June 11, 2005


Turks, Nervous About European Prospects, Turn to U.S. (CRAIG S. SMITH, 6/11/05, NY Times)

Zeynel Erdem, a leading Turkish businessman, came to Izmit, a seaside industrial town, to give 400 of his prominent peers a message.

"Don't count on the European Union," he told the crowd after a chicken dinner in a hotel ballroom here. "Look to the U.S.; they're our real friends."

That view is spreading in Turkey, a sprawling land of 70 million people who have yearned for decades to become a part of Europe. With the European Union in political disarray after the French and Dutch rejected a European constitution, and with opposition to Turkish membership gaining ground in Europe, many Turks are beginning to wonder whether their European dreams are worth the effort. They are reassessing instead their relationship with the United States, a relationship that has suffered since the start of the Iraq war. [...]

Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan's fence-mending trip to Washington this week played well here. He even won some support from Washington in ending the economic and political isolation of Turkish Cypriots.

In an interview at The New York Times on Friday, Mr. Erdogan demurred on the question of a shift away from Europe. "The E.U. and the U.S. are not mutually exclusive for Turkey," he said.

It must be strange for readers of the Times to open the paper and discover that things they were told just years ago were impossible have now become inevitable, and vice versa.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 11, 2005 8:46 AM

The Weekly Standard ran an article a while ago by a conservative Turkish political scientist who said that he expected the Turkish-U.S. acrimony over the Iraq War to melt away, since he believed we have so much in common. He mentioned the American rejection of radical secularism and belief in "One Nation Under God" as analogous to the beliefs of many Turks, who also want a free society where religion nevertheless plays a role.

I was skeptical -- since some 90%-plus of the Turks opposed us in Iraq -- but I'm becoming less so. It's only natural that they'll seek to attach themselves to us as a united Europe heads to oblivion. And we have an obvious interest in promoting the concept of the moderate Muslim state.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at June 11, 2005 12:19 PM


The Turkish public has seen the US as the supporter of a grotesquely corrupt 'democratic' political system and also as part of a unified Christendom uniformly hostile to Turkey. America is also seen as in thrall to the Greek and Armenian lobbies. The Armenians have been successful in portraying Turkish over-reaction to their Tsarist-inspired revolt against the Ottomans during WWI as being some kind of genocide, when it was nothing of the sort.

There is certainly value in supporting the emergence of a moderate Muslim state and there is legitimate reason to imagine non-Arab states developing in that direction as Islam was imposed on them by invaders in an attempt to supersede existing cultures. Islam defines Arab 'culture', such as it is, but does not do so for Turkic, Persian or Berber culture.

The backhanded treatment of Turkey by the EU offended most Turks. Much of Turkish elite hostility to the US in recent years (think Bulent Ecevit) was part of a desire to ingratiate Turkey with Chirac and Schroeder. This proved to be useless and Turks of all classes really, really resent being treated like the servant class.

A 'charm offensive' and substantive trade agreements between us and the Turks would prove quite helpful.

Posted by: bart at June 11, 2005 12:51 PM


Nice to have you back.

Agreed, America has often gotten negative press, not all of it undeserved, because of our involvement in realpolitik. It is, however, important to separate out the views of elites from the views of the public -- or, if the two coincide, to realize that the views of the public can be changed while the views of elites are often more lapidary. We might be able to convince the Turkish public of our good intentions; Turkish intellectuals may be a lost cause.

Anyway, as the EU hits some, er, roadbumps, it's been fun to watch the reaction, eh?

Posted by: Matt Murphy at June 11, 2005 1:39 PM


Welcome back.

If you are right, the fact that many Turks see America as in thrall to the Greek lobby is a pretty good argument for America to roll up the rug and forget about it all. Greek politics has been driven for many years by the national whine that the U.S. and the West has been outrageously, irrationlly, unjustly and ungratefully favourable to the mendacious, savage Turks. No wonder the Balkans are a hot spot!


Agreed, America has often gotten negative press, not all of it undeserved, because of our involvement in realpolitik

Why was some of the negative press undeserved?

Posted by: Peter B at June 11, 2005 7:03 PM


Sorry, confused by double negatives. I mean why was any of it deserved?

Posted by: Peter B at June 11, 2005 7:04 PM


As you know, I'm with Bismarck. All of the Balkans are not worth the bones of one Pomeranian grenadier.

Turkish public opinion vis-a-vis the West has two parallel pathologies. First, Turks see the West as a monolithically Christian entity. Turkish history books emphasize how all the powers of Christendom regularly united to fight them. The Battle of Lepanto and the failure to take Vienna are embedded in their memory. Thus, the backhanded treatment of Turkey by the EU was merely another chapter in the same old sorry tale. Second, the Turks see themselves as besieged, surrounded by enemies, whether it is the Greeks, the Armenians or the Arabs. They search for allies against these neighbors and are willing to go to great lengths to find them.

Thus, Turkey has close relations with Israel. Israel acts as a counterweight against the Arab confrontation states(Syria is the main sponsor of the PKK), and as a lever for Turkey to combat Greek and Armenian influence in DC. Armenia's status as a kind of Caucasian Belarus and Greece's history of deep-seeded anti-Americanism benefit Turkey only because much of the Israeli and the Pentagon lobbies are in their corner.

If I were Condi Rice, I would make a point of condemning EU 'foot-dragging' on Turkey implying that it is racist in nature. I would also make it very clear to the Turks that America is a nation which does not share such retrograde medieval notions as Old Europe does and only wants the best for Turkey and that we recognize the special role of the Islamic faith in Turkish life. I would have Erdogan come to Washington for a detailed meeting where most if not all of our issues with Turkey could be settled in a mutually beneficial manner. We need them and they sure as blazes need the US.

Posted by: bart at June 11, 2005 8:27 PM

> It must be strange for readers of the Times to open the paper and discover that things they were told just years ago were impossible have now become inevitable, and vice versa.

Who controls the present controls the past, or something like that...

Posted by: Guy T. at June 11, 2005 11:47 PM

Peter B:

I think you could say that some American involvement with Latin America or the Soviet Union during and immediately after WWII was reasonably sleazy. Perhaps what I should say is that foreign policy strikes me as inherently uncertain and frequently hinges on choosing the least bad option -- and, of course, that means we'll often guess wrong. Also, the U.S. often has little finesse in these matters. I understand why people sometimes get upset with us.

I don't consider this in any way an indictment of America as a whole, only of some of the people who have previously made decisions for us.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at June 12, 2005 12:50 AM