Tuesday, August 10, 2004

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Let's talk Turkey

The emergence of a deep Turco-Israeli partnership under Turgat Özal, extending from serious military cooperation to a rich vein of cultural and economic exchange, was one of the more hopeful developments in the strategic landscape. Because of its enduring “Sèvres paranoia,” the fear that powerful external actors (the leading European states, in the main) had designs on the Anatolian heartland, Turkey was reluctant to really engage with potential allies, with the United States (friendlier and further away than the covetous Reds) as an exception. The paranoia fed Turkish authoritarianism. The secular elite particularly resented European condemnations of the Kemalist dirty war against Kurdish separatists—yet another attempt, in the historical imagination of said elite, to split the country. Israel, as a “pariah state” in the same region, didn’t have the same baggage; having endured abusive language and worse in its struggle to survive, the Israelis had a certain baseline sympathy for the Turks. And for a while, they worked hand in glove, with friends of Israel in the US (AIPAC in particular) lobbying hard for Turkish interests, e.g., in acquiring sophisticated military hardware. Advanced materiel that was not forthcoming from the West, generally on grounds of human rights abuses, could be provided by Israel’s advanced defense industry, and the same is more broadly true of investment capital and technical expertise. Both states had an interest in containing hostile Arab states, with Syria at the top of the list (strangely, Syria continues to hold irredentist designs on a patch of Turkey, just the thing to get the Sèvres juices flowing).

But according to Michael Rubin (one of my favorites—an amazingly erudite cat, but with a disappointing recent penchant for echoing views I find unpersuasive) in National Review Online, that relationship is drawing to a close. The culprit is Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the golden boy we’ve all learned to love because he’s able to reconcile a soft Islamist politics with a pro-Western orientation. “The West,” alas, is a many-splendored thing, and a many-tentacled-many-splendored thing at that, with the European division, exactly the one that Erdogan has every incentive (money, mon-, mon-, mo-ney, money) to cozy up to, having a visceral distrust of Israeli motives. Rubin sees this as part of a broader repositioning (rebranding?), a post-Kemalist “neo-Ottomanism” in which Turkey with bolster ties with the Islamic world, including a dramatic (and paralleledly lucrative) softening towards the Iranian mullahs, the world’s number-one bad guys. [UPDATE: Uh, let's say "top five."] I hope Rubin’s rendering is “clearer than the truth” and that Erdogan isn’t heading down a dark, dangerous path, but he’s laid out a convincing case.

My strong inclination is to root for Erdogan. We need a “soft Islamism,” comfortable with liberal values and serious about interethnic tolerance, to combat the hard-edged, venomous variety, just as the social-democratic parties of the Second International were the most dogged, determined enemies of Bolshevism during the last great war of ideas (and bullets). Erdogan has characterized his politics as a Muslim version of Christian Democracy, and that sounds like the right medicine. He’s demonstrated a clear-eyed commitment to democracy, and eliminating the last vestiges of military authoritarianism. That’s good news.

And yet one wonders, is it unambiguously good news? Well, yes, but as Christopher Caldwell (I would tattoo his Weekly Standard caricature on my forehead if I had time for the pain, but, as a wise man once said, “I ain’t got time to bleed”) pointed out in a typically insightful piece, Erdogan’s moves to democratize the country, pursued with vigor as part of his government’s quest for inclusion in “Europe,” is making the country less secular in a weighty, consequential way that’s likely to be directional, i.e., once you start moving, it’ll be hard to go back.

As Drezner always says, “read the whole thing.”

P.S.- I understand that Caldwell was in this obscure, and awesome, club called the Signet Society around ’83-84’, and that the same is true of the great Andrew Sullivan. Sounds like a gathering of brainpower eighty times as excellent as Thomas Jefferson dining with a throbbing megabrain encased in a large glass dome. Suffice to say, the membership’s illustriousness and general excellence precipitously declined by the turn of the century when they admitted thick-headed South Asian men with aliases including “Hash Brown,” “Phlapjaxx,” and “Sausage Linx.”

posted by Suzanne Nossel on 08.10.04 at 12:01 PM


Those who rebutt the neocon conversion of Iraq into a democracy make a fundamental mistake, they confuse democracy with friendliness to the US. Turkey is a prime example, they may hate the US, but they still are a good ally. If Iraq comes out of this despising the US, but a devoloping democracy like Turkey, it will be a huge longterm victory. Friends come and go, but self-interest is eternal. Democracies hardly ever fight with each other, its not in their interest.

posted by: mark buehner on 08.10.04 at 12:01 PM [permalink]

I trust Michael Rubin about as far as I can throw him, erudite or not.

posted by: praktike on 08.10.04 at 12:01 PM [permalink]

Love those great Jesse Ventura movie quotes. Keep up the good work.

posted by: Jay on 08.10.04 at 12:01 PM [permalink]

How in God's name can you refer to the Iranian mullahs as "the world's number one bad guys"? Have you not heard of Kim Jung Il? Have you not heard of Darfur, Sudan? Have you not heard of Osama bin Laden? Iran has no nuclear weapons at this time! Pakistan and Israel are armed to the hilt! Give me a break. The mullahs are only trying to come up to speed with all of the insanity going on around them - not least, all the sabre-rattling coming out of the U.S. administration. Pah!

posted by: comenius on 08.10.04 at 12:01 PM [permalink]

"How in God's name can you refer to the Iranian mullahs as "the world's number one bad guys"? "

Well, aside from arming Hezbolah, supporting the Taliban, allowing passage to Al Qaeda before, now sheltering Al Qaeda, spurring uprising in Iraq, apparently arming Sadr's thug army, and developing nuclear weapons, i guess you have a point. What could these guys possibly do with nuclear weapons?

posted by: mark buehner on 08.10.04 at 12:01 PM [permalink]

"TEHRAN 14 Dec. (IPS) One of Iran’s most influential ruling cleric called Friday on the Muslim states to use nuclear weapon against Israel, assuring them that while such an attack would annihilate Israel, it would cost them "damages only".

"If a day comes when the world of Islam is duly equipped with the arms Israel has in possession, the strategy of colonialism would face a stalemate because application of an atomic bomb would not leave any thing in Israel but the same thing would just produce damages in the Muslim world", Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani told the crowd at the traditional Friday prayers in Tehran."


If that doesnt scare the crap out of you i dont know what would. Thats what they want to do to the 'little satan', just think what they have in mind for the 'big'. All this blase attitude about Iran with nukes has got to stop. Check out this article by Fareed Zakaria

posted by: mark buehner on 08.10.04 at 12:01 PM [permalink]

Hmm. You got time to duck?

posted by: Larry on 08.10.04 at 12:01 PM [permalink]

Mark, the quote you give has him predicting a stalemate, not advocating nuclear war.

posted by: J Thomas on 08.10.04 at 12:01 PM [permalink]

A "wise man"? Only when he was disagreeing with Bobby "The Brain" Heenan.

posted by: Roger Sweeny on 08.10.04 at 12:01 PM [permalink]

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