Western liberals help radicalize Turkey

William R. Hawkins
Israel and Turkey had been considered regional allies since the two signed a military cooperation accord in 1998. Israeli companies upgraded Turkish fighters and tanks. Ankara ordered rockets, electronic equipment, and unmanned aircraft from Israel. Armament sales accounted for over half of Israeli-Turkish trade. Other forms of military cooperation have included Israel's use of Turkish airspace for training and the conduct of joint naval exercises. Both countries considered Iran and Syria to be threats.

The rise of the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) has changed Turkey's diplomatic orientation. It has also posed a threat to Turkey's secularist tradition set by the republic's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, a career soldier who had won prominence in the First World War before leading his nation's War of Independence. Ankara is not just turning against Israel, but turning towards Iran as demonstrated by its partnership with Brazil in a scheme to shield Tehran from sanctions over its nuclear weapons program. Turkish-Iranian coordination in the Gaza flotilla incident is only a further evolution.

The Turkish military issued a sharp warning to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in April, 2007 against straying from secularism. Turkey's courts came close to banning the AKP that year for violating secular principles. Four elected governments have been overthrown by military coups since Turkey was founded in 1923.

The AKP has taken action against the military, accusing scores of retired officers of plotting against the government. A package of constitutional reforms was passed by the AKP-dominated parliament in May that would further weaken the military and courts as checks on the elected government, if approved by referendum in July. Thus, in the name of democracy, Turkey is being moved towards Islamic extremism, weakening not only military cooperation with Israel, but relations within the NATO alliance and the balance of power in the Middle East.

Ironically, the AKP has received support from the European Union for its drive against the secular checks written into the constitution and enforced by the military. As Umit Enginsoy and Burak Ege Bekdil reported from Ankara in the June 17 issue of Defense News,

The European Union, which Turkey wants to join as a full mem­ber, has been pressing Ankara to pass reforms to minimize the military's role in politics in line with the wealthy Western bloc's practices....

Turkey's generals are completely locked up in barracks. They are very sensitive not to get involved in politics or even to give the impres­sion that they may be doing so. ...

Turkey is thus becoming another example of what Fareed Zakaria warned against in his famous Foreign Affairs essay, "The Rise of Illiberal Democracy" in December 1997.

Democracy without constitutional liberalism is producing centralized regimes, the erosion of liberty, ethnic competition, conflict, and war. The international community and the United States must end their obsession with balloting and promote the gradual liberalization of societies.

Unfortunately, Western liberals cannot conceive of the military as a positive force in society, so they have held open the door to radicalism in Turkey by favoring theocratic civilians who think in terms of Islamic solidarity over secular soldiers who think in terms of the national interest. Turkey was once considered to be the great hope for modernization in the Muslim world, but that hope is now fading thanks, ironically, to "progressive" thinking.

 

Israel and Turkey had been considered regional allies since the two signed a military cooperation accord in 1998. Israeli companies upgraded Turkish fighters and tanks. Ankara ordered rockets, electronic equipment, and unmanned aircraft from Israel. Armament sales accounted for over half of Israeli-Turkish trade. Other forms of military cooperation have included Israel's use of Turkish airspace for training and the conduct of joint naval exercises. Both countries considered Iran and Syria to be threats.

The rise of the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) has changed Turkey's diplomatic orientation. It has also posed a threat to Turkey's secularist tradition set by the republic's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, a career soldier who had won prominence in the First World War before leading his nation's War of Independence. Ankara is not just turning against Israel, but turning towards Iran as demonstrated by its partnership with Brazil in a scheme to shield Tehran from sanctions over its nuclear weapons program. Turkish-Iranian coordination in the Gaza flotilla incident is only a further evolution.

The Turkish military issued a sharp warning to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in April, 2007 against straying from secularism. Turkey's courts came close to banning the AKP that year for violating secular principles. Four elected governments have been overthrown by military coups since Turkey was founded in 1923.

The AKP has taken action against the military, accusing scores of retired officers of plotting against the government. A package of constitutional reforms was passed by the AKP-dominated parliament in May that would further weaken the military and courts as checks on the elected government, if approved by referendum in July. Thus, in the name of democracy, Turkey is being moved towards Islamic extremism, weakening not only military cooperation with Israel, but relations within the NATO alliance and the balance of power in the Middle East.

Ironically, the AKP has received support from the European Union for its drive against the secular checks written into the constitution and enforced by the military. As Umit Enginsoy and Burak Ege Bekdil reported from Ankara in the June 17 issue of Defense News,

The European Union, which Turkey wants to join as a full mem­ber, has been pressing Ankara to pass reforms to minimize the military's role in politics in line with the wealthy Western bloc's practices....

Turkey's generals are completely locked up in barracks. They are very sensitive not to get involved in politics or even to give the impres­sion that they may be doing so. ...

Turkey is thus becoming another example of what Fareed Zakaria warned against in his famous Foreign Affairs essay, "The Rise of Illiberal Democracy" in December 1997.

Democracy without constitutional liberalism is producing centralized regimes, the erosion of liberty, ethnic competition, conflict, and war. The international community and the United States must end their obsession with balloting and promote the gradual liberalization of societies.

Unfortunately, Western liberals cannot conceive of the military as a positive force in society, so they have held open the door to radicalism in Turkey by favoring theocratic civilians who think in terms of Islamic solidarity over secular soldiers who think in terms of the national interest. Turkey was once considered to be the great hope for modernization in the Muslim world, but that hope is now fading thanks, ironically, to "progressive" thinking.