Thursday, July 29, 2010

Andrew Sullivan Attacks Me Without Bothering to Consider What I Wrote

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By Barry Rubin

One of the amazing things about the intellectual scene today is that people attack you without any reference to what you actually say. It is as if you were talking to someone deaf who has his hearing aid turned off. You want to explain that there must be a misunderstanding only to find that the person doesn't care: he just wants to scream insults at you so that nobody actually considers whether you are making an accurate point.

When I was growing up, someone considered your actual arguments and responded to them with rational arguments of their own. Some of us still do that. I wrote a serious and sober analysis of what was wrong with the UK prime minister's speech in Turkey, focusing on the basic misunderstanding of proper diplomatic leverage.

Instead, Andrew Sullivan writes:

"Barry Rubin joins the chorus from the neocon right claiming that `Turkey is on the enemy side.'"

Let's consider this sentence. First, rather than argue the facts he merely throws in two words intended to get people to demonize me and not listen to anything I say: neocon right. Hey, nothing more need be said! But the central question should be whether the original statement was true or not, right?

Then there's that word "joins." I've been studying Turkey now for 35 years. I've been there about 25 times. Regarding the direction of the regime, I've been saying the same thing for about two years, long before there was a collapse of Turkish-Israel relations.

If I've joined anyone it's the Turkish socialists and liberals. Here's one of many examples: a Turkish woman from the left who angrily told me, "We've been warning the West about these people for years and the West just won't listen."

In fact, though, I think I was the first person to say that the Turkish regime (NOT Turkey) has gone over to the other side. I have written literally dozens of articles proving it. I have quoted Iran's leader and Syria's government as having publicly stated it. Might Sullivan want to consult the evidence I have compiled? Of course not.

And then he makes a remarkably revealing illogical argument:

"It was once a given on the right that keeping Turkey close to the West was essential in defusing Islamism and winning the war on terror. But once Turkey took on Israel, that ended, because the war many neocons are waging is for Israel, right or wrong, not the West at large."

This has an implication of antisemitism, doesn't it? He's saying that people are only angry at Turkey's rulers because they have fallen out with Israel, referring mainly to the flotilla issue. This makes me think of the argument in the 1930s that people were only critical of Germany because they were Jews or only cared about Jewish interests.

Yes, it has been a given on both left, center, and right that keeping Turkey close to the West was essential. Yet what if the Turkish regime is no longer close to the West? Everyone's opinion is still the same, it's the situation that's changed. To ignore that change is incredibly dangerous. Indeed, I'd say that Turkey's change of sides (perhaps temporary) is the biggest defeat suffered by the West in the Middle East since the Iranian revolution.

So how to keep Turkey close to the West? Act to constrain the current regime and, in appropriate ways of course, to help the opposition win the elections a year from now. Cheering the current regime, letting it claim that the West accepts its policies, assists that increasingly dictatorial government to remain in power.

And if it does fall as I hope?  Oh, dear! Then Turkey would have a socialist prime minister instead of a right-wing Islamist one. Seems to me that's what Western liberals and the left should prefer.

As for the claim that it's all about Israel, in fact, I have been talking for months about:

--Internal repression in Turkey, including the arrests of hundreds of peaceful dissidents on charges of attempting to overthrow the government with violence. Turks have been writing eloquently about this issue.

--The regime's campaign to bring the media and court system under government control. The regime and its supporters have bought up much of the media and intimidated the rest. It is now proposing constitutional changes to cripple the judiciary. People in Turkey are scared. Many say they no longer recognize their country.

--Turkish regime support for Iran and its nuclear weapons' program. This now includes cutting a separate deal with Tehran against U.S. wishes and voting against sanctions. The prime minister has stated that Iran is not seeking nuclear weapons, therefore calling President Obama a liar.

--Close Turkish cooperation with Syria. The regime does not have a "pro-Arab" policy (ask the Egyptian, Jordan, or Saudi governments in private), it has a pro-Arabic-speaking Islamists policy.

--The regime's engagement with Hamas and Hizballah and support for these two revolutionary Islamist groups. As I have pointed out, the regime does NOT support the "Palestinian people" but merely Hamas, a fellow Islamist party.

Much of my material has come from the Turkish opposition, mainly Kemalist secularists and democratic socialists.

Yet none of this matters, right? It's only all about Israel, we are supposed to believe, and talking about everything else is just an excuse!

Sullivan has, however, taught me something important: why such people must keep harping on Israel. Forget about the canary in the coal mine analogy. The Israel card's use is to make people blind, to shut them up, to throw out every other issue and piece of evidence.

They hope that anti-Israel passion (plus dark hints of a Jewish conspiracy) will keep people from actually looking at what's happening. In the phrase of Professor Richard Landes, Israel is a weapon of mass destruction. And the Jews have filled this function many times before in history.

On top of this, my article's theme and tone are quite different from his claims. Here are the key sentences from my article:

"Suppose you are the British prime minister going to Turkey, or to just about any country. What should you say? The theme should be: We can cooperate and do mutually beneficial things. Here’s what I can do for you; here’s what I’d like you to do for me. And here’s what you must not do in order to reap the benefits of my friendship and favor.

"Obviously, you need to dress that up in appropriate language. But everything should be conditional. The message to be delivered is that it is in your interest to respect my interests....

"Cameron then goes on and makes it clear that Turkey would be doing the EU a favor by joining it, not the tiniest hint of leverage, that Turkish membership might depend on the regime’s behavior. He could have said:

"While I, of course, support you, the path would be easier if…. Followed by some polite and proper hints done with full British charm."

Does that sound like a call for war?

Mr. Sullivan: There is something in diplomacy between war and appeasement. It is called carrots and sticks, costs and benefits, quid pro quo. Cameron's speech was a mess because he abandoned that principle and resorted only to simple-minded flattery. Middle Eastern peoples--Muslim or otherwise--know what that signals: weakness, which invites ridicule and aggressiveness.

Sullivan also ignores my point--which I think is rather significant--that Cameron foolishly insulted France and Germany by strongly implying that the only reason they oppose Turkey's EU membership is because they are bigots. If Sullivan had been Britain's prime minister I guess he would have called them "neocon rightists."

If Cameron had not mentioned Israel at all I would have written precisely the same article on all these points.

Sullivan continued:

"Keep it up, prime minister. Advance the interests of Britain, and resist the war of civilizations the far right wants to gin up. We will only defeat Islamism if we keep an open hand stretched to Islam. Isolating and demonizing Turkey's evolution as a regional Muslim power - prepared to be Israel's ally if Israel stops the persecution and colonization of the Palestinans - is about as dumb a geo-strategic move as one could imagine."

The issue is not a "war of civilizations" but a war of ideologies. Is Sullivan really so dense that he doesn't understand that the people most similar to him in Turkey hate and fear the current regime? Doesn't Sullivan understand that the governments of most Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East don't want the West to support the Islamists?

(Here's a list: Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Kuwait. And even the Palestinian Authority and the democratic forces in Lebanon. These are almost all Muslims, too, aren't they? And then let's add the majority of Muslims in Turkey and in Iran as well!)

Turkey is not evolving into being a regional Muslim power as some kind of national project. This is in fact the policy of one party in Turkey which has less than 30 percent support according to recent public opinion polls, with probably twice as many Turks favoring non-Islamist opposition parties.

And what does deifying the current Turkish government have to do with keeping an "open hand stretched to Islam"? Almost all Turks are Muslims, they just aren't political Islamists. That's why the West gets along with Egypt, Jordan, and even Saudi Arabia, for example, who are all Muslims but not on the side of Iran, Syria, Hamas, and Hizballah.

It was a Socialist leader who once said that antisemitism was the socialism of fools. Today, the insane use of Israel as the cause of all issues and problems is the tool used to make fools on the left support the most reactionary forces on the Middle Eastern extreme right. And then, to make it laughable, they do so in the name of fighting evil rightists!

Incidentally, don't think I didn't notice Sullivan's sleazy little trick: he didn't link to my article so those reading his blog item could easily check out what I actually said rather than what he claimed. That's the kind of behavior that tells a great deal about Sullivan's intellectual dishonesty.

Update: Sullivan apparently read this article and added the link. I hope he learned something.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports, at

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