Broken Symmetry

A couple of paradigms appear to be in trouble.  Perhaps the most obvious was the failure of Turkey’s Recep Erdogan to win a parliamentary majority. For years Erdogan had been on an unstoppable march to remold the country in an increasingly Islamist image. “Democracy is like a train. We shall get out when we arrive at the station we want.”  Well the train stopped, but not at the station Erdogan wanted.


“Erdoğan’s ambition to transform Turkey to an executive-style presidential system of government is now over,” says Fadi Hakura, a specialist on Turkish affairs at Chatham House, London. “The silver lining in this election is that voters in Turkey have clearly rejected the creation of a super powerful presidency, but what happens next is not at all clear.”

For the first time since sweeping into power in 2002, Mr. Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its parliamentary majority, falling 18 seats short of the 276 needed to govern alone in Ankara’s 550-member parliament. But with all three opposition parties having campaigned against Erdoğan, forming a coalition will be difficult.

If the AKP, with 258 seats, is unable to form a governing alliance within 45 days after official results are confirmed, Turkey could be in for another round of elections.

Now, like Cary Grant in North By Northwest,  Erdogan is standing in a field in the middle of nowhere, wondering what happens next.

Some observers argued that Erdogan believed that a new era of Islamism had dawned and tried to ride the wave.  But those ambitions came crashing down as the Islamist tsunami went terribly, horribly wrong.  Scott Peterson of the Christian Science Monitor quoting a Turkish political science professor wrote: “What Turkey intended to do in the Middle East, the opposite emerged,” says Mr. Bagci a professor of international relations at Middle East Technical University in Ankara. Erdogan had apparently bet on the wrong Strong Horse.

Turkey over the past four years “has been part of the problem,” says Behlul Ozkan of Marmara University in Istanbul. He says Syria has become Turkey’s Afghanistan, with Turkey playing the role of Pakistan – facilitating radical groups across the border that risks humiliation and destabilizing blowback back home. …

“They became in their foreign policy part of the Muslim Brothers,” says Bagci. “Even today the president is supporting the Muslim Brothers. It became an ideological foreign policy, [that] was not anymore rational [or] interest-based.”

“The AKP expected that, similar to Turkish Islamists, Egyptian, Syrian, and Tunisian and Libyan Islamists will come to power. But Turkey’s experience is completely different; it’s an exception – they made a wrong analogy,” he says.

“They thought that Turkey could be an imperial power in the region, [but] because Islamist parties failed, for different reasons, this pan-Islamist AKP foreign policy also collapsed,” says Ozkan.


The other leader who recently found himself having second thoughts about the Brothers is president Obama. He was the other person who thought to ride the wave to his advantage.  Reuters reports that “the State Department said on Tuesday it will not meet a Muslim Brotherhood group visiting Washington for a private conference but said its policy remained to engage Egypt’s entire political spectrum.” Suddenly they’re not as welcome as they used to be in Washington.

State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke told reporters the agency would not meet Brotherhood figures visiting Washington but gave no detailed explanation why. U.S. officials had met with Brotherhood figures in Washington in January.

“We’ve decided not to hold a meeting,” he said. “We engage with representatives from across the political spectrum … (I) don’t have any further reasoning than we simply aren’t meeting with them this time.”

The tensions reflect a clash between U.S. diplomats’ desire to deal with the whole political spectrum in Egypt and a fear of alienating Sisi, the current president.

The reason might be,  as the New York Times put it, that president Obama has evolved.  The newspaper went on to list his foreign policy shifts in the region in the last few months from “Obama Likens ISIS to ‘J.V. Team’” to “We Are Not Losing” to “we do not yet have a complete strategy”.  But the more probable cause may have been not ideological evolution but political electrocution.  Like Erdogan, the president has been bucking a string of failures.

CNN reported  that “job approval numbers are sinking as American attitudes about the nation’s progress have taken a turn for the worse”.  Earlier it reported that George W. Bush was now more popular than Obama.  Robert Samuels of the Washington Post wrote that black voters are now so disappointed in the presidsent “they wondered whether they would ever bother voting again.”.

So it was not entirely unexpected to read Michael Gordon report in the NYT  — prematurely as it turned out — that president Obama had embraced “a major shift of focus in the battle against the Islamic State,” which included “a new military base in Anbar Province” and “400 American military trainers to help Iraqi forces retake the city of Ramadi.” There was less talk about working through channels in Baghdad and more palaver about working directly with the Sunni tribesmen —  staging a kind of mini Surge 8 years after the original one. “The fall of Ramadi last month effectively settled the administration debate, at least for the time being.”


It was almost as if Obama had been deposited across the road from Erdogan in North by Northwest, the both wondering what the other was doing there.

The “major shift” in strategy was rapidly walked back to “additional options”.  CBS News said that “while no decisions have been made, the administration is considering three different options, CBS News Pentagon correspondent David Martin reports.”

First, the U.S. could increase the number of American trainers in Iraq, to train greater numbers of Iraqi troops … The next option is to train Sunni tribesmen directly … The third option for the U.S. is to close off the main border cross from Turkey into Iraq. Again, Warren on Tuesday mentioned “putting pressure” on border crossing to cut off or reduce the flow of foreign fighters. The focus would fall on a road that goes through the Turkish border town of Akcakale and the Syrian city of Tel Abyad, close to the Turkish border town of Akcakale. The Turks are not shutting the road down, so the idea is to use Kurds supported by American air strikes to take control of the Syrian side of the crossing, much in the way the Kurds took control of Kobani.

Apparently Obama looked down from the vertiginous brink of policy change — and decided not to jump. The Associated Press reported that “President Barack Obama ordered the deployment of up to 450 more American troops to Iraq on Wednesday in an effort to reverse major battlefield losses to the Islamic State, an escalation but not a significant shift in the struggling U.S. strategy to defeat the extremist group.” Perhaps there was nothing else Obama could do but await events.

Current events give the impression of a broken symmetry not only in the region, but the world.  The world is moving from one state into the other. “Symmetry breaking in … describes a phenomenon where (infinitesimally) small fluctuations acting on a system which is crossing a critical point decide the system’s fate, by determining which branch of a bifurcation is taken. To an outside observer unaware of the fluctuations (or “noise”), the choice will appear arbitrary. This process is called symmetry ‘breaking’, because such transitions usually bring the system from a symmetric but disorderly state into one or more definite states. Symmetry breaking is supposed to[clarification needed] play a major role in pattern formation.”


The system is shifting, just like Erdogan and Obama thought.   Unfortunately the system isn’t “breaking” in the direction predicted by either but in some wholly unknown and unexpected trajectory. It’s an ‘uh-oh’ moment. Neither Turkey nor the Obama administration succeeded in riding the wave whose cresting they encouraged. Now both are scratching their heads at the surprise departure from the script. In the musical Cabaret, two homosexuals watch as the Weimar Republic turns into Nazism. Watching incipient fascism show its face at a beer garden musical performance, one turns to the other and asks “Do you still think you can control them?”

Peter Harcher of the Sydney Morning Herald writes that “the number of French recruits to Islamic State is rising unstoppably, in spite of waves of new measures to halt it, according to French officials. France is Europe’s biggest source of foreign fighters for the extremist militia, with 1700 people estimated to have joined so far.” There is more than a little irony that a European society built on “progressive” ideas so much admired by the American Left is losing the competition with an centuries old belief system. There was a time in the 20th century when Marxism was a religion in all but name. That form of Marxism could compete with Islam. But after years of encouraging mulitculturalism, post-colonialism and cultural deconstruction, perhaps the Left is finally asking itself:   “do you still think you can control them?”

Obama to Erdogan:  “Your name’s not ‘The Future’ is it?”

Erdogan to Obama: “Can’t say it is.  I’m waitin’ fer the bus. Say that’s funny.  That plane’s dustin’ crops where there ain’t no crops.”

[jwplayer mediaid=”43622″]


Though North by Northwest seemed at the time of writing the best cinematic metaphor for leaders that get on the “locomotive of history” only to find it takes them to a different place than they had imagined, it now seems clear that the Jurassic Park series would have better symbolized the problem. The franchise has been hijacked. Without anyone noticing, Michael Crichton has been gradually expunged from the public conception of the dinosaur park.  This is because Hollywood wants to think of it as a story about giant reptiles when in fact, Crichton meant it as a cautionary tale for those who, in their hubris, seek to remake the world.


Crichton meant it as a warning.  Our elites want us to forget the warning. The urge to recreate human history is at least as ambitious as attempting to clone dinosaurs.  Crichton argued in his novel that men meddled with extremely complex systems at their own peril.  They think they’re in control.  But really they’re not.  In the original Jurassic Park, John Hammond wanted to create the world de novo and wound up unleashing the most terrifying monsters.

If you could produce a movie about Obama and Erdogan it would be possible to include a scene in which both are told: “Dear Leaders, there’s good news and there’s bad news.  The good news is that you’ve fundamentally changed America and the Middle East.  The bad news is that it’s mutating into something we don’t recognize.  It’s changing and we’re don’t know what it’s becoming.”

You can almost imagine actors portraying the scene.  First the smug smiles when the “good news” is announced.  Then the surprise when the open-ended bad news is delivered.  For Obama thought he was in charge.  Only too late is he discovering that someone else — call him Murphy — is actually calling the shots.  There are dinosaurs abroad in the park now, and nobody knows how far their rampage will go.

The only way you can approach history is by realizing it hasn’t happened yet. It’s been reported in the last  few hours that an American named Keith Broomfield died fighting with the Kurds against ISIS in Iraq. He told his mother it was “God’s will” that he should go. In the last text message to his sister before dying in combat against ISIS, Broomfield wrote:

I’m gonna do what I got to do. Sometimes you got to be a man whether you want to or not. I don’t expect anyone to understand but I don’t need anyone to either.

Broomfield was not in charge of tomorrow. The difference was, he knew it.   He was willing to do what he thought best and let the chips fall where they may.  To those who like Obama and Erdogan believe that the fix is in, and that they’ve got a deal with history, remember: watch out for the I-Rexes. They’ve got sharp teeth.


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