Politics, religion, and culture where East meets West

Archive for July 2013

They meant well

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A long definition of "futility."

A long definition of “futility.”

One of the takeaways from Peter Van Buren’s We Meant Well is that billions of dollars were willfully wasted in the chronically short-sighted “Reconstruction” of Iraq. Though for the most part Van Buren is unable to account for where much of that money goes, there are some hints. Here’s one of my favorites, echoing not only Joseph Heller’s Milo Minderbinder, but also a prior post (pp. 66–67):

The Engineer confirmed that the plant processed no sewage, though he and his twenty-eight workers remained on the payroll. He showed us the Korean Daewoo TV and Dell laptop a US Army unit had given him. He watched the TV all day but was not sure what to do with the laptop, so it was unplugged and dusty. He had left the filmy plastic in place on everything, even the TV screen. It made the devices look sad.

Although no redevelopment had been done, the Belgian and Japanese money was still sitting in an account somewhere. However, the Belgian and Japanese governments were not interested in visiting the sewage plant. The Belgians had no embassy in Iraq and seemed a little surprised the project was still on the table. The Japanese rarely left their tidy enclave in the Green Zone and certainly were not coming out to a sewage plant no one remembered promising to pay for in 2004. The Belgian and Japanese engineering companies, on the other hand, were still interested in making money, though neither cared to send any staff to Iraq and instead were soliciting bids from local Iraqis to do the work. The Engineer was confident they would do a good job, because most of the Iraqi companies bidding were fronts for Turkish construction firms, who would bring in Arabic-speaking engineers from Jordan. Proud of this Coalition of the Willing, the Engineer noted that few Iraqis would have an important role on the project. We Americans would help by being the eyes and ears on the ground for the Belgian and Japanese governments, at least until we closed down our ePRT in line with the military drawdown. Bids would arrive in a few months, followed by a three-week evaluation period. (Many of the companies bidding were fronts for the same company in Turkey and would file dummy bids against themselves. The Engineer would try to figure out which bids came from the same company and would then use that information to get the lowest price.) As per the 2004 agreement, the companies would leave behind all of the trucks and heavy construction equipment imported to do the work. The Engineer planned to sell these items to raise money for maintenance.

. . .

Overall, the book would make a good read for your next long commute. Especially enjoyable for those with a darker sense of humor.

Written by M. James

July 26, 2013 at 11:54 pm

Posted in Turkey

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Secular state, Islamic nation

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As my next week will not be spent near a keyboard, I will leave readers with a thought from the late Peyami Safa—to which I will unavoidably return in the future:


Türkiye bir Islâm Devleti olmaya gitmiyor, Türk Milleti bir İslâm milleti olduğunu bügün daha iyi biliyor. Çünkü bugünkü Dünya’da lâik devletler vardır, fakat lâik millet yoktur. Columbiya Üniversitesinde lâiklik üzerine araştırmalar yapan bir İngilizin bana dediği gibi “Ancak devletler lâik olabilirler, milletler lâik olamazlar.”

Tercüman, 1 Mart 1960


Turkey is not becoming an Islamic State, but the Turkish nation today knows better that it is an Islamic nation. The reason being, in today’s world there are secular states, but there are no secular nations. Like an English researcher on secularism at Columbia University said to me, “Only states can be secular, nations cannot.”

Tercüman, 1 March 1960


Written by M. James

July 17, 2013 at 12:21 am

Egypt’s Arabian patrons

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To follow up on the last post:

UAE offers Egypt $3 billion support, Saudis $5 billion
Patrick Werr; Reuters; Jul. 9th, 2013

(Reuters) – Saudi Arabia approved $5 billion in aid to Egypt on Tuesday and the United Arab Emirates has offered $3 billion in desperately needed support for the economy after the army ousted the Islamist president last week.

It became discernible on July 7th that the UAE would be the first of the donors, and it makes perfect sense—a few billion is a small price to pay for the Gulf states to ride the wave and discredit the Muslim Brotherhood, one of their own chief domestic destabilizers.

Now, bread and fuel subsidies in Egypt will be back on track, and those existential concerns—which drew some citizens out of their usual apathy and against Morsi—are no longer. Once the rage of a disaffected Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood subsides, an uneasy political peace should resume until the next elections.

Written by M. James

July 9, 2013 at 8:57 pm

Posted in News, Politics

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Pruning Egypt

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Wrong place, wrong time.

Wrong place, wrong time.

As Egypt is smoothly placed back in the hands of those who have been guiding it all along, we are left to wonder just how early Morsi was cut loose, or indeed, if the military ever intended him to remain in office.

With the benefit of hindsight, it certainly seems that Morsi—and his party—was set up for the public spectacle of failure. The symbol of his fate—an essential $4.8bn IMF loan that ended in a mess of red tape and red herrings—was unquestionably stalled by design, and with predictable results. The IMF interlocutors knew that no loan meant a poor debt rating, a poor debt rating meant no other loans, no other loans meant no more bread, and no more bread meant no more Morsi. Tried and true, this method would have a very predictable timeframe for a breaking point of civil unrest. The subsequent ease of the transition is testament to the military’s knowledge of, and preparation for, that very situation.

What remains to be seen, of course, is whether this was the result of a working agreement, mutual understanding, or mutual interest between the Egyptian military and the IMF (and all that the IMF represents). If this is the case, we can expect—at the very least—some form of inconspicuous aid to slip into Egypt’s coffers very soon to assuage the truly destitute and stabilize the political scene for the “new” government. It would, after all, be unsportsmanlike for the IMF to grant the much-disputed $4.8bn loan immediately following Morsi’s ouster.

The implications of this relationship—if it exists—are fascinating, as it would amount to a careful and concerted effort by many influential actors to shape Egypt in much the same way Turkey was shaped for its first 74 years. I.e., a good coup d’état every now and then. Or, more palatably, “democracy on training wheels.” Morsi’s Freedom and Justice Party may only be the first of many examples made, precedents set, and branches pruned in the nascent Egyptian multi-party system.

So if the Egyptian people suddenly stop clamoring for bread in the next few weeks, you’ll know why—and what it may mean.

Written by M. James

July 4, 2013 at 7:57 am