Erdogan and Libya

Sunday, March 20, 2011
There's been a fair amount of chatter in the Turkey-related blogosphere lately about Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's allegedly soft line regarding Qaddafi and his reluctance to sign off on force in Libya. Louis Fishman, echoing the sentiments of many people in Turkey, called upon Erdogan to return the "peace prize" (and the money associated with it) that Qaddafi awarded him last year, calling into question Erdogan's integrity in the process. Meanwhile, a couple of days ago in Juan Cole's Informed Comment blog Howard Eissenstat argued that Erdogan is more interested in Turkey's trade and financial dealings with Libya than in the cause of freedom:
With only the barest lip service to democratic values, Turkey has made clear its opposition to international action in support of the revolution in Libya. It used its effective veto to stifle discussions within NATO and Erdoğan publicly and loudly criticized the unanimously approved UN Security Council sanctions on Libya imposed on February 26. It has made its continued opposition to international intervention clear, arguing that sanctions will only bring more pain to the Libyan people. To its credit, Turkey has indeed been at the forefront of sending humanitarian aid to Libya.
True, true, all true, both Fish and Ice make good points here, particularly with respect to the necessity of at least calling on Qaddafi to step down (something that Erdogan has now done). 
But as far as the question of intervention is concerned: is it really necessary for Erdogan to be corrupt, or to only be interested in money or trade, in order to oppose NATO (or non-NATO) air strikes on Libya? Is it not possible that there might be other, less nefarious, reasons behind this opposition?

Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi may well be on his way out--but only if he can take some Jack Daniels with him

I mean, is it really such a good idea for the US, France, and the UK to be getting involved in this conflict in the first place? While it is clearly difficult to not sympathize with Qaddafi's opponents, why shouldn't the Prime Minister of Turkey speak out against foreign military intervention into the region? 
After all, no one talked about invading China when Beijing was cracking down on protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989. No one, as far as I recall, talked about trying to establish a no-fly zone over, say, Chechnya, when Moscow was carpet-bombing the region in the 1990s. And no one is talking about intervening in Bahrain as a counter-force to the Saudi troops sent to that country to crush the anti-government protests. 
There's no single standard, no consistency with regard to matters like this. Weak countries, countries without powerful allies or some other means of protection, find themselves on the receiving end of intervention all the time. Strong countries don't have to worry about that. For the leader of Turkey, successor state to an empire that was very frequently the object of various forms of foreign intervention, it doesn't surprise me that this kind of military intervention might be seen as the sort of thing which should only be used as a very last resort.  
Erdogan is, moreover, hardly the only world leader who opposed the creation of the no-fly zone. Russia, China, Germany, India, and Brazil have all expressed reservations about the idea. Indeed, the Security Council vote approving the use of force was 10-0, with no fewer than five abstentions--so the vote wasn't really 'unanimous,' Ice's claim in the quotation above notwithstanding. Meanwhile, Russia has criticized the US & friends for the "indiscriminate" use of force in Libya.
And they're not the only ones. The Arab League itself, which asked the UN to create a no-fly zone in Libya, is now criticizing the UN for the implementation of the zone.
The Arab League is criticizing the international air assault on Libya, a week after asking the United Nations to impose a no-fly zone on the North African nation. 
Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa said Sunday that the United Nations' implementation of the no-fly zone on Libya has gone beyond what the league wanted.
He told reporters in Cairo that the league wants to protect civilians, not bomb them. 
Criticize the Arab League if you want, call them chicken. Say they're bailing out of an undertaking they supported now that people are getting killed. But if you do so, you should also ask yourself: didn't you see this coming?
In some regions of the world--regions where the US has a less fraught relationship with local populations (such as in the Balkans in the 1990s), it can make sense to intervene in order to defend innocent life. And maybe in Libya, too, it makes sense. But it's also true that, in this particular part of the world, any kind of intervention can go awry very easily. Who are the people we are supporting? What do they stand for? To what degree will any moral authority they have, or political authority they might one day achieve, be compromised by their association with our bombing campaign?
Given the history of the United States in the "Arab world"/Middle East in recent years, maybe a bit more skepticism about the wisdom of the US getting involved in other countries' civil wars would actually be a good idea. Regardless of Tayyip Erdogan's specific reasons for opposing the air strikes (and maybe it is just about money), there are other reasons, including some very good ones, for not getting on board with this.

1 comment: