Trump and Turkey [CORRECTED]

None of this is impeachable, but it’s certainly inexplicable.

President Trump’s conduct and rhetoric regarding Turkey and its autocratic ruler  appear to be incompetent and irresponsible. In November, the President said he was a “great fan” of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. Since Erdrogan’s regime has been notable for its restrictions and attacks on basic civil rights, such praise is certain to stir the embers of the “Trump is a secret fascist dictator just waiting for his chance” narrative. Maybe that’s the idea, and this is more intentional trolling; who knows? Does Trump play three dimensional chess? Does he just say stuff without thinking, and then backtrack just as quickly?

Over recent months, the President also sided with Erdogan in rejecting Congress’s bi-partisan resolution officially labeling  the Ottoman Empire’s massacre of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians in 1915 as genocide. Turkey’s official position has been that the deaths were a product of war, and not illegal. Trump called it  “one of the worst mass atrocities of the 20th century” on Armenian Remembrance Day, and after the Senate passed its side of the resolution,  State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement,“The position of the Administration has not changed…Our views are reflected in the President’s definitive statement in April.”

It is worth noting, since the anti-Trump media won’t tell you, that the ‘horrible but not genocide’ approach follows decades of US policy designed to avoid angering Turkey, a NATO ally. Former President Barack Obama also did not refer to the killings as “genocide” during his tenure.

I understand that “genocide” is a politically loaded word, but the continuing argument regarding what term to use regarding a more than 100-year-old event, as if the terminology changes anything, mystifies me. Is “mass atrocity” really better than “genocide”? And why can’t the current government of Turkey separate themselves from the Ottoman Empire?

Then, this week,  President Trump signed a defense bill that imposes sanctions on Turkey because Turkey is acquiring Russian S-400 missile systems.

B.F. Skinner, in his ground-breaking behavioral science research, concluded that while positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement were both effective in altering the behavior of rats, contradictory reinforcement drove the rats crazy.

The question is, who are the rats?

Correction notice: I originally wrote “intermittent” for contradictory, which was in error. Thanks to Chris Marschner for the pointer.

11 thoughts on “Trump and Turkey [CORRECTED]

  1. Turks are known for being incredibly nationalistic people, probably more so than the average. Many of them don’t realize that recognizing a country’s weaknesses and wanting to improve them is much more patriotic than blind praise.

      • True, but that it the prevailing cultural trend. The Armenian Genocide group wants the declaration and reparations from Turkey. US-Turkey are complicated and Erdogan plays the us against Putin for its benefit. Maybe Trump understands this and us bucking the cultural trend.


        • Jvb

          I was wondering why Cruz and Menendes proffer such a bill at this time. I could rationalize Menendes effort as a means to put Trump in a catch22 during this tense time.

          Cruz’s only rationale would be to punish this “ally”, ( and I use the term loosely as I do with all NATO signatories and other nations).

          I find it disengenuous of Congress to condemn an ally for acts 104 years in the past but we would never label the holocaust that occurred between 1933 and 1945 the Jewish genocide.

          This sort of parallels the niggardly principle. Is it necessary to offend another nation on purpose?

          The administration is negotiating the safety of another ally the Kurds. Trump, by not siding with Congress is actually removing something undesireable to Turkey from the negotiating table preemptively ( the resolution), this technically is negative reinforcement which could be being used to achieve a desired Turkisk behavior.

          Most people associate negative reinforcement as the imposition of an undesireable act them – i.e. punishment. In fact, it is the removal of something that yields negative satisfaction is what negative reinforcement means. An example is when after an allied bombing campaign of a town in France the allies were welcomed as saviors because despite the death and destruction they caused by bombing the allies eliminated some thing that caused far more misery.

  2. Jack
    I believe the use of the term intermittant with respect to reinforcement is incorrect in this context. A more appropriate word is contradictory reinforcement. Intermittant positive reinforcement increases the the long term desired behavioral change.

    With that said, positive reinforcement gives a reward for a desired behavioral change and negative reinforcement removes an undesireable condition to affect the desired behavioral change. Thus, sanctions that take away something desirable is neither positive nor negative reinforcement; it is simply punishment. While it seems counterintuitive eliminating sanctions is negative reinforcement and not positive reinforcement. I invite our resident psychologist to validate or invalidate my understanding.

    I wonder what Trump’s antagonists would say if Ukraine’s citizens voted in a pro Russian president and started buying SA 400 missiles. Would all those still claim that witholding military aid was an impeacable offense?

    We don’t demand our presidents harrangue the leadership of modern Germany over their historical genocide but we acknowleldge their victimization without casting aspersions on the innocent descendants of the victimizers. The same holds for those that were cleansed at the hands of the Serbs.

    Diplomacy often requires providing some despicable people some inconsequential deference to achieve a larger goal.

  3. And why can’t the current government of Turkey separate themselves from the Ottoman Empire?

    Because the Ottoman Empire represents the epitome of Muslim moderate government, with the prestige of being a direct successor to the Roman Empire. It is the same motivation that led early Gemany to call itself the Holy Roman Empire and later Kings adopting the title Kaiser, and the same motivation for the the Russian Kings to call Moscow the Third Rome and adopt the title Tsar.

    If the Ottomans admit to committing genocide in the empire’s dying days, it destroys the myth that Islam is a religion of peace. It undermines Turkey’s self image as itself a modern moderate incarnation of the historic Roman State, different in degree and kind from modern extremists. It is about preserving national myths without accepting accountability and the corollary need for vigilance today to avoid yesterday’s evil deeds.

    • At the risk of channeling Alizia…

      It is about preserving national myths without accepting accountability and the corollary need for vigilance today to avoid yesterday’s evil deeds.

      This sounds uncomfortably close to my observation about a lot of American national myths. Nations do things in their public roles which they find abominable is their private thoughts. This is the way of the world, and Americans can at least try to minimize this phenomenon. I think we do better than almost anyone else.*

      *My exception would be Israel, whose national myths align more closely with their private thoughts. Decades of constant existential threats tend to produce such in a national psyche, I guess.

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