Bashing Turkey is a misguided GOP campaign strategy

Posted: Friday, October 08, 2010

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - For Republican pundits, Turkey is our new enemy, much like Hamas, Iran and other mosque-builders.

Secular Turkey is gone, they cry; the Turks have reverted to Islam. The Turks, they argue, threatened Israel on May 31 by sending a flotilla of humanitarian aid to 1.5 million Palestinians living inside the small Gaza Strip and refusing the Israeli order to turn around.

Turkey, they continue, trades with Iran and votes against the U.S.-sponsored U.N. sanctions on Iran. It even seeks to resolve the U.S.-Iran crisis diplomatically and talks to the Palestinian Hamas party, to which Israel and the U.S. refuse to talk despite the fact it won fair-and-square the U.S.-orchestrated 2006 Palestinian elections. These pundits and the interests they represent conclude that Turkey has betrayed America, so let's dump it as an ally.

This approach resembles Presidents Ronald Reagan's and George Bush junior's view of world affairs: when you disagree with us, we are a shining city upon a hill, and you are a godless axis of evil. These very ideas have brought us into the Iraqi and Afghan debacles.

But there is more here than meets the eye. The anti-Turkish crusade is being used as a campaign strategy during this election year. The Republicans do not care so much about Turkey as they care about winning Congress. Turkey provides them with an opportunity to bash Obama.

Many Americans cannot find Turkey on a map and, thanks to conservative talk-show hosts, think Obama is Muslim. Bashing Islamic Turkey is a win-win for the Republicans. Should Obama continue to befriend Turkey, he puts us at risk. Should he dump Turkey and face the inevitable bad consequences in Iraq and Afghanistan, he also puts us at risk.

The Republican approach, however, is bad foreign policy. Our ally since 1952, Turkey is a stable democracy in an autocratic region. It offers us a legitimized partnership, unlike that offered by autocracies.

With a population of almost 74 million and the 16th largest economy in the world, Turkey is better placed culturally than any of our allies to assist us in the region, having both the power and the inroads to Bagdad, Kabul, Gaza, Ramallah, Tehran, and even Jerusalem.

Turkey is ready to regain its pre-1918 position as a regional power. It better be on our side; and there are reasons to expect it would.

Despite the aid flotilla incident, Israel and Turkey maintain diplomatic and, probably, military relations. Turkey is committed to the Western alliance, including providing 1,700 soldiers in Afghanistan and enforcing the U.N. sanctions it voted against on Iran. We better listen to Turkey, rather than admonish it, let alone dump it. We may well gain from it, as suggested by the following example.

In 1969, during the Cold War, the new Chancellor Willy Brandt improved West German relations with the U.S.S.R. Furious at first, Nixon and Kissinger came up with a brilliant response. In order not to risk losing West Germany as an ally, they opened up more toward the U.S.S.R. by giving it food, technology and reaching agreements to reduce warheads.

Reagan, in contrast, changed this successful policy of detente, ratcheting up the Cold War to a new, dangerous level. The U.S.S.R. lost, though this had more to do with the unwinnable war it waged in Afghanistan than the Reagan brinksmanship. We were lucky, not smart.

And so, a new Brandt now seeks to diplomatically engage Hamas and Iran. And while Turkey may have a good point by diplomatically engaging Hamas and Iran, it is also best to recall that it is not Reagan's Granada or Bush junior's Iraq - we cannot conquer it and remove its leader by force. The elder Bush, who himself refrained from trying to remove Saddam Hussein by force, would probably agree.

• Rafael Reuveny is a professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University. Readers may write to him SPEA/ IU, 1315 East Tenth Street, Bloomington, Ind. 47405.

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