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Monday, October 26, 2009

So that's what they're after!

For weeks now analysts and political pundits have been watching Turkey (the moderate Muslim country] throw the equivalent of a temper tantrum, and have been trying to figure out what it is the Turks want.

It began with Turkey - a full member of NATO - nixing the Israel Air Force's participation in a multi-nation military exercises it was hosting.  The reason given by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan  for this move was that he wouldn't allow the same planes that were responsible for war crimes in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead to take part in the war games.  As a result of this move, the US and other major players backed out of the planned exercises and Turkey was left looking foolish.

At the same time, Erdogan began making deliberately provocative statements about his country's warm relations with Syria... a move not unlike a rebellious teenager letting his parents spot him hanging out with the neighborhood hoodlums.  But again, the Europeans and US scratched their heads and couldn't understand where this behavior was coming from.

Turkey has long been tauted as a model for what the rest of the Muslim world could be.  It is a western-facing, secular democracy that has historically kept its more restive Islamist elements under tight control.  Even when the current Prime Minister - a man who is more aligned with the religious Muslims than his predecessors - was elected, the pundits reassured each other that the moment Turkey started courting the Islamists and/or turning away from the west, Erdogan's government would be toppled by cooler heads.

And yet, in the past few days we've seen Erdogan making ever more provocative statements to the press such as accusing Israel foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman of threatening to drop a nuclear weapon on Gaza... while in the same breath extolling the warm friendship Turkey enjoys with Iranian madman Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the close bond that exists between the two countries. 

Well, yesterday it finally became clear what is bothering Turkey.  They are pissed off because they haven't yet been welcomed into the EU.

Here are his own words on the subject:

"Among leaders in Europe there are those who have prejudices against Turkey, like France and Germany…It is an unfair attitude. The European Union is violating its own rules... Being in the European Union we would be building bridges between the 1.5 billion people of [the] Muslim world to the non-Muslim world. They have to see this. If they ignore it, it brings weakness to the EU."

Here, allow me to parse that for you:

1.  European leaders are prejudiced against Turkey... because they are a Muslim country. 

2.  Europe is violating it's own rules.  Apparently Turkey can exclude anyone it wants for any reason it decides... but Europe must welcome all comers.

3.  Turkey sees itself as the bridge between Europe and the 1.5 billion people of the Muslim world.  Note that when Israel wants to be defined as the Jewish state, that is racist... yet here is a 'moderate' Muslim country making a clear 'them and us' statement about how the world is divided.  Also, the only way this linguistic symmetry works is if Europe is seen as Christian (or at least non-Muslim). 

4.  "If they ignore it, it brings weakness to the EU"... In other words, Europe ignores Turkey's offer to play 'good Muslim' at its own peril. 

I don't know about you, but I don't think there is any place in the EU for an extortionist state which panders to terrorist regimes and positions itself as the best and only conduit for dealing with the 'Muslim World'.  If ever there were a case of 'If you aren't with us, you're against us', this would be it. 

Would it be nice to have them aligned with the west?  Obviously, yes.  But not at any cost.   There are grave dangers in using incentives that can't easily be rescinded. 

For instance, in 2005 Saudi Arabia was granted admission to the World Trade Organization in exchange for agreeing to drop its enforcement of the Arab Boycott against Israel.  Notice I didn't say actually dropping their enforcement.  Once the Saudis had their coveted membership in this exclusive financial club they promptly forgot about their promise... and if anything, increased their enforcement of the anti-Israel boycott.  But good luck trying to expel them from the WTO.

By the same token, now that we know that EU membership is behind Turkey's sudden interest in courting Syria and Iran, EU membership is the last thing anyone should give them. 

Not only should they be required to demonstrate a solid decade or so of unambiguous pro-western policies before they can be considered for EU membership, but each indication of warming relations between Ankara and Syria and Iran should reset the clock to zero. 

The Turks have made it very clear in their own words that they see the world divided between Muslim and non-Muslim.  What the Turks don't yet seem to understand is that even though they sit astride the land bridge between Europe and Asia... in an age of jet airplanes and space travel, bridges are no longer the valuable real-estate they once were.

Posted by David Bogner on October 26, 2009 | Permalink

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Some points from a European point of view:
1) Europeans are indeed opposed to a full membership of Turkey because it is a muslim country. Go out on the street - the usual sentiment is "They don't fit in here". That "they" are long living here and fitting in pretty well doesn't seem to bother anyone. Just the same as all good leaders (including Mr Erdogan, I'm sure), European leaders tend to have an ear for the general mood in their citizenry, at least around election time and about such highly publicized issues like a Turkish EU membership. Which goes quite a way to explain why the European leaders would be opposed to such a thing on the basis of Turkey being predominantly muslim.
2) There's debate about the rules and whether they've been applied fairly to Turkey. I wonder how bad the situation there can be if it can't join the EU, but countries such as Romania or Bulgaria can...
On points 3) and 4), however, I'm completely with you.

However, I don't think European leaders are especially bothered with Turkey courting people like Ahmadinejad etc. European leaders are pretty good at turning genocidal madmen, crazed dictators and such into well-regarded business partners. Think of the history of trade between Iran and Europe, even past the revolution. Think of who supplied Iraq with the WMD (plus delivery systems) which Saddam turned on his own Kurdish population. Think of the ongoing support for the violent regime in Azerbaijan. If you're looking for integrity in foreign politics, Europe is the wrong place for you.

Makes the EU and Turkey seem like a match made in heaven, doesn't it?

Posted by: Carsten | Oct 26, 2009 5:34:50 PM

Carsten - If you're looking for integrity in foreign politics, Europe is the wrong place for you.

Um, I don't think integrity in foreign politics can be found anywhere!!! I think national interests and political interests almost always interferes with integrity.

Posted by: Mark | Oct 27, 2009 1:39:28 AM


Turkey (dressed in pin-striped suit with big shoulders, sunglasses indoors, dark fedora and spats): 'Ullo?

EU: Er. Yes?

Turkey: 'S nice place y'ave 'ere, guvnor. O-ey; nice indeed! It wuv be a shame iv any'thing were to 'appen to it, ey?

EU: I beg your pardon?

Turkey: You know, guv -- *ack-see-dents*? Ey? Things gone an fall offa the lorries, like?


I know where I've seen this before -- it was the Pirahna Brothers sketch from Monty Python ;o/

Posted by: Wry Mouth | Oct 27, 2009 5:19:18 AM

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