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|The Fears of a Muslim Ally|
|01/28/02 at 13:11:09|
|Salam alaykum , please just read the first paragraphe, and keep in mind , that most of the readers of the "Private View" are people in key positions, somewhere in the foggy stratas of the "elites" .|
The Fears of a Muslim Ally
Turkey doesn’t want to prove its worth to the West by fighting a war with neighboring Iraq
Jan. 28 issue —
When visiting Turkey last week, I happened to read Private View, a smart Istanbul quarterly of mostly political and economic analysis. I was not prepared for the essay lamenting Turkey’s backwardness in ... wine drinking. “With a yearly consumption rate of 1 liter per person,” it scolds, “Turkey is lagging way behind its Western counterparts.” But how to reconcile Islam with wine? Well, the author concludes that “the Turks’ persistence to enjoy this drink despite all the obvious religious prohibitions must be due to their determination to fully exploit the delights of this world.” Someone forgot to tell these guys about the clash of civilizations.
TURKEY SHATTERS THE conventional image of Islam. It is 99 percent Muslim and yet resolutely secular, democratic and pro-Western. And these are not attitudes held only in Istanbul salons. Seventy-five percent of the country is in favor of joining the European Union. Popular attitudes are generally pro-American. Since September 11 we’ve all heard dozens of instant experts explain that in Islam, religion and politics can never be separated. Well, Turkey’s done it for seven decades.
But despite September 11, the Turkish establishment is currently obsessed about something else: Europe. Over the past three years, the European Union has made some encouraging noises about Turkey’s potential to become a member. It has caused a quiet revolution in the country. The government—despite being a weak multiparty coalition—has been steadily pursuing significant economic and political reforms for a year. In October 2001, the Turkish Parliament passed 34 of 37 proposed amendments to the 1982 Constitution to bring it more in line with European Union standards. (Interestingly, the Islamic parties are now in favor of EU membership because they realize that their freedom of expression would be better guaranteed by European courts than Turkish generals.) Even on the decades-long impasse over Cyprus, Ankara is inching toward a negotiated solution. “For Turkey, EU membership would be the culmination of Ataturk’s dream: to catch up with civilization,” said Sukrit Elektar, one of Ankara’s veteran diplomats.
The road to the West has cleared up since September 11. Now Turkey is important as a modern Muslim country, but more crucially because of its geopolitical location and heft—a major power straddling Europe, the Middle East and Asia, with easy access to all the major oil lands. “It’s as if a magic wand has tapped Turkey,” says former foreign minister Emre Gonensay.
But its location has also produced its greatest headache: Iraq. “Every time we hear that Washington wants to intervene in Iraq, I want to say, think twice, think three times, and then think again,” says Cevik Bir, former deputy chief of the armed forces. “If there is a war, it is impossible that Iraq will hold together.”
Turkey’s nightmare is not that an invasion of Iraq will produce an independent Kurdish state on its southern border. “That’s not an option,” a senior source close to the military explained. The nightmare is that the Army would be forced to preclude that option by occupying northern Iraq. (With 12 percent of its population Kurdish and having battled a terrorist movement for decades, Turkey believes that Kurdish self-determination even across the border would mean the end of the nation’s unitary existence.) There are already contingency plans for such an operation in Ankara. “If there is an American intervention,” this source told me, “we would have to watch and see whether the Kurds began rising up in northern Iraq—and they likely will. We would be forced to make sure that once the war ends we are in a military position to affect the political settlement that follows. It’s a last resort, but we have to be masters of our own fate.”
Washington has told Ankara that it supports the principle that Iraq should remain one nation. Many Turkish generals don’t believe it. They think that once the war begins, all bets are off. The Iraqi Kurds have been the chief opposition to Saddam Hussein for a decade. Were they to declare independence, the United States would not crush them. We’re for self-determination, remember? As a result, Turkey wants assurances that no Afghan-style operation—bombing plus reliance on local forces—will be attempted. (In such a scenario, the Kurds would play the role of the Northern Alliance and thus would become the victors.) A senior military officer observed that if 500,000 American troops were required to evict Saddam from Kuwait, then surely the much larger task of occupying Iraq would require at least as many American troops.
An American intervention in Iraq would hit Turkey hard economically—as it did during the gulf war. It would also take the focus of the country away from economic and political modernization. Economic reforms, political reforms and human-rightsissues would all take a back seat to the life-and-death problems of national sovereignty. “The gulf war set us back for almost a decade,” said General Bir. “Now as we are moving forward, this would create new problems. We would become obsessed for years with all the security problems it would create.”
There are good arguments for intervention in Iraq. If successful, a democratic or at least friendly Iraq would ease tensions in the region and might even transform its geopolitics. The status quo, with Saddam Hussein and his weapons intact, is not that stable anyway. But for Turkey the stakes are very high. For years it has dreamed that its key strategic location will bring it inexorably closer to the West. Now it has, but that same geography could thrust Turkey way off course. That’s as close to Greek tragedy as geopolitics gets.
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