Islamism and leftism
add up to anti-American madness in Turkey.
ROBERT L. POLLOCK
February 16, 2005
Editorial - Wall Street Journal
ANKARA, Turkey--Several years ago I attended an exhibition in Istanbul.
The theme was local art from the era of the country's last military
coup (1980). But the artists seemed a lot more concerned with the
injustices of global capitalism than the fate of Turkish democracy. In
fact, to call the works leftist caricatures--many featured fat
capitalists with Uncle Sam hats and emaciated workers--would have been
an understatement. As one astute local reviewer put it (I quote from
memory): "This shows that Turkish artists were willing to abase
themselves voluntarily in ways that Soviet artists refused even at the
height of Stalin's oppression."
That exhibition came to mind amid all the recent gnashing of teeth in
the U.S. over the question of "Who lost Turkey?" Because it shows that
a 50-year special relationship, between longtime NATO allies who fought
Soviet expansionism together starting in Korea, has long had to weather
the ideological hostility and intellectual decadence of much of
Istanbul's elite. And at the 2002 election, the increasingly corrupt
mainstream parties that had championed Turkish-American ties
self-destructed, leaving a vacuum that was filled by the subtle yet
insidious Islamism of the Justice and Development (AK) Party. It's this
combination of old leftism and new Islamism--much more than any mutual
pique over Turkey's refusal to side with us in the Iraq war--that
explains the collapse in relations.
And what a collapse it has been. On a brief visit to Ankara earlier
this month with Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith, I found a
poisonous atmosphere--one in which just about every politician and
media outlet (secular and religious) preaches an extreme combination of
America- and Jew-hatred that (like the Turkish artists) voluntarily
goes far further than anything found in most of the Arab world's
state-controlled press. If I hesitate to call it Nazi-like, that's only
because Goebbels would probably have rejected much of it as too crude.
Consider the Islamist newspaper Yeni Safak, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip
Erdogan's favorite. A Jan. 9 story claimed that U.S. forces were
tossing so many Iraqi bodies into the Euphrates that mullahs there had
issued a fatwa prohibiting residents from eating its fish. Yeni Safak
has also repeatedly claimed that U.S. forces used chemical weapons in
Fallujah. One of its columnists has alleged that U.S. soldiers raped
women and children there and left their bodies in the streets to be
eaten by dogs. Among the paper's "scoops" have been the 1,000 Israeli
soldiers deployed alongside U.S. forces in Iraq, and that U.S. forces
have been harvesting the innards of dead Iraqis for sale on the U.S.
It's not much better in the secular press. The mainstream Hurriyet has
accused Israeli hit squads of assassinating Turkish security personnel
in Mosul, and the U.S. of starting an occupation of Indonesia under the
guise of humanitarian assistance. At Sabah, a columnist last fall
accused the U.S. ambassador to Turkey, Eric Edelman, of letting his
"ethnic origins"--guess what, he's Jewish--determine his behavior. Mr.
Edelman is indeed the all-too-rare foreign-service officer who takes
seriously his obligation to defend America's image and interests
abroad. The intellectual climate in which he's operating has gone so
mad that he actually felt compelled to organize a conference call with
scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey to explain that secret U.S.
nuclear testing did not cause the recent tsunami.
Never in an ostensibly friendly country have I had the impression of
embassy staff so besieged. Mr. Erdogan's office recently forbade
Turkish officials from attending a reception at the ambassador's
residence in honor of the "Ecumenical" Patriarch of the Orthodox
Church, who resides in Istanbul. Why? Because "ecumenical" means
universal, which somehow makes it all part of a plot to carve up Turkey.
Perhaps the most bizarre anti-American story au courant in the Turkish
capital is the "eighth planet" theory, which holds not only that the
U.S. knows of an impending asteroid strike, but that we know it's going
to hit North America. Hence our desire to colonize the Middle East.
It all sounds loony, I know. But such stories are told in all
seriousness at the most powerful dinner tables in Ankara. The common
thread is that almost everything the U.S. is doing in the world--even
tsunami relief--has malevolent motivations, usually with the
implication that we're acting as muscle for the Jews.
In the face of such slanders Turkish politicians have been utterly
silent. In fact, Turkish parliamentarians themselves have accused the
U.S. of "genocide" in Iraq, while Mr. Erdogan (who we once hoped would
set for the Muslim world an example of democracy) was among the few
world leaders to question the legitimacy of the Iraqi elections. When
confronted, Turkish pols claim they can't risk going against "public
All of which makes Mr. Erdogan a prize hypocrite for protesting to
Condoleezza Rice the unflattering portrayal of Turkey in an episode of
the fictional TV show "The West Wing." The episode allegedly depicts
Turkey as having been taking over by a retrograde populist government
that threatens women's rights. (Sounds about right to me.)
In the old days, Turkey would have had an opposition party strong
enough to bring such a government closer to sanity. But the only
opposition now is a moribund People's Republican Party, or CHP, once
the party of Ataturk. At a recent party congress, its leader accused
his main challenger of having been part of a CIA plot against him.
That's not to say there aren't a few comparatively pro-U.S. officials
left in the current government and the state bureaucracies. But they're
afraid to say anything in public. In private, they whine endlessly
about trivial things the U.S. "could have done differently."
Entirely forgotten is that President Bush was among the first world
leaders to recognize Prime Minister Erdogan, while Turkey's own legal
system was still weighing whether he was secular enough for the job.
Forgotten have been decades of U.S. military assistance. Forgotten have
been years of American efforts to secure a pipeline route for Caspian
oil that terminates at the Turkish port of Ceyhan. Forgotten has been
the fact that U.S. administrations continue to fight annual attempts in
Congress to pass a resolution condemning modern Turkey for the long-ago
Armenian genocide. Forgotten has been America's persistent lobbying for
Turkish membership in the European Union.
Forgotten, above all, has been America's help against the PKK. Its
now-imprisoned leader, Abdullah Ocalan, was expelled from Syria in 1998
after the Turks threatened military action. He was then passed like a
hot potato between European governments, who refused to extradite him
to Turkey because--gasp!--he might face the death penalty. He was
eventually caught--with the help of U.S. intelligence--sheltered in the
Greek Embassy in Nairobi. "They gave us Ocalan. What could be bigger
than that?" says one of a handful of unapologetically pro-U.S. Turks I
I know that Mr. Feith (another Jew, the Turkish press didn't hesitate
to note), and Ms. Rice after him, pressed Turkish leaders on the need
to challenge some of the more dangerous rhetoric if they value the
Turkey-U.S. relationship. There is no evidence yet that they got a
satisfactory answer. Turkish leaders should understand that the "public
opinion" they cite is still reversible. But after a few more years of
riding the tiger, who knows? Much of Ataturk's legacy risks being lost,
and there won't be any of the old Ottoman grandeur left, either. Turkey
could easily become just another second-rate country: small-minded,
paranoid, marginal and--how could it be otherwise?--friendless in
America and unwelcome in Europe.