Friday, March 11, 2011
Since the wave of revolts started in North Africa and Middle East and the Tunisian and Egyptian people toppled their dictators, “the Turkish model” has been a widely entertained topic among some Turkey observers in Washington, who believe Turkey could be a future model for those countries.
Especially in the case of Egypt, its strong and stable military institution reminds people of the Turkish military, an institution that has stayed intact and strong since the Turkish Republic was formed. In addition to this stabilizing military factor, Turkey’s own multi-party democracy in a Muslim-majority country was obviously also a component of the “model” discussions.
In addition to these, the leader of Pro-Islamic Justice and Development Party, or AKP’s, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s strong call to Egyptian dictator Hosni Mobarak to step down a week after the revolution started there padded Turkey’s democratic credentials even further. For a while, revolts for freedom and democracy in the region appeared to direct much attention to Turkey as well and boosted its image as a democratic role model.
During the weeks of uprisings, the messages that came from Ankara very much echoed those of Washington’s during much of the Egyptian revolution. Various Turkish and U.S. officials, during the off- and on-the-record conversations, confirmed that both countries in recent weeks had been even closer to each other, consulting on a daily basis.
Now, however, as the Libyan uprising has turned into a civil war, Ankara’s closer relations with Washington have also turned sour. Erdoğan first opposed any sanctions on the Libyan regime, then took up a very strong “anti-colonial” rhetoric against the West, accusing it of going after “its own oil interests” instead of humanitarian situation. (What was Turkey’s policy again?)
While Turkey is diverging from the West sharply on the Libyan case, a new round of journalist arrests last week was greeted like a cold shower in Western capitals, Brussels and Washington alike. Brussels slammed Turkey with its latest Turkey report, a resolution ratified by the European Union’ Foreign Affairs Committee that is widely seen as the most critical report in recent years.
In Washington though, U.S. officials, journalists and region experts were busy this week trying to understand what exactly is happening in Turkey and asking questions instead of answering or commenting this time.
While writing this column, the Washington Post’s editorial, “Turkey's bad example on democracy and authoritarianism,” came online as a signal that reflected Washington’s changing tone toward Ankara.
“The recent arrests are a good example of what sometimes looks like an assault on liberal democratic values... [Turkey] is clearly headed in the wrong direction... If Turkey ceases to become a functioning democracy with unquestionably free media, neither Arab states nor anyone else will look to Turkey as a mentor,” the editorial said.
This editorial should not only be taken as mere support from a Western peer to Turkish journalists. The U.S. administration has also been quite taken aback by the latest arrests in Turkey and according to well-placed sources, it is now in a reassessing mode over what is happening with the Ergenekon case and the latest arrests.
One well-informed Washington source commented that the “for years, the AKP secured the EU’s and Washington’s support while its leadership emerged to ask for more political freedom in Turkey and undertook reforms.”
Especially in the last 10 years, the AKP’s reformist posture on the path of EU full membership negotiations gained a lot of fans in the West, while the secular and nationalist opposition of Turkey often appeared to be going against the freedom tide.
For years, Turkey’s religious and conservative segments read the Western human rights ideas better, spoke its language of freedom astutely, and found a refuge in Western circles whenever Turkey’s statist and authoritative reflexes were resurfaced.
Even though WikiLeaks and Cablegate shattered some of the perception that Washington was behind Turkey’s Islamic AKP, a significant component of opposition in Turkey always believed that the George W. Bush administration’s freedom agenda and greater Middle East project was test-driving the AKP for the region.
Finding such a conspiratorial solution made it easier for Turkey’s secular opposition to deal with rising conservative intellectual ideas and conservative economic clout in Turkey.
This week though, we witnessed that the roles might be changing. Erdoğan described European Parliament's report as an ordered study prepared by group of people who did not know Turkey at all.
"There is no balance in this report. Excuse me, but I believe the people who have prepared this document lack balance. Because, the expressions used in the report do not describe the freedom of the press in Turkey,” he said.
Turkey’s chief EU negotiator, Egemen Bağış, who will come to Washington next week, also reacted angrily to the EU report, and it will be worthwhile to see how he will be able to defend Turkey’s freedom record in Washington.
As president Barack Obama called on Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to step down openly, the U.S. and EU have clearly positioned themselves “against” Gadhafi, and this means that if Gadhafi holds on the power, the American leadership, as well as the West, will be defeated.
Ankara on the other hand, must be fully aware that it is positioning itself across from the Western allies on Libya.
Whether the U.S. would ever go for another military operation while trying to withdraw from Iraq and the still-escalating war in Afghanistan – and during days of budget austerity – is the million-dollar question.
So far in Tunisia and Egypt, where security forces mostly avoided firing on civilian protesters, regimes were toppled. Now in case of Libya though, Gadhafi has been using security forces brutally to bomb civilians and his future win will not set a good example for other autocratic leaders in the region who are desperately looking for ways to stay in power.
Within a week or two, Turkey has not done anything visible to stop or lessen this latest scenario.
In brief, recent weeks’ Turkey increasingly looks like a bad model that reminds one of Mubarak’s old regime supporting Gadhafi’s still-surviving, thuggish one.
Not a recommendable mix to be a good model.
CHP visiting Washington
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, is sending a delegation which consists of half-a-dozen people to Washington at the end of March for a couple of days.
Even though there are still more then two weeks until the visit, the timing of it, as the AKP is coming under much criticism in Washington, makes it more important.
For years, Washington has not hosted a CHP delegation and this will be a rare opportunity to listen to what the CHP has to offer as an alternative to Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu foreign policy under the AKP.
While nobody from the opposition has been coming to Washington for years, the AKP filled the vacuum and indeed made a lot of headway. Washington’s Turkey observers have been well versed by the Turkish foreign minister’s vision during these years.
After a long time, the CHP’s delegation, without a doubt, will attract much attention during their engagements, both with U.S. officials and various think-tank discussions.
We will see what alternative messages, if any, will be brought to Washington.