It’s official: Turkey has a seat at the cool kids’ table.
Yesterday’s Google search of Turkish foreign policy brought up an entire page of relevant, current news articles before it started getting weird, off-topic, or out-of-date. A whole entire page! This is madness, madness, I tell you, compared to the paltry and poultry crap that used to come up in 2008, or even last month.
Until very recently, the modern Republic of Turkey received so little media coverage in the U.S. that the two most common responses to my mentions of Turkey are still 1) (singing) “Istanbul’s not Constantinople…” and 2) “Hehe, gobble gobble.” (One-sided hilarity ensues.)
But I’m tellin’ you, the U.S. government and the American public should absolutely care about Turkey beyond Thanksgiving.
Why? Because it’s the only country in and around the Middle East that has an overwhelming Muslim majority and a functioning democratic government. Because their democracy has survived four military coups in the past 50 years (1960, 1971, 1980, and the 1997 coup by memorandum). Funnily enough, those coups overturning democratically elected governments were implemented by self-proclaimed ‘defenders of democracy.’
So besides hosting over 10,000 years of human civilization and one of the most powerful empires in world history, Turkey is also, you know, down with the cool kids. At least as much as ‘being cool’ in contemporary geopolitics is hypocritically representing democratic principles, which would make the U.S. the high school quarterback that thinks his two years on varsity are The. Most. Epic. Ever.
Turkey is really at the cool kids’ table, though, because I couldn’t find any thinly veiled insults in yesterday’s articles.
Take, for instance, this lovely gem from a piece written in February 2012:
“Turkey’s laudable objective of serving as an honest broker in some of the Middle East’s most intractable conflicts inevitably collides with the reality of having to deal with internal challenges.”
Say what? It’s a little hard to hear you through all that cultural condescension. Ohhh, I get it. Despite it’s “laudable” intentions, the Turkish government isn’t qualified to manage complex foreign conflicts, because they have “internal challenges.”
If domestic challenges count as a legitimate reason to be excused from international deal brokering, I’d like to see a joint resolution politely explaining that the U.S. can no longer participate in international affairs. See, we’ve got these serious domestic issues we’ve just got to take care of first. No worries, though, Earth– we passed S.J. RES 403, conventionally known as Mama’s Sick Note In Favor of Isolationism.
And from the same article, written by one of the few American sources of timely, nuanced policy analysis on Turkey and the U.S.:
“[A]mong Washington policy circles [Foreign Minister Davutoğlu ‘s] visit served to reinforce a quietly circulating critique that Turkey’s leadership has crossed the line of self-confidence in bilateral and international relations.”
The link within the quote does provide a more nuanced picture of the diplomatic dynamics between Ankara and Washington, but… do we really have the gall to call another country “overly self-confident” in the same sentence as vague American gossip is considered legitimate commentary on international diplomacy? Give me a break.
But here’s what’s missing: the U.S. and Europe have a hard time understanding Turkish politics because their history doesn’t match our founding values. Our founding political beliefs say secularism is liberating, religion is limiting, and military intervention is the antithesis of democratic government. Remember how Turkish ‘defenders of democracy’ have overthrown democratically elected governments four times since 1960? Those ousters were staunchly secular military institutions, and their interventions have been a celebrated symbol of Western modernity, progress, and democracy in Turkey.
So… are Turkey’s founding values secular and progressive, or religious and repressive?
Let me know when you figure it out. I’m still working on it.
But here’s what I have so far: Perhaps being secular is not necessarily progressive, and being religious is not necessarily repressive, even in politics. Perhaps this concept should apply beyond the United States’ (and the European Union’s) borders.
And perhaps “the reality” is that “Washington policy circles” are all up in arms about Turkish self-confidence for more superficial reasons: Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoğlu snagged the Wicked One-Liner Award during his most recent visit.
At a lecture covering the Arab Spring and the ongoing conflict in Syria, Foreign Minister Davutoğlu said, “We wanted [al-Assad] to be the Gorbachev of Syria, but he chose to be Milosevic.”
Damn, dude: well-played. That’s some sharp, succinct, globally-minded analysis.
I can just hear the tizzied policy wonks in Washington: “Let’s get him on our side. I’m sure he’ll be so excited just to be involved— wait, he has an independent strategy? And he wants us to seriously negotiate with them and acknowledge that they have a seat at the table? Well then, harrumph! Harrumph, I say, to those upstart nouveau-democrats! Wait, Turkey’s bold foreign policy plays are being recognized and listened to by the international community? Oh… oh, I see.”
I’m glad you’ve backed off on the ego trip, Washington. You seem to be out of your zone.