- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 1, 2005

The United States has been pushing “old Europe” hard, petitioning the European Union to accept Turkey — a NATO member and a major U.S. ally — into the Brussels club. Washington hopes to see Turkey become the newest addition to what it calls the “new Europe.”

As such, Washington hopes Turkey will join the small European group of countries espousing a friendlier attitude toward U.S. foreign policy. Washington also hopes Turkey, a nation of some 70 million Muslims, would moderate between predominantly Christian Europe and the United States and the Middle East and the Muslim world.

Turkey, after all, is governed by an Islamist-leaning party — the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, led by Prime Minister Receb Tayyip Erdogan. Despite his Islamist roots, Mr. Erdogan is widely considered a moderate. Nilufer Narli, a professor of political science at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University, said, “The prime minister realizes that Turkey’s future lies with Europe.”

But which Europe? The difference between the two Europes, the “old” and the “new,” is indeed great; at least as far as the Bush administration is concerned.

“Old Europe,” including France and Germany, are among the countries that refused to sign up for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Citing lack of evidence and lack of a United Nations consensus, both French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said there was not enough clear evidence to merit an invasion of Iraq. “Old Europe” maintained there was not enough proof Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, nor proof of links between him and Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda terror network.

Saddam, to be sure, did support, finance and even reward terror attacks by Palestinian suicide bombers against Israelis. But, “old Europe” argued, did this merit an invasion and risk pitting the Muslim world against them, and drawing the West and the East closer to the prophesied clash of civilizations?

However, there were divisions within old Europe. Britain’s Tony Blair and Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi, despite belonging to old Europe, joined EU newcomers from the former Warsaw Pact communist block — countries such as Poland and the Czech Republic in support of the invasion of Iraq and contributed troops to the war effort.

The French and German leaders who disapproved of the invasion were severely criticized by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and President George W. Bush.

It was regarding new EU members that Mr. Rumsfeld came up with the phrase “new Europe” — that it was to “new Europe” the United States should look for a more stable partnership.

Turkey however, if admitted into the EU, would need a new label because neither “new” nor “old” would adequately describe Ankara’s position vis-a-vis the United States.

Politically, Turkey does not stand with the new Europe. Turkey opposed the war and denied U.S. troops the right to transit its territory. And having just been accepted as a candidate to join the EU (in 10-15 years), it can hardly be considered old Europe. The term “neo-Europe” would seem more appropriate. (Though “neo” means new, its connotation is different.)

Neo-Europe is the Europe the United States hopes will be even more supportive of its foreign policies in Europe and the Middle East; possibly even more so than the “new” Europe.

Romania and Bulgaria, set to join the EU in 2007, could come under the neo-Europe banner. As would Kosovo, an ardent U.S. supporter, if it joined the European Union.

But just don’t hold your breath on Turkey blindly toeing the U.S. line. If Washington sees a faithful ally in Ankara, the reverse is not necessarily true. Despite unfaltering U.S. backing of Turkey’s Euro bid, a great many Turks harbor a negative view of U.S. policies, particularly on the Middle East and even more so the war in Iraq, which many consider unwarranted.

“The perception of the United States in Turkey became worse after Iraq,” said Beyza Bilgin, a professor of theology at Ankara University. “It became humiliating. We perceive George W. Bush like Osama bin Laden,” she said. “Both think they have a mission” (from God).

The way the war is unfolding in Iraq is of particular concern to Turkey, which shares a border with Iraq. Another issue of major concern is Iraq’s Kurds and the effect any change on the ground in Iraqi Kurdistan could have on Turkey’s Kurds.

Describing how many Turks feel about the U.S. invasion of Iraq, one long-time European resident of Istanbul said, “The Turks see the United States much as the Arab countries of the Middle East do.” That is to say, they hold U.S. foreign policy in very low esteem. Turkey, one should note, marches to its own drumbeat and did not hesitate to deny U.S. troops passage through its territory, despite U.S. support on the EU front.

Mr. Erdogan told a recent meeting “Turkey is loyal partner.” As such, Turkey will forever be thankful for American support in getting its foot in the EU door.

But Turkey knows its future lies more in staying in step with Europe, be it old, new, or neo-Europe.

Claude Salhani is international editor for United Press International.

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