No Easy Answers For Syrian Refugees in Turkey

 

640px-Aleppians_waiting_in_a_bread_line_during_the_Syrian_civil_warI have a lot of problems to overcome in trying to convince readers to think and — more meaningfully — to do something about this.

The first is convincing people that another country’s problems with immigration, legal and illegal, are worth attention when ours are severe, pressing, real, and tearing us apart.

The second is convincing people that Turkey’s problems, in particular, are worth attention: not much of a secret that Turkey’s gone, in the public mind, from “most excellent ally” to “utterly screwed up and no friend of ours.” (Neither are quite right, but the upshot is that I’m trying to get people to be interested in something they’re not, naturally, going to think of as “our problem.”)

The third is that what I’m about to describe is simply horrible and ugly, and the human mind doesn’t want to dwell on such things. What’s more, it may be something over which we have no control, and it’s very easy to default to the “can’t do a thing about it” position through exhaustion and fatalism. (I know this better than anyone, I reckon.)

The fourth is that the source of the report I’m about to discuss is Amnesty International, which has sadly squandered some of its credibility over the years. The reasons for that would be a detour to discuss, but I’m sure most of you know the basics. Amnesty’s reputation regarding Turkey is particularly poor, which makes things even more problematic.

All of that said and recognized — fully — my instinct is that the report I received from Amnesty yesterday (I’m still on lots of mailing lists about Turkey) should get attention. It seems credible and well-sourced, and probably contains much that’s true. I cannot say confidently that everything in it is true. But let’s suppose, and this is rational, that thirty percent of it is true. If so, it would be too fatalistic, by far, to say, “Nothing can be done.”

I read it all, start to finish, which wasn’t at all good for my happiness (cf. my previous posts about being happier not knowing). But there are considerations here that may be a bit more important than “Claire Berlinski’s happiness.”

The major points are these:

While Turkey has officially opened its border crossings to Syrian refugees, the reality for many of those trying to escape the ravages of war is a different story. Many are pushed back into the war zone with some even facing live fire.

Turkey is host to half of the 3.2 million women, men and children who have fled violence, persecution and other human rights violations in Syria. So far Turkey says it has spent $4billion on the refugee crisis. Meanwhile up until the end of October 2014, only 28 per cent of the $497million earmarked for Turkey in the UN’s 2014 regional funding appeal for Syrians has been committed by international donors.

Turkey, along with the other neighbouring countries– Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt – host 97 per cent of Syria’s refugees.

Don’t read the details unless you’ve got a strong stomach. But honestly, get a strong stomach, because what they’re saying is, I strongly suspect, happening. For real. To real human beings. And what those words represent, in terms of unimaginable human suffering, is not something from which we can all avert our eyes, is it? Not without becoming almost psychopathically indifferent?

In response, Amnesty is basically calling for other countries to give money to Turkey to help. That’s their idea of the basic outline to the solution. I am well aware that “Give lots of money to Turkey” is just obviously not going to be a political winner in the US right now. For obvious reasons.

But it may, in fact, be the right thing to do, or the best thing that can be done under the circumstances. “Giving money” would of course need to be coupled with a major effort to independently corroborate what Amnesty is saying, and very strong pressure to use that money well and to stop doing things such as, say, shooting children to stem the refugee tide. I can’t say how much all of that, in conjunction, would work. But can you think of a better idea?

I am more than open to the idea that this money should come from private donations, not from further coercing taxpayers. But quite doubtful that it will, and unsure what kind of vehicle for this would be most effective. Any ideas?

In anticipation of some of the points that might be raised (or, anyway, points I’ve raised with myself):

  1. “Hey, the world is full of suffering, we’ve done enough, we’re going broke fast, we’re demonstrably not good at alleviating the rest of the world’s suffering. Besides, Turkey is an absolute headache.” Yeah, I get that. Believe me I do. But is that a morally serious answer?
  2. “This is a political non-starter, Claire. Focus on what you could actually change.” I have that feeling, for sure. But the truth is that I don’t know that, as a fact.
  3. “This is utterly depressing. That part of the world is so pathologically screwed-up that even thinking about it damages our emotional health, so don’t do it. You don’t help anything by going out of your mind. In fact, you just become yet another problem for someone else to solve.” Yeah, sounds good. Sounds right. And I tried that, but the end result was feeling monstrously and deliberately callous in the face of reality, which is also not good for emotional health. Or spiritual health, for that matter.
  4. “Those refugees are probably bad people who deserve it, or not so good that they should be our focus.” I am not for a moment saying that this is what I officially believe or that this is what anyone here would say, but I think this can at some unspoken level become an unconscious default assumption; frankly, I think it has for many of us, including me. And that isn’t really acceptable, is it? Keep in mind that the majority of these people are children (Amnesty says “majority.” Is that true? I don’t know. But I’d put money on “a lot of them”).

No, I do not know for sure how to solve this or if it’s soluble. I just know that “ignoring it” isn’t sitting right with me, in the end.

Ideas?

This isn’t an invitation to vent about how awful Turkey; believe me, I’d join in if I thought that would be useful. But it wouldn’t be, nor would it be fair. They’ve done more than anyone else to help these refugees. Still, no country — good or awful — can be expected to absorb a flood of refugees like that without strain. “Strain” is a mild and euphemistic word for what is, in all likelihood, happening, and what looks very likely to get worse.

“Nightmare” is probably closer.

 

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  1. user_428379 Thatcher
    user_428379
    @AlSparks

    You came from Turkey, so it hits home for you.  But I see (on television from the comfort of my couch) all sorts of hotspots around the world with similar hardships.

    Why this one?

    • #1
  2. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    What is needed is a book about foreign policy that actually talks about what actually goes on: what all those people in the State Department actually do; what all those resolutions and committees at the UN and associated institutions actually do; what the NGO’s actually do, both on the ground and in the talking-shops. We’re talking about a process that implicates millions of people, trillions of dollars and the fate of nations — and, yes, real human beings — but can anyone explain what the transmission belt is between a phone-call to my local representative and the continued health of the children in your picture?

    Separately, and not to get into gratuitous Turk-bashing, but won’t Erdogan’s palace cost $615 million?

    • #2
  3. user_645 Editor
    user_645
    @Claire

    Al Sparks:You came from Turkey, so it hits home for you. But I see (on television from the comfort of my couch) all sorts of hotspots around the world with similar hardships.

    Why this one?

    I don’t have an airtight answer to that question. I’ve asked myself.

    One response is a bit of a Hallmark-card cliche, but it’s also got reality in it, as many cliches do. About seven years ago, I found a litter of kittens in Istanbul who were clearly going to die if I didn’t bring them home and care for them–forever, with all the responsibility and cost that entails. I knew more than enough about the fate of stray animals in Turkey to know what their fate would be, and more than enough about what my fate would be if I adopted five more cats. The friend who was with me at the time, watching me try to figure out what to do, said–correctly–“Claire, you can’t save every animal in Turkey.”

    Nope, I couldn’t. But I saved them. They’re right here with me, right now.

    That said–people aren’t pets. These aren’t cute kittens, they are human beings. So I don’t know how relevant that is. Is it more relevant? Less?

    • #3
  4. user_645 Editor
    user_645
    @Claire

    genferei:What is needed is a book about foreign policy that actually talks about what actually goes on: what all those people in the State Department actually do; what all those resolutions and committees at the UN and associated institutions actually do; what the NGO’s actually do, both on the ground and in the talking-shops. We’re talking about a process that implicates millions of people, trillions of dollars and the fate of nations — and, yes, real human beings — but can anyone explain what the transmission belt is between a phone-call to my local representative and the continued health of the children in your picture?

    1) Think that would actually help? I’ll do it if it would.

    Separately, and not to get into gratuitous Turk-bashing, but won’t Erdogan’s palace cost $615 million?

    2) You want Erdoğan-bashing, I am your go-to source. No one would have to work to persuade me. I can say what I think about the man in words that–literally, I think–are uglier than any I know in English. There are some excellent reasons that I don’t live there anymore. But I don’t think the kids in question are to blame.

    • #4
  5. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    Claire Berlinski: Think that would actually help? I’ll do it if it would.

    Perhaps a less insider version of this might be a start. The Embassy – A Study of How Foreign Affairs Really Works, with the US Embassy in Paris – the oldest one – as a jumping off point. (From Paris you can get to the OECD, the EU, the Congo etc. Nice Ben Franklin tie-ins, too.)

    What does a G12 do all day? Why is this particular one there? What does she hope to do? Those Marine honor guards – what are they allowed to do? Who provides the briefing papers the folks who are helping to draft the treaties are using? Does anyone actually notice a change in Secretary of State? Who maintains the website, twitter feed and facebook page of the Embassy? Why? How long have Pierre and Mahmoud been waiting for their green card applications to process? What proportion of the people in the building have Top Secret clearance? Who was involved in formulating the recent OECD tax information sharing proposals? Is the influence of the Congressional committees felt on the ground? Not very coherent, sorry. But just a few stops on ligne 1.

    What the world doesn’t need is another discussion of realism vs. whatever in foreign affairs.

    • #5
  6. hawk@haakondahl.com Inactive
    hawk@haakondahl.com
    @BallDiamondBall

    Of course the kids in question are not to blame. Neither are American kids who go without. Neither are Mexican kids abused in ways ranging from amnesty-baiting abandonment to prostitution and torture. Neither are Honduran kids laundered through cartel pipelines to America. Neither are the victims of Islamic rape conditioning in northern England. Neither are the kids directly threatened or outright killed by ISIS in Iraq. Neither are the child brides and dancing boys (all child sex slaves) throughout this part of the world. Neither are the girls abducted by Boko Haram.
    Neither are the orphaned and unborn children of America’s war dead. But we’ll scratch that concern in order to keep our libertarian friends on board.

    Genferei’s point is not that the kids are to blame. Do you actually believe that is what he meant? Are you just offering a flip rejoinder? Are you trying to shame or bait him into acting without thinking, just to avoid your scorn?
    I won’t speak for Genferei, but I take his point to mean that those kids are not in a vacuum. They are in Turkey.
    Turkey says it has spent some money on this. And well they should. Turkey opposes us, opposes Israel, and is not exactly objective when it comes to outcomes their borders.
    We spend money, lives, and our ridiculously inadequate moral authority to try to make things better over there, and we spoil it from home, while Turkey cannot be bothered to let us move troops through their territory.
    The one thing we know for certain about sending money to the middle east is that if Americans are not handling the funds, it goes directly to bad guys. If Americans are handling the funds, it goes indirectly to bad guys. There is no win in this. What shall we do — send money to Turkey while pretending re-liberate Iraq, or Syria, or Turkey for that matter?

    Words have meanings. Elections have consequences. The people of America created ISIS out of thin air when they elected a commander in chief with a platform of quit and lose in Iraq, surrendering all that was gained and ruining that which was possible, while urinating on the graves of our dead and the Iraqis alike. Children and all. ISIS is what we said would happen, and it is happening.
    At which point do we “blame the children” by following through on the epic pullback of His Excellency Colonel Obama’s America from the world stage?
    —–
    I hate this, of course. I have accepted defeat, but I cannot make my peace with signing up to repeat the experience. Fool me once — we won’t get fooled again. The Caliphate is terrorizing more of the Islamic world which cannot bring itself to admit it has a problem. So we should send money to Turkey? Of course it’s not the children’s fault. OF COURSE NOT! But whose fault is it?

    If you want to send money, understand why. Do it as reparations from a fickle, lying empire of politics and feathered nests to the people we abandoned. And when you’re done with that, swing by Arlington.

    • #6
  7. user_645 Editor
    user_645
    @Claire

    genferei:

    Claire Berlinski: Think that would actually help? I’ll do it if it would.

    Perhaps a less insider version of this might be a start. The Embassy – A Study of How Foreign Affairs Really Works, with the US Embassy in Paris – the oldest one – as a jumping off point. (From Paris you can get to the OECD, the EU, the Congo etc. Nice Ben Franklin tie-ins, too.)

    What does a G12 do all day? Why is this particular one there? What does she hope to do? Those Marine honor guards – what are they allowed to do? Who provides the briefing papers the folks who are helping to draft the treaties are using? Does anyone actually notice a change in Secretary of State? Who maintains the website, twitter feed and facebook page of the Embassy? Why? How long have Pierre and Mahmoud been waiting for their green card applications to process? What proportion of the people in the building have Top Secret clearance? Who was involved in formulating the recent OECD tax information sharing proposals? Is the influence of the Congressional committees felt on the ground? Not very coherent, sorry. But just a few stops on ligne 1.

    What the world doesn’t need is another discussion of realism vs. whatever in foreign affairs.

    I think I agree with you. And so does my brother, for what it’s worth.

    • #7
  8. user_645 Editor
    user_645
    @Claire

    Ball Diamond Ball:

    Genferei’s point is not that the kids are to blame. Do you actually believe that is what he meant?

    Not for a second. But I think many do feel that their distaste for the Turkish government is so great that they’ll be damned if a penny goes to it, no matter what it’s for.

    I’m not sure that money should go through the usual routes, if help is to get where it’s needed. I think this calls for some creativity, some real effort to figure out whether there’s a way to help that does help.

    And perhaps my point is that yes, we should scream at each other about who’s fault it is–and that does need to be done, don’t get me wrong–but maybe we can also figure out if there’s any rational way to help.

    • #8
  9. Roberto Member
    Roberto
    @Roberto

    Claire Berlinski:Ideas?

    Currently US bilateral assistance to the Palestinians amounts to several hundred million a year. As matters stand the governance of the Palestinian territories is in the hands of an acknowledged terrorist organization therefore perhaps this is an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone as it were.

    I think a proposal put forward in Congress along these lines could find a significant level of support,  “Until such a time as the Palestinian authorities rid themselves of terrorist elements all foreign aid to Palestine is to be redirected to the relief Syrian refugees who have fled to Turkey.”

    That would stir up a nice hornets nest on Capital Hill and within the administration in more ways than one.

    • #9
  10. user_82762 Thatcher
    user_82762
    @JamesGawron

    Claire,

    The Obama Administration has no foreign policy. When the Syrian crisis was heating up, that was the time for a rapprochement with Turkey. The refugee problem was already massive and Syrian artillery was hitting Turkish soil. Turkey is a very secular country and thus a natural ally no matter how much nonsense Erdogan wants to peddle.

    The natural solution was The Turkish Army, The Saudi Air Force, plus an American stealth attack with command and control follow up. Everybody on the right was too interested in playing the Sunni against the Shiites to listen to me. Meanwhile, Obama wanted a rapprochement with Iran. The rabbit undoubtedly wants a rapprochement with the boa constrictor. Nobody told the rabbit that it was lunch.

    Sometimes war is like surgery, however violent in appearance, it saves lives in the long run. In this case, we are already at the long run and into a longer run.

    I’m sorry, I’m not being helpful here. If you sense the frustration in the above sentences you are not wrong.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #10
  11. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    There were a similar number of Afghan refugees in Pakistan (and almost as many in Iran) for something like thirty years.  Pakistan is much poorer than Turkey, with a much unhealthier polity by almost every count.  How were those refugees cared for despite Pakistan’s many troubles, and without propping up any single Pakistani administration?  Perhaps that’s a good way to go forward.

    • #11
  12. user_645 Editor
    user_645
    @Claire

    Zafar:There were a similar number of Afghan refugees in Pakistan (and almost as many in Iran) for something like thirty years. Pakistan is much poorer than Turkey, with a much unhealthier polity by almost every count. How were those refugees cared for despite Pakistan’s many troubles, and without propping up any single Pakistani administration? Perhaps that’s a good way to go forward.

    Yes, it is. That’s a very interesting idea. And I don’t know much about the answer. Let me learn more, and if you can point me in the direction of sources for learning more, that would be very helpful.

    • #12
  13. hawk@haakondahl.com Inactive
    hawk@haakondahl.com
    @BallDiamondBall

    Zafar:There were a similar number of Afghan refugees in Pakistan (and almost as many in Iran) for something like thirty years. Pakistan is much poorer than Turkey, with a much unhealthier polity by almost every count. How were those refugees cared for despite Pakistan’s many troubles, and without propping up any single Pakistani administration? Perhaps that’s a good way to go forward.

    Zafar, I constitutionally disagree with you right down to your noodles, but I think you’re on to something there.

    • #13
  14. hawk@haakondahl.com Inactive
    hawk@haakondahl.com
    @BallDiamondBall

    Claire Berlinski:

    Ball Diamond Ball:

    Genferei’s point is not that the kids are to blame. Do you actually believe that is what he meant?

    Not for a second. But I think many do feel that their distaste for the Turkish government is so great that they’ll be damned if a penny goes to it, no matter what it’s for. *

    I’m not sure that money should go through the usual routes, if help is to get where it’s needed. I think this calls for some creativity, some real effort to figure out whether there’s a way to help that does help.

    And perhaps my point is that yes, we should scream at each other about who’s fault it is–and that does need to be done, don’t get me wrong–but maybe we can also figure out if there’s any rational way to help.**

    * But that’s not what you said.  Your sole refutation of that point consisted in rebutting a straw man, that the children were held to blame by any who did not wish to send another penny into yet another Islamist hole. I wouldn’t stick so on this, except that it is the sort of casual slander received by conservatives day in and day out.  This is a lazy and contemptible media broad-brush attack.  It comes naturally, unintentionally no doubt, to some, and not to others, this hanging of dead children about the necks of conservatives who “blame them” for the sins of some regime or another, unless of course we agree to send money.

    A civil tone is no guarantor of civil conduct, and is frequently camouflage for despicable attacks.

    **How is any of this not simply progressive agitation for some way to be smarter than all of recorded history, but start with the paying now please Comrade?  Let us funnel money through bad men to help children.  You may recall, we in effect did this with differential sanctions against Iraq, O, so long ago.  All it has done is kill Americans and elect communists.

    • #14
  15. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Ball Diamond Ball:

    Zafar:There were a similar number of Afghan refugees in Pakistan (and almost as many in Iran) for something like thirty years. Pakistan is much poorer than Turkey, with a much unhealthier polity by almost every count. How were those refugees cared for despite Pakistan’s many troubles, and without propping up any single Pakistani administration? Perhaps that’s a good way to go forward.

    Zafar, I constitutionally disagree with you right down to your noodles, but I think you’re on to something there.

    Well then there’s hope for one of us, right?

    • #15
  16. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Afghan refugees in Pakistan were (are still?) cared for by UNHCR – funded, largely, by the US.

    This probably worked at the time because the Soviets had kicked off the human movement by invading Afghanistan (1980?) – and the US was involved in containing and driving them back – by funding what morphed into the Taliban to fight a holy war against the Soviet Infidels, which involved using Pakistan’s territory as a base of operations (which, in turn, involved a lot of military and other aid to Pakistan).  And then the enemy in Afghanistan changed, but there were still a lot of Afghan refugees and Pakistan remained strategically vital (and therefore paid for).

    There are some significant similarities between Pakistan wrt Afghanistan and Turkey wrt Syria:

    • They both face neighbouring forces who threaten their territorial integrity.
    • They both are somewhat limited in the degree and open-ness of their response to this because parts of their own population are in ideological sympathy with these forces.
    • Otoh this sympathy with the neighbouring country (because Muslims) increases public acceptance of caring for refugees under UN auspices. (Iow so long as they aren’t out of pocket.)

    Differences:

    • The Pakistani State was (is?) dependent on US aid for survival.  This made for a lot of cooperation (overt or covert – though it had its limits, eg Osama).  Turkey is not so dependent – and its cooperation will come at a consequently higher price. (I suggest a FTA, which would be good for everybody.)
    • Pakistan has multiple power centres (ethnic/religious paramilitaries and political parties [including the Pakistani Taliban], the Army, the ISI) – which compete to dominate the country. One way of competing is to undercut other parts’ effectiveness in cooperating with the US. (You’re paying them and they can’t even deliver? Perhaps you should pay us instead, hmmm?)  This seems much less true for Turkey – though I suspect that the Army is less cowed than it currently appears – Turkey more or less functions as a single state with a single central authority.
    • Afghan refugees in Pakistan were mostly ethnic Pathans, and most of them remained in the Pathan parts of Pakistan – where they had tribal and family links.  Culturally they were not so disruptive – and therefore easier to accept and host.  The equivalent isn’t true for most Syrian refugees and most Turks.
    • Pakistan’s cooperativeness-encouraging fragility comes from having threatening neighbours on both sides of the country – conflict with one of which (India) has more or less defined the country since 1947.  Turkey has chaos on its Southern border, but there is no strong bordering State by which it is threatened – Turkey genuinely has more options.
    • Pakistan has the bomb.  It would be a serious setback for the US to lose Turkey but it would be catastrophic to lose Pakistan.

    Also

    Afghanistan’s alternatives to the Taliban are militarily weak – even the Northern Alliance doesn’t look like it’ll take the country if the Central Govt falls.  Syria, otoh, has a Central Govt that is slowly taking back the country – there are two strong contenders for Syria (Asad and ISIS). Afghanistan was simpler because there were fewer choices.

    And perhaps most importantly, there is a significant portion of public opinion in the US that believes that Islam (and by inference all Muslims) are at war with the US.  This may reduce public support for a US foreign policy that engages realistically with countries like Turkey, and (as a part of that) funds the care of (mostly Muslim) refugees.  It can be done, but perhaps the US public is just a not that interested in doing it?

    [James of England, come correct my mistakes!]

    • #16
  17. user_645 Editor
    user_645
    @Claire

    Ball Diamond Ball:Claire Berlinski:

    Ball Diamond Ball:

    Genferei’s point is not that the kids are to blame. Do you actually believe that is what he meant?

    Not for a second. But I think many do feel that their distaste for the Turkish government is so great that they’ll be damned if a penny goes to it, no matter what it’s for. *

    I’m not sure that money should go through the usual routes, if help is to get where it’s needed. I think this calls for some creativity, some real effort to figure out whether there’s a way to help that does help.

    And perhaps my point is that yes, we should scream at each other about who’s fault it is–and that does need to be done, don’t get me wrong–but maybe we can also figure out if there’s any rational way to help.**

    * But that’s not what you said. Your sole refutation of that point consisted in rebutting a straw man, that the children were held to blame by any who did not wish to send another penny into yet another Islamist hole. I wouldn’t stick so on this, except that it is the sort of casual slander received by conservatives day in and day out. This is a lazy and contemptible media broad-brush attack.

    OK, I’ll take the blame for it if that’s deserved–I’m open (reluctantly, but truly) to the idea that sometimes I write or say things that are lazy, contemptible, broad-brush attacks, or straw men. If on careful re-reading and reflection I agree–I’m capable of that, I hope–I’ll do penance of whatever kind you suggest. I didn’t consciously mean it to be any of those things, of course, but fully agree that I’m weak and imperfect and capable of all of those things. I will re-read what I wrote carefully and consider it in the light of your concern, assume it has might have some truth to it–or that at least that it could be seen that way by a reasonable person–and try to do better. I’m dead serious, by the way–this is not at all sarcastic. And if anyone else wants to weigh in, that perspective might help me stay in touch with reality and avoid just being defensive.

    But please don’t let that keep you from considering any points I may have made that are worth thinking about–because my weaknesses or argumentative failures are surely my fault, not the fault of the people I want to think about the possibility of helping, if it exists.


    • #17
  18. user_645 Editor
    user_645
    @Claire

    Zafar:Afghan refugees in Pakistan were (are still?) cared for by UNHCR – funded, largely, by the US.

    This probably worked at the time because the Soviets had kicked off the human movement by invading Afghanistan (1980?) – and the US was involved in containing and driving them back – by funding what morphed into the Taliban to fight a holy war against the Soviet Infidels, which involved using Pakistan’s territory as a base of operations (which, in turn, involved a lot of military and other aid to Pakistan). And then the enemy in Afghanistan changed, but there were still a lot of Afghan refugees and Pakistan remained strategically vital (and therefore paid for).

    There are some significant similarities between Pakistan wrt Afghanistan and Turkey wrt Syria:

    • They both face neighbouring forces who threaten their territorial integrity.
    • They both are somewhat limited in the degree and open-ness of their response to this because parts of their own population are in ideological sympathy with these forces.
    • Otoh this sympathy with the neighbouring country (because Muslims) increases public acceptance of caring for refugees under UN auspices. (Iow so long as they aren’t out of pocket.)

    Differences:

    • The Pakistani State was (is?) dependent on US aid for survival. This made for a lot of cooperation (overt or covert – though it had its limits, eg Osama). Turkey is not so dependent – and its cooperation will come at a consequently higher price. (I suggest a FTA, which would be good for everybody.)
    • Pakistan has multiple power centres (ethnic/religious paramilitaries and political parties [including the Pakistani Taliban], the Army, the ISI) – which compete to dominate the country. One way of competing is to undercut other parts’ effectiveness in cooperating with the US. (You’re paying them and they can’t even deliver? Perhaps you should pay us instead, hmmm?) This seems much less true for Turkey – though I suspect that the Army is less cowed than it currently appears – Turkey more or less functions as a single state with a single central authority.
    • Afghan refugees in Pakistan were mostly ethnic Pathans, and most of them remained in the Pathan parts of Pakistan – where they had tribal and family links. Culturally they were not so disruptive – and therefore easier to accept and host. The equivalent isn’t true for most Syrian refugees and most Turks.
    • Pakistan’s cooperativeness-encouraging fragility comes from having threatening neighbours on both sides of the country – conflict with one of which (India) has more or less defined the country since 1947. Turkey has chaos on its Southern border, but there is no strong bordering State by which it is threatened – Turkey genuinely has more options.
    • Pakistan has the bomb. It would be a serious setback for the US to lose Turkey but it would be catastrophic to lose Pakistan.

    Also

    Afghanistan’s alternatives to the Taliban are militarily weak – even the Northern Alliance doesn’t look like it’ll take the country if the Central Govt falls. Syria, otoh, has a Central Govt that is slowly taking back the country – there are two strong contenders for Syria (Asad and ISIS). Afghanistan was simpler because there were fewer choices.

    And perhaps most importantly, there is a significant portion of public opinion in the US that believes that Islam (and by inference all Muslims) are at war with the US. This may reduce public support for a US foreign policy that engages realistically with countries like Turkey, and (as a part of that) funds the care of (mostly Muslim) refugees. It can be done, but perhaps the US public is just a not that interested in doing it?

    [James of England, come correct my mistakes!]

    Really good and useful thoughts here. Thank you. I’ve got to attend to writing something else right now, but want to come back to this ASAP and give it good thought. I know threads on Ricochet tend to wither if unwatered, but this one won’t–if you’l permit me 48 hours to write about something else. (Something that deep down I don’t care about except in so far as I have rent to pay, which I care about greatly.)

    • #18
  19. hawk@haakondahl.com Inactive
    hawk@haakondahl.com
    @BallDiamondBall

    Another difference — Pakistan’s ISI was the source of the Taliban’s street cred beyond their local hood.
    If Turkey had a rogue intel service supporting ISIS to destabilize Syria, this would be a similarity. Well, time will tell.
    I suspect that this involvement on the bad guy side made it easy for the good guy side in Pakistan to accept costs. The whole thing proved profitable one way or another, if not in cash.

    • #19
  20. user_645 Editor
    user_645
    @Claire

    Ball Diamond Ball:If Turkey had a rogue intel service supporting ISIS to destabilize Syria, this would be a similarity.

    “If?”

    • #20
  21. user_645 Editor
    user_645
    @Claire

    I can’t quite give this the time it deserves yet, but I’ll throw a few comments in because they’re fast/easy to do (not because they’re the most important).

    There are some significant similarities between Pakistan wrt Afghanistan and Turkey wrt Syria:

    • They both face neighbouring forces who threaten their territorial integrity.

    • They both are somewhat limited in the degree and open-ness of their response to this because parts of their own population are in ideological sympathy with these forces.

    • Otoh this sympathy with the neighbouring country (because Muslims) increases public acceptance of caring for refugees under UN auspices. (Iow so long as they aren’t out of pocket.)

    Yes to all. Also “internal forces that threaten territorial integrity.”

    Differences:

    • The Pakistani State was (is?) dependent on US aid for survival. This made for a lot of cooperation (overt or covert – though it had its limits, eg Osama). Turkey is not so dependent – and its cooperation will come at a consequently higher price. (I suggest a FTA, which would be good for everybody.)

    Agree on FTA strongly. Also think many other levers exist that no one’s even discussing, including the very most obvious–end the public, diplomatic pretense that none of this is happening. As for cooperation that comes at a price, one thing that’s sort of an advantage here is that Turkey does come at a price, we just need to  haggle about what it is–as Shaw might have put it.

    • Pakistan has multiple power centres (ethnic/religious paramilitaries and political parties [including the Pakistani Taliban], the Army, the ISI) – which compete to dominate the country. One way of competing is to undercut other parts’ effectiveness in cooperating with the US. (You’re paying them and they can’t even deliver? Perhaps you should pay us instead, hmmm?) This seems much less true for Turkey – though I suspect that the Army is less cowed than it currently appears – Turkey more or less functions as a single state with a single central authority.

    This is opaque (the question of who’s really running the show) to even the most informed Turkey specialists I know, but it’s correct to say that it’s not nearly as obviously fragmented. I do notice that we seem unskilled–on the surface, at least, and from what I could tell from the Wikileaks–at figuring out who’s who and who’s playing us (and doing so much better than vice-versa). Maybe we’ve got better since then, though. Hope so.

    • Afghan refugees in Pakistan were mostly ethnic Pathans, and most of them remained in the Pathan parts of Pakistan – where they had tribal and family links. Culturally they were not so disruptive – and therefore easier to accept and host. The equivalent isn’t true for most Syrian refugees and most Turks.

    Not sure about this–not knowledgable enough about the Afghan side. Suspect that given adequate resources, TR would be better at assimilating many more refugees than most countries would be. (That country’s been doing “highly imperfect and often brutal assimilation but assimilation nonetheless” for a very long time.) But I can’t imagine a scenario of “adequate resources,” given the number in question.

    • Pakistan’s cooperativeness-encouraging fragility comes from having threatening neighbours on both sides of the country – conflict with one of which (India) has more or less defined the country since 1947. Turkey has chaos on its Southern border, but there is no strong bordering State by which it is threatened – Turkey genuinely has more options.

    Let’s hope so, because the scenario in which that becomes obviously and immediately untrue is called “Pokhran, Iran-variant.” That said … well, let me save this for a longer response. General heading, “real reasons why Turkey’s not in the terrific defense position sometimes assumed.”

    • Pakistan has the bomb. It would be a serious setback for the US to lose Turkey but it would be catastrophic to lose Pakistan.

    For any definition of “lost” in which those bombs are in the hands of someone who would use them, yes.

    Also

    Afghanistan’s alternatives to the Taliban are militarily weak – even the Northern Alliance doesn’t look like it’ll take the country if the Central Govt falls. Syria, otoh, has a Central Govt that is slowly taking back the country – there are two strong contenders for Syria (Asad and ISIS). Afghanistan was simpler because there were fewer choices.

    Although a correct point, perhaps not relevant?

    And perhaps most importantly, there is a significant portion of public opinion in the US that believes that Islam (and by inference all Muslims) are at war with the US. This may reduce public support for a US foreign policy that engages realistically with countries like Turkey, and (as a part of that) funds the care of (mostly Muslim) refugees. It can be done, but perhaps the US public is just a not that interested in doing it?

    That, I think, is the most relevant point. And I’d argue it’s not just a moral mistake but a policy mistake–in that it would be very much in our interest to engage realistically and care for those refugees, or to put it in an incredibly cynical way–more cynical than in fact I am, by far–that it not appear to be the case that the only people who care are rabid Islamists. (The best way to create the appearance that we care more is, in fact, to care more, so no cynicism is necessary: interests and ethics match.) But this is a point I’ll have to make at greater length. The short answer is: someone is going to care for at least some of them. What is already happening–this is demonstrable–is that some of them are being cared for (very visibly) by people who are vehemently opposed to US values, interests, etc. That won’t ever be forgotten, and will shape many things.

    But I think my odds of persuading people that this is the case are very, very low.

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  22. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Claire Berlinski:

    And perhaps most importantly, there is a significant portion of public opinion in the US that believes that Islam (and by inference all Muslims) are at war with the US. This may reduce public support for a US foreign policy that engages realistically with countries like Turkey, and (as a part of that) funds the care of (mostly Muslim) refugees. It can be done, but perhaps the US public is just a not that interested in doing it?

    That, I think, is the most relevant point. And I’d argue it’s not just a moral mistake but a policy mistake–in that it would be very much in our interest to engage realistically and care for those refugees, or to put it in an incredibly cynical way–more cynical than in fact I am, by far–that it not appear to be the case that the only people who care are rabid Islamists.

    Yes, I guess the rest relate to political strategy.

    The high level policy objective argument would be: it is in the US’ interest that people around the world perceive it as a meaningful, relevant and consistent force for good.  Achieving which really requires not being overtly transactional wrt preferred lower level policy outcomes – and that’s where things tend to go pear shaped.

    • #22
  23. user_645 Editor
    user_645
    @Claire

    Zafar:

    The high level policy objective argument would be: it is in the US’ interest that people around the world perceive it as a meaningful, relevant and consistent force for good. Achieving which really requires not being overtly transactional wrt preferred lower level policy outcomes – and that’s where things tend to go pear shaped.

    Can you clarify what you mean by “overtly transactional wrt preferred lower level policy outcomes?” Do you mean, “Avoid the appearance of cynicism, especially when all you’re trying to get out of negotiation X is something pretty low on the priority list?”

    I’d reckon a necessary condition for being perceived–over the long haul, not short-term–as a meaningful, relevant and consistent force for good is in fact to be a meaningful, relevant and consistent force for good. But I’m also aware, first, that it’s not sufficient, and that second, here in the real world, “short term” matters a lot and sometimes critically. Another important point to keep in mind is that–short-term– the difference between “being good and being seen to be good” and “being good and being unappreciated or seen as bad” is often largely a matter of how good your PR is and how good your enemies’ is.

    Things are actually going pear-shaped at quite a few stages here, I fear.

    • #23
  24. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    Claire Berlinski: I’d reckon a necessary condition for being perceived–over the long haul, not short-term–as a meaningful, relevant and consistent force for good is in fact to be a meaningful, relevant and consistent force for good. But I’m also aware, first, that it’s not sufficient, and that second, here in the real world, “short term” matters a lot and sometimes critically.

    The US has been the biggest benefactor of the peoples of the Middle East, South Asia, North Africa and South East Asia since before almost everyone politically active today was born. The US has occupied the commanding heights of culture for that whole period. In every village there’s a kid in a LeBron James singlet playing with another kid wearing an Iron Man t-shirt. In every major population center there is a McDonalds selling culturally appropriate ‘food’.

    And yet vast numbers of people in those areas would, if not personally hack the head off a US prisoner, at least feel the head-hackers had a valid point.

    What could the US have done differently? What can it do now? More of the same doesn’t seem a great answer.

    • #24
  25. user_645 Editor
    user_645
    @Claire

    genferei:

    Claire Berlinski: I’d reckon a necessary condition for being perceived–over the long haul, not short-term–as a meaningful, relevant and consistent force for good is in fact to be a meaningful, relevant and consistent force for good. But I’m also aware, first, that it’s not sufficient, and that second, here in the real world, “short term” matters a lot and sometimes critically.

    The US has been the biggest benefactor of the peoples of the Middle East, South Asia, North Africa and South East Asia since before almost everyone politically active today was born. The US has occupied the commanding heights of culture for that whole period. In every village there’s a kid in a LeBron James singlet playing with another kid wearing an Iron Man t-shirt. In every major population center there is a McDonalds selling culturally appropriate ‘food’.

    And yet vast numbers of people in those areas would, if not personally hack the head off a US prisoner, at least feel the head-hackers had a valid point.

    What could the US have done differently? What can it do now? More of the same doesn’t seem a great answer.

    Man, does that question need a good answer, and I may even have some testable ideas–but I’ve got to come back to this one later. It’s pay-the-rent time for me. That means today’s topic, for me, is modern architecture. But come back to this I will, whether I want to or not, because trying to forget this problem has not been working for me.

    • #25
  26. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Claire Berlinski:

    Can you clarify what you mean by “overtly transactional wrt preferred lower level policy outcomes?” Do you mean, “Avoid the appearance of cynicism, especially when all you’re trying to get out of negotiation X is something pretty low on the priority list?”

    Not so much the appearance of cynicism as the perception of an obvious quid pro quo. When you buy something the people who sold it to you have just engaged in commerce.  They have no reason to think better of you than before, or to be grateful to you,  or to be persuaded of your point of view on anything.

    Sticking with Pakistan, here’s an article from the Guardian which graphs US aid to Pakistan from 1947 to 2009.  Military and economic aid is graphed separately. There’s no consistent correlation between changes in levels of aid and periods of democratic vs Army rule.

    Looking at the graph since 1971 (so for Pakistan within its present boundaries):

    1. Military aid and economic aid broadly track up and down together.
    2. There was a swell of military and economic aid to Pakistan during the years the Soviets were in Afghanistan
    3. There was very little military or economic aid in the decade after the Soviets left Afghanistan.
    4. Military and economic aid rose steeply post-9/11 – this was also when military aid outstripped economic aid.  

    Now any way you look at it, that’s a lot of economic aid – and I’m assuming that it provided a significant benefit to Pakistan. 

    What I suspect it didn’t do however, because of how it seemed so obviously linked to US military objectives, was win their hearts and minds – it was seen as a payment for services rendered. Given the amount of money and the many doubtlessly sincere individuals involved, that is a great pity – and perhaps a lost opportunity.  

    • #26
  27. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    genferei:

    And yet vast numbers of people in those areas would, if not personally hack the head off a US prisoner, at least feel the head-hackers had a valid point.

    What could the US have done differently? What can it do now? More of the same doesn’t seem a great answer.

    According to this Pew poll, the US is still pretty popular (just not in the Middle East or the Muslim World, as far as I can tell).  Unfortunately no figures for India, but I think you’re more popular than not there too.

    • #27

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