November 5, 2002
Election: Complications and Blowback?
first thing Ivan Eland, the Cato Institute's Director of defense
Policy Studies, said to me about the election in Turkey was that
the victory of a putatively moderate Islamicist party is at least
partly attributable the increasingly aggressive tone of U.S. foreign
policy regarding the region. Domestic factors, especially the inability
of the current corrupt ruling factions to offer anything resembling
hope for pulling out of an economic downturn, undoubtedly played
a role. But the apparent determination of the Bush administration
to achieve "regime change" in Iraq, with or without allies,
no doubt pushed many Turkish voters toward the Islamicist party
as the most effective or visible way to register their disapproval.
the electoral victory in Turkey of the Justice and Development Party,
a party with Islamicist roots that still bills itself as moderate,
oriented to the West and cooperative with the International Monetary
Fund, will complicate the Bush administration's plans in Iraq and
unsettle almost every relationship in the region. The impact on
Europe will be extensive also, and fascinating to watch.
new ruling party, despite having enough parliamentary members to
rule without forming a coalition, may also have a hard time staying
of course, has had an explicitly secularist government since the
1920s, when Kemal Ataturk and his "young Turks" in the
officer corps took power in the wake of the breakup of the old Ottoman
Empire. The military, which views itself as the guardian of the
secular constitution, has deposed leaders it viewed as "too
Islamic" in the past (most recently in 1997) but has never
ruled directly for any appreciable period.
has managed to maintain an essentially democratic (though sometimes
more than a bit despotic) regime since the 1920s, which is more
than any of the countries in Europe that will be ruling on Turkey's
suitability to join the civilized world as a member of the European
Union can say. As a not-bad piece in National Review Online
the ability to remain democratic has roots in a longer history.
was the center of the Ottoman Empire, which ruled parts of Europe
for a while – and was never as absolutist as legend might have it.
So the Turks knew the West better than did other Muslim-majority
countries, and feared and hated it less, in part because Turkey
was never conquered by a European power. The fact that the Turkish
sultans were not as absolute in their power as, say, a 20th-century
dictator like Hitler or Stalin, also paved the way for the idea
of a government of at least somewhat limited powers.
Lerner, who wrote the NRO piece, also argues that the tradition
of the Turkish military to serve as guardians of the secularist,
modernizing 1920s constitution, has also been a key, contributing
stability and a powerful force in society committed mainly to the
constitution and to secularist government. Whatever the reasons,
the secularist tradition in Turkey is rooted fairly firmly, and
none of the parties contending in the recent elections did anything
to challenge that aspect of Turkish governance.
the Justice and Development Party (AK in Turkish, which also means
"clean" or "white") pledged that it didn't want
to change the secular character of Turkey's government. It said
it wants to be admitted to full membership in the European Union
as much as the previous ruling party did, and will go along with
an IMF austerity program. The party might eventually face pressure
from some of its constituencies to inject more Islamism into domestic
life or to resist foreign influences more aggressively. But for
now it is working to divorce itself from any perception that it
will rule like the mullahs in Iran or the Taliban in Afghanistan.
AK also (like the other parties) has declared opposition to a U.S.
attack on Iraq and has raised questions about whether it would allow
bases in Turkey (which are being used now to enforce the "no-fly"
zone in northern Iraq) to be used in such an attack. Almost all
the parties in Turkey are concerned about the effect of a U.S. or
Western conflict with Iraq on Turkey's Kurdish minority, which periodically
demands something more resembling autonomy or even independence
and could be invigorated by more effective autonomy for Iraq's Kurds.
the moment the party and its leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan (a former
mayor of Istanbul who was barred from running for parliament himself
because of his history as an Islamicist activist, specifically reading
an "anti-secular" poem in 1998) want to get into the European
Union and want to appear moderate. So they'll be downplaying the
Islamicism of the party.
is also experiencing a serious economic downturn. And despite great
pride in being the only Muslim-majority country with a functioning
democracy, the former ruling parties had become corrupt and out
of touch while presiding over the economic meltdown.
Democratic Left Party of outgoing Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit,
77, scored only 1 percent, and none of the three parties in the
current ruling coalition got the 10 percent required to be allocated
parliamentary seats. That suggests deep dissatisfaction with those
who have ruled for the last several decades.
while it has a working parliamentary majority, the AK party got
only 34 percent of the vote. It will probably have to compromise
– with the military, with other interests, and with the "international
community" – to establish a stable regime.
a desire to appear moderate and unthreatening by the AK, the United
States is almost sure to face more opposition to the use of the
Incirlik Air Base in Turkey during a military campaign against Iraq
from the new bosses than it would have from the old bosses. The
old bosses raised questions about such use too, of course, but would
probably have knuckled under eventually.
would be very difficult for the U.S. military to contemplate a campaign
against Iraq without the use of assets in Turkey. Almost every scenario
trial-ballooned so far involves at least a two-pronged attack on
Baghdad, from north and from south. An attack using only Kuwait
and maybe Qatar for land-based forces might well be successful eventually,
but it would be more difficult than military folks would prefer.
fact that Saudi Arabia has announced that it won't allow bases on
"its" soil to be used in a war against Iraq, even if the
United Nations passes a resolution that seems to authorize such
an attack, is likely to embolden the Turks even further – assuming
that it holds.
question is, what real leverage – aside from a history of close
military-to-military cooperation – the United States has in the
matter. Assume that Turkey, under its new leadership, still desires
mightily to get into the European Union. Is the United States in
a position to promise that the EU skids will be greased in exchange
for use of the military bases in Turkey? Or will the Europeans view
the matter as another way to give the sole superpower a little slapping
can imagine a scenario in which denying use of the military assets
to the U.S. becomes a condition of E.U. membership, at least conveyed
quietly and behind the scenes. But the most likely outcome for the
near term will be delays disguised as a need for clarification of
certain key issues by the bureaucrats in Brussels.
European Union will meet in December to consider the next phase
of Turkey's membership application. The new regime will probably
work to look moderate until then, but that decision could affect
its future course.
there's the question of whether Turkey and Israel will maintain
the kind of relationship they have had for some time. Turkey has
been the closest thing to a de facto ally that Israel has had in
the region. The two military and intelligence services have cooperated
closely, and there are extensive economic ties.
an ostensibly Islamicist regime, even a moderate one, maintain those
kinds of relations with Israel? Or are those relations based enough
on the self-interest of the two states as states that they would
be continued in spite of the perception of contradiction or hypocrisy?
in all – assuming that the new ruling party can stay in power long
enough to have an impact, which is hardly a given since like most
political parties it doesn't seem to have the slightest notion of
what would really be required to establish a modicum of prosperity
– it should be fascinating and somewhat unsettling to watch Turkey
for the next few months.
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