Politics & Policy

‘Condemned to success,’ &c.

Erdogan in Ankara in 2011 (Reuters photo: Umit Bektas)
On Erdogan, Russia, France, UNESCO, Obama, Ileana, and more

Recep Tayyip Erdogan is well on his way to becoming dictator of Turkey. Officially, his title is “president.” Previously, it was “prime minister.”

I remember him from yore. He was a regular at conferences of the World Economic Forum, whether in Switzerland or in the Middle East. I propose to walk down Memory Lane a bit.

I’m looking at the online journal I wrote from Davos in January and February of 2005. In one installment, I say that Erdogan is making a pitch to the attendees. He is telling them that Turkey is a European nation, ready to take its rightful place in the European Union.

The Ottoman Empire was known as “the sick man of Europe,” he said, not “the sick man of Asia.”

He complained that many Europeans were not yet ready to accept Turkey, even though Turks “by deed and culture are compatible with Europe.” He said he was looking for a “reconciliation of civilizations.”

Here’s something pretty interesting, in light of the years that followed. I’ll quote a paragraph from my journal:

After the speech [Erdogan’s], a woman in the crowd asks an excellent question: “You were elected, from a Muslim party, without bashing the U.S. or Israel. How can you explain to Arab Muslim leaders how to do this?” As the translation is being spoken to him, he breaks into a slow smile. It is a wonderful sight. Then he gives some answer having to do with jobs and social security — and the need to address the immediate problems of the people.

The next year, 2006, Erdogan showed up at a WEF meeting in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. He met with some of us journalists. And I asked him the first question: “Some people say that Islam and democracy are incompatible. What do you say?”

He said you could simply look at Turkey — a model of compatibility. Turkey is 98 percent Muslim, he said. And “we are a democracy, a republic, in which the rule of law, secularism, and the fundamental rights of liberty are held dear.”


He also said that Turkey was “in a state of transition,” in which “people are going from local custom to a more scientific approach in their daily lives.”

Let me now quote from my journal (whose relevant entry is here):

Like others, Erdogan views Turkey as “a bridge between the Arab world and the West.” And since many eyes are on Turkey — if I have interpreted the prime minister correctly — “we are condemned to success.” A nice phrase, that: “condemned to success.” Turkey cannot afford to fail. It needs to set an example.

More than a decade later, it is setting an example, all right — not a good one. (And the word “condemned” seems right.)

‐Given that Boris Nemtsov was murdered in 2015, the main opposition leader in Russia is Alexei Navalny. He has (again) been physically attacked.

In a coordinated effort, someone threw some substance onto his face. Navalny is mainly blinded in one eye. He has dealt with the problem with sangfroid, saying that he hoped to be cured — but, if not, “Russia will have a president with a stylish white eye.”

Part of me says, with great bitterness, cynicism, and disgust, “Why don’t they just kill him and get it over with?”

‐Angela Charlton of the Associated Press wrote an interesting article about Emmanuel Macron, one of the two finalists in the French presidential election (the other being Marine Le Pen). I thought this paragraph was of particular interest:

With concerns about Russian meddling a running theme in the French race, three key figures in Macron’s security team are Russian-speakers — his cybersecurity chief, his towering bodyguard and his security strategist.

‐UNESCO has done what comes naturally to it: passed a resolution against Israel. This one disassociates Israel from Jerusalem — which is like disassociating France from Paris.

I am reminded of one of my favorite stories — which comes to me from Bernard Lewis, the great historian of the Middle East. He was at Princeton when Golda Meir was a guest of the university. She didn’t want to give a speech to students and others. “They know my career, and my views.” She said she would field questions.

Someone asked, “Mrs. Meir, why is it that the PLO belongs to UNESCO while Israel does not?” (Israel was forbidden to join, of course.)

Golda answered, “Well, let’s see: ‘UNESCO’ stands for ‘United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.’ Obviously, the Palestinians have more to contribute to education, science, and culture than we do.”

I think that, in general, there is too much sarcasm in the world, but this, I have to tip my hat to.

‐In my previous Impromptus, I had a note about ex-president Obama and his $400,000 speech — and about Reagan and his $2 million from Japan, etc.

I was very pleased to see an article by Charles Lipson, that sterling professor at the University of Chicago. He has a thoughtful, probing, utterly persuasive treatment of the issue, I think.

“The government has huge financial prizes to hand out,” he writes. “That’s why road construction companies take public officials out for steak dinners.” And so on, and so on.

Barack Obama? He’s out of office now. And people “want to hear him because he is a historic figure and a celebrity, not because he is expected to direct government money their way. The difference is crucial.”

Yes. I’m all for capitalism — honest capitalism. And if people want to pay to hear Obama — all rightie, then. I’d rather pay to hear … I don’t know, Michael McDonald (late of Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers).

‐Yesterday, Kevin Williamson had a shrewd and moving piece about the excuses that people make, among other things. They say there is no room for entrepreneurship. In America, you can’t do what you did before. And yet, lots of people — many of them not born here — are doing it day and night, and night and day.

I thought of something that Harold Hamm told me. He is the leading oilman in America, and he was born the 13th and last child of cotton sharecroppers in Oklahoma.

I asked him, essentially, Is America over? Is there still room for entrepreneurs, and dreamers, and schemers? Oh, yes, he said. Then he quoted an old Enid oilman, Jack Hodgden: “There are more deals than there are people.”

What does that mean? It means that there are more opportunities to be had than there are people stepping up and taking them.

This is too big a subject for my breezy lil’ column: but I believe that initiative — get-up-and-go — is a talent. A gift not unlike musical talent or athletic talent. There are those who lack it. It is a severe handicap. A terrible handicap.

People are given credit for having charm and grace. But aren’t those gifts, too — unearned? There are people who are socially cloddish through no fault of their own, right?

Anyway, to be continued (and continued) …

‐Republican politicians used to make a big deal about personal responsibility. I don’t hear that much anymore. I hear the blaming of furriners, gummint, etc.

‐One of the most delicious pieces of journalism of the 1990s was Byron York’s piece about Clinton and golf: the president and his cheating ways. At least, it was seriously delicious to me.

I thought of it when coming across this article about our current president. And maybe you feel entitled to even more license when you own the course?

‐A few weeks ago, I met a Kosovar Albanian, working in New York. He said to me — totally unprompted — “President Clinton saved us.”

Credit where credit is due.

‐Care for a little music? For my “New York Chronicle,” published in the May New Criterion, go here.

‐A little language? Yesterday, the FBI director said he was “nauseous,” when he meant “nauseated” — which makes him a normal American (alas).

‐I’m not sure that I have a favorite person in public life — but if I did, it might well be Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the veteran congresswoman from Miami. She is a friend of mine (one of the handful I have among officeholders). She is one of the best friends that freedom has — freedom everywhere.

She’s for it in her native Cuba. She’s for it in China. In the Arab world. In Africa. Everywhere.

Do you know how rare this is, an advocacy of freedom, democracy, and human rights all over, not just in a select pocket or two?

She is a great friend of Israel. She knows what is at stake in the Middle East, and she knows the relation of Israel to civilization. If the civilized world lets Israel go down …

Moreover, she has had so much fun in her job. She is born to be a congressman, meeting with person after person, group after group; going to event after event; posing for picture after picture; making argument after argument; giving interview after interview; spreading sunshine, pepper, and love.

I could say more. Anyway, she is retiring. “The graveyard is full of indispensable men,” goes the saying. I believe that. I know it, intellectually. But somehow, I feel the departure of Ileana Ros-Lehtinen from public life keenly.


A word from the National Review Store: To get Digging In: Further Collected Writings of Jay Nordlinger, go here.

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