One of the main takeaways from the Munich Security Conference this month was the United States’ renewed focus on guarding against the threat from China, thereby marking a dramatic shift away from the U.S.’ previous positioning of Russia as public enemy number one. In an America that is more polarized than ever before, China was one issue where observers remarkably found “no light” between Republicans and Democrats at the conference.
Europe’s collective response to these solemn bi-partisan warnings about the Red Dragon, however, was to essentially shrug them off. On issues like Huawei and China’s disruption of the global order, the U.S. found itself as the lone wolf, walking away from Munich reportedly dissatisfied by the response from its E.U. allies. But maybe the U.S. also left the conference with something else – an opening to reset ties with one of its most geopolitically and militarily important relationships in the Middle East: Turkey.
The conventional thinking about the Turkey-U.S. relationship is that it is strained. A few months ago, analysts and commentators were asking why the Trump administration effectively let slide Turkey’s purchase of a Russian defense system, known as the S400, which is incompatible with the U.S.-made and NATO-approved F35 system. It seemed rather peculiar that a bigger fuss was not made of our NATO ally, Turkey, choosing to “Buy Russian” for its defense rather than buying American, as it had long done. Russia, after all, is the world’s greatest threat to America.
But then, as it turns out, Russia isn’t. China is.
So much of what is perceived to be fractured grew out of this debacle. But Turkey has been a NATO ally to the US for 68 years, and that’s worth something. Beyond that, it’s a relationship built largely on mutual interests – many of which are in the realm of security, military and geopolitics.
“Turkey’s relations with China cannot replace its alliance with the United States or relations with the European Union,” Altay Atli, a lecturer at Koc University in Istanbul who specializes in Turkish-Asian relations, said last year. “Turkey has very deep and mutually beneficial relations with the West,” he concluded.
Once a perceived cozying up to Russia arose, however, a wedge was driven right through all those interests.
Now, we have an America that sees more pressing, menacing, and direct threats elsewhere and a Turkey that is surprising everyone in the meantime by engaging in armed conflict against Russia on two fronts – both in Syria and Libya. With the realities of where things currently stand, it may just be time for those still carrying the S400 grudge to set it aside.
And there are ample reasons to do so, as the shared interests between Turkey and the US with respect to the China problem are many, particularly in the realms of human rights, security and economics. For starters, Turkey is incensed at China’s treatment of over one million Muslim Uyghurs that have been forcibly removed from their homes and locked in detention camps which they like to call “reeducation camps.” Many Turks trace their ethnic origins to the Uyghurs, Turkey hosts a sizeable Uyghur diaspora population and President Erdogan has been outspoken on the issue. All of this aligns with America’s strong condemnation of China’s abuses against the ethnic minority population.
With respect to security, China’s support for the Assad regime in Syria is a direct threat to the strategic interests of both Turkey and the United States. Cutting across the aisle in Washington, there is universal agreement about the scale and severity of Assad’s crimes, and that he has no place in Syria’s future, while Turkey is currently engaged in battle with Assad’s forces in an effort to spare Idlib; the Syrian opposition’s last stronghold in the country.
On the economic front, Turkey’s unfavorable trade imbalance with China has been a flashpoint in bilateral relations between the two countries. Just like the U.S., China’s flaunting of World Trade Organization rules impacts Turkey in a direct way.
Plenty can be said and dissected with respect to America’s China policy shift more broadly. But it’s worth examining what it means to the debate over the U.S.-Turkey alliance, and perhaps rethinking the criticism lodged against the Trump Administration for not hitting back hard enough in response to Turkey’s decision last year. Maybe the Trump team – so often accused of moving between global policies and actions on whims – should be given credit for having foresight regarding its foreign policy. The U.S. is now looking for allies willing to stand in line against its big foe, which all agree to be China, not Russia. And closing the door on Turkey could be considered the wrong move.
Be a Man. Take Off the Mask.
It’s been a full year since the United States theater of the COVID-19 pandemic began in earnest. From their peak in early January, seven-day averages of deaths and new cases have plummeted by around 50 and 75 percent respectively. States like Texas and Mississippi have repealed their statewide mask mandates and allowed businesses to operate at 100 percent capacity if they so choose.
Say what you will about the vaccine, but two million Americans are receiving it each day. Skepticism over its efficacy and risks has waned. We’re well on our way to having administered 100 million doses, and people are not suffering catastrophic side effects, let alone dropping like flies.
This is patently absurd. Remember that masks and social distancing were intended to be stopgaps until we had the infection rate under control, not measures to be rigorously enforced until we have absolute certainty that no one will die from the disease. The United States has never had the infection rate under more control than it does now. Given that fact, the trends described above, and the approaching of warmer months, there’s increasingly little justification to keep in place universal limitations on mobility and on the freedom to choose not cover your face with cloth everywhere you go.
A notable psychological feature of contemporary society is the incessant drive to push aside and ignore the inconvenient reality of death, so when the COVID-19 outbreak became a worldwide pandemic, we treated it like the Black Death. Of course, it didn’t help that the virus broke out under a totalitarian Chinese state whose extreme lockdown measures gave every other country carte blanche to impose similar measures on their own people.
As the philosopher Edward Feser put it, restricting the individual liberties of someone infected with bubonic plague used to be a necessary evil because bubonic plague once posed a grave and immediate threat to people in general. It is clear, however, that COVID-19 does not pose a grave and immediate threat to people in general. It is also unjust to impose burdens or inflict harm because someone will do something in the future or because they might do something in the future. Therefore, if you’re young and healthy, if you’re vaccinated, or if you’ve been sick with COVID-19 and have gotten better, consider taking your mask off, living a normal life once again, and not letting people push you around about your decisions.
In many places people only wear masks out of conformity. Consider the restaurants you eat at: you only wear the mask to get a table and then you take it off when you’re seated. If you’re fortunate enough to go to a gym that doesn’t employ roaming mask police, you’ll probably see people take their masks off when exercising, only to put them back on to walk around the gym floor. If you’re washing your clothes at a laundromat, you’re not socializing to begin with and you’re almost never within six feet of a stranger. Would you be taking a noticeably greater risk by simply not wearing a mask in any of these scenarios? Are you just doing it because it’s expected of you? Are you using your mask as more of a psychological security blanket than as a tool to avoid infection or asymptomatic spread, the latter of which is likely an exaggerated threat anyway?
The Washington Post recently ran an article about a study that found a tight correlation between the COVID death rate and the obesity rate of adults in many countries across the globe. Obesity has long been linked to more preexisting conditions and comorbidities, a greater risk of developing dozens of illnesses and diseases, and a greater impairment of the immune system. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic has only functioned as a pandemic among the obese and the elderly. Among healthy people, young people, skinny people? Not even close. For them it’s not unreasonable to suggest that it’s much more reminiscent of an occasional bout of the flu or food poisoning—not a danger that warrants over a year’s worth of online learning, mass cancellation of campus events, and widespread closing of bars. COVID-19 in itself is not “just the flu, bro,” but it does feel like it to most people around the world.
There’s also a certain segment of the population that leans left in their political worldview and has turned COVID into a religion. COVIDianism, if you will. COVIDians are dogmatic in their belief that the virus represents a universally grave danger. COVIDians surrender and profess obedience to the priests and bishops known as scientists and experts. COVIDians are rigorous in the enforcement of their religious observances such as mask-wearing and physical separation. COVIDian evangelization takes place through in-person confrontations and the fearmongering of the mainstream media. The benefits of upsetting COVIDians far outweigh the chance of killing grandma by working out without a mask.
It’s one thing to wear a mask and be cautious about physical touch or distance if you’re immunocompromised or if you live with someone who’s immunocompromised. But if you’re a healthy person who reflects and finds that you’re only wearing a mask because the authorities or society writ large is telling you to, it’s time to be a man and take it off.
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Be a Man. Take Off the Mask.