Tag Archives: US

Obama’s MacArthur Moment

Yesterday, US President Barack Obama sacked the general implementing his counterinsurgency policy in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal, on the heels of unflattering remarks the military leader and his aides made about the commander-in-chief’s national security team in a recently published Rolling Stone article. McChrystal flew in from Afghanistan and arrived in Washington yesterday morning with his tail between his legs, as he offered Obama his mea culpa and tendered his resignation. Shortly after, surrounded by the country’s military leadership and his Cabinet in the Rose Garden, the president announced the general’s replacement, the highly respected David Petraeus, whose surge strategy brought Iraq back from the brink, and declared that while he “welcome[s] debate, [he] won’t tolerate division.”

President Barack Obama announcing McChrystal's sacking.

While Obama went to lengths to assure the public that the firing was “a change in personnel, but … not a change in policy,” the situation nonetheless echoed the events of an earlier age, namely, when President Harry Truman relieved General Douglas MacArthur of command during the Korean War. In that conflict, which was one of the bloodiest skirmishes of the Cold War, the commander-in-chief and his subordinate had a genuine disagreement about policy, with the general publicly advocating the abandonment of the Truman Doctrine and pushing for the invasion of China, while his boss sought to prevent the Cold War from turning hot. When MacArthur — who I happen to believe was right — refused to carry out Truman’s orders he was fired.

While Truman’s policy of containment may have prolonged the Cold War, and though the general may have been correct in his convictions, the president’s decision to fire MacArthur was unmistakably right. From time to time, this country’s armed forces need to be reminded that America’s defense policy is under civilian control and that we are not run by a military junta where generals run the show. Ultimately, while the military leadership does possess a voice on matters of defense and national security; in a democracy, final say must rest with the commander-in-chief elected by the people.

US President Harry Truman with General Douglas MacArthur, who he would later fire for insubordination.

Men in uniform must respect the limits the Constitution places on them for the American experiment to survive. We have had many presidents with distinguished military careers; from Grant, to Theodore Roosevelt, to Eisenhower, and to George H.W. Bush. And all of them knew that they could not wear their military uniform while in the White House. The sacking of insubordinate generals predates Truman and stretches back to Lincoln’s firing of McClellan during the Civil War. In the end, as McChrystal learned the hard way, it is the general’s job to implement strategy, not to make it or gripe about those formulating it.

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Unrest in Kyrgyzstan

Before the recent outbreak of ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan, many people had probably never heard of the country or were barely aware of it. Now however, what has occurred in the Central Asian republic is a matter of international interest and importance. Last week, there was what appears to have been a spontaneous eruption of ethnic violence between Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbeks in the southern city of Osh, which led to the deaths of hundreds of Uzbeks, of which 400,000 have been displaced, and 80,000 of which have fled to Uzbekistan.

To understand the current situation we must rewind the clock a couple of years. In 2005, after rigged elections were held, the Kyrgyz people overthrew their increasingly corrupt president in what was known as the Tulip Revolution. The new leader was Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who came from the country’s Uzbek south, and who though installed on a platform of reform and transparency, soon ran afoul of the country’s democrats through his involvement in the murders of several politicians and journalists, for initially refusing to curb his expansive executive powers, and for purportedly stealing the 2009 election. All this discontent culminated in his ouster this April, which the BBC gives a good account of. Bakiyev fled to Kazakhstan and then Belarus, while a new provisional government, led by Roza Otunbayeva, came to power.

People protesting during the Tulip Revolution.

The provisional government had not yet consolidated its hold on power and was dependent on the military to keep it afloat. It is rumored that the armed forces had a hand in the violence and the UN has said it might have been orchestrated, while Otunbayeva has accused Bakiyev of stirring up the trouble in his southern power base. Meanwhile, in the afflicted area, many have fled to Uzbekistan, which yesterday shut its borders to anymore refugees, and other Uzbeks have blockaded themselves in their homes and neighborhoods. A worsening humanitarian crisis has also ensued with shortages of food, a lack of medical care, and a dearth of clean drinking water accompanying the violence.

This situation has wider implications for the world’s major actors in the region, the United States, Russia, and China, because of the country’s strategic location. Kyrgyzstan used to be in the USSR and it is today viewed by Russia as part of its “near-abroad,” its post-Soviet sphere of influence, where it continues to have military installments. America has a huge military base at Manas, in the Central Asian republic, which supplies soldiers and military personnel fighting in Afghanistan. China has also been vying for influence in the region, in its quest for resources and as its tries to take on the US’s hegemonic position in Asia. This instability threatens the interests of all parties. Just recently, rumors circulated that the Kyrgyz government would close America’s vital base if Britain did not hand over Bakiyev’s son to the provisional government. Russia, which has been asked by Otubayeva to deploy troops to the country, does not want to be forced to commit soldiers to the Central Asian republic, and China, with its characteristic emphasis on stability and social harmony, can see no benefit in the current situation.

That is why all three countries must act to bring this violence end and once again establish peace in the area. Russia and the US could perhaps send a limited number of troops to the country on a peace-keeping mission, while China could provide economic assistance to Kyrgystan. This way the two pillars of stability; economic prosperity and a solid political system could be erected. Nonetheless, any solution that is implemented should involve the actions of all of these players, the Kyrgyz government, and most of all the people.

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Wild Turkey

Turkey — the Muslim anchor of NATO with a long history of secularism — is straying from its roots. The Turkish government, controlled by the Islamic Justice and Development Party and led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has slowly gravitated away from the West and towards the Islamic world.  As its bid to join the EU has been stalled, Turkey has begun to abandon the dream of its founder, Ataturk, who envisioned his nation as a secular, Western democracy and has instead focused on becoming the core state of Islamic civilization. In the process, it has alienated the United States on many issues and ruptured its strategic alliance with Israel.

The father of modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk.

Erdogan has treated the Jewish State — with which Turkey did $2.5 billion of trade in 2008 — with atrocious disrespect. Last year, he ambushed Israeli President Shimon Peres at the Davos Economic Summit, telling him “that you are killing people,” in response to Israel’s 2009 defensive war in Gaza. This year Turkey allowed a flotilla of so-called peace activists seeking to provoke a confrontation with Israel over its blockade of the terrorist-run Gaza Strip to sail under its flag. When nine of said activists were killed after trying to lynch IDF personnel in a scuffle on the Turkish flagship, the Mavi  Marmara, it was Turkey that reacted with indignation. Erdogan labeled the Jewish State ” a state sponsor of terrorism,” his government downgraded diplomatic relationships with it, and it is now pressing the UN Security Council to open an international investigation — a euphemism for a lynching of Israel — into the flotilla crisis.

From Erdogan’s previous behavior one might not guess that a state sponsor of terrorism was not welcome in Ankara. After all, didn’t Turkey and Brazil (to the chagrin of the US) vote against sanctioning Iran — the state sponsor of terrorism — for its nuclear program. And doesn’t the prime minister have a warm relationship with the genocidal leader of Sudan, Omar Bashir, who is wanted by the Hague for crimes against humanity.  This willingness to overlook the wrongdoings of Muslim leaders and governments reflects a disturbing double standard on Turkey’s part.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan shaking hands with Sudan’s genocidal maniac leader, Omar Bashir.

Indeed, Turkey doesn’t exactly have its house in order when it comes to human rights violations. It still will not come to terms with its bloody past, which is shown by its refusal to acknowledge the Armenian genocide that took two million lives, and its horrendous treatment of ethnic minorities. And while Erdogan tears up for the people of Gaza, there is no end in sight to the Turkish occupation of the northern half of Cyprus.

Its friendship with the US is also fraying. As aforementioned, it refused to support sanctions against Iran, for which America has tirelessly campaigned. It has been hesitant to allow the US to build military bases on Turkish soil. Lastly, as described in The New York Times, it has gone off message and undermined American foreign policy objectives in the region.

The Turkish flag with the Islamic crescent and star.

Turkey’s slide into Islamism and its drift away from the West and the United States is cause for alarm. America should respond by reaching out to secular elements within the government, like the military, and putting pressure on the civilian leadership in Ankara to correct its behavior. Europe should be more forbearing when it comes to Turkey’s EU bid and use that desire as a way to keep that country from going down a more fundamentalist path. Israel must stand its ground and not give into ridiculous Turkish demands. Finally, the people of Turkey, with their long history of tolerance, must decide whether this is the future they want. If not, it is their responsibility to bring their discontent to the ballot box and oust this government from power.

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