In my professional status as Some Guy What Writes Words on the Internet, it’s always a pleasant surprise when I see people who are real actual experts saying stuff that I say on here. Two recent examples have been particularly appreciated by me. First there’s Joshua Keating, Slate’s excellent foreign affairs writer (and I’m not just saying that because I’ve actually met him), on the unusual (so unusual that I have a whole category devoted to it) circumstance that afflicts our government at present, by which I mean that an entire branch of it has decided to quit, and another branch has decided that it’s OK with that decision:
There are several reasons for this trend toward post-Congressional foreign policy. One, obviously, is the dysfunction and gridlock in Congress, a situation that other governments are well aware of. Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif has mused that Obama will have a “a harder job” negotiating with Congress than he will with Iran. Chinese officials love to point out that they’re being lectured on their emissions commitments by a country in which a large number of legislators don’t even believe climate change is occurring.
Given the herculean effort it evidently requires to get an ambassador to Palau confirmed in today’s Congress, it’s not a surprise that the administration is looking for workarounds on key issues like climate change, Iran’s nuclear program, and fighting ISIS.
America does quite well securing agreements in nations — such as, for example, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia — where it only has to negotiate with a handful of elites.
But Turkey is not such a nation. While its elites wanted the agreement, by 2002 Turkey, as Doug Penhallegon writes, had “fully evolved as a representative democracy.” And that was the most decisive factor in the failed negotiations of 2003, since the “Turkish people were almost unanimously opposed to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.”
Similarly in Iraq, both in 2008 and 2011. Obama’s critics have attributed his failure to retain US troops in Iraq in 2011 to his diffidence about the Iraq War and, in some cases, his general lack of confidence in America as a force for good in the world. But as Yochi Dreazen‘s excellent, on-the-ground reporting from Baghdad showed, the dynamics were in fact just what they had been in Turkey: Nervous elites eager to cooperate with the United States, but hemmed in by the weight of a public opinion now newly efficacious (thanks to U.S. nation-building efforts), and far from united behind what they saw as a continuation of the much-resented American ihtilal, or occupation.
Both of these are good reads in full, and not just because they’re agreeing with me.