Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Vertigo in Europe: Elections, the Tulip Crisis and the Crackup

The past few days have seen so much chaos in Europe that I can barely keep up with it. Three critical elections, or sets of elections, ahead: The Dutch go to the polls tomorrow; the Turks will vote on constitutional reform on Sunday; and the two-round French presidential election takes place in April and May.
As you probably heard, last week Erdoğan called the Germans Nazis. The Dutch then barred Turkish ministers from campaigning in favor of their referendum in Rotterdam — Turkish expats can vote in Turkish elections — ostensibly on the grounds that their visit would cause unrest in the days prior to the Dutch election. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoğlu insisted upon causing unrest anyway, daring the Dutch to stop him from coming, which they did, and for emphasis the Dutch sicced the dogs on rioting pro-AKP Turks. Erdoğan then called the Dutch Nazis. Everyone in Turkey and the Netherlands went nuts, which was precisely the point of this whole charade: On the Turkish side, the goal (clearly planned in advance, and announced) was to mobilize their shock troops in the Netherlands, stage those scenes, stir up nationalist passions in Turkey, use these to pass the referendum, and succeed in giving Erdoğan all the power, forever; on the Dutch side, the goal was to persuade the voters that Prime Minister Mark Rutte can be just as tough on Turks as Party-of-One Geert Wilders — though everyone’s a bit worried now that he overshot and just persuaded the Dutch to vote for Wilders.
If this explanation went by too fast for you, Aaron Stein, senior resident fellow of the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, offered a running commentary as this unfolded: It should help with the details:
1. Govt X refuses to allow govt Y to hold a rally.
2. Govt Y changes rally location to a consulate, violating its own law.
3. Govt X then refuses to grant landing rights to FM from govt Y.
4. Govt Y calls govt X a Nazi and threatens sanctions.
5. Govt X gets offended.
6. Minister from Govt Y will drive to consulate in Govt X, violating own laws, but circumventing landing rights kerfuffle.
7. Govt X closes the road to consulate.
8.  (Will update as  developments in total insanity continue).
9. Minister from Govt Y is driving from Govt Z, which also blocked rally, but allowed Govt Y to break its own law to campaign at consulate.
10. Govt Y also called govt Z a Nazi, but had a phone call to smooth things over .
11. ! FM from govt Y reminds govt X that, were it not for goodwill from a now dead empire, it would not have tulips!
12. Govt Y trolls allied with party behind rally proposals trolling govt x’s president on twitter and, mistakenly, govt F’s president.
13. Govt F’s president has the same name as Govt X, resulting in trolling confusion.
14. : Minister from Govt Y traveling from Govt Z has been stopped by police forces in Govt X.
15. Govt X is calling the police blockade a quarantine, not a blockade, as the latter would be an act of war.
16. Confirmed contact along the contact line, RUMINT in govt X says a fine may be coming. Escalation ladder.
17. : Police forces from Govt X escorting govt minister from Y to the border with country Z.
18. Quarantine maintained, whilst remembering that adults run these two countries (allegedly).
19. Protests at quarantine line, with tensions now threatening to spark a new front in the .
20. President of country F still being trolled accidentally, threats coming to incorporate the wrong govt into long dead empire.
21. Govt X stops journalists from govt Y’s official agency at the border, betraying values of the union govt Y pretends to want to join.
22. FM from govt Y touches down in govt F for a speech. President of govt F still being trolled accidentally.
23. Govt Y basically kicks out Govt X’s ambassador.  deepens.
24. State backed journalists from govt Y defy govt X, back on the quarantine line giving updates.
25. Fog of war. Tweet #22 is partially incorrect. Trolling on-going, but trip to govt F will take place in future.
26. 2nd and 3rd quarantine lines open up in Govt y to protect/pressure Govt X diplomats, now 3 points of escalation in play .
27. Minister from Y returns from Z to X and now may be arrested in the latest farce that is the .
28. Update to #25. Tweet 22 was accurate
29. And an arrest.
30. Y’s bodyguards disarmed, were carrying without permission from X.
31: This is about a political party rally in a third country, held at a consulate that by law is not allowed to hold political rallies.
32. Minister is still in her car, raising prospect of being towed to Z.
33. Won’t be towed. Moved to a new vehicle and headed back to Z
34. RUMINT. Lek River Shield being discussed.
35. Minister from Y back in Z after X escorted her with cars and a helicopter.
(I think Aaron at that point he remembered he had research to do, and gave up.) Anyway, it got worse from there.
EU and NATO officials have been pleading for calm. Uninspired by these importunings, the Turkish government barred the Dutch ambassador, closed Turkish airspace to official Dutch flights, and called the Dutch Nazis a few more times for good measure.
Meanwhile the Turkish foreign minister visited Metz, in France, to campaign, where he called the Netherlands “the capital of fascism.” As far as I know — French journalists aren’t exactly jonesing to go to Metz, it’s middle of nowhere, so there wasn’t much reporting about what actually happened — the visit otherwise passed without incident. But it set off a round of pre-election competition among the French presidential candidates and pundits to see who could deplore in the most arduous and melodramatic terms the decision to let Cavusoğlu into France in the first place. A leading entry, from Nicolas Dupont-Aignan of Figaro:
I am ashamed of France today. I am ashamed that our government, our President of the Republic, is organizing a political meeting for a Turkish dictator who despises the Europeans, who threatens us and who treats Madame Merkel like a Nazi. I do not accept our treating a friendly country like Nazis, it is indecent. That France lies down in this way is pitiful.* This is the long continuation of a policy of national resignation. Away with Monsieur Hollande, urgently!**
*He said “se couche,” which can also means “get in bed,” so the phrase had a somewhat sexual implication. Tricky to translate.
**Mind you, Monsieur Hollande isn’t running.
Some quick thoughts. First, may I direct you to an excellent explainer on the Turkish referendum in question, which is now quite a bit more likely to pass? That outcome could not be less in the interests of anyone in Europe (not least the Turks themselves), so the lack of strategic foresight in the Netherlands is notable.
Second, let’s reflect on the way we arrived at this impasse. From 2002-2010, the Netherlands was the single largest source of foreign direct investment in Turkey, making it by far the largest source of FDI per capita. But these massive inflows of FDI played an extremely significant role in allowing Erdoğan to consolidate power. Few asked, back then, whether this was an outcome to be desired. That it wasn’t — and that it was an obvious strategic catastrophe for Europe in the making — was pretty clear to anyone paying attention.
During the same period, American and European politicians and pundits, the Dutch in particular, offered lavish support and encouragement to AKP, insisting Turkey was “liberalizing.” Now it was, in the sense that it became much more welcoming of FDI. Otherwise, it was not. To the contrary. The warning signs were ignored in a miasma of greed, wishful thinking, and intellectual laziness. If you don’t believe me when I say, “This was predictable long ago, but it was impossible to get anyone to pay attention,” check out my desperate attempts to get anyone’s attention, here on Ricochet. And if you think this international incident is about anything other than Turkish and Dutch domestic politics and their simultaneous races to the populist bottom, ask yourself why no one raised any objections then to that democracy-destroying constitutional referendum — or to the Turkish politicians who campaigned for it in Europe back then.
(ITYSYFF interlude over.)
But this isn’t even the biggest story that broke in the past few days. A hard Brexit is on: The UK plans to trigger Article 50 imminently. This has prompted Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to announce she’ll seek another Scottish independence referendum, this on the grounds that Britain is dragging Scotland out of the EU against its will and on terms it doesn’t want.
A horrified Theresa May reproached Sturgeon and her party: “The tunnel vision that the SNP has shown today is deeply regrettable. It sets Scotland on a course for more uncertainty and division, creating huge uncertainty,” she admonished.
So let’s recap: The British argument is that they must leave the EU to regain their sovereignty, but Scotland must remain in the UK lest it set Scotland on a course for division and uncertainty.
It doesn’t add up, alas, and everyone knows it.
Then it got worse: Sinn Fein then announced that it too wanted a referendum on Northern Ireland leaving the UK, this “as soon as possible.” Now, Scotland will be (reasonably) fine either way, if impoverished and diminished, but Northern Ireland is apt to pay the price of Brexit in blood. “The Ulstermen,” as a friend who doesn’t wish to be quoted wrote on Facebook yesterday, “will lose their minds. Everything that was supposedly over will reignite.” He’s right.
Spain, meanwhile, tried and banned from politics the former head of Catalonia from public office for staging an informal referendum on independence. “The case,” reports France24, “comes as separatist political parties in Catalonia, a wealthy region with its own language and distinct culture, are pushing to hold another vote on breaking away from Spain in September.”
(Is anyone seeing yet why I don’t welcome the fracturing of Europe or believe its dissolution will achieve the happy and peaceful end state its advocates claim? It’s okay if you don’t. Just file these thoughts away for future reference.)
Meanwhile, in a surprisingly little-noted news item, the Russian Duma is proposing a law to give citizenship to ethnic Russians the world around based on the “right of the soil,” as they put it (or as I understand it, from Google Translate). If you’re a blood kin of a Russian or speak Russian, you too can be a Russian! Those of you whose minds tend to dwell unpleasantly on historic precedent can easily imagine where that might go. And the British intelligence services called an emergency summit with Britain’s political parties to warn them they’re at risk of the next general election being disrupted by Russian cyber-attacks.
Russian cyber-attacks on Europe continued apace.
What else? Yesterday, Hungarian President János Áder, an ally of Reigning Authoritarian Loon Viktor Orbán, was re-elected. By a large majority.
And what else? Oh yes, the French election went full-on anti-Semitic, albeit only for a day, though that was enough to make quite a number of us here truly ill:

That stuff, those ideas, these images, just will not die. And they’re reborn in chaos, so let’s hope this all settles down after these elections, and hope for the election of politicians who don’t themselves long for more chaos.
Anyway, that’s the news. (tl;dr: No statesmen, no foresight, no vision, no adults in charge, everything spinning apart.) All I can say is that if the world keeps dragging itself toward hell so effortfully, it will probably succeed in getting there.
I sure hope everyone sobers up.

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