"We want dialogue with the U.S., not war," says
Turkish author Burak Turna. "We have written this book to prevent a war."
The book of which Turna speaks, Metal Firtina ("Metal Storm" in Turkish)
has become a runaway bestseller in Turkey over the past couple months. A thriller
in the style of Tom Clancy, the novel (by Turkish authors Turna and Orkun Uçar)
has been attacked for its alleged anti-American elements and conspiracy theorizing.
The plot describes how a flare-up between Turkish and American troops in northern
Iraq leads to an out-and-out war, resulting in the American bombing of Istanbul
and Ankara and a Turkish detonation of a nuclear bomb in Washington in response.
Is such a war possible? And is there any precedent for U.S.-Turkish hostilities?
Very few would wager money on the former scenario. It is far more likely that
disaster in Istanbul, at least, would be caused by an earthquake or accident
in the congested Bosporus. But Burak Turna does believe there is an example
of the latter. "We foresaw that American policy is turning against Turkey, which
would lead to a clash between sides," he told me recently. "Such an event occurred
after we started to write the book – in Sulaymaniyah [northern Iraq], where
U.S. soldiers captured 11 Turkish soldiers. If we had resisted, a war would
have broken out."
The event of which
Turna speaks caused indignation across Turkey. On July 4, 2003, around 100
U.S. soldiers "stormed the barracks," arresting 11 Turkish soldiers who were
allegedly planning to assassinate the Kurdish governor of Kirkuk. Turks were
outraged not only by this aggression from a longtime ally, but
also because the Americans had actually handcuffed the soldiers and put
bags over their heads "as if they were al-Qaeda terrorists." This incident had
been preceded by a similar (but hushed-up) one on April 22, which saw the U.S.
arrest Turkish soldiers in civilian clothes who were escorting an arms shipment
into northern Iraq. Such ugly events go a long way toward explaining why such
distrust has arisen.
Could tranquil, age-old
Istanbul be reduced to rubble by American bombardment?
Fiction and Fact
According to the VOA,
Metal Storm has "an outrageous plot that somehow strikes a responsive
chord [among Turks]" and reveals "a startling shift of opinion." Yet there is
a lot of presupposition latent behind words like "outrageous," "somehow," and
"startling." It's strange that the U.S. government's media wing can express
surprise here, since after all the same article mentions that the Turkish people
have been adamantly opposed to the Iraq war since the beginning – some on grounds
of religion, others out of stability fears, others out of mistrust of American
designs on the region.
But Metal Storm can hardly be blamed for creating "anti-Americanism"
among the Turks. Rather, the fact that the book is so popular should be seen
as more of a rare barometer of not only public opinion but also imagination.
After all, if people didn't love high-firepower, cloak-and-dagger geopolitical
thrillers, how could authors from Ian
Fleming to John
Le Carré to Tom
Clancy have made industries out of their works? No one thinks twice when
the enemies in such a book (the Western "good guys" are always a given) happen
to be dastardly Soviets or North Koreans, Arabs or Cubans or whoever. And, if
the reader also finds works in which their nation is an actor more relevant,
why shouldn't the Turkish imagination be struck by a book which features their
own country? And is it not rather chauvinistic, anyway, to assume that we in
the West can enjoy a work of fiction for what it is, whereas other lesser peoples
run the risk of taking it for gospel truth? A
Turkish commentator (who also did not discern much anti-Americanism in the
book's popularity) pointed out that "any human wanting to escape from the issues
of every day life can easily do so by reading [Metal Storm]. Within that
same logic the humans that read the Da
Vinci Code were not against the Catholic Church but they read it because
it had an intriguing theme."
Most recent Western articles about Metal Storm have centered simply
on the fact that it has sold over 150,000 copies – but not bothered to get the
feedback of anyone who actually read it. This leads to sweeping generalizations
and deceptive juxtapositions. For example, much has been made of a recent BBC
poll that "indicates Turkey is now the most anti-American nation on earth,"
with 82 percent allegedly hating America. But this is laughable. There are plenty
of other nations more "anti-American" than Turkey. And if
one looks at the original article, it seems the only specific question that
the BBC asked was whether or not the reelection of George W. Bush had made the
world a more dangerous place. A full 21 out of the 24 countries surveyed agreed
with this statement; only a few percentage points after Turkey were citizens
from a couple other key (and non-Muslim) U.S. allies, Argentina and Brazil.
Of course, none of these facts have stopped neocon mouthpieces like FrontPageMag
from tarring Turkey as "a new al-Qaeda state." Very helpful.
Indeed, my frequent trips to the country over the past six years have shown
me that in the vast majority of cases, any American, so long as they act sensibly
and respectfully, will be treated well by most Turks. And
a recent AP report conceded as much: "while criticism of Bush and U.S. policy
has skyrocketed, there is little hostility toward Americans on the streets."
Isolating the Real Enemy
For the authors of Metal Storm, in fact,
part of the task was to point out the real enemy from the American side. "Our
book reveals," says Turna, "that Turkey should not be anti-American, but [rather]
harshly criticize Bush and his neocon politics."
That said, it is truly remarkable (but not very surprising) that the ever aware
U.S. government is trying to bury the problem, while also attacking the phenomenon
of Metal Storm. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, meeting recently
with Turkish leaders, "raised concerns about the negative image of the United
States in Turkey." According to Burak Turna, "U.S. officials made comments on
the book to [the Turkish] media … some U.S. diplomats are very angry with us."
And an unnamed U.S. diplomat in Turkey cited
by the CSM in mid-February stated in exasperation that "we're really
pulling our hair out trying to figure how to deal with this."
Really, it's not so difficult, as William
S. Lind subsequently pointed out. Rice and the diplomats should have considered
which Americans and which policies in particular are responsible
for Turkish unease. But the neocons have never been very interested in introspection.
That's the unbelievable
scenario described in Metal
The Neocons Step Up Anti-Turkish Aggression
At the same time, the neocon-driven Bush administration
is also pushing the Turkish government to grant it unpopular military concessions
– something that can only increase Turkish hostility toward the U.S. But what
else could be expected of them? Now the neocons are clamping down and tightening
the screws. A recent AEI event called "Can the U.S.-Turkish Relationship
be Repaired?" was attended by in-house notables such as Richard Perle and Robert
Pollock, "who wrote the Wall Street Journal op-ed painting Turkey as
rapidly turning into a hotbed of vicious anti-American attitudes," as well as
Middle East Forum editor (and former
of Special Plans disinformation specialist) Michael Rubin, "who recently
questioned [the ruling Turkish party] AKP's links to Islamic capital." A partial
report of the proceedings shows that these overblown demagogues were quite
vicious themselves in attacking the Turks from all sides – something which would
have been inconceivable until the Iraq war.
Why all the intimidation? The AEI event seems to have been backup for the Bush
administration's "proposal to use the southern air base of Incirlik as a cargo
hub for U.S. forces operating in the region." Now, the U.S. has been using Incirlik,
near the southern city of Adana, for a long time already, but the current proposal
would see it become a vital center for the U.S. war effort in Iraq – something
vetoed in a March 1, 2003 parliamentary vote that was incidentally a rare
victory for democracy. But the decision also caused immense displeasure among
the neocons, who had
counted on Turkey to be faithful as ever and expedite the war.
Any decision to increase American use of the air base will be an unpopular
one in Turkey, but probably not a devastating one for relations. However, there
is now a real risk that the administration might go all the way in alienating
the Turks, whether or not an "agreement" is reached. Turkey's NTV television
is cited as reporting
"[T]he government might officially reply to Washington over the Incirlik
proposal in the coming weeks, before the 90th anniversary of an alleged Armenian
genocide at the hands of the late Ottoman Empire arrives on April 24.
"A powerful Armenian lobby in the U.S. Congress is expected to push for
a resolution recognizing the alleged genocide as part of an anniversary campaign.
U.S. administrations have opposed such attempts in Congress in the past but
observers say this year the George W. Bush administration may not be as willing
to prevent such a move as it was in the past, given the growing mistrust of
the Turkish government."
The Turks Ask: What Is the U.S. Really Up To?
While I guess we can learn something from "focus
groups" held in American-style bagel factories and the Istanbul Ritz-Carlton,
it's not the way I chose to do it on this month's visit to Istanbul. I was not
particularly interested in dismissing the Turks as adherents of "mad conspiracy
theories" or in making haughty and sweeping news-speak statements like "the
real battle for Turkey is the battle for Turkish hearts and minds." Rather than
interview Turkey's "pro-Western" elite, the kind of people whose voices are
already heard in the media anyway, I sought out young Turks and Kurds who are
far from influential but who have plenty of education and experience working
with and for Westerners. People some of whom come from the "fundamentalist"
places that the elite look down upon with fear and disdain, but who also understand
well the differing mindsets of everyone from America to Germany to Japan.
According to them, the growing wariness of America owes specifically to Turkish
observance of the American war machine in action. "People in Turkey are starting
to talk about things in a new way," says Enver, a 24-year-old Turkish tour operator
from the Aegean coastal city of Izmir. "If they [the U.S.] attacked Afghanistan,
and then Iraq, and now are talking about Syria or Iran, who will be next?"
Kamer, a 32-year-old hotel manager and Kurdish Turk from the southeastern town
of Mardin, nods in agreement. "Now, everything is changing. Even the people
who used to say 'yeah, America!' no longer trust them. There is a feeling that
the Americans screwed up big time in Iraq – so, many people are laughing at
them, but they are also a little afraid of what they will do next."
Their view is shared by another Kurd originally from the Batman area, Apo,
who now works as a bartender in a pub popular with American, Australian, and
British tourists. "I've been in 23 countries, and met people from many more,"
he says. "The most common criticism of the U.S. is not against the [American]
people but against the war policies of George Bush. I have friends and family
in America, and I would like to visit there someday. So we Turks are not against
America – but after seeing these wars against Muslim countries continue to unfold,
we have for the first time become a bit mistrustful: what is Bush really up
to? Is it all about Middle Eastern oil and control of Central Asia, like the
book [Metal Storm] says? And what country will be next?"
A colleague of his, Fatih, adds that some Turks fear there is a religious dimension
to this as well. "We can see clearly who supports Bush's wars: Israel and the
Christian fundamentalists in America. These people are like crusaders. They
want to make the whole world like them. It is true, Turkey is a secular Muslim
state, but it is a Muslim state [nonetheless], and religious people here are
afraid that they would like to 'convert' us someday."
The Self-Sufficiency Argument and the EU Backlash
It is interesting that many of these views are
shared by the Turkish "elite." The Australian article, for example, cites young
Turks who point out America's support for Israel as a prime factor behind tensions
in the region. And the author cites a young academic who says, "[W]e're worried
about the way America is attacking countries in the region and we might be on
On a second front, the complex issue of potential EU membership, Turks are
again leery. A young airline executive cited denounces the EU countries as "liars
and hypocrites" bent on denying Turkey EU membership through subterfuge and
deception. "Of course they are racist and prejudiced against us. We don't need
I have noticed these attitude growing for the
past couple years, as Turkish-EU negotiations have intensified and Turkish
exasperation with the union has grown. As the European states wound Turkish
pride by threatening to keep them out, Turks are beginning to invoke the argument
for self-sufficiency and national pride. Turkey is a major textiles and agricultural
exporter; has developed industries in areas such as chemicals, pharmaceuticals,
and automobiles; and boasts a growing tourism
industry as well. As for mineral
resources, the country possesses the world's largest boron reserves (64
percent), as well as 40 percent of the world's marble and large quantities of
natural resources, including magnesites, coal, chromite, and copper. Urban
Turkey offers shopping malls, airports, hotels, and convention centers as modern
as anywhere in the world. Don't these things count for anything, Turks ask?
Says Enver, "Turkey has everything it needs to be one of the richest countries
in Europe. It doesn't need the EU, though the politicians keep saying that this
is our only choice."
Apo agrees. "Turkish people want to live well, but they have been brainwashed
by the media to believe that only the EU can help. Yet now is coming a generation
of young people, many from western Turkey, who are not so sure. They have educated
themselves about the issue. They know what's going on. They know what we can
expect to gain from the EU – but also what we can lose."
A Future Superpower Role for Turkey?
Distaste with the EU's prevarications and tricks,
mistrust with America's incessant warmongering, and a new sense of self-confidence
could conceivably lead the Turks to seek a more active role in world leadership.
How might this play out? "My friend, there is too much support for an all-Turkish
alliance," says Enver. He is referring to a possible scenario long considered,
which would see Turks create some kind of union with their ethnic kin in Azerbaijan
and the Central Asian states. While such a possibility is popular, at least
among a certain percentage of the population, Kamer avers, "our politicians
are very pro-Europe, and want to keep the people down. So they haven't moved
very strongly in this direction."
It is in this context that Apo recounts the pan-Turkic dream of Turgut Ozal.
A towering figure in modern Turkish politics, Ozal
served as prime minister from 1983-1989, and thereafter became president until
his death in 1993 of a heart attack. Ozal was enthusiastic about creating a
sphere of influence, one that would stretch "from the Adriatic to the Great
Wall of China."
With the fall of the Soviet Union, Turkey
began energetically seeking out new allies among its ethnic peers in Central
Asia. In 2004, former Indian Ambassador to Turkey and Azerbaijan K.
Gajendra Singh credited "the dynamic leadership" of Ozal for a plan that
provided training, loans, and investments into the billions of dollars for the
Central Asian republics after 1991. However, following Ozal's death in 1993,
the pan-Turkic project was put on the back burner. Subsequent governments showed
less interest in ethnic projects than in religious ones, and despite various
resumptions of interest, a pan-Turkic alliance never really got off the ground.
Until recently, the primary opposition to Turkish influence in Central Asia
has come from the Russians, who wished to retain their influence over military
and energy affairs. However, now that increased American intransigence has driven
the two ancient enemies closer together than ever before, things are changing.
And America's frenetic democracy-building adventures in Central Asia are also
proving a headache for the Turkish government, as it tries to decide how
to react to events such as the destructive coup in Kyrgyzstan, which has
vacuum of power that perhaps neither Russia nor America can adequately fill.
Is it possible that Turkey could exercise some influence, here and in the other
republics America is seeking to revolutionize?
It is clear that adventures
such as Kyrgyzstan reveal the U.S. to be just as obsessed with limiting
the influence of Russia and China as it is with controlling energy sources
and pipeline routes. However, it has shown relatively little awareness of other
unifying regional factors, most importantly the shared Turkic background of
the Central Asian states, which, if augmented by Azerbaijan and Turkey, could
make up one of the largest and richest ethnic blocs in the world. Is it just
possible that continuing neocon intransigence could drive Turkey to assert itself
more forcefully, both as a leader of allies and in its budding
friendship with ancient antagonist Russia?
This is a very large and complex subject, one well beyond the scope of the
present article. But it is worth speculating for a moment over what the "map"
could look like if, after a few years, oafish neocon belligerence backfires
and Russia and China are joined by the Turkic bloc in an alliance fundamentally
hostile to American interests. To some, it might sound as ridiculous as the
plot of Metal Storm. But then again, none of the U.S. government's adventures
in this part of the world have materialized quite as the "experts" expected.
No doubt, the world has more surprises in store for them yet.
Inevitably… the Sequels
So what happens next? The road ahead is clear
for the authors of Metal Storm, at least. In true American style, they
are franchising their product. While 37-year-old co-author Orkun Uçar forges
ahead on Metal Storm 2, 30-year-old Turna is working on Metal Storm
3, as well as another novel on a similar theme, World War 3. In the
latter work, he tells me, the scenario of a future pan-Turkic alliance figures
strongly in the plot. It sounds like it will be another rousing bestseller.
What is most remarkable is the degree to which the authors' viewpoint coincides
with that of the public at large. Turna echoes the mentality of Turks I and
others have spoken to recently when he declares that
"Turkey can be and should be a superpower in the world. We have all the
resources and historical background for that. The EU would benefit from us but
there is little benefit we can take from them. Turkey is a must for Europe's
future, if they want to stay as one, but they are not a must for us."
As every reader of futuristic, high-velocity fiction knows, only time will