Gideon's Blog

In direct contravention of my wife's explicit instructions, herewith I inaugurate my first blog. Long may it prosper.

For some reason, I think I have something to say to you. You think you have something to say to me? Email me at: gideonsblogger -at- yahoo -dot- com

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Wednesday, February 16, 2005
Well, this certainly isn't an encouraging report. And here I was only a few days ago repeating my mantra that the emergence of the AKP is a "long-term positive." What do I know.

Ankara, of course, is in the center of Turkey, in the countryside, far from the Westernized and modernized economic elite of Istanbul. But this is, nonetheless, pretty bad.

The interesting question is: to what extent is this all about Iraq? The Islamists have been gaining strength in Turkey for many years now, and moderating their message as they gain strength. Erdogan's party doesn't just favor making the Turkish state more friendly to Islam; it has also been a leader in curbing human rights abuses by the military, in strengthening the democratic system, and a forceful advocate for joining the European Union. None of that means that he's friendly to the U.S. or U.S. interests in the region. But they hardly sound like the platform of a party bent on turning Turkey into Iran.

So what happened? Turkey's secular left has always leaned towards Europe and away from America, for the same reasons that the European left is anti-American. The backbone of Turkish support for America came from the conservative, religious middle class, which was patriotic and anti-Communist if also unhappy with the official secularist ideology of Attaturk. This is the same class that Gilles Kepel identifies as crucial to the success of the Islamist revolution in Iran and to the electoral success (vetoed by the military) of the Islamists in Algeria. This class used to vote for Turgut Ozal's Motherland Party, which was conservative and relatively congenial to the "pious bourgeoisie" while still supporting secularism within the state, and very pro-American.

So the question of who "lost" Turkey is the question of who "lost" this class of voters. To a considerable extent, the answer is the corruption of the major Turkish parties; the AKP rose to power because it promised clean governance more than anything. Once in power, the AKP was necessarily going to pull away from America if only because their agenda in foreign affairs was to integrate Turkey with its neighbors - which meant on the one hand membership in the EU and on the other hand better relations with Iran and Syria.

But pulling away from America is one thing; the kind of rabid anti-Americanism described in the article above is another. So I would be very interested to know whether that anti-Americanism substantially predates the Iraq war, or whether it overwhlemingly postdates it. If the latter, the answer to "who lost Turkey" (to the extent that Turkey is "lost" as opposed to having a bad episode that will pass) is the architects of that war - and that's a very big black mark. If (as is the case with Europe, Russia and China) the answer is the former (that anti-Americanism was rising sharply well before the Iraq war) that's a bigger worry, because it suggests it will be very hard to "win" Turkey back.

Of course, I shouldn't panic about one article. But it's not encouraging.