tv The Cycle MSNBC June 11, 2013 12:00pm-1:01pm PDT
bit. >> well, what's going on essentially is you see a lot of the younger folks who have not been really enthusiastically accepting the essentially moving of the turkish government towards the conservative slant. let me be clear on what conservative is in their view. they're doing things like cutting down on access to alcohol, on choices regarding reproductive health, all the things that we have in our society. so what has happened is over the past few weeks, these younger people have been out protesting in the streets, and the prime minister of turkey has severely decided to crack down in the last 24 hours, which has resulted obviously in rubber bullets being fired and the chaos you're now seeing on the streets. >> yeah, and the prime minister has been defiant in the face of these protests. he's called these protesters the work of looters and thugs. what have we heard from him in the past, say, 24 hours that
sort of gives us an indication of what he's planning to do next about this? >> well, i think, as you point out, he's been very clear to say there's other reasons. this isn't about civil rights, this is about people trying to influence turkey becoming a 21st century power. that's what he's put it as. he keeps saying these are just people trying to hold turkey back. i would disagree with that, obviously. i think what we see here is he's going to actually continue this effort because he thinks it's in his best interest to do so. sadly, let me be clear for your audience to understand this, turkey was set up in 1923 by the first leader then who declared the turkish republic. he declared it a secular state. what you're seeing here is se l essentially the government is moving it back toward a religious state. >> walk us through that conflict. we do know turkey is about 80 million people. in contrast to most countries in the region, it's 99% sunni
muslim. how does this clash suggest sort of a break or a concern of a break with that secular approach that's been turkey's historical tradition? >> well, i think clearly when you have, you know -- since 1923, the tradition of having a culture which is essentially free to kind of be itself, be very european more in flavor than arab or muslim. i think that's what we're seeing here. we're seeing youth who are used to having a lot of choices, being in their view severely curtailed for reasons the government thinks are in their interests. this all goes back to personal choice, i believe. so you then add on the conflict in syria. there's clear issues there. you've got issues relating to the curds, which are coming up, iran. so i think what you're seeing here is a boiling point which frankly we may see this spill
over into jordan if we're not careful in how we handle it or how we work with it. >> tony, people are reporting that the protests began with an attempt to save a park. can you explain why that area, why that place is so important to people? >> well, i think it symbolizes, again, the whole youthful movement, the idea of doing things to be free. i think it became almost a metaphor for the larger issues as we saw transpire over the last few weeks. this blossomed into these kids coming out and filling whole bridges. i remember thisu=:ú;,ujuk star picture of -- it looks like the golden gate bridge filled with people protesting. so that small issue became the metaphor for the larger con trukt of what we're seeing now. what we have to focus on, really, is they are an ally. they've been a very staunch ally. we're at a critical time. while we can't necessarily influence what's going on internally, we have to be very
concerned about adding to the larger chaos within the region at this point. >> tony, let me have you stand by for a second. with us now is former state department officer joel reuben. joel, tony was just talking to us about a potential u.s. response and suggesting we can't get involved but we have to watch this closely. what would you expect our official response to be, and when would you expect that to come? >> well, thanks for having me, se. this really puts the administration in a tough position right now. so many different issues in the region are at play. syria and the potential conference or the non-conference about resolving or dealing with the issues there. middle east peace initiative that secretary kerry is pursuing between israelis and palestinians. there's the ongoing tensions with iran. so the administration has really put a lot of eggs in the basket of the relationship with the prime minister in turkey and
really banked on his view and his management of turkey as a democratic country, a secular country to really lead the way. so i would assume that sooner rather than late erklater they' to be talking about this. certainly the administration is going to need to make clear that there are interests at play in a relationship with turkey, but there are also values that we as a country and turkey as a country need to uphold and stand by as they deal with this internal crisis. >> joel, can we just take a step back from politics for a minute. our own richard engel a moment ago was reporting with a gas mask on. can you talk about the physical conditions of people? certain injuries have been reported. nearly 50 people hit by rubber bullets. do you know of any other injuries right now?
>> just in what i'm watching in the reporting and what richard engel and others who are very valiant on the scene right now in covering this -- and that is a big concern. these protests spread to 67 cities over the past week. that means that the potential for increases in violence is there. what the government in turkey needs to be very cautious about is enflaming a situation. certainly the property testers feel aggrieved, not just in the physical reactions, but also they felt they had an agreement of some sort on how to navigate in the days ahead and feltñrñr was violated. so there is a potential for increased violence. if anything, we've seen across the region violence is unpredictable. it can come in waves. interestingly, israel two years ago had protests in the streets that did not turn violent.
several hundred thousand people came out and they had an alternative course. this is not at all a predetermined outcome. turkey is a democracy. hopefully they can figure out how to cap this where it is. >> all right, joel. thanks for that. hang on for a moment. let's bring in richard engel. richard, what's going on where you are? >> reporter: the clashes are continuing. police are still firing tear gas. you'll have to excuse the audio here because there is so much tear gas. i'm still wearing this gas mask. you can hear that popping behind me. each one of those pops is a shot from a type of shotgun that fires a tear gas canister. the police are just firing them almost every second down now into the side streets. they're trying to prevent the demonstrators from coming back into the square. there are still clouds of tear gas in the air.
some of them are very close by. right now the square is pretty much empty. it is just full of riot police and full of tear gas. >> richard, how does this situation compare to the reporting you've done during uprising in the middle east, in egypt, in syria. >> reporter: i don't think it really compares. it could get to that level. i think everyone in this country and certainly in the u.s. administration hopes that it doesn't. syria is in a category all to itself. syria is an open war. this is just unfortunately a situation where there is a great deal of gas masks in the air. it is not seeing any kind of live ammunition. so far the death toll has been very low. the government could find a way out of it at this stage. when you had the protests in
tahrir square for the revolution going on in syria, there has been no diplomatic solution, no diplomatic way out of that conflict. this is a pleasant -- it has caused a lot of disruption, but it is still at a level where it could be dialed back. >> richard, we know the prime minister has called on protesters to withdrawal and plans to meet with protest 1lans to meet with protest what's the latest official word out of the prime minister's office? >> reporter: the prime minister has been incredibly dismissive of the demonstrators. the demonstrators say he's become arrogant. he's become overconfident. the prime minister is popular, not here in the square, but he is popular in this country. he was elected three times, as you and your guests have mentioned. he's overseen a period of tremendous economic growth in turkey. but if you ask the protesters here, all of that has made him feel that he doesn't need to
listen to anyone anymore, that he can do whatever kind of project he wants, that he can implement an islamic agenda and interfere, and this is to quote protesters i spoke to earlier, in the personal lives of people living in turkey. this country has been secular for the last 90 years. the protesters say as he grows in power, he's imposing his own personal islamic agenda on this very large, very important country in the middle east. >> richard, i want to ask you about what the protesters are like from what you can see on the ground. we've discussed the fact that secularism is a big issue, personal freedom, also youth. turkey, a country where 43% of the population is under 25 years old. who are you seeing out there on the streets? >> reporter: we're seeing a
great mix of people. in egypt, for example, they were protesting against president mubarak, who had been a president for three decades, never truly elected, who then wanted to implement and impose his son on the people presumably for another several decades. syria, a similar family rule. this is nothing like that. you have a popularly elected democratic president who has by most accounts been successful. the people who are coming out are taking an intellectual stance against the prime minister. they're saying they don't want his agenda. they say just because he was elected doesn't give him the right to governor as he pleases until the next elections come around. that has been the prime minister's argument. he said i was democratically elected. if you don't like me, you'll have to wait until the next time you get to put a ballot in a ballot box and you can vote me out. so this is not an economic demonstration. it's not a demonstration against a dictator. it is much more about the
secularism, about the behavior of the prime minister, and about, well, it initially started over his plans to start a park, which was just a symbol of the way the prime minister has been behaving. but right now, i think the dynamic in the square, in these running gas battles, has created a dynamic on its own. the prime minister is going to have to back pedal some if he's going to get out of this. he can't continue to be as dismissive as he has of the demonstrators. the government, by the way, was very surprised by all of this. i don't think the prime minister understood that this would happen and never really saw this demonstration was ever a problem. he kept calling these people traitors and saboteurs and vandals and people who were just trying to bring down turkey and hurt its image. >> richard, you make a great point. this is not syria. this is not tunisia. this is not libya.
to that point, have you seen any attempts on the part of turkey to involve their military, or has this mostly been a civil, municipal, police-handled event? >> reporter: the military has an interesting role here because the prime minister has his own very troubled relationship with the military. this country, to understand this long battle between secularism and its more islamic trend, is very much rooted in the military. the military forízv" the founding of the modern turkish republic in 1923, has been a secular state, and the military has been the guardian of turkey's secular tradition. then come in the prime minister, who has a more islamic leaning. his wife is veiled under the military. it is illegal for our woman to go on to a military base. that's how secular it has been in this country.
it is these kind of laws that the prime minister has been trying to peel back to keep the military from staging a coup on him. the prime minister has jailed many top military officers. i would be very surprised if he brings in the military in this case because the military is not his natural ally. in fact, it still sees itself as the guardian of secularism and just the opposite of what the prime minister represents. >> so richard, the prime minister has the police on his side. they're firing water cannons and tear gas at the protesters. what sort of weapons do the protesters have on their side? >> reporter: not very much. this has not been an armed conflict. the police have not been using live ammunition as far as we've been able to ascertain from watching events today and over the last several days.
the protesters mostly have been throwing stones. they've been throwing fireworks. they've been throwing some molotov cocktails. those, by the way, can be lethal. one police officer today was badly burned. at least one police officer has been killed so far in these demonstrations. according to turkish authorities, at least two civilians have also been killed. there have been a large number of injuries, but any time there is tear gas involved, it's hard to know how serious those injuries are. sometimes they can number in the hundreds or more but oftentimes people can recover from them. >> richard, just a quick question on the process. i know you talked a little bit about turkey being a democracy. why wouldn't they go to recalling an election instead of protest? what drove them to protest at this degree? >> reporter: that's sort of the
odd thing in all this and why the government was so surprised. this began as almost a nothing protest by a very small number of environmentalists who were protesting knocking down a few trees in that part of the square over there. under those trees right now are some of those original demonstrators who don't want that park to be bulldozed. this is a very tiny park. it probably consists of maybe 100 trees, 200 trees maximum. that's what it started out as. then riot police moved in, not to the degree we're seeing now. images of the riot police attacking environmentalists in the center of the square who just didn't want a few trees to be uprooted, that is what triggered a larger protest against the prime minister and really against the nature of turkish society. >> richard, when you look at the public cia analysis of domestic issues and threats within turkey, they list two big ones.
separatism around curdish issues. this would seem to be something else, some third category. a resurgent or more loud type of secularism. how do you view it? >> reporter: if you look at the sweep of history, there was the ottoman empire that was based here in istanbul that ruled the middle east for 500 years from 1453 until 1923 when the modern turkish republic was founded. the ottoman empire was an islamic empire. its only foreign policy was jihad. when the modern turkish republic was brought into being, it was established in exact contrast for those 500 years of islamic history. the modern turkish republic was
absolutely secular, secular in every degree with the military of its main pillar of support. the military, and to a degree the people here in the streets, are trying to defend that 90 years of secularism. they see the prime minister representing the 500 years of islamic tradition. they think he's acting like a sultan from the old days of the ottoman empire. >> okay, richard. stand by. i want to go back to tony shaffer. someone brought up jordan. talk about jordan's ability to handle any spillover. as we know, they're already dealing with the flood of refugees from the syrian crisis. what are they looking ahead at right now? >> well, i think fundamentally, as richard pointed out, turkey is a democracy. i think that's one of the good and bad points. jordan is a kingdom. within the kingdom, you have a number of stressors, which have been present for years, and i
think what we're looking agent here is as you have refugees coming in, you have resources which are going to be taken and obviously the military issues relating to the overall support or not support of the syrian regime. i think what we're going to see within jordan is a potential for, again, a continued downward trend of stability. for us right now, and i'm not getting into any secrets here, we have been prestaging resources there for potential action should there be a call to do so. so the mere presence of our forces there may be some sort of antagonism to the local people. so again, we have to be very careful as we move forward here because anything we do or don't do will have consequences. so that's my bigger point here. what we say and what we do now is very important to either make things better or make things worse. this is where the white house has to really get its act together to come out with a
really good strategy to deal with the region, not just one or two countries. we have to come up with a comprehensive thing and get back on our game on this. this is going to be important. >> tony, that's an excellent point. let me bring in joel to speak to what the white house may or may not do going forward. we know generally every nation must be dealt with differently and separately. every conflict is its own issue. for the most part, the white house has declined to intervene in civil wars. that's part of why we haven't been more serious so far. do you think that policy would apply here? what do you think we would want to do in terms of waiting and making sure we're not intervening in a civil war? >> well, certainly in turkey we have a deep relationship with their military as tony mentioned. this goes back decades. we have a robust, strong, diplomatic relationship now as symbolized by secretary kerry and president obama's relations and engagement in recent years.
so really wading into the middle of it in a physical way wouldn't make sense. we have a lot of levers to reach into the turkish government behind the scenes. find out what's going on and ensure that we're getting the message across about having them do what they can to not let this spiral out of control. but it does go to the broader point of the region. each country individually is distinct and unique. but there also is a real integration. turkey did dominate the region for 500 years under the ottoman empire. they have their own interests in the region. sometimes they overlap with ours. sometimes they don't. they certainly didn't last decade when we invaded iraq and turkey blocked our use of their land to invade into northern iraq. so we do have to walk very carefully here and make sure that we're not throwing out relationships, that we're
maintaining them, and that we're getting the strong message across about the importance of getting a dialogue going and getting this calm. that's the key route forward. >> joel, let's talk about those relationships, especially with your experience in diplomacy. the western world looked at the early parts of the arab uprising and felt a lot of legitimacy towards protesters that were in essentially authoritarian countries or traditional dictatorships. at least in public opinion, that was seen as more important than long standing alliances, including egypt, where the u.s. has had a very close alliance. with the structure of the domestic government that was at issue more than necessarily u.s. foreign policy interests, at least as determined by the state department over many years, here we have both those coming together, right? we have what is generally considered a leading democracy in the middle east plus a long-standing relationship with u.s. administrations directed by both parties. yet, on the other hand, what i want you to respond to is the complaint from many leaders in
the middle east, including of authoritarian societies, who have long said that you have to deal with the order in your own country and who will probably start to look to turkey and point to it as an example of where order is required and you can't just have protests in the streets. can you untangle any of those0l seemingly conflicting emotions and views? >> you summed it up. it is all very conflicting. everybody in the middle east, all these leaders are watching for signals from the united states. it may be how the u.s. responds to the crisis in bahrain a couple years ago that determines whether the saudis believe that the u.s. is willing to back the suppression of an uprising. first, is the u.s. supporting the street protests in cairo to overthrow mubarak, which the saudis would say was not very good and showed the limits of a potential of the friendship with the united states. the u.s. is essentially not going to come out well with everybody in all of thee crises.
what we need to make sure we're doing is understanding what our interests are and advancing them and explaining them well and effect ily, both to the governments and the people of these countriecountries. that's a lot to chew on, but essentially, we're the gluing factor in that region that has relationships across all these different countriecountries, in israel, who is very nervous rooi right now about the chaos. it's important to remember just a month ago, prime minister netanyahu called the prime minister of turkey to repair a relationship that had been frayed are to the edges over a conflict from a few years ago of a boat traveling to gaza from turkey. so as the u.s. weighed in heavily on that, and we're going to have to mix signals, but they're going to have to be consistent to it the people and the region. >> joel, thanks. i want to go back to richard engel, who's in turkey right now at the scene of those protests. richard, let me ask you this.
there's another key figure we haven't talked about, and that's turkey's president. they've clashed, the president and the prime minister, on what to do about these protests. where is he in all of this? >> reporter: most of the power in this country really rests with the prime minister. he is changing the actual system of governance in this country to make it more like the united states, more of a presidential system. as things stand, the day-to-day operations really rest with the prime minister. that's something the protesters also have a problem with. i thought we were -- the wind was cooperating with us, so i took off the gas mask. i think we'll be okay. with the caveat that winds shift on us, i may have to put it back on again. this situation hasn't changed in the last few minutes. there's still a lot of tear gas here. there's still a lot of protesters who are trying to
come back in. still a lot of riot police. it's unclear if this is going to go on through the rest of the night. the government has clearly taken a stand. it doesn't want to have any kind of large congregations here. it's taken a stance these protests are illegal. after this, i think the dialogue is going to be much more frayed than it was at the start of the day. >> yeah, richard, i want to take a little step back and just ask why you decided to take your gas mask off. is that because the protests are dying down, the wind was working in your favor? what does that say about what's going on around you? >> reporter: the wind shifted. it doesn't say much. the wind shifted, and i think we can speak a little more clearly this way. but i have it right here at my side. if it changes again, i will put it back on. this is the most complex situation i've seen in turkey in a long time. istanbul simply doesn't look
like this. normally it is a fun, happening city. just a few days ago, that's what it felt like. the bars just a few blocks away from here were packed. it's an expensive city. tourists come here and are surprised that sometimes the hotel will quote their prices in euros and restaurants are european standard and european priced. they didn't need to have a middle eastern style third-world protest movement in the center of the city. protesters think now they maybe have the upper hand. they're getting the attention. they're certainly going to try and keep this going because it's not just students who are behind this. to give the prime minister some credit here, today he talked about there being a conspiracy, other parties that are pushing this forward. to a degree, he's right because there are some organized political groups in this. there are many opposition parties. there are curdish parties,
including some that the united states considered terrorist organizations that have joined this protest movement. by and large, it is a genuine movement, but when people come out into the streets and they think they have the prime minister, the powerful prime minister on the ropes, all of his enemies come out and join in. >> richard, you just talked about the role of the prime minister and gave him some credit, but it's also been reported that he's called the protesters looters and thugs. how has that provoked, if at all, this situation? >> reporter: it's made it much worse because he talks about wanting dialogue and sitting down for negotiations tomorrow, but then in a speech to his supporters in front of parliament today, he not only called them thugs, he called them vandals. he was implying they were drunks. he said that they've caused a lot of damage. they've shut down businesses in this area, except for the businesses that sell beer. yes, a lot of these
demonstrators at night have been drinking alcohol because that's part of their stance. the prime minister has limited the ability of people to buy and sell alcohol, particularly at night, in this country. so in a move of defiance, a lot of the demonstrators were drinking beer in the square, and it's become almost a symbol of defiance. for the prime minister, it was a way to undercut the credibility of the demonstrator. >> richard, you've been reporting there from turkey on just who makes up this protest movement. can you tell us when the prime minister says he is willing to meet with people, even though some have criticized that as a hollow gesture at this point, if he is willing, who exactly would he meet with? >> reporter: that's also quite unclear because there are a lot of political parties taking part in this. there is an organized protest movement structure to it, but it is a leaderless group. there is no one person who can turn this on, who can turn this
off. he can meet -- excuse me. i may have to change my costume here in a second. there is no one person who he could meet who could decide they're going to turn it off. >> all right, richard. stay with us. stay safe. michael hirsch was in that square last month. he joins us for perspective. people are saying we have a genuine movement on our hands in turkey. is that what you see? >> well, it certainly looks that way. it has echoes of the arab spring, in spite of the fact that as richard was just saying, this is a very different country, much more modern, not nearly as islamist. in fact, that's one of the issues here, is the islamist nature of the government. but there's no question. istanbul is one of the premier tourist spots in the world. the square features a maile-lon
promenade with shops and really modern stores, kabob stands, ice cream stands. you see an incredible variety of people there normally. it's very peaceful. so this is a very shocking sight at the heart of this city. >> yeah, michael, and we know according to the reports thus far, this is different, as you said, in many ways from the arab spring. different in the type of country it's occurring in, different in the fact there is an elected government. yet, some of the tactics at a smaller scale do obviously seem reminiscent -- our viewers seeing some of these scenes in the square of istanbul may be reminded visually. given that cosmopolitan makeup of turkey, is there any way to know whether these protesters or political leaders are influenced by what they've seen occurring in other countries in the region? >> i think probably they are. i mean, you remember the original protests in tunisia a couple years ago started spontaneously. very different set of
grievances. it spread to egypt, to yemen. so i think there are clear echoes there. we have to remember, turkey has its own very peculiar history here. it's no accident that both the protesters and the government are invoking the father of modern turkey. he was a hard-line authoritarian leader who nonetheless pulled modern turkey out of its islamist past, out of the ottoman empire years. so you have the prime minister sort of invoking him as a strong leader. on the other hand, you have the protesters. there's a statue of him at the center of the square -- saying this is the turkey we want, the secular turkey and not the, you know, growing islamism we've seen under the current government. >> briefly, can you address -- you talked about the islamist nature of the government. but we do know that the prime minister's won three elections and has been in power for the last decade.
so why now? >> well, because frankly there have been -- there's been a sense of an increasing encoachment on democracy by the government. a sense that he's been bullying the judiciary, for example. and because of the modern history of turkey, a very deep-seeded fear of this creeping authoritarianism, particularly if it has an islamist nature to it. today when you walk throughi istanbul, right there in the square you can see turkish women wearing very similkimpy outfits looking thoroughly modern european, walking along side fully veiled women, who believe in the party movement. you see this incredible mix of modern and medieval there. i think that's partly what's at play here and one of the reasons this is not a straightforward protest like some of those we saw in the arab spring, but something that's much more complex and comes directly out of turkey's unique history.
>> michael, you keep talking about the arab spring, which obviously was a very large uprising that changed the history of several nations. the other end of that spectrum, perhaps, is the occupy movement, which was very powerful, but some would say the media attention amplified how large those actually were. where on the scale are we here? are we closer to occupy a small group of young people being loud or a larger group of people toward the arab spring who could change the history of this nation? >> you know, it's an excellent question. the occupy movement kind of died out, happened in a democratic country like turkey. i would be inclined to say that, you know, these protests will eventually go away. remember, this started over a beef over the use of this park for certain types of city purposes. in fact, when you went to the square a few weeks ago, it really was kbleetly being remade. the roads were shut down, so there was reason for some grievances. yet, it escalated into something that was about these larger
questions about the government. i don't see this as being something like tahrir square in egypt where a whole government is toppled. turkey, you know, does have a democratic system. >> michael hirsch, thanks very much. "the huffington post's" howard fineman is with us. howard, how does this complicate things? president obama and the prime minister have already had sort of a delicate relationship involving issues like syria, for example. how does this complicate that relationship even further? >> well, these scenes that richard is reporting on from the square in istanbul and that mike hirsch was just commenting on, this is video the white house doesn't want to see, obviously. not just because they're scenes of unrest, but because they're scenes of unrest in a country that's absolutely crucial to
president obama's vision of how to move forward in the middle east and indeed the world. prime minister erdogan is an islamist, but he's also a modernist. he's tried very hard, and i think with much success,t( to bridge the eternal dualities of turkey as a modern, western-facing country, and as one that's also rooted in islamic and muslim history. it was ironically erdogan's decision to build a big building in the square that will be modeled on an ottoman military barracks that seemed to be just symbolically one step too far. the president, though, president obama has no choice but to hope for and to do what he can to back the stability of erdogan's government. the last thing the united states would want to see is an
attempted coup by the military, which still retains a lot of secularist tradition going back. the united states would not want a coup in a democratic country, nor do they want any kind of instability that might give an opening to other forces to push erdogan's hand, to make him into even more of what is seen as a repressive figure that would then generate attack from it the other side. so a very difficult and uncomfortable position for the president, but one that he has to hope calms down and fast. >> yeah, and certainly a situation the white house is watching closely. howard, when we look at president obama's foreign policy record, it seems like there will be two big features people will recognize. one, an obama doctrine of really assertively engaging the middle east immediately in the
presidency. we all remember from covering so much of foreign policy being reactive. what does this situation look like to you in terms of the decisions the white house has to make? obviously not in changing any of their long-standing alliance with turkey, but in how they maintain credibility in the region when we've been reporting you do have people on the streets, you do have people looking to exercise their speech rights and their political rights in this country. >> well, turkey's absolutely
indispensable. turkey is the key. turkey is the key to president obama's policy. and it's been a key for the west for decade after decade after decade. i think the president, if he's talking to prime minister erdogan, i think the president will say basically, let us know how we can help you. be careful, mr. prime minister. respect the rights of others. i don't think president obama is going to presume to lecture to a person who is absolutely indispensable to that region. don't forget, secretary of state john kerry engineered this beginning of reproach between israel and turkey. that has to continue. right now prime minister erdogan is preoccupied. he's not going to have time for
this sort of high-minded diplomacy with israel right now as he deals with his own internal descent. i've spent a fair amount of turkey over the last 12 years, pretty much coinciding with the rise of erdogan. as mike hirsch said, it's fascinating to watch with each visit the change. more and more high rises, more and more fancy restaurants, beautiful new contemporary art museum down by the harbor. all the signs of modernity and success and by western standards and affluence. yet, at the same time, with these successive trips i've made, more and more women are veiled, more and more piety in the streets, more and more attendance at mosques, which the secular people in istanbul used to not like. you don't hear that anymore.
how prime minister erdogan has tried to bridge that duality is with economic growth, with prosperity, with new development, with a new subway system in that beautiful city. now he finds something that he thought of as a piece of economic development is having perhaps been one bridge too far. richard engel and others would know better where it's headed. i can tell you president obama and secretary kerry are monitoring it closely. this is an absolutely crucial moment in the middle east. if it's just an occupy movement that fades, everybody back in washington will be greatly relieved, i can assure you. >> howard, you touched on israel. israel is central in the region in the american point of view. as they're watching, what is their hope, what is their biggest worry?
erdogan as a tenuous but real partner than anything else that would come after it. i think the israelis are way too sophisticated to be hoping for some kind of right-wing coup by the military, and they're too knowledgeable to want the kind of disruption in the streets that could lead to some kind of even more directly islamist government in that country. >> howard, stay put, if you would. i want to go back to tony shaffer. earlier this week, syria came out to say$s don't travel to turkey. it's too dangerous there right now. i'm wondering if you can get into a little bit about the relationship between turkey and syria and what calculus has changed because of these riots now. >> good question. erdogan recently reached out to the pkk, which is the rebel group that supports basically their rebel movement. he's considering releasing one
of their leaders from jail. i think there's almost an attempt at a reproach to actually leverage them in the larger regional calculus relating to the iranians and iraqis. so i think, you know, erdogan is clearly looking over the horizon at how to maintain and increase their own influence in the region. so that's very weis. at the same time, as you kind of point out here, there's a great deal of instability in his own backyard. let me point out something. maybe richard can comment on this. one of the things i'm aware of is that within the police force, although it's loyal to erdogan, they're having their own internal stressors. they've had police officers kill themselves over not wanting to have to -- i think there's three policemen who have committed suicide, and they're having to pull in policemen from other parts of the country. as much as i think erdogan is looking over the horizon at larger issues, trying to work with us on syria, i think that he may not have been paying as close attention as he should have to the own internal stressors, which really are
going to be something he has to dole with most directly. >> tony, let's talk a little bit about secretary kerry's next step. we talked to howard a moment ago about his past trip to turkey. what are the next steps he needs to take from a diplomacy standpoint? what should he be doing next? >> two things. first, let's remember -- this was brought up by several members. they're very european. they're a member of nato. we have beenjf working with the since the beginning of their joining of the alliance. kind of a footnote in history. the jupiter rockets in turkey were one of the factors that stimulated the 1962 cuban missile crisis. so they've been a very close ally. their military is very important. i think john kerry has to continue to leverage those elements of where we agree to make sure we re-enforce those things. at the same time, the white house has to clearly state that we have clearer concerns
regarding human rights. we expect them to continue on a secular path. really, that's the best path, i think, that most people would agree upon where we have a common ground to build on. the whole idea of moving the government towards a more conservative slant, restricting alcohol, things like that, will continue to ensure these young people and these people in the streets will continue to protest. so i think this is a cross roads. erdogan has to make a choice as a prime minister because -- by the way, the president has actually said that the elections simply are not enough, which is telegraphing the fact he supports these protesters and erdogan has to pay attention to what they're saying beyond any election. >> thank you, tony. turning back to joel and the state department side of this, as we look at these images in istanbul of these protesters, and we reported today on many of the things that the u.s. will not do. it will not change its ongoing relationship with turkey, we
don't believe, based on this kind of protest. it will not, based on indications we have, look to intercede physically or militarily in any way. so what does the state department do? walk us through the kind of meetings or planning that goes on when you have diplomats rising all the way up to secretary of state looking at an unfolding event like this. >> what state will do is in the immediate, they will stand up an operation where they will have in their operation center experts from different bureaus who reallyw3 understand turkey from all the different dimensions, be it economic dimensions, the military affairs, the broader security issues, regional issues. they'll get them all together in a sort of internal pod that will be monitoring everything coming out of turkey from our embassy and from our missions there. they'll be working that and sharing that with contacts throughout the government, throughout the defense department, throughout the
treasury department, and we have vast relationships and deep ones with turkey. we have bailed out turkey about 15 years ago when they were in a financial crisis. we have the military relationship and these diplomatic relationships. so the whole government at this stage is going to become engaged in understanding what's on the ground. but there's a challenge right now, which is that we actually have a pending secretary for europe, victoria nuland, who will be awaiting confirmation. she would be the point person for this in leading the regional bureau efforts and responses. so there's a bit of a gap there. although, there is coverage there in the interim. state's really going to start to pore through all that information and start tasking people across the government on how to respond. >> joel, we have protesters who are fighting for more personal liberty against the government, they say who's trying to turn it from secular to more islamist. i wonder if it poses a difficult sort of position for the
administration in that they would obviously prefer a less islamist government there, but has to respect the democratic government and perhaps would have an interest in maintaining the status quo. is that a difficult position for our government here? >> it absolutely is. we've seen this now time and again over the past several years in terms of the response to the region, be it to changes in egypt or in tunisia in support for democracy there where islamist parties in both egypt and tounisia have won elections. the president has been very active in trying to ensure the principles of democracy are argued for, but at the same time, we as a policy are respecting the different nature of these countries from what one in the west may think of as the ideal democracy and these are islamist countries in large part
or islamic. many of the most well-organized political parties are islamic in nature. it's a fact of life. the key question is how to biases. but when there are protests like this and protests that are beginning to argue against the dominant government policy which may be islamist, that does put us on the spot. and i'm sure in the coming days we're going to see more of this tension where many people will be calling for the u.s. to be more actively arguing in favor of specific types of political parties in turkey and that could be very dicey for the administration. >> joel, on that note, should we be worried at all about any of our assets on the ground in turkey at our various embassies and consulates?
>> well, certainly in a moment like this, all the embassies, the consulates and missions are going to be on a higher state of alert. they're going to be insuring that they understand to the best of their knowledge about what's taking place around them. it's absolutely that's a great point. we don't want for this to turn into a protest where people start to vent some anger at the united states. that would not be unprecedented. that does happen, and it has happened in this region. so at this stage, they're going to be looking out for their security and really the embassies, they have the relationships on the ground. they're going to have to continue to work those to assess the situation and make sure that they're getting the word out about how the u.s. is not meddling and not engaging and directing one way or the other and is trying to report as best as it can at this stage. >> thank you, joel. stay with us. i want to go back to howard
fineman. he's covered a lot of these issues on foreign policy and politics for the "huffington post" and many years at "newsweek." you were mentioning some of your experiences on the ground in turkey. we've spent a lot of time on the events today and some of the state-to-state issues around our government relationship. what can you tell us from your memories that you were sharing earlier about some of the people in sneaker their attitudes towards the united states and it being by demographic data a more cosmopolitan society than some other places in the middle east. >> well, the first thing i would say is that most people in the west don't understand how important turkey is in terms of geopolitics. they don't understand how rich its history is. they don't understand how proud and diverse and accomplished its people are. they know very little about the great history of the ottoman empire that was based there. they know nothing about the
history that goes back to the time of the greeks. the turks are an incredibly proud people are an incredible history. and i think on balance, are very favorably disposed toward the united states in general and to americans in particular. i knew a generation of turks here in washington who came here to live and work. some of them went back to turkey when the economy started to rise. hoping to make real money back there as the turkish economy came out of that crisis that it was in 15, 20 years ago. they went back. i kept in touch with them. they built restaurants. they built hotels. they were almost giddy with the possibilities of the new turkey. primary erdogan was elected. people were cautious but hopeful. here was a new experiment. here was a man who was obviously modern, who had modern sentiments, who understand
modern secular politics but also a religious conservative, the first of his kind to be elected in turkey since the days of adaturk. people crossed their fingers from the west who spent time in the west. the modern educated turks who had gone to fine schools, who spent time in america and europe. they said we're going to hope that will erdogan is what he says is he, that he is a devout muslim but also a devout believer in democracy. and if anybody could square the circle they said to themselves of turkish history as well as this great conundrum of modern world affairs it would be this man. er gauguin willingly accepted that role, gloried in that role and has spent the last decade trying to have one foot in each camp. as you probably know, istanbul bestrides europe and arab xwra. on one side of the bridge is europe, on the other asia.
symbolically that's what he's been trying to do. lately in the last two or three years, a lot of people that i knew over in turkey were saying wait a minute, we're not sure how deep his commitment to democracy is. he's becoming too autocratic, putting journalists in jail. he's talking about changing the constitution. we're beginning to worry. there are too many people who are refugees from elsewhere coming from other countries from afghanistan, from syria, from you name it. too many people are wearing the veil. too many people are trying to impose you know, their view of culture and life on us. and the tensions have been rising. the last time i was there a couple years ago, a year and a half or so ago, you could real feel as beautiful as istanbul is, as beautiful as any city in the world, the sense of ease that people had had had an undertone of concern where the government was headed. i think you're seeing that all
coalesce in taksim square. street people for sure. also determined secularists. women's rights people. environmentalists. students, people who by and large represent a young generation of secular people in istanbul who feel threatened. maybe justifiably, maybe not justifiably. that's the underlying feel that you get there now. i'm almost dizzying conflict between high-rise modernity and ancient religion. >> howard, thanks so much for joining us and giving us your thoughts and perspective on what's going on. thanks also to richard engel in turkey and other experts back here at home. thank you for watching this hour. martin bashir continues our breaking coverage right after a quick break. look what mommy is having.
tayyip. it's tuesday, june 11th. and we gooe begin with breaking news. protests have raged today in turkey where police fired tear gas to clear the crowd from istanbul's taksim square. the clashes have been escalating for almost two weeks after hundreds gathered to protest against the redevelopment of a park. the protests have now broadened with demonstrators accusing the government of becoming increasely authoritarian and trying to impose conservative islamic values on what they see as a secular state. joining us now live from washington is ambassador mark ginsburg. ambassador, you've been watching these scenes an is we have