The war in Afghanistan has barely registered in news coverage for a while; the focus on U.S. foreign policy is all about Iraq. And when there is a focus on Turkey’s relationship with the United States, that seems to be all about Iraq as well. However, “I think the difference of how we view Turkey and France in Afghanistan and how we view them in their participation in Iraq — I think it is not a French or Turkish problem,” said Col. David Lamm, former chief of staff of the Combined Forces Command in Afghanistan. “It is an American problem. Because we add up in great sum Iraq as the global war on terror where in fact Iraq is just another piece of the global war on terror.”
Next week, when Turkish Army Lt. Gen. Ethem Erdagi, the commander of International Security Assistance Force VII (ISAF), starts his visit in Washington, he will talk about Turkey’s double rotation in Afghanistan. “I think the claim that the Turkish people and government and the military — all of it — aren’t concerned or aren’t supportive of the U.S. goals and objectives in the region is just a lot of bunk,” said Mr. Lamm, a veteran of highly charged military scenarios from Panama to Iraq. “I am very well aware of all the things that Turkey does to help the United States and Great Britain and everybody else.”
Yet the tyranny of urgency in Iraq and the belief that Turkey’s refusal to permit the United States to open a northern front through Turkey cost American lives isn’t making things easy for Turkey. The U.S.?Turkeyrelationship seems to be trapped in the parliamentary vote that refused the American request. From the U.S. perspective, Turkey let America down and turned its back when the United States needed it the most. From Turkey’s perspective, America is cooking up things not only to divide Iraq’s territorial integrity but also Turkey’s as well. It is hard to predict whether the people will ever get beyond the impasse, but it is a fact that relations between the two states had overcome this crisis mode a good while ago.
Let’s look into the cooperation between the Turkish and Americantroopsin Afghanistan. “U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan have learned to appreciate and respect the Turkish effort in Afghanistan,” Mr. Lamm said. He said that from First Lady Laura Bush’s trip to Kabul to the parliamentary elections — in fact, in all the high-level events, Turkish troops have helped provide security. When Turkish troops were in Afghanistan, al Qaeda attacked in Istanbul, and the fear that Turkey would become the target of international terrorism came real.
The Associated Press reported that bombers sent to Turkey by Osama bin Laden were meant to attack a base used by U.S. military or Israeli ships, instead of four civilian locations in Istanbul.
The claims by some Turkish officials that the country hadn’t come under attack by al Qaeda were puzzling. But Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan quickly responded, “Turkey will be like a fist [against the culprits]… The best response for us is to stay calm in the face of terrorism.” That makes Turkey crucial to U.S. security interests, too. It is still the only Muslim country that brought democracy from within, and is the only country that is voluntarily — against all obstacles — trying to keep up and anchor itself in the European Union. In fact, Turkey’s determination to stay with the Western alliance is a direct defeat for bin Laden’s ideology. It is worth remembering that Jack Straw, the British Foreign Secretary, when talking about the bombings against the HSBC Bank and the British Consulate, said, “I had many emotions that somber evening, but one was of the powerful, reassuring, uncompromising solidarity that I’d been offered by the Turkish government and people. The other how familiar, yes European, Istanbul felt.”
That is exactly the point that needs to be stressed in the face of all the differences that the United States and Turkey have dealt with. The relationship is about tough love; rolled harshly, roughed tremendously, but seeming to move forward as planned. Nothing is crashing, collapsing or coming to an end. On the contrary, Turkey is helping America’s war against global terrorism, and America is helping Turkey to get anchored in the West. If the United States had wanted to, itcouldhavederailed Turkey’s EU dream.
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.