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Thursday, 16 June 2011

LSE event on Turkey in the World

I went last night to an LSE event on Turkey in the World, following the weekend's re-election for a third term of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. A very interesting discussion that can now be viewed online. The sort of reasoned, academic discussion on foreign policy that really should be an example to us all. Nobody shouted, nobody booed, nobody denounced anybody...And it was about all issues in the region, without overly focusing on Israel/Palestine, which, when it was discussed, was at least discussed (mostly) reasonably.

At the end, Professor Michael Cox expressed surprise that nobody had asked a question about the US, suggesting that this might signify declining American power. I'm not sure that I entirely buy the idea of declining US power, and I was actually planning to ask about US-Turkish relations if called to ask a question. Actually, I was dithering as to whether to ask about Turkey's relations with the US, with China (which someone asked about anyway) or with Russia, given that Russia might be adopting a more assertive role in Turkey's region. Right on cue then comes this Russian/Chinese statement on Libya, in the wake of a Russian envoy's efforts to broker a ceasefire in Tripoli, not to mention Foreign Secretary William Hague's telling Newsnight that Russia's "alliance with Syria" is a major factor in determining UK policy on Syria, as well as the strong comments (in London) of the Russian Ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, who also had much to say about missile defence (reasonably enough, as that's why he was here).

Last night's Newsnight (about nine minutes, twenty-five seconds in) included a fascinating, lengthy report on the British (and Western) response to the Arab Spring, including Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles' suggestion that the West has lost the moral high ground in the Middle East. Given that, over the past century or so, the British, French and Americans have taken a somewhat bracing approach to the defence of their interests in the region, I'm not sure that we ever had the moral high ground there, let alone having now lost it.

Echoing some of his previous comments elsewhere, Sir Sherard, a former British Ambassador to Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Israel, cited the West's failure to solve the problems of Israel/Palestine as one reason for our apparent fall from the moral high ground. So it's 'our failure' to solve the problems of Israel/Palestine that is the reason for us not occupying the moral high ground in the Middle East - not 'our failure' to end gender apartheid in Saudi Arabia, not 'our failure' to end the abuse of migrant workers in Dubai, not 'our failure' to protect the region's persecuted Christians - here we go again, back to the discredited argument that the Israeli/Arab conflict is not just one of the most important issues in the Middle East, but somehow the issue, that trumps all others.

Yes, let's do what we can to bring peace to Israel/Palestine, and can we start by acknowledging the huge amount that the Americans and Europeans are already doing? David Hale has just visited Israel as the new (acting) US Middle East envoy, while EU foreign policy chief Baroness (Catherine) Ashton is there now. Huge efforts are being made on this, especially in comparison to those other conflicts that tend to be largely ignored. It would be marvellous, incidentally, if the West's efforts in this regard were complemented by something more from the Arab League than a bald declaration that there's no point trying to talk any more - and look what some Palestinians are now saying about the Arab League.

Nor, incidentally, do I buy Sir Sherard's suggestion on Newsnight that Turkey has a neo-Ottoman foreign policy.

If you're interested, by the way, Richard Millett has blogged here about another LSE lecture, by Professor Benny Morris, earlier in the week.

UPDATE on Saturday 18 June: I was disturbed to read that Prime Minister Erdogan had, during his re-election campaign, reportedly said that an article in the Economist which criticised him for his authoritarian tendencies had been placed by "the Israeli lobby and Jewish capital". So the Prime Minister of Turkey is saying that the Economist ran the article not because it was a reflection of what the paper's staff  think, but because rich and powerful Jews have put them up to it. It is profoundly depressing to hear Mr Erdogan lending his voice to such a gross anti-Jewish conspiracy theory.

UPDATE on Tuesday 21 June 2011: Good to see signs of an outbreak of common sense in Israeli-Turkish relations.


  1. The report that was launched at the LSE event you went to Matthew can be read at and it's well worth a look.

  2. Thanks very much, I shall look it with interest