Turkey in the World

Turkey’s human rights record has been awful, though it has been improving, as commentators routinely point out. But that overlooks a rather important fact: Turkey’s crimes against its own population, particularly Kurds, rely crucially on (1) massive US military support and (2) the cowardice and dishonesty of the intellectual classes (including the media) which refuse to permit the US role to be known, and in fact largely suppressed the worst atrocities, among Clinton’s more serious crimes.

Reference to Turkish democracy and secularism is also not false, but here too there’s more to be said. Western intellectual culture is so arrogant and insular that when the issue of Turkey as a model is discussed, attention is restricted to Turkey’s role as a model to the Muslim world. There is another respect in which Turkey should be a model, which is of no slight significance: namely, for the West. The example of the vicious repression of the Kurds, among the worst crimes of the grisly 1990s, is a good illustration. Unlike Western intellectuals, in Turkey leading writers, artists, journalists, academics, publishers, others not only protest the vicious repression, and draconian laws, but are engaged in constant and courageous civil disobedience in their protests, at no slight risk. Meanwhile their Western counterparts, while suppressing their own role in these crimes with admirable discipline, are preoccupied with gazing in the distorting mirror they hold, and admiring themselves for their nobility and magnificence, and their extraordinary courage in condemning the crimes of others — or perhaps their own failure to react properly to the crimes of others. The contrast is quite dramatic, and very significant, so significant that it is virtually inconceivable that it can enter the reigning intellectual culture, just as the factual record has to be rigorously suppressed.

The US interest in having Turkey join the EU goes well beyond issues of its resources, etc. Turkey has been a close ally of the US since World War II, serving both as part of the encirclement of the official Cold War enemy — for example, a launching pad for nuclear missiles until they were replaced by more lethal Polaris submarines — but also as part of the ring of peripheral states that protects US interests in the crucial energy-producing regions of the Middle East, along with Iran (under the Shah), Israel (since 1967), Pakistan (intermittently). Israeli-Turkish relations trace back to 1958, but became much closer in later years. It’s partly for these reasons that there was such outrage in the US when the Turkish government actually took the same position as 95% of its population on the matter of Iraq, leading to denunciations for its lack of “democratic credentials,” punishments, and bitter condemnation of the Turkish military for permitting this atrocity (by Paul Wolfowitz, who is cast by the media as the “visionary” leading the crusade for democracy). That’s mostly repaired, but there are other potential conflicts, including Turkish relations with Iran, a natural trading partner. Despite these and other tensions, however, it’s assumed that Turkey will be a loyal client, and its entry into the EU, it is expected, will dilute the influence of Germany and France, the economic powerhouses of Europe. It’s been a major concern of US policymakers since World War II that they might lead Europe towards a more independent stance in world affairs. US support for admission of the former Soviet satellites in part traces to similar considerations: they are expected to obey Washington’s orders in a more disciplined way.

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