No Comment — June 17, 2010, 1:52 pm

DeGaulle in Ankara

With his column in yesterday’s Times (“Letter from Istanbul”), Tom Friedman predictably joins the growing chorus of critics of Turkey, led by Walter Russell Mead. Not coincidentally, this is the same chorus that preached the gospel of invasion of Iraq and expressed frustration when America’s only NATO ally in the Middle East declined to support the invasion. Now they are alarmed by the growing rift between Turkey and Israel—though they never explore the underpinnings of that rift, and they instantly call it a rift between Turkey and the United States. Still, this column is vintage Friedman:

it is quite shocking to come back today and find Turkey’s Islamist government seemingly focused not on joining the European Union but the Arab League — no, scratch that, on joining the Hamas-Hezbollah-Iran resistance front against Israel.

This is absurd hyperbole. In his signature verbal-drip style, Friedman even admits to that. His sin is not so much his exaggeration (which is bad enough) as his simplification of complex facts—a simplification that leads to bad analysis and false conclusions.

As I noted before, there are emerging difficulties in U.S.–Turkish relations, and they require urgent attention. That needs to start with some self-criticism on the part of the American foreign-policy establishment about its abuse of the Turkish relationship, and it needs to build with a deeper understanding of the forces at work in Turkey today. These forces are indeed troubling. They are eroding the historical self-understanding of Turkish secularism. But it’s not yet entirely clear where these forces are going.

I would recommend two Turkish voices to better understand these dynamics. The first is Turkey’s great novelist Orhan Pamuk. Pamuk is a sharp critic of the forces that have brought Erdo?an and his AK Party to the fore, and he has portrayed them brilliantly in works like Snow, which may be the single most compelling portrait of the modern Turkish political landscape.

But for conventional political analysis, I’d turn in a heartbeat to Ömer Ta?p?nar, an analyst at the Brookings Institution. He says that Turkish foreign policy is evolving into something that bears a strong resemblance to that of France under DeGaulle:

it helps to think of this new Turkish sense of self-confidence, nationalism, grandeur and frustration with traditional partners such as America, Europe and Israel as “Turkish Gaullism.” One should not underestimate the emergence of such a new Turkey that transcends the Islamic-secular divide because both the Kemalist neo-nationalist (ulusalc?) foreign policy and the Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) neo-Ottomanism–the ideal of regional influence–share the traits of Turkish Gaullism.

If you scratch the surface of what seems to be a secular versus Islamist divide in Turkish attitudes toward the West, you will quickly see that both the so-called Islamist and secular camps embrace the same narrative vis-à-vis Europe and America: nationalist frustration. New obstacles to EU accession, perceived injustice in Cyprus, growing global recognition of the Armenian genocide and Western sympathy for Kurdish national aspirations are all major factors forcing Turks to question the value of their long-standing pro-Western geostrategic commitments. Until a couple of years ago, I used to argue that Western-oriented Kemalist elites had traded places with the once eastward-leaning Islamists on the grounds that it was the AK Party that seemed more interested in maintaining close ties with Europe and the United States. The AK Party, in my eyes, needed the West more than Turkey’s Kemalist establishment for a simple reason: It needed to prove to the Turkish military, to secularist segment of society at home and to Western partners in the international community that it was not an Islamist party.

Now, however, I increasingly believe that the AK Party, too, has decided to jump on the bandwagon of nationalist frustration with the West. After all, this is the most powerful societal undercurrent in Turkey, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an needs to win elections. As the events of the last couple of weeks have shown, America and Europe should pay attention to Turkey’s Gaullist inclinations. In the past, Americans and Europeans would often ask whether Turkey had any realistic geopolitical alternatives and complacently reassure themselves that it did not. But today such alternatives are starting to look more realistic to many Turks. The rise of Turkish Gaullism need not come fully at the expense of America and Europe. But Turks are already looking for economic and strategic opportunities in Russia, India, China and, of course, the Middle East and Africa. It is high time for American analysts to stop overplaying the Islamic-secular divide in Turkish foreign policy and pay more attention to what unites both camps: Turkish nationalism.

Ta?p?nar has it just right, I think. Erdo?an and his AK Party needed the West, and particularly the EU, as a vehicle to consolidate their own hold on power in Ankara. They had to address one of the most powerful legacies of Kemalism, namely, the army’s role as guarantor of the Kemalist secular ideal. They cleverly used the notion of EU affiliation and the entire Copenhagen process to wear down the fundamentally anti-democratic Kemalist power base of the military, with the aggressive support of Europeans who seem only vaguely to have understood the broader domestic ramifications of this process for Turkey. Now that the risk that the military will displace the AK Party—either through a hard or soft coup (the latter being a decision to ban the party and its leading figures from participation in the political arena)—has passed, the more direct AK foreign-policy agenda emerges. This is conservative, nationalist, and filled with distinctive echoes of the Ottoman golden era. AK Party leaders want Turkey to assert itself as a regional power, especially within the territory of the old Ottoman Empire. They do not propose to do this militarily, but as a sort of moral leader (from their perspective). The details of this policy are not yet clearly charted, but the potential for conflict with American policy objectives–particularly those of the neoconservatives–is obvious. Smart diplomacy may yet make a difference, and there is plenty of mutual good will among Turks and Americans to drive it.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

May 2016

Unhackable

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

American Imperium

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Fighting Chance

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Front Runner

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Habits of Highly Cynical People

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
Elisabeth Zerofsky on Marine Le Pen, Paul Wachter on the quest for an unhackable email, Rebecca Solnit on cynical people, Andrew J. Bacevich on truth and fiction in the age of war, Samuel James photographs E.P.L. soccer, a story by Vince Passaro, and more

I sat in a taxi with Emma and her son, Stak, all three bodies muscled into the rear seat, and the boy checked the driver’s I.D. and immediately began to speak to the man in an unrecognizable language.

I conferred quietly with Emma, who said he was studying Pashto, privately, in his spare time. Afghani, she said, to enlighten me further.

Illustration by Taylor Callery
Article
Front Runner·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"The F.N. asked to be sent to an institution whose legitimacy it did not accept, and French voters rewarded the party with first place in the election."
Illustration (detail) by Matthew Richardson
Memoir
I Am Your Conscious, I Am Love·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A paean 2 Prince
"And one thinks, Looking into Prince's eyes must be like looking at the world."
Photo ©© PeterTea
Article
Stop Hillary!·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"As wacky as it sometimes appears on the surface, American politics has an amazing stability and continuity about it."
Article
Plexiglass·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

I sat in a taxi with Emma and her son, Stak, all three bodies muscled into the rear seat, and the boy checked the driver’s I.D. and immediately began to speak to the man in an unrecognizable language.

I conferred quietly with Emma, who said he was studying Pashto, privately, in his spare time. Afghani, she said, to enlighten me further.

Photograph (detail) by Karine Laval

Age at death last March of the sturgeon Nikita, Khrushchev’s gift to Norway, after an accidental immersion in salt water:

38

There were new reports of cannibalism in North Korea.

The Finnish postal service announced it will begin mowing lawns on Tuesdays.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Mississippi Drift

By

Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'

Subscribe Today