As Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visits Washington this week, he will prod the White House to increase its support for the Syrian opposition and will likely encourage President Barack Obama to consider enforcing a no-fly zone. The powerful prime minister has been a forceful advocate for multi-lateral intervention in Syria, arguing that the international community has a collective responsibility to help oust President Bashar al-Assad and bring the conflict to an end.
Erdogan's request will almost certainly take on a more urgent tone after tragic bombings in Reyhanli -- a refugee filled town on the Syrian border -- killed nearly 50 people. Despite Erdogan's close relationship with Obama, Turkey's requests are not likely to gain much traction with the White House. And, in fact, the meeting is likely to focus more on U.S. requests of Turkey, rather than the other way around.
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If one is to believe what's in the papers, it's a bad year for Jordan. It's got a violent civil war going on in its northern neighbor, which has sent more than 100,000 refugees fleeing over the border, and constantly threatens more spillover. Internally, it's facing a massive budget crisis, and its two-year-old, Arab Spring-inspired political protest movement just won't seem to go away.
In the past few months, I've read a dozen or more news articles and think tank reports that claim, with greater or lesser degrees of hysteria, that Jordan is finished. If King Abdullah II does not bow to the will of the protesters in the streets, and implement reforms that are less cosmetic than those of the past two years, it's all over. The regime will fall, the country will be destabilized and either "collapse" or "explode," or be taken over by Jihadi Islamist Fanatics, the Muslim Brotherhood, or people from a scary alternate universe in which the Muslim Brotherhood are Jihadi Islamist Fanatics.
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For decades U.S. foreign policy discourse has been haunted by the idea that there is something categorically different about Islamist political parties. So much so that they need to be thought about, treated, and engaged differently than other political groups with equally strong ideological commitments -- like capitalists, leftists, or green parties. In practice this has led to an assumption that the United States has generally been unwilling to do business with Islamists as a matter of policy. While Iran's 1979 revolution no doubt looms large as a specter here, the policy orientation in question actually traces back most directly to a famous dictum offered by Ed Djerejian -- then Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs -- in 1992. This was in the aftermath of an Algerian election in which Islamists had been poised to win a landslide victory only to see the results annulled by the country's army. An Islamist victory at the ballot box, Djerejian argued, would likely have proven to be a case of "one man, one vote, one time." That is, Islamists would make instrumental use of elections to capture the state, but then dismantle the democratic system once in power to ensure they could never be removed.
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On Sunday evening, Egyptian plainclothes police and the army attacked a protest by peaceful demonstrators. Dozens were killed and hundreds wounded, while state television spread inflammatory news of Copts attacking soldiers. Many immediately concluded that sectarianism was to blame, rather than the military command which oversaw the bloodbath. The ability of Egypt's Supreme Council for the Armed Forces (SCAF) to avoid accountability for its actions lies at the heart of the problems in today's Egypt.
This myth about Egypt's transition runs deep. It blames the stagnation of the country's transition on the divided protest movement, unsatisfied public sector workers, factory labors, and rural farmers. When this narrative does not suffice, the established but ineffective political parties, various Islamist parties greedy for electoral competition, and weak cabinet members are marshaled from their supporting roles to take the fall. Either way, they implicitly place the blame for Egypt's shaky transition on the doorstep of the civilians who made the revolution. Even the focus on parliamentary elections, the policy positions of Egypt's current presidential contenders, or a constitution yet to be written diverts the focus from where it belong -- the people actually in power.
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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad meant to kick off his annual visit to the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York with the grand gesture of releasing two U.S. hikers held captive for over a year. Instead, he was humiliated in public by Iran's powerful judiciary, which stated on Wednesday that the president could not fulfill that promise.
Nothing could more clearly symbolize Ahmadinejad's fading fortunes. Gone is the self-confident rhetorician of revolutionary outrage and nationalist fervor. In his place stands a broken man. The hikers' episode is only one more piece of evidence that the last eight months have proven to be the beginning to the end of the president's political career. Ahmadinejad's U.N. speech will probably be as loquacious as ever, and may contain interesting surprises -- such as his declaration last year that it was the United States Government which launched the terrorist attacks on 9/11. But his words should not be taken as a message from anyone other than Ahmadinejad.
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