- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 15, 2008



In principle, U.S. foreign policy toward Turkey is consistent whether Republicans or Democrats are in office. The particulars of Turkey’s democracy, however, sometimes tests the relationship. The role of the Turkish military, as guardian of secularism, also defines the country’s unique understanding of democracy. In recent memory, Turkish armed forces have attempted to intervene in politics twice - on Feb. 28, 1997, and April 27, 2007. Both times, they came close to the brink of a coup because Islamic fundamentalism posed a threat to secular democracy. Both times, the headscarf issue spawned the intervention.

The United States made it clear to Turkey that it does not approve of military challenges to civilian authority. Yet the different ways Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice have approached the subject is defining. In 1997, Mrs. Albright said that changes in Turkey “have to be in the democratic context with no extraconstitutional approach” - meaning no coup. It was essential, she said, that Turkey “continue in a secular and democratic way.” She also made clear that she was concerned about the government’s Islamic tendencies - including its relationship with Iran. Her approach kept the balance of Turkey’s domestic affairs intact. The Islamist-rooted prime minister, Necmettin Erbakan, resigned soon afterwards.

Unlike Miss Rice, Mrs. Albright never spoke directly either for or against the government, or any political party in Turkey. She made clear at all times that the relationship is one between two sovereign countries.

Miss Rice, however, has strongly supported the government of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), not even acknowledging the thousands of people protesting in the streets to express their concerns about Islamist influences over the government - though she could. “Even though it is led by the AKP [Justice and Development Party], which has Islamic roots, it has been trying to integrate into Europe,” Miss Rice said at a May 2007 Senate Appropriations Committee hearing. She took her support one step further after meeting Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan at the State Department in June 2008. “[W]e’re going to continue to work with this government … with which we share common values,” she said.

The AKP government is certainly pleased with such praise from Americans. Yet a case before Turkey’s constitutional court which alleges that the government is acting extraconstitutionally in its attempting to turn the regime away from secular democracy puts matters to a test. While Miss Rice goes out of her way to express U.S. support for the AKP - even saying that the Islamist-rooted AKP government’s embrace of democracy fits with American values - she has declared that if the court rules against the party and decides to shut it down or ban some of its members from politics, the United States will question it.

Separately, Miss Rice distances herself from Turkey’s other notable court case, in which a state prosecutor aims to expose an ultra-nationalist group that is trying to bring down the government. The prosecutor legally labeled the group a “terrorist” organization, and arrested a number of Turkish military personnel and two prominent high-level retired officers.

The fact is, both cases belong to the realm of Turkey’s domestic affairs. There should exist full trust that the country’s courts can bring about justice.

Although the United States has never responded to challenges by quashing political parties or banning politicians, not all democracies are the same. There is no democracy on Earth like that of the United States. Taking sides based on this country’s democratic norms and perceptions creates confusion and disarray.

The United States has effectively chosen to side with the AKP rather than Turkey, dismissing the fact that, in democracies, political parties come to power through elections, and their rule lasts from election to election. The state and its institutions have a longer life span.

Turkey’s desire to become a member of the European Union did not start with the AKP government, nor will it come to reality under its reign. When Abdullah Gul arrived to Washington in 1997 as a state minister defending the Erbakan government, he was trying to ease the concerns of Mrs. Albright regarding secularism in Turkey. That government had done almost nothing compared to the AKP government regarding the headscarf issue and more.

Furthermore, if Turkey were a democracy by American standards, Turkish President Abdullah Gul would not be talking to Gen. Hilmi Ozkok, the former chief of staff, about issues under investigation by the state prosecutor. Gen. Ozkok would be surrendering what he knows to the state prosecutor instead of the president. Last week’s meeting between Mr. Gul and Gen. Ozkok is the very picture of a state’s highest authority interfering in the judicial system. If Miss Rice thinks the Bush administration shares common values with the AKP government, those values can only be that neither is perfect or immune from making major mistakes.

To be sure, democracy is chaotic, but it is vital to distinguish the chaos of democratization from the dissolution of social integrity and unity. That dissolution does not promise a more democratized state, but rather one that is doomed to deeper trouble. And the rule of the AKP government has brought Turkey to the brink of such polarization and dissolution.

Tulin Daloglu is a free-lance writer.



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