Foreign-policy “realists,” back in the saddle since the Texan cowboy left town, are extremely fond of the concept of “stability”: America needs a stable Middle East, so we should learn to live with Hosni Mubarak and the mullahs and the House of Saud, etc. You can see the appeal of “stability” to your big-time geopolitical analyst: You don’t have to update your Rolodex too often, never mind rethinking your assumptions. “Stability” is a fancy term to upgrade inertia and complacency into strategy. No wonder the fetishization of stability is one of the most stable features of foreign-policy analysis.
Unfortunately, back in what passes for the real world, there is no stability. History is always on the march, and, if it’s not moving in your direction, it’s generally moving in the other fellow’s. Take this “humanitarian” “aid” flotilla. Much of what went on - the dissembling of the Palestinian propagandists, the hysteria of the United Nations and the Euro-ninnies - was just business as usual. But what was most striking was the behavior of the Turks. In the wake of the Israeli raid, Ankara promised to provide Turkish naval protection for the next “aid” convoy to Gaza. This would be, in effect, an act of war - more to the point, an act of war by a NATO member against the state of Israel.
Ten years ago, Turkey’s behavior would have been unthinkable. Ankara was Israel’s best friend in a region where every other neighbor wishes, to one degree or another, the Jewish state’s destruction. Even when Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) was elected to power eight years ago, the experts assured us there was no need to worry. I remember sitting in a plush bar late one night with a former Turkish foreign minister, who told me, between passing round the cigars and chugging back the Scotch, that, yes, the new crowd wasn’t quite so convivial but they knew where their interests lay. Like many Turkish movers and shakers of his generation, my drinking companion loved the Israelis. “They’re tough hombres,” he said admiringly. “You have to be in this part of the world.” If you had suggested to him that in six years, the Turkish prime minister would be telling the Israeli president to his face, “I know well how you kill children on beaches,” he would have dismissed it as a fantasy concoction for some alternative universe.
Yet it happened. Mr. Erdogan said those words to Shimon Peres at Davos last year and then flounced off stage. Day by day, what was formerly the Zionist entity’s staunchest pal talks more and more like just another cookie-cutter death-to-the-Great-Satan stan-of-the-month.
As the think-tankers like to say: “Who lost Turkey?” In a nutshell: Kemal Ataturk. Since he founded post-Ottoman Turkey in his own image nearly nine decades ago, the population has increased from 14 million to more than 70 million. But that fivefold increase is not evenly distributed. The short version of Turkish demographics in the 20th century is that Rumelian Turkey - i.e., Western, European, secular, Kemalist Turkey - has been outbred by Anatolian Turkey - i.e., Eastern, rural, traditionalist, Islamic Turkey. Ataturk and most of his supporters were from Rumelia, and they imposed the modern Turkish republic on a reluctant Anatolia, where Ataturk’s distinction between the state and Islam was never accepted. Now the Anatolians don’t have to accept it. The swelling population has spilled out of its rural hinterland and into the once solidly Kemalist cities.
Do you ever use the expression “Young Turks”? I heard it applied to the starry-eyed ideologues around President Obama the other day. The phrase comes from the original Young Turks, the youthful activists agitating for reform in the last decades of the Ottoman Empire. The very words acknowledge the link between political and demographic energy. Today, the Young Turks are old Turks: The heirs to the Kemalist reformers, who gave women the vote before Britain did, are a population in demographic decline. There will be fewer of them in every election. Today’s Young Turks are men who think as Mr. Erdogan does. That doesn’t mean Turkey is Iran or Waziristan or Saudi Arabia, but it does mean that the country’s leadership is in favor of more or less conventional Islamic imperialism. As Mr. Erdogan’s most famous sound bite puts it: “The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers.”
Some Western “experts” like to see this as merely a confident, economically buoyant Turkey’s “re-Ottomanization.” But the virulent anti-Semitism emanating from Mr. Erdogan’s fief has nothing to do with the old-time caliphate and is all but undistinguishable from the globalized hyper-Islam successfully seeded around the world by Wahhabist money and enthusiastically embraced by third-generation Euro-Muslims. Since Sept. 11, 2001, many of us have speculated about Muslim reform, in the Arab world and beyond. It’s hard to recall now, but just a few years ago, there was talk about whether Gen. Pervez Musharraf would be Pakistan’s Ataturk. Instead, what we’re witnessing is the most prominent example of Muslim reform being de-reformed, before our very eyes, in nothing flat.
Demography is destiny, for the most part. For example, European Muslim populations are young, fast-growing and profoundly hostile to Jews. European Jewish populations are old, fading and irrelevant to domestic electoral calculations. Think of your stereotypically squishy pol, and then figure the reserves of courage it would require for the European establishment not to be anti-Israeli and, indeed, ever more anti-Israeli as the years go by.
But demography alone isn’t always destiny. A confident culture can dominate far larger numbers of people, as England did for much of modern history. Bismarck’s famous remark that if the British army invaded Germany, he’d send the local police force to arrest them is generally taken as a sneer at the minimal size of Her Britannic Majesty’s armed forces. In another sense, however, it’s a testament to how much the British accomplished with so little.
Mr. Erdogan would not be palling up to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran and Boy Assad in Syria and even Sudan’s genocidal President Omar al-Bashir, the Butcher of Darfur, if he were mindful of Turkey’s relationship with the United States. But he isn’t. He looks at the American hyperpower and sees, to all intents, a late Ottoman sultan - pampered, decadent, lounging on its cushions, puffing a hookah but unable to rouse itself to impose its will in the world. In that sense, Turkey’s contempt for Israel is also an expression of near total contempt for Washington.
Is Mr. Erdogan wrong in his calculation? Or is he, in his own fashion, only reaching his own conclusions about what Israel, India, the Czech Republic and others are coming to see as “the post-American world”? Well, look at it as if you’re sitting in the presidential palace of some Third World basket case. Iran is going nuclear in full view of the world and with huge implications for everything, not least the price of oil. Meanwhile, NATO’s only Muslim member has decided it would rather be friends with Iran, Sudan and Syria. And all this in the first decade of the 21st century. So much for stability.
Mark Steyn is the author of the New York Times best-seller “America Alone” (Regnery, 2006).