, there’s more:

The Russians are willing to contribute towards the Iranian port’s defenses and looking forward to cooperation between the Russian, Iranian and Syrian fleets in the eastern Mediterranean opposite the US Sixth Fleet’s regular beat.

Tyre, Lebanon (A); Latakia, Syria (B); Tartus, Syria (C)

If anyone knows the value of a Mediterranean port, it’s Russia. Historically denied access to warm-water ports, Russia has never been granted legroom in the world’s oceans. Even now, Russia’s shipping industry relies on Turkish cooperation in the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles. But what Russia does have is a Mediterranean naval port. It’s in Tartus, Syria—just south of Latakia. Considerably better developed and defended (complete with Russian surface-to-air missile system), Russia’s port in Tartus will not be given up easily—at least that’s what Admiral Kuznetsov says.

So, what this all adds up to is two NATO antagonists with ports in one unstable country. If the Syrian regime falls, it’s a probable BOGO for NATO and anyone who wants unilateral security (in the form of U.S. Nimitz-class supercarriers) in and around the Med. If Bashar stays, the George H.W. Bush might have to do more than “experience the rich history and culture of France”  the next time it’s in the 6th Fleet AOR.

But it isn’t just naval geopolitics driving foreign pressure against the Syrian regime, either. This is, after all, the Middle East, and no story would be complete without a sprinkling of sectarianism. Or, in this case, several helpings.

From the U.S. Department of State’s Jeffrey D. Feltman (here):

Iran continues to be complicit in the violence in Syria, providing material support to the regime’s brutal campaign against the Syrian people. Cynically capitalizing on the Syrian government’s growing alienation from its Arab neighbors, Iran is seeking to increase its influence in Syria and help Assad remain in power as a vital conduit to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The problem is that, with the recent U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, Iran will be filling in the political and military void. And if Iran retains al-Assad’s Syria as a close ally—well—look at the map.

This map.

The only thing stopping the new Persian Empire from expanding its Shia-powered influence—continuously—from Iran to the Mediterranean (and to Israel’s doorstep), is a new, unfriendly Sunni government in Syria. All of the relevant actors know this. And if you ask Bashar al-Assad, they’re all doing their best to bring about that Sunni government as quickly as possible.

Which leads us to the next question: If sanctions, attempts to undermine the Syrian army, and foreign assistance (training and weapons) for the Free Syrian Army don’t weaken the Iran-friendly regime (or empower the resistance) enough, who will be the first to step in? Turkey certainly stands out for being the loudest, but if it is as the Turks say, havlayan köpek ısırmaz (a barking dog doesn’t bite).

So we wait.

Written by M. James

December 14, 2011 at 6:11 pm

Islamic cultural system: inductive?

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Behold the danger of [attempts at] universal history. Here’s an article by Thorsten Pattberg shamelessly stolen from his own book, The East-West Dichotomy: Behold the Law of Difference (seriously, it’s almost verbatim). Note that none of his examples of inductive reasoning come from the Islamic cultural system—even though he classifies it as one of the “Oriental” cultural systems.

I guess minor oversights like that are expected in universal history. Read the article as a comparison between broad themes in Western and Eastern philosophy and it almost works. Take away from it how difficult it is to paint intellectual history with a broad brush.

The East-West dichotomy revisited
Thorsten Pattberg; Asia Times Online; Dec. 13, 2011

“The West is deductive, from the universal to the particular; the East is inductive, from the particular to the universal.” 
– Ji Xianlin, 1996

According to the universal historians Arnold J Toynbee, Samuel P Huntington and Ji Xianlin, the world’s states form 21, 23 or 25 spheres, nine civilizations, and fall into four cultural systems: Arabic/Islam, Confucian, Hindi/Brahmin and Western/Christian, with the former three forming the Oriental cultural system and the latter one the Occidental cultural system. The main difference between the Orient and the Occident, so what people say lies in their different mode of thinking: The East is more inductive, the West is more deductive.

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Written by M. James

December 13, 2011 at 4:32 am

Aslan sütü

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Bearable served cold.

Turkey’s hate-it-or-love-it national drink, rakı, is going global.

Global alcohol giant Diageo, which owns Turkey’s Mey İçki, is preparing to globally distribute its local alcoholic drink rakı brand Yeni Rakı in January 2012.

Diageo’s European President Andrew Morgan said with Yeni Rakı they will compete in a brand new arena. The aniseed-based rakı is a new segment for Diageo. They plan to launch Yeni Rakı in Germany followed by the U.S., Russia and Turkey’s neighboring countries, reported Hürriyet.

I don’t see this catching on in the U.S.

Written by M. James

December 10, 2011 at 3:29 am

Posted in Culture, News, Turkey

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Syria: Set up for failure

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“Syria” has “accepted” the Arab League request to send observers into the country. Whether this means the regime has accepted the whole Arab League package (ceasefire, allowing media into the country, dialogue with opposition, etc.) remains to be seen.

Here’s the type of thing that seems likely to happen:

Arab leaders had given Syria a new deadline of Sunday to respond to the League’s plan, which calls for the admission of observers to ensure compliance with a government cease-fire. They also held out the threat of pushing for U.N. involvement if Damascus balks.

Call me a skeptic, but it seems to me that if Syria doesn’t do exactly what the Arab League wants, it’s another “balk” (like this one), and it’s one more reason to condemn the Alawite regime.

Written by M. James

December 5, 2011 at 1:07 pm

Posted in News, Politics

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