Juan Cole: Who Lost Turkey?

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Mr. Cole is Professor of Modern Middle Eastern and South Asian History at the University of Michigan. His website is http://www.juancole.com/.]

Turkey has been the strongest ally that the United States has had in the Middle East since the end of WW II. The Marshall Plan started with Northern tier states like Turkey and Greece. Turkey joined NATO and was a key player in the American victory in the Cold War. As a secular government, Turkey stood against the rising tide of Muslim radicalism. To the extent that Turkey is moderating its long-term secular militancy, and moving toward fair elections, it may be providing a model for a moderate, democratic Middle East. Its economy is growing rapidly, foreign investment is in the billions. Turkey is in short, almost everything the US could have asked for in the Middle East.

But the Bush administration has, during the past five years, increasingly thrown away this asset, and now is in danger of losing a close and valued ally altogether. It is unclear what US interests are served by this repeated and profound damage inflicted by Washington on Turkey, or what Ankara ever did to us that we are treating them so horribly. (The dismissive treatment in some ways began when the US promised Turkey $1 bn in aid to offset the damage to its economy of the Gulf War in 1990-1991, but then Congress formally decided by the mid-1990s to renege on the pledge. No one has ever explained why we stiffed them.)

The threat of a Turkish hot pursuit of PKK guerrillas into Iraqi Kurdistan is starting to have an effect on Kurdistan's economy and stability. Inflation is high and some Turkish businesses that had won bids to operate in the Kurdistan Regional Authority (KRG) are going back home in fear of trouble. Getting banks to underwrite economic enterprises is getting harder, which could result in a slowdown for Iraqi Kurdistan. This area was the last in Iraq not to be hit hard by instability, but tensions are growing.

Imagine what things look like from a Turkish point of view. Remember that Turkey is a NATO ally, that it stood with the US during the Korean War (in which its troops fought), during the Cold War, and during Bush's war on terror. Turkey gives the US military facilities, including the Incirlik Air Force base, through which large amounts of materiel for the US forces in northern Iraq flows.

First, the Bush administration insisted on invading Iraq and overthrowing the secular Iraqi government. It thereby let the Salafi Sunni and the Shiite fundamentalist genies out of the bottle and created vast instability on the southeastern border. It would be as though a US ally had invaded Mexico and inadvertently unleashed a Marxist peasant rebellion against San Diego. Secular Turkey already felt itself menaced by the Shiite ayatollahs of Iran and by the rising Salafi and al-Qaeda trends, and the US made everything far worse.

Then, the US gave the Kurdistan Regional Authority control over the Kirkuk police force and unleashed Kurdish troops on the Turkmen city of Tal Afar. (The Turks look on Iraq's 800,000 Turkmen as little brethren, over whom they feel protective, and don't want them dominated by Kurds).

The Kurds promptly announced their aspiration of annexing 3 further provinces, or at least big swathes of them, including the oil province of Kirkuk, and including substantial Turkmen populations. Not only was that guaranteed to cause violence with the Arabs and Turkmen, but it would give Kurdistan a source of fabulous wealth with which it could hope to attract Kurds in neighboring countries to join it, a la German Unification after the fall of the Berlin Wall - except that this unification would dismember several other countries.

Then the Kurdistan Regional Authority gave safe haven to 3,000 to 5,000 Kurdish guerrillas from eastern Anatolia in Turkey who have been killing Turks and blowing up things, reviving violence that had subsided in the early zeroes. Despite the US military occupation of Iraq, Washington has done nothing to stop what Turkey sees as terrorists from going over the border into Turkey and killing Turks. Turkish intelligence is convinced that the camps in Iraqi Kurdistan are key to weapons provision for the PKK, and that funding is coming from Kurdish small businessmen in Western Europe.

PKK guerrillas have just killed 13 Turkish troops on Sunday and in the past few weeks have killed 28 altogether. If guerrillas were raiding over the border into the United States and had killed 28 US troops I think I know what Washington's response would be.

The the US Congress abruptly condemned modern Kemalist Turkey for the Armenian genocide, committed by the Ottoman Empire, provoking Ankara to withdraw its ambassador from Washington. I have long held that Turkey should acknowledge the genocide, which killed hundreds of thousands and displaced more hundreds of thousands. The Turkish government could then point out that it was committed by a tyrannical and oppressive government-- the Ottoman Empire-- against which the Kemalists also fought a long and determined war to establish a modern republic. I can't understand Ankara's unwillingness to distance itself from a predecessor it doesn't even think well of--the junta of Enver Pasha and the later pusillanimity of the sultan (the capital is in Ankara and not Istanbul in part for this very reason!)

But no dispassionate observer could avoid the conclusion that the Congressional vote condemning Turkey came at a most inopportune time for US-Turkish diplomacy, at a time when Turks were already raw from watching the US upset all the apple carts in their neighborhood, unleash existential threats against them, cause the rise of Salafi radicalism next door, coddle terrorists killing them, coddle the separatist KRG, and strengthen the Shiite ayatollahs on their borders.

The Congressional vote came despite the discomfort of elements of the Israel lobby with recognizing the mass killing of Armenians as a genocide. Andrew E. Mathis explains Abraham Foxman's intellectually bankrupt vacillations on this issue. Foxman and others of his ideological orientation have been forced grudgingly to back off their genocide denial in the case of the Armenians by a general shift in opinion among the American public, and his change of position may have removed any fears among congressional representatives that the Israel lobby would punish them for their vote. (Turkey and Israel have long had a strong military and diplomatic relationship, which the Israel lobby had earlier attempted to preserve by lobbying congress on Turkey's behalf with regard to some issues. But the Israel lobby is now split between pro-Kurdish factions and pro-Turkish factions, and the pro-Kurdish ones appear to be winning out. Richard Perle & Michael Rubin of AEI are examples of the pro-Turkish Neoconservative strain in the Israel lobby. They are losing.)

In 2000, 56% of Turks reported in polls that they had a favorable view of the United States. In 2005 that statistic had fallen to 12%. I shudder to think what it is now.

Read entire article at Informed Comment (Blog)

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

omar ibrahim baker - 10/21/2007

That would have to be based on the repulsion and defeat of aggression , on the restoration of inalienable rights and on Justice being done .
Thank you!

Fahrettin Tahir - 10/21/2007

And I wish the Palestinian people a peace that will give them a future.

omar ibrahim baker - 10/21/2007

I do sincerely share your wish that Turkey would enjoy all the prosperity that life in the Middle East can offer!
The valiant Turkish people deserve the best including an outstanding role in the formation of the future of the Middle East.

Fahrettin Tahir - 10/21/2007

Actually we did live in peace for 85 years, increasing prosperity, freedom and democracy.

It wasn't bad and I hope it's not over.

Fahrettin Tahir - 10/21/2007

It is not simply national pride. The PKK is killing peoples children and they are very angry. The governmen in trying to keep good relations with the Iraqi Kurds si being charged with appeasement policies and not caring abot the lives of the soldiers who get killed every day. The Iraqi Kurds are clear about the fact that they want a greater Kurdistan, including parts of Turkey, while at the same time they live off trade with Turkey and burning electric power from Turkey. In Turkish eyes they think they can do this because the US is supporting them. The US is charges with wanting a greater Kurdistan which would fight her wars against Iran and the Arabs, unfortunately that will not happen without forcing Turkey to support Iran and the Arabs against Kurdish nationalism.

The Armenian issue is just making people more bloody minded. It is widely believed that the Armenians are fighting to get the civil war of 1915, which they started, as a genocide, in order to create international pressure for Turkey to give up something around 25-30% of her territory to Armenia. As far as Turkey is concerned, the resolution is a declaration of war on Turkey.

So the government is under extreme pressure. I think they are now traying to force the Iraqi Kurds and the USA to make a decision about supporting either the PKK or Turkey.The threat of war is a political instrument. Most Turks are horrified by the idea of getting involved in Iraq but at this point they think they might no longer be able to avoid it.

omar ibrahim baker - 10/21/2007

The very question "Who Lost Turkey" demands further clarification from the questioner!

To what, which, cause was Turkey lost?

Turkey has only had a deep relationship with the USA when both stood together to face a common potential enemy the USSR.

Ever since the end of the USSR threat No other real, genuine community of long term interests ever bound the two nations together.

If anything both have been pulling in opposite directions ever since.]

While the USA pushed Turkey towards the EU and , ineffectively, the EU towards Turkey in an effort to disassociate and alienate Turkey from its regional natural milieu and growth potential Turkey tended to gravitate back to its fundamental character and long to assume, to resume, its inherently decisive role as a major player in the Middle East.
However to the USA of the Bush/Wolfowitz administration no body, except Israel, is allowed to play any significant role in the Middle East which should remain, particularly with the neocons and Zionosts established at the White House, an exclusive American/Israeli backyard.

With Turkey no longer towing the US line ( an flagrantly rejecting it as in the case of the Iraqi conquest) and with the precedent of the Iran affair still to be resolved ( at an exorbitant price no matter how) the USA finds itself severely publicly isolated, officially marginalized and generally ostracized in the region like never before.

For which the only way out is more of the old medicine: the self inflicted wound,the self imposed constraint of more reliance on Israel whose active US lobby never misses a chance to further alienate the USA from Turkey and other regional powers and thus increase US dependence on Israel.

In that sense it is correct to say that Turkey was lost to the neocon Zionist campaign to dominate the Middle East.

Stephen Kislock - 10/21/2007

Was General Petraeus,In his appearance before Congress was Not Sworn In, this was Not Testimony, it was only the White House Line...

If he [Petraeus], wanted to Testify, He would of demanded to be Sworn In!

No more generals for President or Draft Dodgers!

Stephen Kislock - 10/19/2007

Could it be that this time with the Resloution and the Kurds, enough is enough and Turkey will go into Iraq?

National Pride, is a fearsome cause.

Fahrettin Tahir - 10/19/2007

I don't understand your argument. The US governments have been using the Armenian issue for years to blackmail Turkey into doing what they demand. They will time too argue that they can stop your resolution if Turkey lets them make their war.

Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 10/19/2007

The answer to who lost Turkey, if we have lost Turkey, is Nancy Pelosi. These stupidities of the Democrats are piling up, however, and may reach critical mass prior to November '08.
It may be the loss of the House and Senate in '06 was the only way the Republicans could keep the White House in '08. That, plus Gen. Petraeus.

Stephen Kislock - 10/19/2007

I support the US Congress with the Armenian resolution, Only because it may Stop Cheney/bush from Attacking Iran and W's. WWIII.

Fahrettin Tahir - 10/16/2007

Add to all that, that Turkey has fulfilled the European union's conditions for joining the Union and is now treated as easy prey by the European Union. They think the Turks will give them anything they want and are even quietly discussing giving land to Armenia. This is called accepting European mediation in the conflict with Armenia. This is the West. That is what the Turks get for supporting the wrong side in the cold war.

Good that a new cold war is starting.

Robert Lee Gaston - 10/16/2007

Little examples like last week's congressional resolution concerning things that happened in 1918 have not helped US/Turkish relations. I think congress is also trying to poison that well. That may have to do with congressional Democrats needing the United States to lose a war to solidify their domestic political position.