Reset: Iran, Turkey and America’s Future by Stephen Kinzer←

Reset: Iran, Turkey, and America’s Future
by Stephen Kinzer

From Publishers Weekly

Kinzer (Overthrow), columnist at the Guardian, takes an iconoclastic approach in this smart policy prescriptive that calls for elemental changes in America’s relationships with Israel and Saudi Arabia, and even more remarkably, for the U.S. to find more sensible and natural allies in Turkey and Iran, the only Muslim countries in the Middle East where democracy is deeply rooted. This radical break from diplomatic convention has its roots deep in the cold war history that Kinzer spends most of the book attentively mining. When he’s corralling Middle Eastern history, Kinzer does an excellent job at stitching essential facts into a coherent and telling whole, demonstrating why, for instance, Turkey’s recent return to greater religiosity is a victory against Islamist policies and how Israel’s willingness to do America’s dirty work (e.g., selling arms to Guatemala’s military regime) tied the U.S. to Israel and Saudi Arabia so powerfully in the past. He’s less successful in analysis, though, and is prone to repetition; this astute book builds toward convincing new ideas, but doesn’t provide the necessary scaffolding to hold them up. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. from amazon.com

My Review

To begin with, I really enjoyed this book. That’s not always the case in a political/current events type book. Kinzer I felt did a really good job of crafting the history into an engaging storyline. This book spends  a significant amount of time painting the background of the modern countries of Turkey and Iran. It also brings to light some interesting players in the story. Some of them are well-known and others are not. For example the opening narrative centers on Howard Baskerville. A young American who was teaching in Iran in the early 1900s. Britain and Russia divided Persia into “spheres of influence” that outraged the Iranians who have a celebrated long and rich cultural heritage.

Howard Baskerville supported the Iranians in their effort. At one point, as he was joining in the defense of the city of Tabriz, Kinzer gives this anecdote.

“I hate war,” he told them, “but war can be justified in pursuit of a greater good—in this case, the protection of a city and the defense of constitutional liberty. I am ready to die for these causes!” The audience broke into applause and cries of “Long live Baskerville!” He responded by singing a chorus from his favorite song, “My Country ’Tis of Thee.”

A twenty-something year old boy from Nebraska, singing “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” in honor of Iran. A peculiar moment in history to be sure!

In the end Howard Baskerville left a legacy in Iran.

Baskerville is more than just an Iranian hero. He embodied the shared values that bind Iranians to Americans. Long before many other Middle Eastern nations had come into existence, the Constitutional Revolution brought modern ideas to Iran. These ideas have produced a nation that has more in common with the United States than almost any of its neighbors in the world’s most troubled region.

This certainly seems a far cry from the current state of affairs, but that is part of the story to come too.

Around relatively the same time period, Turkey, Iran’s neighbor to the northwest, cultivated some of those same attitudes and craving for democratic freedoms and life apart from absolutism.

Two of the primary figures in the story are Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and Reza Shah. Both were strong personalities who felt that they were the one to bring reform to their nations at this point in time. Though at times this came across in arrogance and abrasiveness they both accomplished things that many believed impossible.

One biographer described Ataturk in this way

In letters large enough to cover the book’s entire back cover, Armstrong described his subject in one long and only slightly hyperbolic sentence: “The study of a MAN, cruel, bitter, iron-willed, who overthrew the Sultan in 1908; battered the British Empire off Gallipoli in 1915; chased the Greeks into the sea at Smyrna in 1922; harried the victorious Allies out of Constantinople in 1923; destroyed the power of the Caliph in 1924; hanged the entire opposition in 1926; and by 1932 had made out of a crumbling empire A NATION.”

Reza in Iran also accomplished a number of astonishing reforms. One of the most interesting was this:

Soon afterward, as if to show his redoubled determination, Reza decreed a reform so radical that no leader of a Muslim country, not even Atatürk, had dared to propose it: a total ban on the veil for women. The day it took effect, January 7, 1936, marked a social earthquake of rare intensity. Police officers tore veils off women who appeared in public wearing them. Men on streets were thunderstruck. Some women felt liberated and eagerly adopted Western dress, but others, having never shown their faces to strangers, cloistered themselves at home. The most desperate committed suicide.

Imagine: a total ban on headscarves. Forcibly removed by police officers. This is not France of 2012, this was Iran of 1936.

While not all of the reforms and efforts attempted were with the utmost wisdom these leaders both sought to bring freedoms and prosperity to their people and gave themselves wholeheartedly to that cause.

Turkey and Iran became America’s partners. Here lie the roots of this “power triangle.” Simply embracing the United States as a strategic partner was not enough for the Turks and Iranians. They also admired American democracy and wanted some version of it for themselves. Atatürk and Reza Shah had given them social and cultural freedoms that few Muslims in history had enjoyed. Now they wanted political freedom as well.

However, at this point in the story America makes what seems to be a major mistake. Operation Ajax was the coup instigated by the CIA and SIS to remove democratically elected Prime Minister Mosaddegh. Kinzer states it rather frankly:
President Eisenhower and Secretary of State Dulles made their decision to overthrow Iran’s democratic government without debate, without reflection, without analysis, without weighing costs and benefits.
Why was this the case?
During Mossadegh’s twenty-seven months in office, the promise of the Constitutional Revolution finally became real. Power was held by elected officials. Parliament addressed people’s needs. The grasping shah had been pushed into the background. Iranians enjoyed more freedom than ever in their history. American leaders should have cheered this, but because of the cold war they could not. They might have looked at Iran’s democracy and recognized a partner, a nation whose people were passionately engaged in political life and determined to rule themselves. Instead they looked at its nationalization of an oil company and saw an enemy.

Stuck in the Cold War mindset the political leaders of the era were unable to see the long-term consequences of their actions. One of those unforeseen consequences was the Islamic Revolution of 1979 – and the resulting hostage crisis – that was largely caused due to rage over the increasingly wasteful spending of the Western-backed Shah. The current shape of Iranian politics was in large part created by the 1950s operations of the US and Britain that were beneficial for the short-term but long-term were harmful for their interests.

The same can be said for the other relationships described in the book. Kinzer also delves into why the United States has a close relationship with Saudi Arabia and Israel. These too he feels are largely shaped by outdated realities.

In the end, Kinzer provides an interesting historical sketch of America’s diplomatic relations in the Middle East. He then argues that the United States needs to reconsider its core relationships in light of the current era, rather than through the lens of the Cold War. He feels that if this is done the United States will revalue the relationships with Saudi Arabia and Israel, as important but in a different way, and recognize that Iran and Turkey are countries that ought to be engaged with new methods.

Turkey has set itself on a path to be a major player in the region.

On the new world map, Turkey is no longer on the edge of anything. Instead it is once again what this piece of geography has been since time immemorial: the epicenter of the immense Eurasian landmass.

Foreign Minister Davutoglu’s “Strategic Depth” doctrine has put Turkey on a trajectory that would make it foolish for the United States to fail to cultivate strong ties with Turkey, not as a junior partner but as a vital ally.

Iran is the more difficult case – largely because of it’s current political structure – but Kinzer feels like the current policy of isolation misses a chance for improving relations with what could be a strong nation and one whose people have a historical craving for democratic freedoms.

The Arab Revolutions of the past year have challenged some basic assumptions about politics in the Middle East. Yet at this point all that has really occurred is a removal of old regimes the real test will be in what can replace them. This has certainly altered the landscape since Kinzer wrote his book, but nonetheless his central thesis remains intact that shared values and interests, in the United States, Turkey, and Iran should be the basis for pursuing a stronger relationship among them.

Iran, despite the persistence of its theocracy, is a potential long-term partner for the United States for the same reasons Turkey is. The two countries share strategic goals, and their societies share democratic values.
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Reading Today’s Stories…9/3→

I apologize for not posting over the last few days. I went away for the week with my wife and a friend on a tour of the northern Aegean Sea. It was beautiful. The water was probably the clearest I’ve ever seen. I do have to admit it was a little on the cold side though. Anyway, now on to a few a stories of the day.

Also…while I was away I started reading Island of The World, a book my wife had highly recommended. I’ve still got a ways to go but have absolutely loved it thus far. Check out her review here: klizbarker.wordpress.com

For Ankara, it’s time for deeds not words on Syria – Hurriyet Daily News http://bit.ly/pCeydY

A story that continues to be of interest to me is the uprisings in Syria. Having begun to study more and more about Turkish politics and foreign relations this has provided one of the most difficult challenges that the Ankara government could possibly face. Over the past few years Turkey has made a concerted effort to improve their relationships with Syria. This has been one of the models for the “Zero-Problem with Neighbors” policy and yet now next door there are riots and killings taking place on a daily basis. Turkey has come out with public statements, private diplomatic visits and yet there seems to have been no change. This provides a crucial test case for Turkey to play a role as a peacemaking leader in the region. Will it be able to turn it’s talk into actions? Read the whole story here.

How the U.S. and the world can help Iraq – The Washington Post http://wapo.st/puh5G2

Great article from a former Prime Minister of Iraq. With all the attention that has been given to the Middle East over the past few months in many ways Iraq has been somewhat forgotten. The US intervention that began in 2003 is still continuing. Yet the reality (as described in this article) is far from the promises that were originally made. As the Arab world moves towards democratic rule Iraq should be standing as a model of Arab democracy, albeit that it came about from foreign intervention rather than a popular uprising. This article gives some practical suggestions for things that the U.S. and other foreign countries can do to help bring freedom and hope to the people of Iraq. Read the whole story here.

BBC News – Gaza flotilla row: New low in Turkish ties with Israel http://bbc.in/oZfc7M

A continuing story in Turkey has been the reaction to 9 Turkish citizens killed on the Mavi Marmara by Israeli soldiers. This has led to the souring of a relationship that had grown cold already. While Turkey and Israel in the past had enjoyed relatively good relations they had begun to cool. This incident has only worsened the situation. The publication of a UN report on the incident has served to keep the wound fresh in the minds of those involved. Neither side seems quick to flex on the issue and until there is a need for a restoration of the relationship it will probably remain distant. Read the whole story here.

Reset: Iran, Turkey, and America’s Future – highlights

I am working my way through Stephen Kinzer’s book  Reset: Iran, Turkey, and America’s Future and thus far have really enjoyed it and also felt like I’ve learned a lot from the book. The book is especially interesting in light of the pro-democratic revolutions over the past few months. In some ways these challenge Kinzer’s thesis but they also make it all the more timely. I’ll reserve judgment till I finish reading it.

So far a large portion of the book has been devoted to telling (or re-telling) the story of the modern relationship between the United States and Turkey and Iran. It really is a fascinating story. There have been some surprise moments. While by no means a scholar on the topic I thought I was generally familiar with the broad story line but there have been some twists that I never quite saw before. I intend to post a review of the book once I finish it, but for now I’ll post just a few highlights:

“I hate war,” he told them, “but war can be justified in pursuit of a greater good—in this case, the protection of a city and the defense of constitutional liberty. I am ready to die for these causes!” The audience broke into applause and cries of “Long live Baskerville!” He responded by singing a chorus from his favorite song, “My Country ’Tis of Thee.”

Baskerville is more than just an Iranian hero. He embodied the shared values that bind Iranians to Americans. Long before many other Middle Eastern nations had come into existence, the Constitutional Revolution brought modern ideas to Iran. These ideas have produced a nation that has more in common with the United States than almost any of its neighbors in the world’s most troubled region.

The stories of modern Turkey and Iran suggest that democracy can take root anywhere, but only over the span of generations. It cannot be called to life simply by proclaiming a constitution or holding an election. Democracy is not an event but a way of facing the world, an all-encompassing approach to life. Only long years of experience can make it real. In the Muslim Middle East, just two countries have this experience: Turkey and Iran.

“It is essential that our central government submit to the will of the nation,” they asserted in their final declaration. “Decisions not based on the will of the nation have no validity.”

Soon afterward, as if to show his redoubled determination, Reza decreed a reform so radical that no leader of a Muslim country, not even Atatürk, had dared to propose it: a total ban on the veil for women. The day it took effect, January 7, 1936, marked a social earthquake of rare intensity. Police officers tore veils off women who appeared in public wearing them. Men on streets were thunderstruck. Some women felt liberated and eagerly adopted Western dress, but others, having never shown their faces to strangers, cloistered themselves at home. The most desperate committed suicide

President Eisenhower and Secretary of State Dulles made their decision to overthrow Iran’s democratic government without debate, without reflection, without analysis, without weighing costs and benefits.

Iran’s descent into dictatorship began after the United States overthrew the most democratic government it ever had. The 1953 coup against Mohammad Mossadegh was one of the twentieth century’s more significant events, yet few histories of the century published in English give it more than a line or two.

There could be many more (most of these are from the historical rather than the later predictive part of the book too) but perhaps these are enough to persuade you to check the book out for yourself. Reset: Iran, Turkey, and America’s Future

Cracking Stuxnet↑

So I know this story is now a few months old but I had some free time today while I was putting together IKEA furniture (surprisingly simple) so I listened to another TED talk. This one was given by Ralph Langner, one of the German forensic IT guys who went about dissecting the Stuxnet virus and eventually identifying its target and how it works. Watch the video – it really is a cool story. It also raises some interesting ideas.

What should this story teach us? The fear of a new kind of warfare is nothing new. Hollywood has been warning us for years (Bruce Willis, John Travolta, and even Sandra Bullock way back in the 1990s) about dangers of this new computer-based world. What this story reminds us though is that it really is not just in hollywood. It also is not only identity theft and online banking accounts that can be targets. There is a whole new realm of international espionage going on and it is computer based.

Okay, but why does that matter? In the case of Stuxnet it seems to have been a joint effort of US and Israeli organizations working together to help delay Iran from developing nuclear technology that may be refined and weaponized. Besides the questionable logic of if that really was the most effective tool to be used in countering Iran’s nuclear program, it also raises the question of “what next?” This is one of the points that Mr. Langer brings out. Okay, so the US used a virus-type program on an Iranian nuclear plant, but how many more targets are there? Globally, the vast majority of the targets for this new kind of weaponry are in the West. Is the US prepared for the tables to be turned?

This may be advancing the conversation too far but consider the historical parallel of the nuclear age. Again, the US was on the forefront of the technology. They were the first to develop it, they were the first to use it. Then came the Cold War, kept cold simply because of the MAD principle. Neither side would use the weapon because their was Mutually Assured Destruction. That is not the case here. There is no reason to think a sort of MAD principle will be developed. While the US currently is at the forefront of these new cyber technologies, this video caused me to consider the future. The consequences could be staggering.

Reading Today’s Stories…→8.21

Just a few short links to some of the interesting stories from today:

Syrian opposition gathers in İstanbul for transitional council http://bit.ly/n9w0Sd

As President Assad made another speech broadcast live on Syrian national television attempting to prolong the legitimacy of his government many of the main voices expected to emerge in the post-Assad Syria were just concluding a meeting in Istanbul. The goal was to start to put together a plan for the country should the Assad regime fall. The international pressure is mounting on him, the violence continues to be horrific, yet he retains a surprising amount of popularity with some of the population. This will be a story to continue to watch.

BBC News – Libya conflict: Tripoli fighting as rebels reach city http://bbc.in/nTCh0z

The continuing conflict in Libya took a significant turn today. The rebel forces that have been moving towards the capital of Tripoli are making progress and have captured some key towns. There has been a significant increase in the conflict in the city as more of the citizens are taking up arms against the Gaddafi security forces. The rebels are calling this “Zero Hour” and hope this will be the final push needed to oust the 40+ year regime.

BBC News – US ‘disappointed’ by Iran hiker jail terms for spying http://bbc.in/qOySHU In a story that has been pushed out of the news recently the American hikers who ended up in Iran after beginning their hike in Iraq have now been sentenced. The verdict was three years for illegally entering the country and another five years for spying. The hiker’s plan to appeal the sentence so the story is not over.

Other stories of interest today include: #Flagman, Turkey’s continued bombing of Kurdish rebels in Northern Iraq