Sunday, June 29, 2014

How to use and misuse climate-change data

Here's a  useful clarifying graph from the website Skeptical Science: Getting skeptical about global warming skepticism. I've discovered that even some very intelligent people I know are taken in by the kinds of confusions, misunderstandings, and sophistries explained in the text that follows the graph.

Has there been a long-term, accelerating trend toward global warming? The overwhelming weight of the evidence, plus the overwhelming consensus judgment of climate scientists, indicate that the answer is yes. There's really not much uncertainty about that, aside from details. I think it's fair to say that, at this point, the only serious debates concern how worried we should be about this trend and what we should do about it. I find the arguments that we should be very worried quite convincing ... and, more to the point, so do the vast majority of climate scientists, who know more about this than I do.

Yours for reality-based & analytically intelligent discourse,
Jeff Weintraub

The Escalator

One of the most common misunderstandings amongst climate change "skeptics" is the difference between short-term noise and long-term signal.  This animation shows how the same temperature data (green) that is used to determine the long-term global surface air warming trend of 0.16°C per decade (red) can be used inappropriately to "cherrypick" short time periods that show a cooling trend simply because the endpoints are carefully chosen and the trend is dominated by short-term noise in the data (blue steps).  Isn't it strange how five periods of cooling can add up to a clear warming trend over the last 4 decades? Several factors can have a large impact on short-term temperatures, such as oceanic cycles like the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) or the 11-year solar cycle.

These short-term cycles don't have long-term effects on the Earth's temperature, unlike the continuing upward trend caused by global warming from human greenhouse gas emissions.

The data (green) are the average of the NASA GISS, NOAA NCDC, and HadCRUT4 monthly global surface temperature anomaly datasets from January 1970 through November 2012, with linear trends for the short time periods Jan 1970 to Oct 1977, Apr 1977 to Dec 1986, Sep 1987 to Nov 1996, Jun 1997 to Dec 2002, and Nov 2002 to Nov 2012 (blue), and also showing the far more reliable linear trend for the full time period (red).
Note: the concept of the Escalator (as well as the term 'going down the up escalator') was first proposed by Bob Lacatena.

[JW: The rest is here.]

Saturday, June 28, 2014

"Turkey ready to accept Kurdish state in historic shift" (Financial Times)

Following up my post from a week and a half ago, Did a Turkish spokesman really just say that Iraqi Kurds have a right to self-determination? ...

The answer seems to be yes. That report, which came from a Kurdish news source, has been confirmed and elaborated by other reports, including an article in Friday's Financial Times. (Thanks to David Pickering for the tip.) The FT's headline is right to describe this as the culmination of a "historic shift" in Turkish policy.

In my earlier post I suggested that if this report turned out to be correct,
It would also help confirm the growing impression that the Turkish government is giving up on the possibility of a stable and friendly Arab-ruled Iraq, and would prefer having a stable buffer between eastern Turkey and Arab Iraq—even if that means accepting an independent Kurdistan next door. (Kurds are overwhelmingly Sunni, at least, unlike most Iraqi Arabs. From the AKP's perspective, that's probably a factor.)
This FT report offers further support for all those surmises—including my parenthetical speculation. The Turkish spokesman being quoted here expresses anger at the US for having, in his view, "created a Shia bloc to the south of our country."
A Kurdish state in northern Iraq could also serve as a buffer against the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (known as Isis), which Turkish officials increasingly see as a threat and which is holding more than 80 Turks hostage in the area of the now Isis-run city of Mosul. [....]

“The Turks don’t want to encourage independence and caution against hasty moves, but if it happens they will live with it,” said one foreign diplomat [....] “As they see it, if it happens the Kurds will be in their sphere of influence and under their control.”

Turkey is a big foreign investor in the KRG, with the Turkish government taking direct stakes in Kurdish oil and gasfields it hopes will help meet its own rising energy demands. Ankara also controls the Kurds’ direct link to western markets – an oil pipeline to the Turkish port of Ceyhan.
—Jeff Weintraub

Financial Times
June 27, 2014
Turkey ready to accept Kurdish state in historic shift
By Daniel Dombey in Ankara

Turkey’s ruling party has signalled it is ready to accept an independent Kurdish state in what is now northern Iraq, marking a historic shift by one of the heavyweight powers of the Middle East.

“In the past an independent Kurdish state was a reason for war [for Turkey] but no one has the right to say this now,” Huseyin Celik, spokesman for the ruling AK party, told the Financial Times.

“In Turkey, even the word ‘Kurdistan’ makes people nervous, but their name is Kurdistan,” he added. “If Iraq is divided and it is inevitable, they are our brothers . . . Unfortunately, the situation in Iraq is not good and it looks like it is going to be divided.”

This week, Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s foreign minister, also told John Kerry, the US secretary of state, that the creation of an independent Kurdish state was a foregone conclusion.

The territorial integrity of Iraq has long been one of Turkey’s foreign policy tenets – not least because the country has a large Kurdish minority of its own and for decades battled Kurdish separatist rebels.

But in recent years, Turkey has emerged as a key supporter of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq, whose political and economic interests it sees as aligned with its own.

A Kurdish state in northern Iraq could also serve as a buffer against the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (known as Isis), which Turkish officials increasingly see as a threat and which is holding more than 80 Turks hostage in the area of the now Isis-run city of Mosul.

Turkey has a more than 300km long border with Iraq and a roughly 900km long border with Syria, where Isis also controls territory.

In strongly worded comments for a Nato member, Mr Celik blamed not just Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, for Iraq’s growing fragmentation, but also the US: “They didn’t bring peace, stability, unity, they just left chaos, widows, orphans. They created a Shia bloc to the south of our country.”

He expressed concern that the Turkish hostages in Iraq – including diplomats, special forces and truck drivers – could be used by Isis as human shields in the event of an attack.

He added that Kurdish independence was not Turkey’s “number one choice” in comments that chime with the observations of several international diplomats.

“The Turks don’t want to encourage independence and caution against hasty moves, but if it happens they will live with it,” said one foreign diplomat, noting that Mr Kerry visited the Kurdish capital of Erbil this week to push the region to stay within Iraq. “As they see it, if it happens the Kurds will be in their sphere of influence and under their control.”

Turkey is a big foreign investor in the KRG, with the Turkish government taking direct stakes in Kurdish oil and gasfields it hopes will help meet its own rising energy demands. Ankara also controls the Kurds’ direct link to western markets – an oil pipeline to the Turkish port of Ceyhan.

In recent comments, Mustafa Koc, the chairman of Koc Holding, Turkey’s biggest company, which owns Turkey’s only refinery, said his group was under “intense pressure” from both Ankara and the KRG to buy Kurdish oil, but that it could not do so at present without jeopardising existing purchases from Baghdad.

Turkish officials also express the hope that better ties with the KRG will help reduce tensions in Turkey’s own Kurdish dispute, which it is seeking to resolve through talks with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers party, or PKK. This week, it moved the process forward by sending parliament legislation that could pave the way for an amnesty for Kurdish fighters.

Despite Turkish fears in previous years that the region’s Kurds, who also live in Syria and Iran, could seek to combine to create a greater Kurdistan, the PKK no longer maintains the formal goal of independence.

"I'm not a scientist" – Making sense of the latest rhetorical gambit in right-wing climate-change denialism

About a year ago I posted an item about charting the stages of right-wing climate-change denialism. That phenomenon continues to evolve. On May 30 Jonathan Chait wrote a nice piece analyzing the recent tendency for Republican politicians to say "I'm not a scientist" when the subject of climate change comes up. As Chait convincingly suggests,
“I am not a scientist” makes sense as a way to resolve a tension within Republican politics. It may be a political liability for Republicans to openly associate themselves with the kook conspiracy theories popular among conservative ideologues. One solution might be for Republicans to concede that anthropogenic global warming is indeed real, but that any solution is simply too costly. That might allow Republicans to minimize their kook exposure while still hewing to the bottom line party doctrine that individuals and firms ought to be able to dump carbon into the atmosphere for free.

The trouble with the it’s-real-but-let’s do-nothing line is that might give offense to the kooks themselves. After all, the Glenn Becks, George Wills, and Wall Street Journal editorial page columnists of the world are out there fighting the good denier fight, and they don’t want to be undercut by their fellow Republicans. [....]
As usual, Chait's piece is perceptive, illuminating, and a must-read, so I would advise everyone to just go read it. But it's worth quoting this shrewd observation on the significance of this rhetorical formula:
“I’m not a scientist” allows Republicans to avoid conceding the legitimacy of climate science while also avoiding the political downside of openly branding themselves as haters of science. The beauty of the line is that it implicitly concedes that scientists possess real expertise, while simultaneously allowing you to ignore that expertise altogether.
=>  There have been other accounts of this potentially interesting trend, accompanied by speculations about its possible significance. I notice that one useful roundup appeared today in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Here are some highlights:
The war on climate science has evolved rapidly over the past decade, with talking points surging and subsiding in wave after wave: The planet is not warming. The planet might be warming, but the scientific uncertainty is too great to be sure. The planet was warming, but the warming stopped. The planet is warming, but not because of anything that humans are doing. The planet is warming, but that could be a good thing. The planet is warming and not in a particularly good way, but there’s not much we can do about it. The planet is warming and possibly in a very bad way, maybe even because of human activities, but fixing it would be much too expensive.

Just when it seemed that climate deniers might finally be coming to their senses, several leading voices began backpedaling. But instead of asserting that global warming isn’t occurring or isn’t human-caused, they came up with a sly new way to suggest that the scientific jury is still out: total ignorance. As in ignore-ance.

The recent rash of ignorance started with a few Republican politicians who proclaimed that their lack of scientific training makes it impossible for them to determine whether scientists are telling the truth about global warming. By last week, Republicans in Congress were even ignoring experts from their own party: the heads of the Environmental Protection Agency under four Republican administrations, who testified that global warming is real, humans are causing it, and action is needed. Republican congressmen responded by trying to block funding for EPA’s proposed carbon pollution standards. Of course they did. The only science that interests them is political science.
[JW: I know that last sentence was just intended to be witty and figurative, but the joke doesn't quite work, and it needs to be rewritten. Actually, the House Republicans have been trying to defund political science, too. They also voted to prohibit the US military from assessing possible national-security implications of climate change.]
Weasel words. “I’m not a scientist,” said Florida Governor Rick Scott on May 27, when asked whether human activities are significantly affecting the weather. Asked whether he is now less doubtful about the human influence on climate than he was in 2011, Scott simply repeated himself: “Well, I’m not a scientist.”

On May 29, House Speaker John Boehner spouted a slight variation on the theme: “Listen, I’m not qualified to debate the science over climate change.”

“Neither he nor I are a climate scientist,” said Tennessee Republican Marsha Blackburn in a debate with television personality Bill Nye “The Science Guy” three months earlier. “He is an engineer and actor. I am a member of Congress.”

Koch Brothers spokeswoman Melissa Cohlmia was on message, too, in a recent email to The Wichita Eagle: “We are not experts on climate change,” she wrote.

The “I’m not a scientist” mantra dates back to at least 2010, when Florida Senator Marco Rubio—who recently said he’s ready to be president—questioned the human contribution to climate change. “I’m not a scientist,” he told The Miami Herald. “I’m not qualified to make that decision... there’s a significant scientific dispute about that.” In a 2012 interview with GQ magazine, Rubio gave a similar answer when asked how old the Earth is: “I’m not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute among theologians, and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States.”

Gosh, who knew that Rubio is an economist, an historian, and a theologian? [....]

Has climate denial become cheesy? Most Republicans aren’t making a point of being non-scientists, especially after President Obama skewered the phrase in a commencement speech on June 14, offering his own translation of “I’m not a scientist”: “I accept that man-made climate change is real, but if I admit it, I'll be run out of town by a radical fringe that thinks climate science is a liberal plot.” Had climate deniers been around at the dawn of the space program, Obama said, they would have told John F. Kennedy that the moon “was made of cheese.”

We can’t get a taste of the moon, yet most of us trust science enough to believe that it’s not cheddar. With climate change, we can see for ourselves: coastal flooding, melting glaciers, extreme weather. Most Americans are not as clueless about what’s causing these changes as some of their elected representatives claim to be. A Gallup poll in mid-March reported that nearly six in 10 Americans believe that pollution from human activities, rather than natural causes, is responsible for the rise in global temperatures over the past century. Even among Republicans, 41 percent agree. And most of them aren’t scientists.
=> To reiterate something I've said before::
I know some serous and intelligent people who think it is unfair and even offensive to use the word "denialism" in this context, but I use it advisedly. Yes, I recognize that there are some thoughtful and reasonable forms of skepticism about climate change and its implications, whether or not one finds them convincing. But the perspective on climate change that now dominates the national Republican Party and the right-wing propaganda apparatus, running from talk radio and Fox News through right-wing think-tanks and the Wall Street Journal editorial page, goes way beyond that.
And this increasingly tendency toward strident, monolithic, intellectually irresponsible, and crudely demagogic climate-change denialism is just one manifestation of a more general pattern of across-the-board knee-jerk anti-environmentalism that has increasingly become a central defining feature of Republican orthodoxy in US national politics.

I'm not a climate scientist either, of course. But I do know that, despite some efforts to pretend otherwise, there is an overwhelming consensus on the basic issues among scientists with the relevant expertise, and it seems sensible to take that seriously. Even most of the small number of scientific skeptics whom climate-denialist propagandists like to cite, like Bjorn Lomborg, don't actually deny that global warming is happening, is significant, is potentially harmful, and is promoted by human activity. I'm also aware that, historically, the scientific consensus on all sorts of subjects has turned out to be wrong or misleading. So we shouldn't accept it blindly, if there are strong arguments against it or serious reasons to question it. But if climate-denialist writers have produced any genuinely convincing, or even plausible, arguments challenging the current scientific consensus on this subject, I haven't encountered them yet.

Sometimes the truth is unpleasant or ideologically inconvenient, but we still need to face it. (That applies, by the way, to self-styled "progressives," leftists, and "post-modernists" as well as to right-wingers.)

For other people who aren't climate scientists, I once again recommend 154 one-line rebuttals to climate-change denialists and a very clear and informative little book by Kerry Emanuel, What We Know About Climate Change.

—Jeff Weintraub

Friday, June 27, 2014

The alternative to US drone strikes in Waziristan

Pakistanis displaced by a government offensive waited for packages of food and cash in Bannu.

Actually, there are two realistically available alternatives to US drone strikes. One alternative is to give the Taliban—both its Afghan and Pakistani wings—an undisturbed safe haven in the border regions of northwest Pakistan within which it can murder and intimidate its local opponents with impunity and from which it can launch attacks on civilians and other targets both in Afghanistan and the rest of Pakistan without interference. The other alternative is conventional military action by the Pakistani army, which has been rare but which does happen occasionally, usually when a major Taliban atrocity in Pakistan has prodded to Pakistani government into reacting.

I don't mean to suggest that this comparison yields an easy and obvious conclusion. All three of these alternatives—US drone strikes, passive inaction, and large-scale military action by the Pakistani army—have serious moral and political costs and other drawbacks, and none of them really offers prospect of fully solving the crucial problems involved.

People who oppose US drone strikes in the border regions of northwest Pakistan (and elsewhere) have emphasized the human and political costs of the drone program in very strong terms. Of course there really are such costs; and there is a plausible case to be made that, on balance, US drone strikes against the Taliban do more harm than good. But any serious consideration of the moral and political dilemmas involved would also have to take into account the consequences and implications of the realistically available alternatives. I don't think it's unfair to say that many opponents of US drone strikes fail to confront those dilemmas seriously, even when they don't simply ignore them.

On the other hand, there is a good deal of evidence that many people living in the affected border regions of Pakistan do take those alternatives into account. And one result is that their attitudes toward US drone strikes are often, at the very least, quite ambivalent—to an extent that many opponents of these drone strikes in the US and elsewhere (including other parts of Pakistan) would probably find surprising. Here's one report about this, and it would be easy to cite others that present a similar picture
National surveys find that Pakistanis are overwhelmingly opposed to CIA drone strikes against suspected militants in the tribal badlands close to the Afghan border. The strikes are seen by many as an abuse of sovereignty, a symbol of American arrogance and the cause of civilian deaths. So when Sofia Khan, a school administrator from Islamabad, travelled with hundreds of anti-drone campaigners to a ramshackle town bordering the restive Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) last October she was stunned by what some tribesmen there had to say.

One man from South Waziristan heatedly told her that he and his family approved of the remote-controlled aircraft and wanted more of them patrolling the skies above his home. Access to the tribal regions is very difficult for foreign journalists; but several specialists and researchers on the region, who did not want to be identified, say there is at least a sizeable minority in FATA who share that view.

Surveys are also notoriously difficult to carry out in FATA. A 2009 poll in three of the tribal agencies found 52% of respondents believed drone strikes were accurate and 60% said they weakened militant groups. Other surveys have found much lower percentages in favour. But interviews by The Economist with twenty residents of the tribal areas confirmed that many see individual drone strikes as preferable to the artillery barrages of the Pakistani military. They also insisted that the drones do not kill many civilians—a view starkly at odds with mainstream Pakistani opinion. “No one dares tell the real picture,” says an elder from North Waziristan. “Drone attacks are killing the militants who are killing innocent people.” [....]

In 2010 a group of politicians and NGOs published a “Peshawar Declaration” in support of drones.  [JW: For the text of the Peshawar Declaration, which did endorse US drone strikes but covered a much wider range of subjects, see here.]  Life soon became difficult for the signatories. “If anyone speaks out they will be eliminated,” says Said Alam Mehsud, one of the organisers, who was forced to leave Pakistan for a time. [....]
Why might some people in those border regions feel that way? Well, it's worth considering, in concrete terms, what the alternatives look like on the ground. Here's a report in today's New York Times, "As Pakistan Advances Against Taliban, Fleeing Civilians Pour Into Northern Towns":
Pakistan stepped up its drive against the Taliban in North Waziristan on Thursday with heavy strikes and a commando raid on Miram Shah, the district’s largest town, in what military officials described as the prelude to a major ground offensive. [....]

The advance was the army’s first major thrust into the center of Miram Shah, a hub of militant activity, and was an escalation after days of a relative lull in operations to allow civilians to flee.

The military said that 456,000 displaced people had registered for aid, making it Pakistan’s biggest conflict-driven humanitarian crisis since a previous push against the Taliban in 2009.

But in Bannu, a town on the edge of Waziristan where a majority of refugees have arrived, officials said the figure had already surpassed 500,000 by Thursday morning. Rents have tripled and transport costs soared in the past week as thousands of families cram into rented accommodation, or with relatives. Many complained bitterly about their conditions.[....]

So far, the military operation has mostly involved airstrikes against remote militant compounds in North Waziristan that, a spokesman in Rawalpindi told reporters on Thursday, had resulted in the deaths of 327 fighters and just 10 soldiers.

But the number and identity of those killed could not be confirmed because North Waziristan is effectively sealed off to the outside world, including journalists. Some fleeing tribesmen said the military strikes had killed civilians as well as militants.

The next step, military officials said, is a major ground assault into the towns of Miram Shah and Mir Ali. “Both towns would be cleared in one go, simultaneously,” said a senior military official in Peshawar.

But in Bannu, fleeing tribesmen indicated that many Taliban fighters had already left the area.

“The Taliban seemed to know about this operation before we did,” said Muhammad Rafique, a tribal elder from Miram Shah, who described how Taliban fighters had fled before most civilians. [....]

What remains unclear, however, is whether the Pakistani offensive will target the Haqqani network, a Taliban-allied group that focuses its attacks in Afghanistan and that has longstanding ties with Pakistani intelligence. In Washington, a senior Obama administration official said on the condition of anonymity that there were indications that the main Pakistani military spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, had tipped off senior Haqqani commanders before the operation [....]

The refugee flood has also spilled into Afghanistan. The United Nations refugee agency in Kabul says that about 65,000 people have crossed into Khost Province — an embarrassment to Pakistanis after years of Afghan refugee traffic in the other direction, but also a source of worry about Taliban fighters escaping the military operation. [....]
Again, I'm not suggesting that any of this constitutes a clear or decisive argument in favor of continuing US drone strikes against the Taliban in these border regions of Pakistan. On the contrary, the point is that all the available options (or any combinations of them) are unattractive, unpleasant, and unsatisfactory. Their implications and likely consequences are complex, uncertain, and difficult to assess clearly. And all of them present difficult and intractable moral and political dilemmas. But any discussions of US drone strikes worth taking seriously should be willing to confront these moral and political dilemmas fully and honestly.  Yes, life is complicated.

Yours for reality-based discourse,
Jeff Weintraub

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The voice of Durkheim

Here is a fascinating and unexpected tidbit from the history of modern social theory. It's been circulating on e-mail, and was passed on to me by Chad Goldberg.

Emile Durkheim's paper on "Value Judgments and Judgments of Reality" (included in Sociology and Philosophy) was originally a lecture given at the International Congress of Philosophy meeting in Bologna in 1911. It turns out that a recording of part of his conference presentation is available. If you'd like to hear Durkheim expounding his ideas in his own voice, you can listen to him HERE.

The text of "Jugements de valeur et jugements de réalité" is here.  The recorded portion is the paragraph running from p. 6 to p. 7.  (Or pp. 85-86 in the English-language version of Sociology and Philosophy.)

Yours for theory,
Jeff Weintraub

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Feisal Istrabadi on the tragedy of Iraq

Feisal Istrabadi, currently based at the University of Indiana Law School, played an advisory role in the drafting of Iraq's post-Saddam constitution and was Iraq's deputy ambassador to the United Nations from 2004-2007. His grandfather helped to draft Iraq's first constitution almost a century ago.

Today he was interviewed by Robin Young on NPR's "Here & Now".  This is a passage toward the end of the interview (which you can listen to here):

FI:  [....]  The issue isn't a military one in the first instance. The issue is political. You have to have a wise leadership in Baghdad—which is absent at the moment, unfortunately—which understands that if it does not act now, quickly, to make political compromises, no military solution can save the state of Iraq.

RY:  How painful is that for you personally? You were one of the Iraqis who, as we said, had left the country and pushed for the US invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. Some analysts [are] saying that Saddam Hussein, although he ruled with an iron fist, that iron fist kept these different factions together.  Now we have this. You're watching this from Indiana. How painful is this for you?

FI:  Well, let me first address the first part of your remark about, "well, he may have been unpleasant, but ..."  This is a man who is guilty of the deaths of no less than one million Iraqis over a period of 35 years. So there is no "he may have been a brutal tyrant" ... there is no "but" after that, there's no comma after that phrase.  It's a period.

  Having said that, I can say that none of my aspirations for Iraq have come true.  My worst fears, my greatest nightmares, have all been exceeded.  [....]

—Jeff Weintraub

Did a Turkish spokesman really just say that Iraqi Kurds have a right to self-determination?

That report comes from a Kurdish news source, so one has to treat it with caution. But if it's true, it's a bombshell.
The Kurds of Iraq have the right to decide the future of their land, said Huseyin Celik, a spokesman for Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on Friday.

"The Kurds of Iraq can decide for themselves the name and type of the entity they are living in,'" Celik told Rudaw in an interview to be published soon.   [....]

In case Iraq gets partitioned, said Celik, “the Kurds, like any other nation, will have the right to decide their fate.”

Celik believes that Iraq is already headed towards partition thanks to “Maliki’s sectarian policies.”  [....]
Iraqi Kurds are a nation "like any other nation" and "have the right to decide their own fate"? Coming from a Turkish politician close to the Prime Minister, like Celik, this is strong stuff. A decade ago, the Turkish government was threatening armed invasion, if necessary, to prevent any moves toward independence or even autonomy for Iraqi Kurds. And it insisted that Kurdish control of the city of Kirkuk (consolidated last week, as the Iraqi Army fled from northern Iraq) was an unacceptable red line that would trigger such an invasion.

Well, their outlook has been evolving; but would still be a bit startling to discover that it has evolved quite this far. Celik is a significant figure in the AKP. If he is being quoted correctly here, and if he was authorized to say this publicly, then his statement would mark a major step forward in the gradual process of accommodation between Turkey and the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government.

It would also help confirm the growing impression that the Turkish government is giving up on the possibility of a stable and friendly Arab-ruled Iraq, and would prefer having a stable buffer between eastern Turkey and Arab Iraq—even if that means accepting an independent Kurdistan next door. (Kurds are overwhelmingly Sunni, at least, unlike most Iraqi Arabs.  From the AKP's perspective, that's probably a factor.)

Irish nationalists once used to say that "England's trouble is Ireland's opportunity." I'm sure that a lot of Kurds have been having similar thoughts about the current troubles of Arab Iraq. On the other hand, none of this would be possible if the Iraqi Kurds themselves hadn't made effective use of their opportunities over the past two decades to build up the foundations of a viable and (in regional terms) fairly successful proto-nation-state under very difficult conditions. And they live in a sufficiently dangerous and volatile neighborhood that everything they've accomplished could still come to grief. Meanwhile, this is a sign of how far they've come since the Anfal genocide a quarter-century ago.

=>  Of course, no one in the Turkish government is about to suggest that Kurds in Turkey have any rights to political self-determination. But I'm sure they wouldn't see this as inconsistent. Their attitude, I suspect, is that Turkey is a real, serious nation-state whose unity and territorial integrity have to be treated as sacred and unquestionable ... whereas neighboring countries like Iraq, and perhaps Syria, are just the Middle Eastern equivalent of banana republics. ("Tribes with flags" is the way an Egyptian diplomat once dismissed the Arab countries east of Egypt.)

For Arab governments and publics, on the other hand, the notion that non-Arab minorities in the Arab world (Kurds, Jews, Berbers) have any rights to self-determination is anathema. But in the case of Iraqi Kurdistan, they might not be able to prevent it from happening, like it or not.

—Jeff Weintraub