- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 24, 2001

Turkey is one of the worlds fastest-growing economies. It is caught in turmoil between rapid modernization and a government whose institutions and political parties and structures are antiquarian, some reminiscent of Ottoman lethargy.
The changing dynamics of the global market and the international system have created anxiety among the Turkish people.
The weakness of the civilian government and ossification of political parties that are dominated by fiefdoms that prevent the formation of a stable and sustaining coalition have been a Turkish political malady for some time.
"Less than three months after being bailed out by the International Monetary Fund, the Turkish economy is in a deep crisis once again. This time, it has not been triggered by a loss of confidence in the banking sector but by an extraordinary argument at the very heart of the Turkish political establishment." So reported the Financial Times on Feb. 22.
Nevertheless, despite the banking crisis and inflation, the people are not in the streets even if they are angry with their prime minister. In the absence of street mobs, demonstrations and riots like those that have been seen recently in Indonesia and the Philippines, the Turkish government however weak manages to keep civil and constitutional order.
The Washington Institute for Near East Policy conducted a study of changing dynamics and trends in Turkish foreign policy. The result of this series of seminars is a book edited by Alan Makovsky (a leading expert on Turkey) and Sabri Sayari, "Turkeys New World: Changing Dynamics in Turkish Foreign Policy." The study includes some of the leading specialists on Turkeys foreign policy, its role in the Middle East, the Islamic Republics of Asia (formerly of the Soviet Union), and the international system. The argument put forward by the editors is that "Turkey has become stronger and its neighbors weaker."
Turkey has succeeded in establishing a basis for great influence in the region: trade relations, energy projects, and a near-annual Turkic summit. Turkey is a most significant strategic, political and cultural ally of the United States. It is the only democratic, however fragile, Muslim political system. Indeed, it is unique among Muslim and Arab states, which are either authoritarian, benevolent or totalitarian. The importance of Turkey goes beyond the fact it is a democratic Islamic state governed by secular leadership. Turkey is geographically and strategically central between Europe, the Middle East and Asia. It would not be an exaggeration to say Turkey and Israel are the most natural and genuine allies of the United States in a sea of pragmatic and hostile Muslims.
Just imagine that the fundamentalist revolution that was in the making a few years ago had dominated Turkey. It could have become another Iran. The consequences for American Middle East policy would be serious. It is not only the existence of a democratic Islamic state that makes Turkey strategically important. In the absence of a democratic Turkey, a fundamentalist regime would be unwelcome in Europe and detrimental to American interests in the Middle East.
No one will deny that the military institution in Turkey that subscribes to Kemalist principals of secularism and democracy is the guardian of Turkeys constitution. There are those who advance the thesis that the Turkish military is a threat to Western-style democracy. John Anderson wrote in The Washington Post on Jan. 26, advancing that thesis. In the last 50 years there have been few military interventions in Turkish politics. They were inspired by secularism and the need for order and to deny fundamentalists an opportunity to take over the government by electoral means. If the fundamentalists had taken over in a democratic election would the argument then be that fundamentalism was less a threat to Western-style democracy? I doubt it. The greatest threat to democracy in Turkey and in other Islamic states is fundamentalist totalitarianism.
The argument that the only valid democracy is Western-style democracy is historically inaccurate and politically false. Certainly, Turkeys democracy is not Western like that of the United States, Britain and other European democracies. There are alternatives to democracy depending on the structure, nature and culture of the societies and their political institutions. Democracy in Brazil, Indonesia or the Philippines is certainly not Western-style except in its institutional form. The political culture of these societies, as in the case of Turkey, are not appropriate for Western-style democracy.
Faced with the historical background of the Ottoman Empire, the unresolved minority issues and the fragile political institutions and structures, the Turkish democracy is stable, and the military plays a fundamental role in stabilizing the country. The notion of some historians, political scientists and journalists that the military is dangerous to democracy, being by definition hierarchical and authoritarian, is wrong. The military in Turkey has demonstrated over the last 50 years that it is dedicated to sustaining a democratic political system, even at the price of political weakness.
Classical Greek democracy considered slaves to be non-citizens, not part of the polity, and barbarians (outsiders) could not participate in the body politic. Greek democracy was the cradle of Western democracy. It was restrictive. It was discriminatory. But, as Pericles clearly argued, it was a better system than that of authoritarian Sparta.
In contrast to Turkey, note the Arab and Islamic states where the military dominates political and social life directly or indirectly: Syria, Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Sudan and Pakistan. Some democratic liberals, who believe the only way to achieve democracy is Western-style, are critical of the role played by the Turkish military. However imperfect, in Turkey the military sustains democracy.

Amos Perlmutter is a professor of political science and sociology at American University and editor of the Journal of Strategic Studies.

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