Obama's Afghanistan Speech

Wednesday, June 22, 2011 

I was driving through southern Pennsylvania, watching the sun set over West Virginia to my right, while I listened to President Obama's speech on Afghanistan over the radio.

The speech appealed to me in some ways but bothered me in others. On the one hand, I appreciate Obama's efforts to place emphasis upon the theme of withdrawal. He's setting expectations for continued withdrawal, rather than continued occupation, and that's a good thing.

Tonight, I can tell you that we are fulfilling that commitment. Thanks to our men and women in uniform, our civilian personnel, and our many coalition partners, we are meeting our goals. As a result, starting next month, we will be able to remove 10,000 of our troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and we will bring home a total of 33,000 troops by next summer, fully recovering the surge I announced at West Point. After this initial reduction, our troops will continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan Security forces move into the lead. Our mission will change from combat to support. By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security.
Okay, good. No one expects the US to leave tomorrow. Personally, I was upset by the surge and wished, at the time it was announced, that Obama had instead focused on withdrawal. But what's done is done. While it's too bad that so many Americans seem to think that Osama bin Laden's death is the difference-maker with regard to whether or not the US should be occupying Afghanistan, at this point I welcome any pressure that Obama might put on his administration to get 'combat troops' out of there.

NATO money and the Libya war

Monday, June 13, 2011

I saw an interesting piece in Juan Cole's Informed Comment yesterday. Cole wrote a really sensible response to Robert Gates' recent speech, in which Gates criticized NATO allies for not emulating the United States in spending lavish sums on defense. 

This is part of what Gates said:
"The blunt reality," he continued, "is that there will be dwindling appetite and patience in the US Congress – and in the American body politic writ large – to expend increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations that are apparently unwilling to devote the necessary resources or make the necessary changes to be serious and capable partners in their own defense - nations apparently willing and eager for American taxpayers to assume the growing security burden left by reductions in European defense budgets."
The funny part of this, of course, is that the money that NATO countries have been spending lately has absolutely nothing to do with "their own defense," but rather has gone towards a seemingly endless occupation of Afghanistan and a war against Libya, a country which had attacked no one. So yeah, it does seem strange that American officials would seriously expect anyone to follow their lead.

Pass the Kleenex...

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The AKP and Today's Zaman sound like spurned lovers the way they're griping over recent editorials criticizing the AKP in the Economist, New York Times, and elsewhere.

Here is an excerpt from a recent piece in Today's Zaman:
...the style and the content of these reports and pieces gives a repugnant impression and the feeling that they do not even consider these priorities and benefits. The authors of these pieces are either unaware of the realities of the country they are reviewing or they are governed by the same center. The second option seems to be more relevant and valid, given that they are repeating the same arguments. It is impossible to conclude that these articles do not have any prior concerns, considering that they are written as if Turkey is not witnessing a bitter struggle against gangs, military juntas and deep state structures whose extensions can be found in politics, civil society and the media.

The other side of Turkey's economic boom...

Thursday, June 9, 2011

I saw a semi-interesting Reuters story a couple of days ago (Facebook Borderlanders may have already seen it) about the apparently growing wealth gap in Turkey. 

Much of the article is made up of rather empty fluff about a couple of individuals the journalist happens to talk to, but there were some statistics thrown out which surprised me a bit. This is what the Reuters piece sez:
The gulf between Turkey's rich and poor regions is vast, with its western provinces, Aegean and Mediterranean coastlines enjoying a per capita income more than twice that of the interior and the east.
The ruling AK Party, poised to win a third term in an election on June 12, has presided over an unprecedented period of economic prosperity for Turkey. Per capita income rose from $3,492 (2,124 pounds) in 2002, the year it took power, to $10,079 in 2010.
But according to a 2008 study Turkey's rich-poor divide is the highest among OECD countries after Mexico, and looks likely to remain so.
Latest Turkish data from 2009 showed income inequality rose that year and that the richest 20 percent of the population had a household income 8.5 times higher than the bottom 20 percent, up from 8.1 times in 2007.
I'll be honest, I should know a lot more about the Turkish economy than I do. But one thing I do know is that, since so much of the Turkish economy is under the table, economic statistics like this should probably be taken with a very large grain of salt.

Long NYT piece on Gulen schools in USA

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

There was a quite long piece in the New York Times a couple of days ago on American charter schools, particularly in Texas, that are associated with the Turkish religious figure Fethullah Gulen. Gulen, who was forced out of Turkey in 1999, is the center of a large network of schools, businesses, and media holdings (including Today's Zaman) located in Turkey and in other countries.

Fethullah Gulen


Turkey's 1980 coup leaders feeling some heat...

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Former coup leader and Turkish president Kenan Evren gave testimony to a prosecutor yesterday regarding, apparently, the 1980 coup. Claiming ill health, Evren managed to have the interview take place at his house, rather than at the prosecutor's office. (Here is Today's Zaman take on the story).

Kenan Evren in 1980


Islamic finance coming to Russia?

Monday, June 6, 2011

According to this Agence France-Presse piece, Russia is to "enter the world of Islamic finance."

Actually what appears to be happening is that the Republic of Tatarstan, which is a republic within the Russian Federation, will guarantee sukuk bonds for the construction of a new finance center. Sukuk don't pay interest, but rather give the owner a share of the enterprise.

Here's what the article says:
"Russia will show that it can be interesting for Muslim countries," one of the project's backers, Linar Yakupov told AFP.
"Right now Islamic banks cannot work in Russia, because our legislation does not take into account the Koran's restrictions."
Islam forbids borrowing or paying with interest, and sukuk (the plural of the Arabic word for a financial deed) are not based on debt like traditional bonds.
Instead, buying the bonds secures partial ownership in a concrete asset like land or a building, and investors are guaranteed a part of the profits generated by this asset.
The first sukuk to be issued in Tatarstan's capital Kazan on June 20 will be going toward financing a major business centre in the city whose construction will cost $200 million.
"Sukuk are guaranteed by the Tatarstan government, the operator will be based in Luxembourg, and we know that the international market is ready to buy," Yakupov said.
Rustam Minikhanov

According to the article, Tatar president Rustam Minikhanov has called bringing Islamic banks to Russia "possible and even necessary."

On the upcoming Turkish elections

Sunday, June 5, 2011

"Don't vote for the best government in 66 years."

This is how Taraf newspaper sarcastically sums up the logic of recent editorial in the Economist on the upcoming Turkish elections.

Actually, Taraf's headline is (predictably) misleading, since the Economist piece (which can be compared to a similar editorial in the New York Times) doesn't call the AKP government the best in 66 years. But the piece does praise Erdogan and his government: