Saturday, January 28, 2012
By Barry Rubin
Jackson Diehl is by far the best journalist writing in the mass media about the Middle East. In a recent column he tries to find some middle ground between the dominant ideas--that Islamist regimes are no problem at all and that the Muslim Brotherhood is really moderate—and what he defines as a too extreme conservative and Republican analysis.
While I don’t quite agree with him, there is much of merit in his dichotomy. We should all learn from it even though I’m going to suggest that it needs to be adjusted. Even if Obama's critics are on the right side about the Middle East and generally understand what's happening, many of them also make factual and analytical mistakes that undermine their credibility and may sometimes subvert their policies if they win office.
In addition, Diehl reminds us (how rarely that happens nowadays!) how good it feels to debate with people who actually think about the issues and cite evidence even if we disagree with them. He actually believes that there is merit on both sides of the argument, again an attempt at balance that often seems close to extinction in this sad era.
Diehl begins with a highly critical account of a Fox news host and Governor Rick Perry’s hard-hitting but flawed account of contemporary Turkey.
The former said of Turkey—in Diehl’s view, a “mostly accurate but extremely one-sided description”—that since an “Islamist-oriented party took over . . . the murder rate of women has increased 1,400 percent. Press freedom has declined to the level of Russia. [Prime Minister Recep Erdogan] has embraced Hamas, and Turkey has threatened military force against both Israel and Cyprus.”
Diehl provides what he sees to be the other side, that the Turkish government:
“has just stationed an advanced radar on its territory that could be used to track and shoot down missiles from Iran; that joined the NATO operaiton against Moammar Gaddafi [sic] in Libya; that has become the host of the opposition to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad; and that, having repeatedly won free democratic elections, amended Turkey’s constitution to expand rights for women, ethnic minorities and unions.”
Diehl, to his credit (it’s amazing how rare any balanced account is in the mass media nowadays!) continues, “that, too, was a one-sided account of the Erdogan record. But that is precisely the point: Turkey has become a complex, dynamic, difficult, sometimes infuriating, sometimes very helpful and indisputably important ally of the United States.”
Now Diehl presented five items as being to the credit of Erdogan’s regime. But let’s take them one at a time: