No victor but so many victims

No victor but so many victims

Reading the Barack Obama interview by Thomas Friedman in the New York Times, I have come to the conclusion that we still do not know how to go from diagnosis to policy action. That makes us woefully unprepared for what is happening in the Middle East.

Obama said he is going to “involve America more deeply in places like the Middle East to the extent that the different communities there agree to an inclusive policy of no victor/no vanquished.” Obama seems to be sticking to his no victor/no vanquished mantra. The more diverse and polarized the society is, he seems to argue, the more important that principle becomes. In other words, if you are not ready to help yourselves, Obama says, do not expect any outside support. That is fine in principle, but it won’t survive contact with the real world. What if there is no understanding of no victor/no vanquished, but the case has a high number of innocent people under threat? We are all heartbroken by the pictures of Yazidis running from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terror. Obama’s prerequisite is not there, but there is a strong reason for action. In cases such as these, inaction may be as devastating as weapons of mass destruction.

The part of the interview I like most is on the situation in Libya. That part definitely shows the policy irrelevance of the diagnosis. Obama defends the operation against Moammar Gadhafi as necessary, yet his biggest regret is “doing it without sufficient follow-up on the ground to manage Libya’s transition to democratic politics.” Obama is undermining his own argument here. In a situation where your no victor/no vanquished principle does not exist on the ground, how can you “manage Libya’s democratic transition?” That diagnosis of “do not help those who are not ready to help themselves” cannot take you to that conclusion. “Hey, they were not even ready to help themselves, how can we do anything?” That is a cheap excuse for inaction.  No politics is bad politics.

I am now only hearing the silence of the victims. They are hunted not for their actions, but their identities. Take a moment to consider that. You can hide your ideas but you cannot hide who you are. Sunni, Shiite, Kurdish, Yazidi, Turcoman. The Syria-Iraq problem is not confined to those countries, but spills over to Turkey, Jordan, Iran and many others countries. In Turkey, we still do not officially classify them as refugees, but rather as “guests.” That is a joke, a giant vacuum of politics creating incredible damage. There are now around 1.2 million “guests” in Turkey, which, as a country of 77 million, should be able to handle them. Not in Kilis though, right at the border. Kilis is a city of 80,000, where 120,000 refugees are now flooding the streets. In Gaziantep, the share of refugees is approaching 25 percent of the population, with the same thing in Kahramanmaraş and Osmaniye. The higher the share of the refugee population, the more imminent is the need for a policy framework. According to an AFAD 2013 survey, half of the guests have no intention of leaving Turkey before the dust is settled in Syria and Iraq. That is going to take more than a few decades. The proverb says “the best visit is a short visit.” The longer guests stay, the more problematic things become. That is where we are now with tensions growing in the region between Turkish citizens and the refugees.

A new immigration policy would be a good place for Turkey to start.