Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Battle over Ricciardone’s nomination to Turkey post

   Friday, August 13, 2010
Turkey continues to attract much heed in Washington for different reasons and developments, even in August, supposedly the dead season of international diplomacy.
Following the first exclusively Turkey hearing at the House of Representative's Foreign Relations Committee just a couple of weeks ago, which came shortly after Francis Ricciardone’s Senate confirmation meeting to be the next U.S. ambassador to Turkey, Ricciardone’s nominations for the Ankara post was blocked last week before it reached a full Senate floor vote, likely for the first time in history.
Senator Sam Brownback, a Republican from Kansas, placed a hold on the nomination of Ricciardone, but did not explain why he opposed the nomination in his request to the president. According to Josh Rogin, who blogs for Foreign Policy’s The Cable, Brownback’s office currently “is preparing a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton explaining the reasons for his objections.”
In Washington, all relevant parties involved in this episode have different readings of what is happening and expectations of what should happen next.
The White House, for example, is confident enough to bet on the confirmation. When I noted how not only Ricciardone’s, but also Matt Bryza’s nomination to be next U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan seem seriously in trouble to many in Washington, a senior White House official responded, “I would dispute your assertion that they are in ‘serious trouble’ and we remain confident both will be confirmed and take up their important posts.” In private communications, the White House sounded even more confident that these two diplomats will be confirmed.
The State Department also believes that the issue will be resolved during the recess and they will work hard for that to happen. However, until Congress comes back from its August recess, there is no other option under the Senate rules but to wait.
The secretary of state’s daily schedule on Thursday, Aug. 12, showed a special policy discussion on Turkey, which was led by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and included Director of Policy Planning Anne Marie Slaughter and Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon, according to Rogin. When State Department Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner was asked whether “Iran will be coming up” in this meeting, Toner responded, “Other than what are the major issues in our relationship with Turkey.”
Toner tried to downplay the Turkey discussion in the same briefing, but it is obvious to many that “the meeting was easily conducted without publishing it on the daily appointments public schedule,” as one State Department watcher said. “This is a message in which the State Department acknowledges some of the difficulties in the relations with Turkey, and more important than that, with the gathering of such a high-level State Department Summit, they also wanted to prove how seriously they are working to do something about the changing Turkey posture,” the source concluded, on condition of anonymity.
As I’ve argued in recent weeks, Republicans have become somewhat more disillusioned with Turkish foreign policy than Democrats after what they saw as several unacceptable developments adding to the whole set of other issues for some time. Dr. Ariel Cohen, senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, stated: “Republicans want the administration to have a clear and robust Turkish policy that goes beyond unsuccessfully pushing for Turkish-Armenian rapprochement. The Administration seems to be currently lacking a policy that would reverse Turkish strategic drift away from the West and the U.S., and the Ricciardone hearings proved that to the Republican senators. This became particularly clear after the attempted Iran nuclear deal, renewal of oil supply to Tehran and the Mavi Marmara affair." When I talked to a senior aide of one of the GOP senators on Thursday, the aide predicted that the Ricciardone fight might go for months, and chuckled when I relayed the White House’s confidence on the nomination.
A leading Armenian-American commentator who is tightly involved with the issues surrounding Turkey in Washington argued that the Armenian lobby has nothing to do with Ricciardone’s Senate hurdles, as opposed to some argued. According to this leading voice of the Armenian intellectual community in the U.S., claims over the Armenian effect on the Ricciardone block are “based on the principle that anything that the Turks don't like must be done either by Armenians or Greeks or Kurds.”
The Armenian lobbies in Washington, indeed, did not make Ricciardone’s candidacy much of an issue since Ricciardone’s appointment was announced. During the Senate confirmation hearing, Ricciardone did not take as much heat from members of the Committee as Bryza did; Bryza took heavy questions and some beating in which his private life and family also came under the spotlight.
Steven Cook, an expert on Turkish politics on the Council on Foreign Relations, made some waves last month when he talked about Ricciardone’s past service in Cairo as ambassador and how his drawing near to the Egyptian regime from the whole Bush freedom agenda put him in an awkward position. Cook stated that “Ricciardone is someone who is in high politics and best in broader public diplomacy” and the right guy for the job. “The signals from the State Department as of last Friday,” he said, make him “hopeful that the issue will be resolved when Congress comes back.”
Mr. Mitchell Reiss, a former colleague of Ricciardone at the State Department and currently the president of Washington College, backed Ricciardone forcefully and said, “It is perplexing to many, and certainly to me, that such a courageous diplomat who served his country for so long in very difficult times and places” would face such an obstacle now. Reiss said Ricciardone is indeed a diplomat who is not shy to share his opinion and this might have caused some problems in the past. However, Reiss added, “[The] absence of an American ambassador in Ankara in a time when there is much work that needs to be done with Turkey in economic, politics and security areas is a great concern.”
When I asked him what he could tell about claims that Ricciardone would be too soft against the Turkish administration which, for many, has been going out of its way to placate Iran and pick an unnecessary fight with Israel, Reiss responded that “such assertions gives the wrong signal, as they imply the U.S. can dictate policies on any sovereign country.”
According to Joshua Walker, a fellow at the German Marshall Fund, even the increasing attention on the confirmation process of the U.S.’ next ambassador to Turkey tells the changing story of a more powerful Turkey. “Such hearings are supposed to only attract very limited press people and diplomats,” said Walker. “But at this time, there seems to be enormous attention to the play.”
Will the U.S. administration confidently and forcefully push Ricciardone forward, use some of its precious political capital before the midterm elections and find ways to cajole the U.S. senators, or are the Republicans just too determined against and fed up with Turkey’s foreign policy practices of recent years?
For now, in Washington, no one seems to know the answer to this question. What seems to be happening though is that the Justice and Development Party, or AKP’s, very much free and independent foreign policy ride of recent years might be coming to an end, along with the heightened alertness and suspicion of members of the Republican Party over the Turkish administration’s true, long-term motives in its region.
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Guest - Safiyah
2010-08-17 20:14:10
 August is very hot in Washington. Apparently the observation that the relationship between Washington and Ankara are as hot as the temperature outside is an understatement in the extreme. 
Guest - kwell
2010-08-16 21:07:22
 very interesting.. what the hell is going on between our state department and the Hill?? 
Guest - Wilson
2010-08-16 01:06:47
 This is a striking example of how American interests are hurt in pursuit of petty Armenian interests. It must be clear by now that Armenian interests are greatly destructive to American interests. The Armenian lobby applies pressure and/or greases the wheels (carrot and stick) on and the American interests are struck down. Azerbaijan is a very important US ally in that troubled part of the world and a crucial energy source for perpetually energy-hungry America. Turkey has been and still is a staunch US ally and a formidable regional power with geo-strategic, political, and economic importance with unique social, cultural, and historical ties to the Caucasus, Central Asia, Balkans, the Middle East, East Mediterranean and North Africa. The US representation in such a critical place is taken hostage by a corrupt and violent Armenian lobby in concert with a misinformed and gullible politician. What a shame! 
Guest - babadog
2010-08-15 14:04:07
 Forget all this frenzied speculation about who becomes or does not become the USA ambassador in Turkiye because there is not a hope in hells chance of Turkiyes foreign policy Why should it as its serving us beautifully and producing the right results for Turkiye like its never done.

Can the Ground Zero Mosque help healing?

The “Ground Zero Mosque” is the latest controversy creating spirited debate in America. The controversy started when the Cordoba Initiative, a Muslim organization, wanted to get a permit to build a “community center,” including a mosque, two blocks from the site of the attacked World Trade Center. The emotional fight began and still continues over whether the initiative is an example of insensitivity to the feelings of family members of 9/11 victims, or is it a way forward to bring reconciliation and healing for post-9/11 America?
One of the biggest motives of this controversy is the image of Islam in America, and particularly how it has been perceived since September 11. For many, Islam is a religion which chiefly spreads hatred. A lot of Americans believe that Islam is an exceptionally brutal religion in which basic human rights are unimportant for especially those who belong to other faiths. Since 9/11, this chain of beliefs has gained more evidence to prove its arguments are worthy, in light of many radical Islamic terrorists blowing up innocent women or infants almost every single day.
According to the July 20 National Rasmussen polls, only 20 percent of American people favor the building of a mosque near the 9/11 Ground Zero site in New York City, and 54 percent oppose the idea.  
The segment of American society which has strong reactions against Islam does not only belong to the South or Midwest part of America, places where people are traditionally more conservative and suspicious of foreign culture or religion, but a significant part of the conservative elite, politicians and writers alike, also fall into this segment of society that shares a similar negative perspective of Islam. Members of this spectrum have some knowledge of Islam, through books and discussions which are abundant in number, however many times more extremely limited in context.
The Cordoba Initiative, in its mission statement, clearly states that one of its aims is “bringing back the atmosphere of interfaith tolerance and respect that we have longed for since Muslims, Christians and Jews lived together in harmony and prosperity eight hundred years ago.”
Still, the initiative has been under heavy fire for sometime. The matter also became a hot political issue as the midterm elections are getting closer in the United States. Especially many of the Republican Party leaders are reacting strongly to the idea of the mosque, calling it a threat to American values.
One of the loudest oppositions came from the Anti-Defamation League, or ADL’s, National Director Abe Foxman. Foxman said, “Ultimately this is not a question of rights, but a question of what is right. In our judgment, building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain – unnecessarily – and that is not right,” adding, “If you want to heal us, don’t do it in our cemetery.”
The Associated Press reported on Thursday that the American Center for Law and Justice, founded by the Rev. Pat Robertson, filed suit Wednesday to challenge the Landmark Preservation Committee's decision to let developers tear down a building to make way for the mosque. Therefore even though the Commission gave a green light for proceeding, the lawsuits will follow their course and produce a verdict eventually.
The liberal spectrum of the country and its intellectual community mostly argue that it would be un-American if they interfered in the establishment of a religious house, wherever the location would be. New York’s current independent mayor, Michael Bloomberg, is one of those leading politicians who has been supporting the mosque project, and last Wednesday gave an emotional speech to recall America’s founding principles and melting pot-tolerant society. Bloomberg said in his statement, “If somebody wants to build a religious house of worship, they should do it and we shouldn’t be in the business of picking which religions can and which religions can’t. We would betray our values and play into our enemies' hands if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else."
It is a contentious issue and both sides have some strong arguments. Nevertheless, it is still such a commendable capability for a country to discuss an event which has left such a big scar in its recent memory.
Nobody should belittle the opposition’s arguments. There is a genuine confusion in the minds of Americans in terms of understanding Islam’s true nature. Millions of American parents question everyday why their sons and daughters have to go overseas to fight with “Muslim radicals,” who hate their way of life. For them, a mosque is a place that breeds the terrorism which haunt their children at the end.
There is also a narrative discrepancy between many Americans who view the Mosques as Muslim barracks and the Domes as their helmets and the rest. In the poll taken by Quinnipiac University last month, 55 percent of New York City voters say, “Mainstream Islam is a peaceful religion," while 22 percent say Islam "encourages violence against non-Muslims."
The first narrative argues that even though the U.S. and the West have invested in the Muslim countries for their well-being, and showed respect for their religions and cultures, they receive violence in return. Many of them laud the concern of the possible effect such a mosque would have on the families of 9/11 victims, and believe that the initiative would also harm cross-cultural understanding, as opposed to what the Cordoba House argues.
The opposite narrative, which goes through many average Muslims’ minds in many Muslim countries, is that the West is repulsive, keeps humiliating Islam by invading Muslim lands and ties them up in various conflicts so it can continue exploiting them further.
Frustration with the economy, unemployment or immigration apparently does not stop the American people from spending much of their time in this particular issue. According to the Rasmussen Report, 51 percent of Americans follow the recent news reports about the mosque either “very,” or “somewhat,” closely. And it is apparent that the mosque project opened a wound that is still too raw for some to even talk about.
In the end, Americans will decide what kind of society they are aspire to hold dear and continue to build. In spite of radical rhetoric which frequently dominates discussion, there is a space for average Americans to let their feeling be heard on the issue. It is true that the American and every other public does it best when they debate.
The Muslim community in America also ought to spend more time considering New Yorkers’ sensitivities. Muslims in America must ask for freedom of religion and shall not stop working until they receive their rights fully. And the latest panel decision shows that it indeed received its rights to build. Now, maybe it is time for the Muslims to consider Americans’ opposition with respect and be open to make gestures and compromises if necessary.
The gesture could easily be to move the mosque a little further from the site.
Nothing is wrong with hearing others’ memories and opinions if the main motive on the both sides is healing.
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Guest - Navin Varghese
2010-08-13 08:53:16
 Well written and balanced article! The author of this article deserves a raise! 
Guest - Lazer
2010-08-10 08:27:22
 A few days ago 8 foreign medical workers with a total over 100 years of experience, leaving behind financially lucrative jobs to help Afghans, some for decades, were brutally killed by Taliban claiming “they were Christian missionaries,” sparing the life of one Afghan reciting verses from the Koran. How many moderate Muslims condemned this senseless killing and backward mentality? Zero. Complacency (or fear). Yet, Fareed Zakaria (CNN/ Newsweek), moderate and secular Muslim, was quick to return an award to Jewish Anti defamation league, and tried to justify anti-Semitism, after they expressed an opinion on the location of this mosque. It’s long overdue for moderate and modern Muslims to step up, be heard, and react to any violent and backward Islamism. If this Imam and his backers really want to promote tolerance, they should build a $100 million school/center in Afghanistan not in USA, which already is the most tolerant nation. 
Guest - Lazer
2010-08-09 19:31:19
 A hardworking collegue of mine died on one of the planes on that horrendous day and just last week I read the ignorant and irrational Ahmadinejad claim once again that no Jew was killed on 9/11 because they all were prewarned. And this is the Islamist mind Turkey caters to? I am amazed how backward and complacent Muslims around the world are and do not demand a leader that will take them out of the 13th century mentality; a leader who, for beginners, is secure enough not to correlate his religious faith with how covered women are. 
Guest - Sylvia
2010-08-09 17:15:09
 @lazer, dr.P - I could not agree more. If truly there was the wish to live peacefully together and respect each other (to the benefit of every man and woman in this world) than there would be not only demanding more and more rights on the muslim part, but showing and practising the same tolerance and freedom they are claiming for themselves. Many people here get really fed up of this situation - and that is not Islamophobic- it is exasperation of being deprived slowly and cunningly of our own values, traditions and rights by the high Muslim echelons pushing the "take-over", taking advantage of our freedom-granting laws 
Guest - dr p
2010-08-09 14:41:56
 the mosque/cultural centre has nothing to do with healing or understanding - or any other cultural elite buzz word. i know of no site of deliberate mass destruction and murder caused by a western country in the islamic world; to build a church at such a site would be analogous to the proposed mosque, with no kudos from zoehre or mr doganay. 
Guest - Lazer
2010-08-08 17:36:06
 Also, that great mosque in Rome was built in the 1990s with the permission of Vatican but in the last few years, the Pope has been asking Saudi Arabia, where there are nearly one million Christian workers to build a church. We all know the answer. In fact, there used to be (probably even today) check points at 10 kilometers outside Mekke to make sure no non-Muslim gets in. That’s not a joke. I think the world is tired of lack of tolerance and good faith on the Islamist side. 
Guest - Sylvia
2010-08-08 16:20:24
 @lazer- thanks for this background filling in. I wasn t aware of these facts and my thinking of building a mosque near Ground zero was not positive was just my personal feeling. @Murat- I very much agree with you.: a chuch in Mecca would go a great deal against mutual comprehension and respect. There is a very big Mosque in Rome, the seat of the Catholic religion- reciprocration is what is being missed very much. 
Guest - mehrdad
2010-08-08 14:33:45
 the sceptical people are right over this mosque. although there are many many liberal muslims, nowhere in the islamic world there exists a thing like a liberal islam. no islamic school (sunnis or shiits) can be titeld as liberal. allover in the islamic countries there exist intolerance against noh-muslims. so its ok that the majority of US citizens dont want a mosque there. by the way, erdogan himself titeld mosques as barraks and minarets as bajonets. 
Guest - Murat
2010-08-08 09:15:35
 Firstly, this is primarily a matter for the local zoning board and they have acted rather courageously. Bigots from all over the land however are tripping over each other to exploit this. Not mentioned here is the proposal to dedicate a floor or a room for 9/11. At this point even Bloomberg's best efforts will not be enough to slow down the negaitve momentum, the Islamophobists now have a new cause. Cultural center, not just a mosque, will not hurt the "healing" but hard to see how it will help greatly either. A church in Mecca would have done a lot more. 
Guest - Lazer
2010-08-08 07:11:04
 Before starting to sling the usual “Islamophobia” around again, keep in mind NY City already has at least 128 mosques. Besides the location, there are other issues with this mosque. Many find the name for this $100 million structure, Cordoba House, to be deliberately insulting, referring to Cordoba, Spain, and symbolizing Muslim victory over the Christian Spaniards. Also, the founder, Imam Faisal Rauf, has stated in the past that U.S. policies "were an accessory" to 9/11 and that Osama bin Laden is “made in the U.S.A." He has also claimed that Shariah Law is compliant with the U.S. Constitution. The emotions of 9/11 families and the feelings of Americans should not be minimized. Yet, this imam’s wife is quoted as having said that building a mosque two blocks from ground zero was "no big deal." A less significant and a more neutral site could be selected and maybe the $100 million can be better used to educate some Islamists or jihadists about the meaning of “religion of peace.” 
Guest - Cyic
2010-08-07 22:24:07
 Nice article. Complicated issue. The fact that almost all terrorism throughout the World is associated with Islam make the "religion of peace" nothing other than a politically correct mantra. Building a mosque at this time will be viewed as callous by many American's. 
Guest - Paul
2010-08-07 19:41:00
 In spite of the fact that the 9/11 attacks were perpetuated by Islamic terrorists, Americans aren't necessarily against Islam; what they can't understand, however, is why such a large Islamic center and mosque must be built practically at Ground Zero--is there a large Muslim population in the Wall Street district that necessitates its construction right there? Many also interpret this decision as an Islamic tradition of build a mosque as a triumph of one ideology or religion over another, just like the fine tradition of building mosques on top of former Christian and Jewish places of worship (Aghia Sophia, St. John in Damascus, Dome of the Rock on top of the Temple Mount, and countless other examples throughout the Middle East. 
Guest - Multi
2010-08-07 18:58:18
 America is a multicultural and plurastic society and just needs to get used to differences, period. 
Guest - Sylvia
2010-08-07 17:38:46
 I am not American, but how can one forget that day which turned all our perceptions and values around! This terrible thing was done in the name of Islam, I remember seeing the same day in TV enormous crowds of Muslims jumping up and down, screaming for joy at the notice of more than 3ooo victims, trampling on the US flag and burning it - and it is continuing-each day there are many killed in atrocious ways (even today in Afghanistan, 8 medical doctors which were there to help the population) - look at those hate-filled videos of preachings of Imams, mostly Pakistani and Egyptians -if the peace-loving Muslims, those which aspire to just a quiet and serene life, do not make themselves heard, make no big demonstrations, isolate those fundamentalists- how can a Christian perceive the Islam as a religion of peace? I myself would feel a Mosque to be built near Ground Zero not as a sign of religeous tolerance, but as a sign of victory of fundamentalism. Imagine if it was the other way round! 
Guest - anonymous
2010-08-07 03:44:41
 Mayor Bloomberg is right. He is a good mayor for New York. Some people are islamophobic, like some people are antisemitic. It's prejudice. 
Guest - Cherubim
2010-08-07 03:07:43
 The site of the 911 tragedy does not need a mosque, a church, a temple, a synagogue, or any other kind of religious symbol. There are alternatives to fundamentalist religions of all types, which have not brought mankind peace. The wars and the suffering of people rage on. I want peace, enlightenment, LOVE, and HEALING at ground zero. I want a monument at ground zero with the words and music to this song. "Heal the World": In this place you'll feel There's no hurt or sorrow. There are ways to get there If you care enough for the living Make a little space, make a better place. Chorus: Heal the world Make it a better place For you and for me and the entire human race There are people dying If you care enough for the living Make a better place for You and for me. Michael Jackson sings it better than I can write it. Please click on the video link below (or copy and paste in into your address bar) and read, listen, and pray to our creator for “Healing”. eature=related Thank you, Michael Jackson. 
Guest - Truth or Dare
2010-08-07 00:22:13
 Healing start at home, in the Muslim countries. Not abroad. And much of that money behing such a p[rojetct came from people who, deep in their hearts and minds, don't believe either in democracy or in the right of "infidels" and "unclean" people entereing the paradise....It is all a bla-bla-bla of a posturing that seems very hip, New Yorker actually, but, deep down, is hollow - and chillingly patronizing. Quite a chunk of that money belongs to people that exploit democracy for their own theocratic plans of taking over the world in the name of Allah.