Us reluctance to fully back democracy linked to misperceptions

Us reluctance to fully back democracy linked to misperceptions

May 07, 2007, Monday/ 19:14:00/ LALE KEMAL
The US failure to criticize the Turkish military's strongly worded April 27 statement -- dubbed a memorandum by many -- is widely linked to an accumulated image of Muslim Turkey since the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks against the symbols of American power -- the World Trade Center and Pentagon -- which Islamic fundamentalist terrorists assumed responsibility for.

A year after the 9/11 terror attacks against the US, Turkey's conservative Justice and Development Party (AK Party) took office following a landslide victory in the November 2002 elections. A year after that, the Turkish Parliament rejected a motion to allow US forces to use Turkish soil to open a second front for their invasion of Iraq.Turkish-US civilian as well as military relations deteriorated, though military to military ties between the two countries have been considerably mended by now. Top Turkish and US commanders have increased their frequent visits whereas relations between the ruling AK Party and Washington have witnessed ups and downs, due to several reasons, including this government’s invitation to Khaled Mashal, the exiled leader of Hamas, to come to Ankara for talks with Turkish officials.

Turkish Chief of General Staff Gen. Yaşar Büyükanıt described Hamas as a terrorist organization, highlighting a serious divergence of opinion between the armed forces and the AK Party over the conduct of foreign policy.

The US and the Israeli reaction to Mashal’s visit to Ankara was forceful, as the latter compared it to a possible invitation by Israel to (now-jailed) PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan to visit the Jewish state.

The AK Party’s initial attitude against the US’s strongest ally in the Middle East -- Israel -- has irked Washington too. Nonetheless, the AK Party has also sought ways to mend ties with Israel as it needed the support of the strong Jewish lobby in Washington.

US observers in Washington, meanwhile, stated that the Turkish government came away sounding very bad in the US despite the fact that the same government has made radical, civilian and military, reforms towards the good governance of the nation.

The same observers see the US failure in responding to the long-standing Turkish appeal to Washington to take action against the outlawed PKK in northern Iraq as another reason for Washington’s reluctance to come up with a critical view of the Turkish military’s recent memorandum. However, other US observers believe that the Turkish military had become best friends with the US and that here was no reason for Washington to criticize the Turkish military.   

It is also true that traditionally the US has been blamed by many in Turkey for extending implicit support to Turkey’s four previous military coups during the 84-year-old republic’s history.

The US’s milder statement compared to the EU statement strongly denouncing the military’s April 27 statement has also raised question marks as to whether the US had been informed beforehand about the release of the memo and whether it had given its backing to the memo.

But US Ambassador to Turkey Ross Wilson was telling people over the weekend that the US was unaware of the military statement beforehand.  

‘EU has acted in a more principled manner’

 A day after the April 27 memo, the British news agency Reuters quoted US Assistant Secretary of State Dan Fried calling for Turkey’s constitution to be respected, but this fell short of criticizing the military’s statement in which it warned it would intervene to block the AK Party’s presidential nomination and preserve what it sees as the secular nature of the republic.

Asked whether he would criticize the statement, Fried said in an interview on the sidelines of the Brussels Forum on Transatlantic relations: “We do not take sides.” The US’s failure to criticize the memo was also understood to have grabbed the attention of the foreign media as a journalist posed Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, while on her way to Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt on May 1, a question asking: “The European Union has warned the Turkish military not to intervene in the current dispute over the choice of a new president for Turkey. Does the US feel the same way as the Europeans do on this?” Rice responded saying that: “The United States fully supports Turkish democracy and its constitutional processes, and that means that the election, the electoral system and the results of the electoral system and the results of the constitutional process have to be upheld. Yes. The answer is yes, the US would be in a similar position.”

Still, the US has avoided criticizing the memo. Foreign Minister Gül, whose selection as the presidential candidate is said to have prompted the military to release the memo, declined to comment on the US reaction in an interview with Milliyet columnist Hasan Cemal on May 3. But in the same interview he described the EU reaction as the more principled one, implicitly blaming the US for not acting in a principled manner.

‘Memo inspires secularists’

Well informed sources who wished not to be named were also of the opinion that unlike the previous governments, this political leadership has had very little consultation mechanisms with the military on issues such as Cyprus, Iraq and internal matters such as “actions that negatively affect the country’s secular character.”

However, these sources also acceded to the fact that consultation mechanisms existing between previous governments and the military did not prevent the latter to issue stern warnings to previous rulers too.

Nevertheless, sources close to US thinking told Today’s Zaman that the military’s memo was tactically wrong but strategically it inspired secularists in Turkey who have staged rallies in various cities across Turkey after two big rallies in Ankara and in İstanbul in April against any attempts to unravel the country’s secular tradition. 

Turkey’s secularists are now saying, “Thank god, someone [the military] came and supported us,” commented the same sources.

Through the April 27 military memo, the Turkish military has been trying to influence secularists and has been creating opportunities to galvanize the secular vote for July 22 when early elections will take place in Turkey, said a Western diplomatic source. “The military will now sit and wait,” stated the same source.

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