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Barack's Best Friend Erdogan Not Looking Pretty


Violence in Istanbul is threatening President Obama’s relationship with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. What started out as a protest against the development of a park has morphed into a show of much wider discontent. Over the weekend, more than two weeks after the protests started, police used tear gas and water cannons to clear Gezi Park of its protesters and spent most of Sunday chasing protesters and looters into shopping malls and upscale hotels.

To most outsiders, this looks like an excellent time for some soothing words and calming speeches in Turkey. Erdogan has a solid majority in parliament and his core supporters don’t seem fazed by the protests in Istanbul. (Think of Erdogan as the George W. Bush of Turkey, and the protesters are secular liberals who hate him as much or more than the American left hated W. The more the left protests, the more Erdogan’s base rallies to its man.) Making a few concessions, pulling the police back except where violence or looting actually occurs, and calming things down were the actions most of us would advise at a time like this.

But Turkish politics has its own rhythms, and Erdogan has his own priorities—and temperament. In response to the protests, he’s toughening his rhetoric and promising a crackdown. In the process, he may have killed the last flickering hope for reopening EU accession talks as his EU Affairs Minister Egemen Bagis is calling the protesters “terrorists.” To German and French politicians looking to deep six Turkey’s EU bid once and for all, statements like that give them all the excuse they need.

The Obama/Erdogan friendship has always looked a little odd. Erdogan is in many ways closer to the American religious right than to the secular liberalism that President Obama represents. In the hope of nurturing a moderate Islamist movement in the most dynamic Islamic country in the Middle East, President Obama has largely overlooked some of Turkey’s less attractive features under Erdogan (the country is said to have more journalists under arrest than any other). But foreign policy priorities in Syria and elsewhere pull the two countries together. It will be interesting to see how the White House handles the continuing crisis in Turkey; Turkish leaders do not like moral lecturing and finger-wagging from the West, but as Erdogan’s rhetoric and the behavior of the Istanbul police go over the top, it’s going to be harder for the White House to hold him up as a model.

We’ll see where this goes. The unrest in Turkey has spread much farther and lasted much longer than anyone expected. If nothing else, the police violence has persuaded many Western liberals that Turkey’s secularists weren’t overreacting when they warned that the AK Party would ultimately limit Turkish freedom.

Several observers have said that President Obama has spent more time in conversation with Prime Minister Erdogan than with any other world leader. It will be interesting to see how that friendship fares if the riots don’t stop. Common interests will keep the relationship civil, but the American President may already be looking for a new best friend.

[Obama and Erdogan image courtesy of Wikimedia]

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  • lukelea

    Sounds like two countries. Do they ever consider splitting up?

  • USNK2

    Me. Mead needs a crash course on Erdogan’s Turkey before Mr. Mead ever compares Erdogan to ANY American president or the Islamists to “…the American religious right…”
    Erdogan coerces the indigenous Alevis into Sunni mosques, which is one reason the Alevis are the most ardent ‘Kemalists’.
    Four dead and 5,000 injured by Erdogan’s water cannons, plastic bullets, and clouds of tear gas for ten days +.
    Mr. Mead should at least be reading Claire Berlinski’s reports from Istanbul.

    written by a secular humanist who has never before defended George W. Bush, but comparing him to Erdogan is over the top.

    • BS_finder

      I guess you have no idea that among 4 deaths one was a police officer… Unfortunately it’s getting a bitter fight between two sides and no one can claim protesters are behaving in a good manner.

      Would you write something similar when occupy Wall Street guys destroy shops and burn vehicles around?

      Biggest problem here is, I believe, no news network provide both sides of the coin thereby everybody is having their own misleading conclusions…

  • Lyle7

    Obama and Erdogan actually seem a lot a like. They both have authoritarian leadership styles. Obama must admire how Erdogan has governed Turkey.

    And how bad is Obama going to lecture Erdogan when Erdogan is so vital in dealing with Assad and Syria?

    • bpuharic

      One reads the tiresome hackneyed views of Obama from the right, which merely confirms the rational logic in sending the ultra right wing GOP packing in the last 2 elections.

      Where is Obama ‘authoritarian’? Well, nowhere. Meanwhile we have ‘prolife’ religious fanatics here in the US forcing rape on women before they can get abortions. THAT is authoritarian.

      • Lyle7

        “Forcing rape”… yeah, that’s nonsense. The IRS bullying Americans isn’t nonsense though. That’s a do whatever it takes to stay in power kind of leadership don’t you think?

        • bpuharic

          Transvaginal ultrasound is, by definition, rape. And the IRS isn’t ‘bullying’ anyone since checks and balances vitiated its effects. That’s what happens when govt works right.

          Try again.

          • Lyle7

            Ah wrong again. When the IRS is targeting specific people because of their politics so that the government can try and control those people politically… that’s authoritarian.

            And yeah, maybe the ultrasound thing is wrong too, but if that’s wrong, so is what Obama has done with the IRS.

            By the way, what executive office holder has forced this ultrasound issue?

          • Lyle7

            Isn’t ultrasound, even if inside of a vagina just a medical procedure?

          • bpuharic

            Not if it’s not wanted by the woman. That’s the DEFINITION of rape.

          • Lyle7

            Maybe, or it just a mandatory medical procedure.

            I wouldn’t be surprised if our government eventually forces men of a certain age to have their prostate checked.

            That would be rape too wouldn’t it?

            What executive officer is trying to do this again?

          • Lyle7

            Why are we even talking about this?

            Lets stick to talking about Turkey.

          • bpuharic

            Republicans are trying to do this. Montana just did it last week

            DO try to keep up with current events…

          • Lyle7

            What executive officer? If you were so up on your current events you’d be able to name the governor or President who was doing this.

            What executive officer is pushing this?

          • Nomadic100

            If a woman wants to kill her unborn child, the least she can be expected to do is to have an ultrasound!

          • bpuharic

            Slavery was outlawed in the US in 1863. There’s no reason you get to tell her she should be raped because you think she should

          • Nomadic100

            Come on, cut the hyperbole! I suspect it is beneath you; at least I hope it is. Is a pap smear also “rape”? Wisconsin, where I live, is going to pass an ultrasound law. I am VERY glad! Suppose, for a moment, that your mother contemplated having an abortion when she was pregnant with you. Would you not want her to have had at least a moment’s pause by having an ultrasound and seeing your promise as a human?

          • bpuharic

            You don’t get it, do you? No wonder the GOP has so many Akins. A Pap smear is VOLUNTARY. And there’s no difference between your question and that of contraception. Perhaps women should get govt approval before using contraception, too?

          • bpuharic

            No, it’s not authoritarian because Obama had ZIP to do with it, and because the head of the IRS in that office was a Bush appointee, AND because the system of checks and balances worked. So you’re batting zero for 3.

            Go ahead. Prove Obama had ANYTHING to do with it.

            We’ll wait.

          • Lyle7

            His administration did it. The buck stops with him. What do you not understand about that?

          • bpuharic

            No, his administration didn’t ‘do it’ since he did not authorize it. Talk radio bullet points are not a form of logic.

          • Lyle7


            His administration and his political party, are his administration and his political party.

            It doesn’t matter if it can be pinned on him with any kind of evidence.

            He either did it, or he’s not in control of his administration or his party.

            Regardless, his administration used the IRS to try and politically control certain people because of their politics.

            The facts just aren’t on your side unfortunately.

          • bpuharic

            More special pleading. You yourself acknowledge the govt official in charge of the office was a GOP appointee. Is Obama supposed to know the CV of every single govt employee? Good luck with that.

            When Abu Ghraib became an issue was it Bush who was personally responsible? Should he have been impeached? With your logic, the answer is yes.

            Go ahead. Make the argument. When you indict Bush on war crimes, then you’ll have a case.

          • Lyle7

            What are you talking about now? Yeah, Abu Ghraib happened under Bush’s watch. What’s your point exactly?

            The IRS scandal is something entirely different than Abu Ghraib.

            And who is calling for Obama to be impeached? Not me. You better not be putting words in peoples’ mouths.

          • bpuharic

            The American soldier at Abu Ghraib was an American soldier who worked for the C in C…Bush. Thus if it was a crime, Bush is responsible, according to your logic

          • Kavanna

            This is wrong. The head of that IRS office was a Bush appointee, but that fact is irrelevant. The push for harassing the Tea Pearty groups came from Washington, not the field offices, precisely from Obama appointees.

            Note that the harassment started on a big scale leading up to the 2012 election, not the 2010 election, even though the Tea Party groups mainly formed in 2009 and 2010. The reason was because the 2010 election didn’t threaten Obama’s second term.

            The IRS scandal is a scandal, *the* scandal (along with the spying on reporters and Fast and Furious) of the Obama presidency. The IRS harassment probably didn’t originate in the Treasury department, but in the (In)Justice Department.

            Obama kept Holder on for a second term, unlike much of the rest of his cabinet. Holder knows where the skeletons are in which closet.

          • bpuharic

            There was no push from Washington nor have you provided proof. The fact the office head was a Bush appointee is casually dismissed by you, as a form of special pleading.

            Note that Obama never knew this was happening. He was never informed. The head of that office, when informed, instructed the rogue agents to cease. They did not comply. It was a local failure.

            Moreover a number of LIBERAL groups got the same treatment

            So all we have is your acknowledgement that the office head was GOP appointee, Obama was not informed, nor did he give approval AND the agents were rogues.

            And on that you call Obama a ‘tyrant’. Some case you’ve built. I’d call it Aerogel, but Aerogel has a use.

          • Nomadic100

            The “Bush appointee” is a registered Democrat and contributed to Obama’s election campaign. Moreover, his wife was involved in the “Occupy” movement.

          • bpuharic

            More special pleading. You folks seem to like that.

            Any reason that’s relevant? Unless Obama had a time machine and went back to specifically appoint the commissioner, the fact remains, he was a Bush appointee. A bit hard to argue he was appointed for Obama’s nefarious purposes when Obama didn’t take office until 2009, isn’t it?

          • Nomadic100

            Well, yes, it is relevant. Bush was far less of an ideologue than Obama and was more willing to be bipartisan. The Bush people doubtless knew that Shulman was a Democrat, but the Occupy movement had not yet blossomed and Shulman’s wife might then have been a political cipher.
            I’m not asserting that Shulman was appointed for Obama’s purposes by Bush but when Obama took office Shulman’s urges were expressed. I trust that you are not defending the IRS’s activities with regard to conservative 501C3 organizations.
            I’d be happy to continue this discussion, but would hope we could avoid being snide in our comments.

          • bpuharic

            Bush didn’t have the intelligence to be an ideologue which is why he was a sock puppet for Cheney, Rumsfeld, etc.

            So you continue with your special pleading, telling us how Obama engineered and manipulated Bush into appointing an IRS regional official years before Obama became president.

            Poe’s law is in effect for the right. Snideness is not needed when the typical far right self parody is evident.

          • Nomadic100

            Who are you to judge Bush’s intelligence? Do you have any of the requisite qualifications or are you simply parroting a left mantra? Do you approve of John Kerry’s intelligence? If so, you may not know that Bush had higher grades at Yale than Kerry. If you don’t respect Kerry’s intelligence, then we are in agreement.

          • bpuharic

            Yeah I have the prerequisites. I’m a voter. Bush was a tool for Cheney who ran rings around him, treating him like the irrelevant diversion he was. Kerry? Who cares? Is he president?

            Bush was a legacy admission to Yale. Sorry. Not impressed.

          • Nomadic100

            Pathetic argument!

  • ljgude

    I agree that the Bush anti Bush comparison falls flat. In fact it makes my head hurt thinking of all the fundamental differences, to say nothing of the fundamentalist ones. I agree with the main point that Obama’s alliance with the Turkish version of Islamism has become uncomfortable because of the Turkish crackdown on the Kemalist secularists. In dealing with Islamists the illusion of moderation fails sooner or later because they are totalitarians. I am sharply reminded of George Keenan successfully convincing Truman and Harriman that they couldn’t do quid pro quo with Joseph Stalin. As far as I can see Obama really believes he can do quid pro quo with Islamists, and he is going to go on being a patsy until 2016.

    • bpuharic

      It’s ironic that the right accuses Obama of being a ‘patsy’ for Islamists when he’s killed more terrorists than Bush ever did, and the neo-cons want us to arm Al Qaida terrorists in Syria.

      You just can’t make this stuff up.

      • Lyle7

        Not all Islamists are violent terrorists though… like Erdogan and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Islamism exists on a number of levels.

        • bpuharic

          I absolutely agree and it’s a distinction lost on many. But, of course, neither are they secular democrats.Erdogan is proving to be just another authoritarian wannabe.

          • Lyle7

            Yeah, Obama supports or has facilitated these Islamists’ rise to power.

          • bpuharic

            A charge bordering on racism, unfortunately. This is what Rich Lowry, of “National Review” calls the ‘bigotry of low expectations’.

            To assert, without proof. that Obama could control the destinies of 320 million Arabs is a baseless, and paranoid charge, so typical of the American right.

          • Lyle7

            What are you talking about? Is he not friends with Erdogan? Has he not spoken with him more than any other foreign leader allegedly?

            Did Obama not get behind the Arab Spring?

            Islamists aren’t a race of people by the way.

          • Lyle7

            Oh, and by the way… Republicans can’t much say anything about supporting Islamists since they support them too.

            Your problem is you can’t just admit that Obama isn’t any different.

          • bpuharic

            Ummm….if Obama has ‘facilitated’ the rise of Islamists to power, including Erdogan, he’s due for another Nobel, this time in physics.

            Erdogan has been in office since 2003.

          • Lyle7

            I said support OR facilitated their rise to power… which is what he has done with the Arab Spring.

            He supports Erdogan and he helped the Islamists come to power in Egypt.

            Get it?

          • bpuharic

            Uh no. Because you simply have no viable alternative. As I said, it’s the ‘bigotry of low expectations’.

            The alternative to Islamists is? You’re pretending there’s an alternative to right wing Christianity, for example, in the GOP. It doesn’t exist. There is no current alternative to Islamism in the Muslim world.

            But it’s certainly useful for those who engage in special pleading to whip Obama for …nothing.

  • Corlyss

    Obama loves strong men (tyrants) because he isn’t strong but he has tyrannical impulses.

    • Kavanna

      Very perceptive of The One. He comes from the thuggish school of Chicago politics, made up of corrupt and petty tyrants, not power-seeking politicians with world-historical ambitions. For an empty suit like Obama, it must be mesmerizing.

      • bpuharic

        And yet it was the amiable dunce who killed 4400 US troops while spending $2 trillion in Iraq, who was given 2 terms by the GOP

        Go figure.

        • Lyle7

          Obama is sending U.S. troops to the Syrian-Jordanian border as we speak.

          • bpuharic

            You be sure and let me know when he invades, OK? He’s been president for 5 years and has never committed US boots on the ground like his neo-con right wing predecessor did. Again and again the right overlooks our failure in Iraq because they’re obsessed with the non-starter issues around Obama.

          • Lyle7

            Foreign intervention is foreign intervention.

            And Obama still has troops in Afghanistan.

          • bpuharic

            One does not cut and run from a war, no matter how disastrous. And we are in Jordan at the invitation of that govt. That is not an ‘intervention’.

          • Lyle7

            If we establish a no-fly zone that will be an intervention.

            One might could also say that organizing the rebels in Jordan to go and fight in Syria is an intervention. Some people say that about the former School of the Americas at Ft. Benning do they not?

          • Corlyss

            Well, we’ll see how that turns out. With Obama’s track record of tardy half-measures designed only to put bull’s eyes on the backs of fine American Warriors, I’m not holding my breath for an effective outcome in America’s interests. He’s completely typical of how post Viet Nam Dems view and use military power. As far as they are concerned the only legitimate use for American power is in a Humanitarian mission, like tsunami or hurricane relief. Ask them for tough-minded defense/security action that involves offensive weapons, and they go to pieces.

          • bpuharic

            Number of wars Obama started that got 4400 US troops killed? None

            The Jacksonian right is always willing to proclaim outrage that we’re not spilling enough American blood.

        • Corlyss

          OMG! OWS and Code Pink too!

  • wigwag

    Here’s what we know:

    1) Erdogan is a thug. He’s arrested journalists who provide coverage critical of the AKP; he’s arrested members of the Turkish military wh he considered threatening and, if today’s New York Times is to be believed, he’s harrassed physicians who provided first aid to the demonstrators beaten by Turkish police.

    2) Erdogan is hostile to anyone who is not a devout Sunni Muslim. His Government has discriminated against Turkey’s Alevi community, he’s insulted secular Turks and he’s been especially cruel to the tiny community of Istanbul’s Orthodox Christians. He doesn’t like Jews much either. He’s called Zionism a “war crime” and just a couple of days ago he blamed Jews for opposing the institution of Sharia law.

    3) Erdogan is nostalgic for the days of the Ottoman Empire. The park he wants to tear up in Istanbul was going to be replaced by a shopping mall; the design of the mall was reminiscent of an Ottoaman era barracks.

    4) The Obama Administration has said over and over again that Turkey is a close ally and that Obama speaks to Erdogan more than he speaks to any other leader.

    5) Despite the arrest of journalists, the crackdown on free speech, the discrimination against religious minorities and the incindeary language against Jews and Israel, the Obama Administration has never offered anything but the most tepid criticism of the Erdogan regime. Yet when Israel adopts policies that the United States objects to, Obama has never shied away from criticizing the Netanyahu Government loudly and often.

    6) Turkey refuses to acknowledge the complicity of the Ottoman Government in the Armenian Genocide and Erdogan throws a gussy fit whenever another Government calls the Armenian Genocide by its real name. Obama broke his campaign promise to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide exactly like his predecessors did.

    What is unclear is what it is that is motivating Obama. Is his fealty to Erdogan motivated by some bizarre theory about how Turkey can be useful to the United States as long as Obama genuflects to Erdogan, or does Obama just sincerely like and respect Erdogan?

    It’s hard to know.

    • bpuharic

      And when Reagan was president he took pains to coddle up to the most vile racists on the planet, in S. Africa. Heavens!

      Are you really this naive?

      • wigwag

        I didn’t vote for Reagan and I won’t defend him. Nevertheless, Reagan never claimed that he spoke to F. W. De Klerk more than any other world leader. That’s the claim that the Obama Administration has made; that Obama is on the phone with Erdogan all the time strategizing about world issues.

        What would be your guess; in the first five years he was in office, was Reagan closer to de Klerk or is Obama closer to Erdogan? How many times do you suppose Reagan and de Klerk actually met or spoke during Reagan’s two terms? What about Obama and Erdogan?

        • bpuharic

          He didn’t have to talk to De Klerk. He appointed Chester Crocker ambassador, a man who invented the racist apologia of ‘constructive engagement’ to allow GOP racism to become international.

          Turkey is part of NATO and is an ally. You go ahead and bust up NATO over your petty partisan temper tantrums regarding a president you despise. Me? I’ll follow the Jeffersonian realism so aptly described by WRM in his book “Special Providence”.

      • xbox361

        and FDR cozied up to mass killer Stalin, Washington had slaves and Lincoln said bad things about the Negro race.

        Realize there are always contingencies, that what our leaders do is not based on their wishlist of what a wonderful world it would be if we all just got along. Read history and realize every generation is dealing with a world it did not create.

        • bpuharic

          And the GOP abandoned blacks after the civil war.Spare me the histrionics about the purity of GOP motives. Obama is not unique.

          • xbox361

            Obama is not unique.?
            Somebody wants to be audited!

  • xbox361

    maybe he is setting up the army. if the military attacks the protesters, their historic role of protecting Ataturk’s legacy might be fatally weakened. removes biggest threat to Erdogan?

    this is speculation based on recent history, don’t know if is plausible, just a thought.

  • michaelgingerly

    Oh, please. Erdogan is more like “America’s religious right?” Is truly absurd if not slanderous.

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