Tuesday, December 07, 2004
Robert D. Kaplan has always been a rather amusing read, with the odd title of his books (Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos), his obsession with the American military, his interest in obscure history, and his support of the US as a “reluctant empire” that will last only for a few more decades anyway. In a recent article he writes:
“Who says empires are bad? The multi-ethnic Ottoman Turkish Empire, like the coeval multi-ethnic Hapsburg Austrian one, was more hospitable to minorities than the uni-ethnic democratic states that immediately succeeded it. The Ottoman caliphate welcomed Turkish, Kurdish, and other Muslims with open arms, and tolerated Christian Armenians and Jews. The secular-minded, modernizing "Young Turk" politicians who brought down the empire did not. They used Kurds as subcontractors in a full-scale assault on Armenians, which scholars now argue about calling genocide. Ottoman toleration was built on territorial indifference...
The emergence of Mustafa Kemal's fiercely securalist regime delivered stability and pro-Western orientation, but at a significant cost...Democracy developed late and anemically... Because Turkish politicians assumed that the military would always rescue them in the lurch, at a subliminal level they never felt the need to act responsibly--and so they didn't.
The first break in this dreary chronicle was the election of Turgut Ozal....He loved to read the Koran and watch soap operas, to bang his head against the carpet in a Sufi mosque and go to Texas barbecues...He gradually wrested control over foreign policy from the military...By the early 1990s he was veering toward neo-Ottomanism...But he died suddenly of a heart attack in 1993. It was said he ate himself to death, just as Ataturk had drunk himself to death....
Never before has the West been so lucky in Turkey as now. The re-Islamization of Turkey through the rejuvenation of the country’s Ottoman roots was going to happen anyway; Ataturk’s republican-minded secularization had simply gone too far. The only question was whether this retrenchment from Kemalism would take a radical or a moderate path. Erdogan’s political leanings suggest the latter. Europe should seize the opportunity.”
Kaplan attempts to show Erdogan's "lack of small-mindedness" by noting that he tried to get parliamentary approval for US troops to use Turkey in the invasion. However, he gives too much credit to Erdogan for pushing to allow a northern offensive for US troops and puts to much blame on the CHP for opposing it. He mistakes “politics as usual” for actual personal or party intentions. As an opportunistic opposition party, CHP simply attempted to gain points from the public and many AKP supporters for opposing the widely unpopular idea of allowing US troops to use Turkey in their invasion. I have no doubt that if Erdogan and the AKP were the opposition party they would have done the same. Erdogan was able to get the parliament to approve sending Turkish troops if Iraq desired them, another unpopular position, in a way to make up for rejecting the US earlier. It was easier to convince his party to support him because he could point out that the Kurds would not accept Turkish troops anyway.
Kaplan also seems to give illegitimate responses to what he considers to be illegitimate European objections to Turkish membership. That “Turkey is Muslim,” for example:
“The answer should be Europe has no choice. It is becoming Muslim anyway, in a demographic equivalent of the Islamic conquest of the early Middle Ages, when the Ottoman Empire reached the gates of Vienna.”
If the European interest is to prevent Islamic culture from eclipsing secularism, Kaplan is insisting that the Europeans have lost or certainly will lose that war in the coming years. If such a culture war is ongoing, adding more Muslims to the mix would most likely push them towards failure. So until Europeans believe they have lost (or won) that war it would make no sense to admit Turkey for that reason. His other point is that “Turkey is not only contiguous to Europe but is economically intertwined.” Well, he’s already said that Turkey is “far poorer” than many countries that were recently admitted. It would be difficult to draw the line in an ever-extending union if being “economically intertwined” took precedence. If Turkey is admitted, then its Middle Eastern neighbors would be contiguous and economically intertwined with Europe--etc etc. Kaplan then boils it down to:
“The only issue that remains is whether Europe will encourage Islamic moderation through economic development.”
I guess what he means is, “We’ll give cash if you don’t get too religious.” For all the “lack of small-mindedness” Kaplan attributes to him, Erdogan failed to see what a stupid move it was to attempt to criminalize adultery at such a late period in the game. An often cited objection to Turkey’s membership is “Once Turkey is in the EU, there will be no incentive for it to assume progressive positions.” This view gains popularity in Europe when certain politicians in both the AKP and CHP, lamenting past idiocies, say that had Turkey taken the opportunity to get in the EU decades earlier it could have vetoed the European recognition of the Armenian genocide. This, presumably, goes for Cyprus issues as well. It is a European suspicion that is usually leveled at the secularists and the military, and Erdogan and the AKP often avoid it because of their more progressive foreign policy. However, it’s evident that although they may fear Turkish intransigence in foreign policy less with Erdogan, they may begin to fear Islamic inspiration and intransigence when it comes to cultural issues. For one could argue, had Turkey been in the EU already under Erdogan, adultery would have been a crime.
The other side of progressive reforms or concessions (with or without the prospect of EU membership) is to hold steady and shout your case as loudly and as often as possible. And then we would be assuming the position of our misfit friends to the south. And Israel, even with the best and most efficient PR outfit around, is not exactly in an enviable position.
If Turkey does not get a go-ahead for the EU, Erdogan’s government may be the only government that could possibly survive a series of major failures and unpopular positions. He let down his base by not being able to do anything on the headscarf issue, imam hatip schools, and by not passing the adultery law. Let down the fence-sitters by not getting anywhere while softening on Cyprus and minority issues. Let down the general public by pushing for allowing US troops to attack Iraq from Turkey and sending Turkish troops to Iraq (the opposition parties will definitely exploit this). And, of course, by getting rejected by the EU without suggesting a detailed alternative. The only reason why Erdogan’s party would remain the majority party is the overriding reason that people will feel that life has gotten better in the last four years.