Seth Boyes joined the Dickinson County News staff in March of 2017. In his first week at the DCN, he covered a train derailment near Graettinger. The tankers carrying ethanol burst into flames. Seth's photo of the event won first place for Best Breaking News photo at the 2018 Iowa Newspaper Association Convention and Trade Show. Since, Seth has won nearly a dozen awards for writing, photography and multimedia content. Seth graduated from Iowa State University in 2009 with a degree in Integrated Studio Arts. His original cartoons run regularly in the Spencer Daily Reporter and the DCN. Both he and his wife Janet hail from Clear Lake and have come to expect summers to be full of the hustle and bustle of tourists and visitors.
I had heard something about a letter President Trump recently sent to Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan, but I didn't immediately take the time to read any further than the headlines. Come Friday morning, I happened across a depiction of the letter in an editorial cartoon by artist Steve Breen, and I assumed the words I was reading were part of the farce. So, I called up the headlines from earlier in the week and compared.
Folks, aside from replacing the presidential seal with the silhouette of a golden coo coo clock, Breen didn't alter the content of the letter at all.
Our president truly did use the language of a back-alley mugger and tell the Turkish president "Don't be a tough guy." Of course, there were more diplomatic phrases, like "History will look upon you favorably if you get this done the right and humane way." But when coupled with "It will look upon you forever as the devil if good things don't happen," the letter becomes somewhat self defeating. Granted, Erdogan isn't the nicest guy in the world. Even the New York Times pointed out the country and Erdogan have held an anti-American, nationalist sentiment for several years now. The withdraw of U.S. troops from Syria has also made for some rocky footing in this situation as Kurdish allies now have a whole new ball of wax to handle.
The uncalculated and off the cuff phrasing of the White House letter seemed to be pretty counter productive in bringing Erdogan to the negotiating table and securing a ceasefire in northeastern Syria — though perhaps the Turkish President took some reassurance in the president's final promise, "I will call you later."
Erdogan's response indicates otherwise, though. Though the White House announced a cease fire had been reached, reports have been circulating that Turkey violated said agreement within mere hours. It's dismaying but perhaps not surprising. Like I said, Erdogan isn't too terribly fond of the U.S., and he is said to have read the president's letter and thrown it directly "in the bin." That's the European phrase for the garbage can, but most people are aware of the across-the-pond term thanks to modern British television hits like Downton Abbey, Call the Midwife and The Crown. In fact, "the bin" briefly became part of a life lesson for one contestant during the Great British Baking Show (or Bake Off depending on when you became a fan) — a lesson I think parallels the president's recent letter.
The challenge was to present the classic dessert baked Alaska to judges Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, who would look at the three components of the sweet treat — the sponge cake, the meringue and the ice cream. A contestant by the name of Iain had trouble with the ice cream (debate over how and why have evidently caused a schism in the fanbase) that he threw his entire baked Alaska "in the bin" rather than present a flawed dessert to the judges. What's more, he had the brilliant idea to present "the bin" to the judges to explain what happened.
Now, here's the commonality. The judges pointed out they still could have critiqued the other two components of the dish if they hadn't been presented in the trash (or rubbish, if you prefer). In short, there were good parts to the dessert mixed among the trash — just like there are worthwhile political and economic goals buried deep inside the brambles of the president's recent letter — but the intended recipients aren't going to swallow them if they're spoon comes up covered in eggshells and threats. While the president may have intended the letter to result in a lasting cease fire, it seems penning the letter from such a perceived position of strength did little to quench the embers of anger and aggression.
Strength is all well and good, but a message which is tossed directly in the trash is a message which isn't heard. If a show of strength is the goal in itself, we have missed the point. Not all things can be muscled. Not all arguments can be won by the loudest voice. Not all minds can be coerced by fear. If we really want a lasting cease fire to be reached with Turkey, we can't present our proposal in a trash bin. Sure, on a certain level it gives us great satisfaction to be the resolute cowboy daring the other desperado to draw on us, but that just shows we're a little too eager to pull our own trigger.
There are other ways. Strength comes in many forms. Strength comes from sensibly appealing to common goals rather than assigning blame. Strength comes from respectful approaches to opposition rather than knee-jerk threats. Strength comes from the realization that winning isn't when one side benefits over the other, but rather when both sides walk away with more than they had at the start.