Being Nice to Dictators

Being Nice to Dictators

This is what American foreign policy has come to. We give dictators whatever they want in order to keep the peace and to keep migrants from flooding Europe and by extension, eventually, America (and for oil). Today Trump announced that he will end the sanctions against Turkey in exchange for a cease fire in the land grab against the Kurds in Syria and to end the presence of a minority group despised by Turks for reasons that are rooted in ancient animosities. Ending sanctions may not be a done deal yet, but it most likely will be. Next the Russian sanctions will end by executive decree because Trump likes to imagine that he is a strong man, despite the fact that he is just a corrupt bombastic pawn.

Once again the president exerts his executive power as if Congress does not exist. He does not see this as breaking an oath to uphold the Constitution because he sees the executive branch as all-powerful and he finally has a Chief Justice who agrees with this self-serving interpretation of our founding documents. Once again the president of America chooses to please Putin in Russia and Erdogan in Turkey, both “strong men.”

We have been wary of backing these men because their goals in Europe (and now in the world) are imperialistic as well as political, and because the spread of authoritarianism was something we have opposed for decades as democracy offered the world more freedoms. Now that capitalism has spread everywhere, perhaps we see that greed was our true goal, and now that we achieved our economic goals our humanistic goals of encouraging nations towards democracy have become expendable.

So we remain silent as the citizens of Hong Kong demonstrate to preserve freedoms they already own from being taken away. China’s business is China’s business, until one day in the not-so-distant future it becomes our business. We don’t want a war with China, but we should take a principled stand in support of human freedoms and telegraph that we mean what we say. We do not usually knuckle under to dictators until now when the economy of the entire world is so tied to the new capitalist China that stock portfolios trump humanitarianism.

China has also become a bit scary. It is so big and it is a giant machine run by one man. There is no way to be disloyal to the leader in China except from jail or from exile. Capitalism run by one leader is intimidating enough; the thought of a military with unlimited human resources run by one leader who demands absolute loyalty is terrifying. If we are afraid to stand up to China on the small things, I think we can one day expect to have to face this giant on some fairly big things, or perhaps we will just capitulate and keep our thoughts to ourselves. Isn’t love of freedom the reason we are usually not nice to dictators?

Of course we can’t have this conversation without a few words about North Korea and the mythic-dispenser-of-cruelty-to-his-own people, and dictator supposedly in a “love affair with our President. Sometimes people are so convinced of their own deity that no amount of “tough love” will change the way they behave. North Korea is a bit quieter but it could be a silence that is covering up a plan to treat the world to some future dastardly deeds with killer results.

It is difficult to believe that someone as egomaniacal as Kim Jong-Un plans to go peacefully into the sunset. Exactly what his plans are it is difficult to discern but if he ever teams up with Russia, China, and Turkey he will have access to some pretty enormous pieces of world real estate and whatever assets and weapons the leaders of these nations choose to grant him. Perhaps this is the reason that Trump thinks cozying up to all of these nations is a necessity right now. Sadly what seems to be the case is that he would like to become a member of this “strong man” group.

Goodbye freedom. Goodbye Republic. Goodbye democracy and free speech, including freedom of the press. Learn to follow orders blindly and just do the tasks assigned to you by the Big Brothers and you will be fine. Life will be a grim business and mercifully short. This could be our future if we don’t figure this out now. This is what being nice to dictators wins us.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – BBC

Know Your Dictators 5 -Recep Tayyip Erdogan – Turkey

As with many authoritarian leaders Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Turkey) did not start out as a dictatorial leader. He began as a leader who promised relief from “old school” leadership. Western powers thought he “seemed like a bridge between cultures”. (Drexel Filkins in The New Yorker). As Governor of Istanbul he had been “charismatic” and “a smart technocrat”. But by 2017 he was the President of Turkey and he declared himself a winner in a very close referendum. “It all brings Turkish Democracy to an end.” (New Yorker).

He gave himself vast new powers: he took control of the judiciary, he acquired the ability to make laws by decree, he abolished the office of Prime Minister, and he abolished Turkey’s parliamentary system. He got his new handpicked parliament to pass a law that allowed him to run for two more five year terms, and his “pocket” parliament could extend this until 2034. These are textbook moves these days for turning a democracy into a dictatorship.

He then quelled demonstrations with arrests and bullets and, as most authoritarian leaders manage to do, he created a “government of fear and intimidation”. (New Yorker)

After the coup in July, 2016 (either real or staged) 40,000 people were detained -150 of them journalists, 100,000 employees were fired, and 179 television stations, newspapers and other media outlets were closed. Again, pretty classic stuff.

“Half the country loves him, and half the country loathes him.” (James Jeffreys, a former US Ambassador to Turkey tells the New Yorker). (Sound familiar?)

2007 even saw Erdogan touting a conspiracy theory that there was a secret cabal (“Ergenekon”) that opposed him, made up of the secular elite that formerly led Turkey.

Simon Tisdall writing in in April, 2018, is writing just before the most recent election/“referendum” which Erdogan won by a landslide. Mr. Tisdall says that these leaders who claim to be democratic all have a similar mantra, “You vote, I win.” The Washington Post wrote that “Erdogan is transforming Turkey into a totalitarian prison” where it is a crime to tweet. Although their numbers differ from those in the Guardian, WaPo agrees that since the July, 2016 coup Erdogan “has embarked on a campaign of repression.” 600,000 have been arrested, 150,000 forced from jobs.

You cannot talk about Erdogan without mentioning opposition cleric, Fetullah Gulen, who now resides in Pennsylvania. The Turkish President is certain that Gulen is fomenting opposition to his rule and that he put together the coup attempt. The Washington Post also agrees that Erdogan has waged a multifront campaign against the media in a nation that once had a “robust” independent press.

The Washington Post, in a later article, goes on to discuss how Turkey’s relationship with the US has changed. We were almost (since 9/11) beginning to look at Turkey as a modern ally. “We once thought of Turkey as a buffer between Europe and the Middle East, and between the Middle East and Russia,” said the former Bush administration officials, James Jeffrey and Michael Singh.

But by the end of the Iraq war things had changed significantly. Turkey became a champion of Hamas, helped Iran evade Obama sanctions, complicated the fight in Syria, threatened to allow thousands of refugees to enter Europe, was refused admission to the EU, was guilty of provocative violations of Greek air space, was buying an air defense system from the Russians, and refused to return American pastor, Andrew Brunson. “But it is hard to really lose an ally when it was not much of one to begin with,” says the author of this Washington Post article, Steven Cook.

There’s more. Recently the Turkish economy is having trouble with the value of its currency, the lira. President Erdogan has made some decisions about raising interest rates and inflation which are putting pressure on the people of Turkey. Turkey is home to many poor people and economic inequality is even more pronounced than it is in America. Turkey’s leader finds his paranoia building. He always felt that America might have assisted Gulen with the 2016 coup and now Trump has put tariffs on steel and aluminum. Things are feeling a bit tense. In addition, Turkey may have let capitalists talk the country into lots of high rise buildings which are unfinished, and which no one can afford to rent. Even the new Turkish airport is a very expensive project which is only partially completed. Hopefully Erdogan will get over his paranoia and listen to some better financial advisors soon. No one wants Turkey to be a dictatorial state at all, but especially one with a failed economy.

What is difficult to understand, and this is me talking, is how these authoritarian men I have been writing about come to believe that they are so brilliant and infallible and beloved that they can run a nation of millions of people all by themselves? Have we profiled the dictatorial mind? Can we tell in advance who is a little too impressed with his (and maybe someday her) own importance? Why do dictators generally turn paranoid and then punitive towards their own people?

Why are some people unable to give up power once they get it? And why hasn’t the world learned its lessons and found a way to keep people with these particular personality flaws out of power? George Washington was never in love with power and he resigned rather than accept a new term in office, but he knew all about the power trips of the English Kings (and a few Queens). He tried to protect America from those who might be hungry for power, but now we are faced with a dilemma similar to what we are seeing around the globe. How have we let this dangerous pattern get started in America. Are we certain that we will be able to prevent what has happened in far too many nations from happening here? People on news talk shows keep reassuring us that our country is resilient enough to survive a little flirtation with fascism. You think…?

So keep an eye on Turkey because chaos there may be contagious.

Photo Credits: From a Google Image Search, Toronto Star, Journal du Cameroun