- The Washington Times - Monday, August 22, 2005

A century ago, it was fashionable to say that people cannot change. Samuel Huntington, in his infamous “clash of civilizations” theory, says essentially the same thing as Rudyard Kipling: “Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.”

After the Kemalist revolution, Turkey sided with the principles of Western civilization, making it the first secular and democratic state with a predominantly Muslim population. Yet it remains in a sensitive position in a potentially explosive region, pressured by competing interests. Which is why anti-American feelings in Turkey are complicated, and different from those in Europe or in any country that opposes the war in Iraq. Which is why it’s also so important to read those anti-American feelings correctly.

For the last century, the alliance between Turkey and the United States was rock-solid, and Turkey’s effort to join the European Union attempted to quell fears about the clash of civilizations. If bringing democracy and freedom to the Middle East fails, those relationships could start to slide as soon as EU accession negotiations start on Oct. 3.

European leaders agreed to open the talks, but then French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said Turkey should recognize Cyprus — which will never happen if Turkish Cypriots aren’t given rights.

Although the United States has always supported Turkey’s EU bid, a senior Turkish government official told me that statements like the comment by Marc Grossman, the outgoing undersecretary of state for political affairs, promising that the United States will be there for Turkey if the EU spurns it are “plain wrong.” A couple of months ago, Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick echoed Mr. Grossman’s sentiment. “It’s important that our bilateral ties not be too constrained by the effort at EU accession. The EU is clearly important to Turkey’s future, but so are the countries of the broader Middle East,” he said. The Turkish official responded, “We believe they are saying it with good intentions, but… [h]ere the people think America is trying to leave Turkey without an alternative so it finds itself nowhere to go besides the U.S.”



U.S. policy-makers have shown unnecessary interest in Islamist politics, as if they were taking Mr. Huntington’s advice to re-Islamify Turkey and let it find its alleged true identity. When President Bush hosted the Turkish Islamist leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the White House in December 2002 and treated him as though he were already the head of government, it sent an irritating message to the secular and loyal friends of America in Turkey, and was perceived as a rebuke to Turkey’s domestic processes. Mr. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party had just won a resounding election victory, capturing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament. But Mr. Erdogan had no official role, and in fact was banned from politics. He eventually became prime minister, after the government overturned the laws that prevented him from serving and the courts agreed to lift the ban.

Former Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, who visited Turkey’s capital in February, says the anti-American sentiment is poisoning relations. “When you are talking about relationships among democratic countries, it’s crucial that the appreciation of those relationships extend beyond government officials down to the public in general,” he told me. “Otherwise the relationship is really not sustainable.” So who is responsible for Turkish anti-American- ism? Mr. Feith and other critics point to fringe conspiracy theories and irresponsible reporting in the Turkish media. Yet while nationalist passions sometimes flare in an unsophisticated way, Turks have some well-founded reasons to disagree with American policy in Iraq.

Without action against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a willingness to deal with Kirkuk and ignoring the Turkomans, Turks fear that the United States isn’t sensitive to Turkey’s challenges in the region. They are concerned that the war, which looks like revenge against the 1979 Iranian Revolution, will double Iran’s influence in the region. Turks believe an independent Kurdistan in Northern Iraq will threaten their national security.

Few Americans appreciate how much was asked of Turkey in the run-up to the war in Iraq. Turkey refused to fight, but since offered to send 10,000 troops — and was rejected. Turkish troops also twice commanded the International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan.

And the Pentagon continues to criticize Turkey for its 2003 decision not to allow American troops to use it as a staging ground to enter Iraq. Turks thought that it could escalate into a broader war — and, given Turkey’s borders with Iran, Iraq and Syria, possibly drag the country into other regional conflicts. Letting the United States invade Iraq via Turkey would prevent Turks from refusing similar requests if there were conflict with Iran and Syria.

The problem is not that Turks are anti-American, but that America forgot that an alliance is a two-way street. Take into account Turkey’s interests, and the partnership will be strong as ever.

Tulin Daloglu is the Washington correspondent and columnist for Turkey’s Star TV and newspaper. A former BBC reporter, she writes occasionally for The Washington Times.

Tod Lindberg is away.

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