IPS post on Nabucco project and the Middle East

My piece on this is here. Also archived here.
This piece was a quick out-take, if you like, from some of the research I dd for my presentation at the MEPC mini-conference Thursday.
Actually, I had wanted to write for IPS this week either on Hamas or on some of the broad regional implications of the US troop drawdown in Iraq. But my friend Jim Lobe, the editor who decides these things, said he had news stories coming in on both those topics so I should do my analysis on something else.
Ah well, I try to be flexible. (And as longtime JWN readers know, I have a long-lived interest in matters of logistics and their effect on geopolitics.)
More Hamas for them later, I’m sure. Also, more Iraq. I don’t think either of those stories is going to go away any time soon.

CSM piece on the AKP in Turkey

Sometimes I feel I exist in a time-warp! Today, the CSM published an opinion piece I wrote a couple of weeks ago, based on my time in Turkey.
I still think its main argument is a really important one. It is that Obama– and a lot of other westerners–

    could learn a lot from Turkey about how a smart Islamist party can be a valued participant in a democracy.

That is such a valuable lesson. The AKP is such an intriguing party!
The reference to Egypt in the intro was because the piece was originally conceived, by me, to coincide with Obama giving The Speech, June 4, in Cairo.
Well, that was eight days ago. An eon in the fast-moving world of Middle East politics these days.
The concluding argument in the piece is this:

    in the Bush years, Washington worked actively to overthrow both Hamas and Hezbollah…
    Several Bush-era officials openly questioned whether the electoral victories of Hamas and Hezbollah actually “proved” that a party could be both dedicated to Islamist principles and democratic rule over the longer term. Turkey’s experience provides intriguing evidence that it can.
    Obama should value Turkey’s views on regional affairs. He may not be ready yet to go along with all the advice he receives from the AKP government in Ankara. But Ankara has much valuable experience that it can share with its NATO ally.

By the way, the dateline of “Adana” came about because I was writing the piece while Bill and I were being conveyed in a rather comfortable touring-car from Kappadokya to Hatay (Antakya)… So at some random point I looked out at the signs on the freeway and figured that the nearest town to where we were was Adana, which I think hosts a large US/NATO air base. I confess I never went into Adana, at all. Just rushed right past it, and rushed through Hatay as fast as we could, too.
And wow, that was just 13 days ago. Feels like two eons.

My Moualem interview on ForeignPolicy.com

… is here.
I will just add to everything else I’ve written about Syria-Israel in recent days that Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was in Washington last week, where he conveyed the message that Turkey is very willing to support Syria’s suggestion that any new Syria-Israel talks resume as proximity talks in Turkey, taking up where the talks broken off by Olmert left off in late December.
Davutoğlu has only recently been named FM. Prior to that he was a special adviser to PM Erdoğan. In that capacity, it was he who orchestrated the whole proximity talks project between Israel and Syria last year.
He also seems to be a man of considerable strategic vision: a foreign-policy intellectual who then gets a chance to influence real power. Sort of Kissinger without the bullying and arrogance, you might say.
He was the author of the AKP’s policy of “zero problems with the neighbors.”

IPS piece on Turkey’s role in region, world

… is here. Also here.
We’re on our way to Ankara, going via Bursa, which was the Ottomans’ capital for many years before, finally, they were able to figure out a way to dislodge the Byzantines from Istanbul, which happened some 40 years before the peoples of America were surprised by the arrival of that parvenu adventurer, Columbus.

Transit systems, Turkey

I’m writing– and also, crucially, posting– this while traveling on a Nilufer long-distance bus from Istanbul to Bursa. We were promised wireless on the bus; and yes, here it is. The uniformed attendant just came along the aisle. In addition to giving me the wireless password he was doling out tea, cake, and freshen-up towelettes to all passengers.
Definitely superior service!
Superior by far to dear, grungy old Greyhound, back home in the US. Superior, too, to the service on US domestic airlines (grudging ‘service’, no wi-fi, minimal or no snacks.)
Nilufer seems to be a Bursa-based private company. The friend who booked our tickets told us the bus will at some point board a ferry to take us some of the way across, rather than round, the Black Sea. The company may or may not be one of the many that have been successfully run by piously Islamic families here over the course of several decades. At the company’s terminal in Istanbul, there was a small room designated as “Mascid”.
From what we saw during six days in Istanbul, the city’s own municipal transit systems are fabulous. Earlier this week we took the city tram (sleek, clean, very frequent) from near to our hotel down to the Eminonu stop on the southern bank of the Golden Horn, then took a ferry across to Uskudar on the other (Asian) side of the Bosphorus.
The ferry network that still forms the main arteries of the city’s circulation system is amazing! At any one time, scores of rather large ferries, for both passengers and cars, are at work either determinedly stitching their criss-crossing paths across the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus, or very efficiently loading and unloading their passengers at one of the city’s numerous well-run ferry terminals. I didn’t see a single hitch in the in the system: no mechanical breakdowns, no accidents, no glitches…
(While I’ve been writing the bus attendant has come around again twice: once with sealed plastic containers of drinking water, once to pick up our trash. He also brought a hygienically wrapped blanket to the woman across the aisle from us.)
Yesterday we took part in a small conference in the amazing Sabanci Towers complex in an area called 4-Levent. We took the tram from the hotel to the end of the line in Kabatas; then the “Funiculer” that runs up to Taksim; then the metro from there to 4-Levent. The interchanges were pleasant and well-marked. The vehicles frequent, clean, and well-maintained. Each part of the trip cost about $1 (US)– probably a lot for most city residents, but cheap and efficient for us.
I mention all this not only because I’m a real mass transit junkie, but also because the state of the city’s transit systems– along with the well-planned, well-kept, and clean state of the streets, parks, historic buildings, and other public facilities is a real testament to the effectiveness of Turkey’s moderately Islamist AKP ruling party.
Before current prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his colleagues in the AKP won their first national election in 2002, he had made his name as a very successful mayor of Istanbul. I believe the party still dominates city politics, though I am not sure. Anyway, the kinds of policies that make this city of around 12 million people such a pleasant and well-run place today must have been put in place a number of years ago.
Erdogan, his party, and his intriguing new foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu– who previously worked as a special adviser to the PM on foreign affairs– all deserve a lot more consideration. But just for now, the legacy the party has given to the amazing city of Istanbul is certainly worth noting.
I’ve been reading Orhan Pamuk’s book of memoirs about his childhood in the city, growing up there in the 1950s. He makes a big deal about the “huzun” (melancholy) with which he judged the city to be extremely deeply imbued at the time.
Pamuk attributed that huzun to a sense of post-imperial loss and shame. Interesting. If I have the time I’d love to compare that with my sense– as someone who was also, like Pamuk, born in 1952– of growing up in an empire that was actively disintegrating even as I was racking up the inches of childhood growth.
But today, Istanbul has very little discernible air of huzun at all. It seems optimistic, self-confident, clean, purposeful– and also, extremely pleasant.