I never aimed to write a political blog. For seven years I have been posting my thoughts here, and my motivation remains, as it always was, to present the Turkey that I see, to others whose vision may be clouded by negative publicity.
Increasingly, however, I seem to have been forced into a situation where my writings have become more coloured by politics. Whose politics? My own.
On Friday 16 July Turkey experienced a night of severe trauma. Some sections of the country’s military attempted to take over the government by force of arms. Since then, foreign media and anti-government voices within the country have continued their vituperative campaign:
- First, the attempted coup wasn’t real – it was a pantomime staged by President Erdoğan to cement his hold on power.
- Second, if it was a real attempt to overthrow the government, it was a pathetically disorganised one clearly mounted by a minority of stupid generals.
- Third, whoever organised it doesn’t matter. Mr Erdoğan is now using it as an excuse to unleash his fundamentalist Islamic supporters in a mayhem of retribution.
- Fourth, Turkey’s President is now using the attempted coup as a pretext for rounding up all his opponents in a ‘witch hunt’ that will probably result in burnings at the stake.
All of these are still circulating in a myriad of combinations and permutations, but the latest one seems to be that now Mr Erdoğan is cosying up to Russia and Syria, in a clear demonstration that he is against the United States. To make matters worse he is denying America the use of the Incirlik base that they use to launch their peace-keeping, democracy-bringing attacks on nations in the region. Turkey is breaking the terms of the NATO treaty and either wants out, or should be kicked out, depending on how strongly you feel on the issue.
The problem with this latest argument is that Turkey’s ‘normalisation’ of relations with neighbours also seems to include Israel, US bosom-buddy, who can, in the eyes of the American government, do no wrong.
So what’s really going on? First up, many of the apparent contradictions in Turkey’s international relations cease to look like contradictions if you assume that the aim of the government is to modernise the country while remaining non-aligned; to have good working relations with its neighbours while looking after the interests of its own people first.
Second, commentators and the liberal chattering classes in the West have difficulty grasping the concept that ‘Islamic-rooted’ parties in the Middle East and elsewhere are often populist, trying to pursue policies that they generally associate with non-religious, left wing, socialist political movements.
If you’re confused, let me try to straighten it out for you. The long-standing American position has been, and remains, that if you’re not with us, you’re against us. Non-alignment is not comprehensible and not acceptable. Populist governments in developing countries often espouse policies that serve their own national interest, bringing them into conflict with United States’ commercial interests. It follows that America will do its best to bring about regime change whereby a more sympathetic local will lead his/her country on the road to righteousness.
However, things are not as simple as they once were. Direct military intervention attracts unwelcome publicity, and carries no guarantee of success. The Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, and the Vietnam War are examples that spring to mind. The preferred technique in recent years has become economic carrot-and-stick coupled with undercover infiltration and encouragement of revolt from within.
Iran is a good example. In 1952, a democratically elected prime minister sidelined the Western puppet Shah and attempted to nationalise the country’s oil industry. Encouraged by Britain, the United States government used its CIA to overthrow the Mossadegh government and reinstall the Shah. Economic carrots supported the Shah’s government and a small socio-military elite for twenty-seven years – until they were overthrown by a populist uprising. Led by who? America’s beloved Ayatollah Khomeini. But who had empowered him? The downtrodden people of Iran who saw radical Islam as the only force capable of uniting them and ridding the country of foreign intervention and Western puppet rulers – ie the anti-American Khomeini monster was created by America itself!
What about Egypt? The Arab Spring of 2011 saw a populist uprising overthrow the US puppet Hosni Mubarak, who had ruled in Egypt for 29 years, maintaining friendly relations with Israel while building the world’s tenth largest military with US support, and kept the majority of his people in poverty while surrounding himself with a supportive socio-economic elite minority. Same game. Egypt’s first democratic election quite naturally, in a 99% Muslim country, tossed up an ‘Islamic-rooted’ president. Suddenly the Egyptian economy turned to pea soup (surprise, surprise!) and Mohammed Morsi was overthrown by a ‘populist’ uprising that everyone but America recognises was a military-sponsored coup.
On to Turkey. Since the beginning of the republic in 1923, Turkish governments have looked Westward for inspiration. Through the Cold War the country was on the front line between NATO and Soviet USSR. The United States had military bases with nuclear weapons sited within Turkey’s borders. In spite of that, the Western alliance has played the country for its fool. The carrot of EU membership is constantly held out, as incentive and threat – and always withdrawn. Turkey has been condemned internationally for its quite justifiable action in Cyprus, and held accountable for the sins of the Ottoman Empire, while being given little or no credit for its exemplary achievement in creating a fusion of secular Islam, modernisation and democratic republicanism.
Not so long ago Turkey’s government was mocked for pursuing a foreign policy aimed at ‘zero problems with neighbours’. It went bad for a while, but they haven’t given up, and I admire them for that. What’s the alternative? Historically the Ottoman Empire fought many wars with Russia and Persia (Iran). The mutual benefits of sound diplomatic relations and commercial trade seem like better options. The Muslim people of this country have had good relations with their Jewish neighbours for centuries. Why should they allow a small spat to poison that permanently? Turkey’s AKP government had a working relationship with Assad in Syria before the civil war broke out – since when millions of refugees have streamed across the border, creating an economic and social tragedy. Probably many of those people would prefer to go home, if that were possible. Certainly Europe doesn’t want them. If a local solution can be found, maybe that’s the best thing, who knows? Turkey allows the United States a military presence at Incirlik, but they reserve the right to say how and when the base will be used – or not used, as they did in 2003 when George Dubya invaded Iraq. I understand there were a few Americans who didn’t fully support Bush’s action there.
So is the Turkish government against America? I don’t think so. They would like to be friends, in my opinion, but they do not want to be mindless puppets of a foreign power whose only interest seems to be maintaining the non-negotiable way of life of a small minority of its own people. Who was behind Friday night’s attempted coup in Turkey? I don’t know, but I have my suspicions.