Friday, August 3, 2012

Walter Russell Mead Went to Yale

I sure don't know what else he has done. He has three books listed on his Wikipedia entry:
  1. Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How it Changed the World.
  2. Power, Terror, Peace and War: America's Grand Strategy in a World at Risk.
  3. God and Gold: Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World
I know that authors don't choose their titles often, but wow, have you seen a more White Apologist list of titles? Mead's dripping, treacly Yale-ness oozes over everything he writes, up to and including his pseudo-Latin titled blog, Via Meadia. He writes lots of stupid things there, the most fascinating of which is his fascination with Iran and Turkey going to war.

Mead is an example of the epidemic of Yale-ness spread through and through American decision-making. He has, of course, no expertise in Turkey, Iran, Islam, non-Arabs and the Arab World, or literally anything else he is writing about. In any subject; housing, education, employment, South Asia...he has no background whatsoever. He is literally making things up as he goes along. I can not overemphasize this point. Me, a law student in the midwest who has but a brief background in the history of Iran but has never read a book exclusively about modern Iran or Iranian history can tell that he is making things up. But he gets a pedestal because He Went to Yale.

Let us begin:
For 400 of the past 500 years, Turkey has dominated Mesopotamia and struggled for power and riches with Iran, which could never quite push the Ottomans out of the Fertile Crescent.
I guess he's starting from Yavuz I Selim, which is cool. Except that Selim didn't fight the Safavids in  Mesopotamia, he fought the Mamluks and Abbasids. And the Ottoman and Safavid Empires are so structurally, institutionally, linguistically, and any other adverb different from the modern republics of Turkey and Iran so as to be completely alien to them. It would be like comparing the Navajo and Cherokee to Arizona and Oklahoma. And that one hundred years not included would be, I assume the 20th century. Where KIND OF LOTS OF THINGS HAPPENED W/R/T MESOPOTAMIA. So every word is factually and heuristically incorrect and we haven't even left the premise. Great.
Turkish economic power is the most important weapon of the Turkish pushback.
He block-quotes the vast majority of his analysis from a Bill Spindle piece in the Wall Street Journal. It is important to note that Spindle is WSJ's Arab correspondent. Read does not use anything from Joe Parkinson, Ayla Albayrak, or Emre Peker in Turkey, all of whom may know a great deal more about Turkey's business community. Calling Turkish economic power a "weapon" in a "pushback" is a bit strange. Iraq - especially Kurdistan - wanted things built and Turkey had the industrial base to build them. Why is this a weapon? It's not like Iran has sprawling concrete factories and innumerable civil engineers to compete; they've all been sanctioned and bombed out of commission, respectively.
However, the sectarian divide between Iraq’s Shiite government and moderately Sunni Turkey is a big obstacle to the expansion of Turkish influence in Iraq. 
Didn't you just say that Turkish companies were making hee-yuuuge piles of money in Iraq? So no, there is no big obstacle. There may be occasional political quarrels, but that's literally what countries do all the time. Canada wants its citizens taken out of Guantanamo, but they're not exactly about to shut-down the border.
Now facing economic sanctions, Iran is having a hard time keeping up with its historical Turkish rivals. Turkish companies can often offer better products at better prices, and the Iranian banking system is hobbled by international sanctions.
Hooray! Facts. Well, except for that "historic Turkish rival" thing which is the linchpin of this two-sentence paragraph. They're such bitter rivals as to have visa-free travel and deep enough trading ties for Turkey to lobby against said hobbling international sanctions.  Because shared economic interests may, possibly, be more important than a few wars a few centuries ago (SEE: British-French relations historically as compared to currently).

 The Turkish businesses that benefit most from the newly opened Iraqi market are Anatolian businesses, many of which are allied with the ruling moderate Islamists in Ankara. The big businesses based in Istanbul are primarily linked to Western and European markets. They aren’t benefiting as much from Iraqi ties as their Anatolian counterparts — something that only confirms Turkey’s Islamist politicians in their belief that Turkey’s prosperity should be sought in its old Ottoman-era provinces to the south and east.
I'm honestly very curious who told them this, because it's comically misleading. Do me a favor: picture a map of Turkey in your head. If you didn't feel like the Google Image Search (Mead sure didn't), here's the first result. Note where Istanbul is. Note where Iraq is. Note where Anatolia is. Do you see how Anatolia is that huge landmass between Istanbul and Iraq? Do you think that, if I was an Iraqi buying concrete from Turkey, I would buy it from the folks thousands of kilometer closer to me? And if I was German, I would buy concrete from Istanbul? And do you think that, to borrow a phrase from Live Aid, concrete knows it's Ramadan?

As for "Turkey's prosperity", well, I could find 2010 data in a 5-second search. It's on page 6 here. You can see that 42%(!!!) of Turkey's trade is with the EU. From there, it's Russia, China, and the U.S. Fifth place is Iran, that ancient enemy, with 3.6% (or about one-twelfth of the EU). Iraq is next with 2.5% of trade, or two-thirds of trade with Iran. Then there's a bunch of "old Ottoman-era provinces"...but not until 6, 10, 11, 13, 15: UAE, Saudi, Algeria, and Israel all in the 1% area. That's right, Israel, proud Jews and therefore enemies of this "Islamicist" government, still does big business with Turkey. 

Turkey does business with pretty much anyone with cash. They should be heralded as free-market wizards by these wizened Yalie Friedmanites. And more on-point to this column and to bury the lede hopelessly: Turkey does vastly more business with their "ancient enemy" than with their "new prosperity", and both of which are negligible compared to EU-related trade. Literally everything you, Mr. Mead, have written is drastically and horrifically incorrect and could be proven so with a very brief moment of research.
Neo-Ottoman Turks can now foresee a time when Syria and Iraq, once key Ottoman provinces, once again come into a Turkish sphere of influence. For other countries in the region, that isn’t good news. Look for Saudi Arabia to start worrying about Turkey in much the same way it now worries about Iran. Egypt, too, isn’t sure it wants to see Turkey take its place as the dominant player in the Middle East.
These are just words. Why are these countries scared of an "ascendant Turkey" if they are going to be doing business with 'em as suggested in the paragraph right above? Why are they worried? What are they worried about? Can you honestly name two adjectives describing Turkey, Mr. Read? Even if I spot you "Muslim"?
The Mesopotamian Game of Thrones continues — much as it has for the last 6000 years.
Nope nope nope nope nope. I appreciate your attempts to launch into pop-culture buzzwords -- you must have an intern! -- but literally none of this has anything to do with Assyrians, Babylonians, Sumerians, or any of that. Turks came into Mesopotamia for the first time 500 years ago, as you just said. Persians came in well before then; but even if we're polite enough to call Medians both Persian and an empire, we're still only talking 2,600 years ago (or less than half of that stupid number you picked because it fits Christian eschatology). And one of the unique aspects of Turkey's relationship with Iraq (I know less about Iran's, to be blunt) is that Turkey and Iraq negotiate at arm's length; Turkey does not attempt to exert force over Iraq. They're certainly not going to let thousands of their soldiers die for it, like you want them to.

Every fact, premise, assertion, and conclusion in this piece is completely, categorically, inexplicably and indubitably incorrect. If I turned this in for any of my classes in undergraduate, I would fail. I know you didn't take any of these classes, and you probably would turn up your nose if I told you they were at a lowly state school.

Yale and Harvard, Oxford and Cambridge are still seen as the ultimate vetting processes that delineate smart from stupid, worth listening to from ignorable. Hay has been made of the fact that all of the Supreme Court Justices went to either Yale or Harvard, and that they have all been taught by the same teachers, to the exclusion of the vast majority of American jurisprudence theory. The Supreme Court has come to judicially incoherent, if not outright nihilistic, conclusions in some cases simply because they have no idea what they are talking about. I'm sure anyone can thing of their favorite few cases, but in what I'm dealing with now, jurisdiction over Indian Country, the case history is full of capricious rulings because none of the justices had ever encountered Indian Law before they came to the bench. This wouldn't be a big deal, of course, were it not for the fact that American Indians are still here and still citizens of this country.

You don't just get the right to spout your white mouth because Providence has granted you a degree from Harvard. I certainly have to live with the consequences if you do. As do the thousands of people you are openly hoping to kill each other. Please remember that the next time you lick your lips lasciviously at the thought of inter-confessional war to make Northern Ireland (which, you know, involved Christians) look like the Yale-Harvard Boat Race.

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