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"An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last."
Sir Winston Churchill


The Turkish Army Stands Up Against the Islamist Tide

Stand, ye men of the East:

The concern is that Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul of the ruling, Islamist AKP party may end up in the presidency, described as the country's "last bastion of secularism." Gul's wife is a headscarf-wearer and he himself is considered anti-secular by many Turks. Though the AKP claims not to be Islamist, it has promoted religious education, banned alcohol in municipalities, and tried to remove a ban on headscarves in public places that goes back to the days of Turkey's pioneer of secularism, Kemal Ataturk.

Hours before the military's warning, Gul failed to win enough votes in a first round of parliamentary voting that the opposition boycotted. The opposition is calling for new elections as the best way out of the stalemate, and on Sunday a few hundred thousand pro-secular demonstrators in Istanbul demanded that the AKP-led coalition resign.

The situation, however, led senior EU official Olli Rehn to huff and puff that it is -- the Turkish military that poses the danger. "This is a clear test case whether the Turkish armed forces respect democratic secularization and democratic values," he said Saturday, and warned that democratic values are "at the core" of Turkey's (in any case very unlikely) prospects of joining the EU.

Sweden's foreign minister Carl Bildt chimed in: "There can of course be differences of opinion about which person is the better suited to become president. But in a European constitutional democracy the military has no role to play in this process."

Leave it to the EU to blindly apply principles to a case where they do not fit. In fully developed democracies, military interference in an electoral process is of course unthinkable. But given that Turkey is not a fully developed democracy, how much better a flawed but still functioning, more or less pro-Western democracy than a country tacking toward Islamism with all that means for its citizens' freedoms and for its geopolitical affinities.

I claim Absolute Moral Authority on this issue since:

a) I was stationed in Turkey for six months, and not in the fun western college part either

b) I was smart enough about the language and the customs to engage in all sorts of comical hijinks while there

c) I dated a Turkish woman for about 18 months

d) I regularly prepare and eat Turkish food.

By my count, that makes me Cindy Sheehan-esque on this issue.

The Turkish Army prides itself as the protector of the republic established by Kemal Ataturk (Mustapha Kemal, actually---Ataturk means "Father of the Turks".) Ataturk to this day is phenomenally popular throughout Turkey in a way that no imam can hope to rival. Moreover, he stood for modernization and secularization.

The Turks being an impetuous and passionate people, occasionally their political process produces coalition leaders who want a caliphate. When they go too far, the Army deposes them and a new election is held. This is hardly muuch different than the Democrat Party using union goons to intimidate voters, which is a staple of Democrat machine politics. The difference is that the Turkish Army is devoted to the State, not to a political party.

The Turkish Army is a draft army---every Turk spends 2 years minimum in it. Many spend their lives in it, because it is THE prestige institution in Turkey. Turkish officers have pull that their civilian counterparts can only dream of.

This is no banana republic ragtag bunch, either---they are fully modernized and one of the few NATO members able to pull their weight on the battlefield, where it counts. This is undoubtedly why the French hate them, and yet another reason why we should be for them.

They guard their reputation jealously and do not move swiftly or willy-nilly to remove an elected government. That they are sending signals of doing so now is testament to how far the Islamist factions in Turkey have gone.

One note of caution---the Turkish military is not necessarily our ally in Iraq. They have been fighting Iraqi Kurds for a generation, and these Kurds aspire to carving Kurdistan out of southeastern Turkey. The current Iraqi president was a very well known figure to me during my tour their in the mid-1990s because he was a leader of the Kurdish factions blowing up Turkish soldiers in marketplaces near Diyarbakir. We were there to enforce the No Fly Zone and send humanitarian relief to the Kurds. The Turkish Local National Officers who accompanied us on missions into Iraqi Kurdistan would use the opportunity to gain intel on Kurdish terrorists. The Turks would then send in Apache gunships to blow them to bits.

It was a hell of a way to run a ceasefire, but the clear message was you simply do not mess with the Turkish military when it comes to the Turkish national interest.

The girly-men of the EU can sniffle all they like, but I doubt the Turks care. Good for them.



Blogger el├žin said...

this is a suprising comment for a foreign about turkey and turkish military (if we think all about the human-rights issues). even though, sometimes 18 months of living in it is not enough for fully affection. military means banning, islamic parties are narrow-minded and all the today's resistance about islamic parties has not a spesific context. there is a lack of a real contemporary leftist party. the entellectual one. and there's lack of entellectual people. sometimes it seems that everything is confused here.

4:26 PM  
Blogger Teflon said...

Merhaba, Elcin---nasilsiniz?

Turkey is certainly a confusing country, especially for those of us who haven't spent a lot of time there. I don't find Turks confusing, however, and I have a profound respect for the Turkish military, which both fights well and serves as the guarantor of the secular state.

Turkey has also been a reliable American ally for decades, all the moreso because whereas our European allies talk about the importance of our military ties, very few of them stick around when the fighting begins, and most who do aren't good for much beyond getting in the way. Not so the Turks, who bring modern military power to bear and do so with an eye to fighting and winning. That's no small thing when Europeans refuse to defend themselves but cluck-cluck about human rights while doing nothing about the most oppressively evil totalitarian regimes on the planet.

For those not aware of their history, our primary ally against the Chinese and North Koreans in the Korean War was Turkey. Our Marines still talk about the crazy Turks who fought like devils and could tough out anything the enemy threw at them. Our famous U-2 pilot shot down over the Soviet Union in the 1960s took off from the Turkish airbase I was stationed at---Pirinclik, in southeastern Turkey.

The lack of a leftist party is nothing but a blessing for Turkey, in my opinion, and the real reason the EU refuses to admit Turkey. Socialism has done nothing but destroy the nations where it has taken root, weakened their economies, and created a perpetually dependent underclass led by a corrupt nomenklatura. Better to adopt the Austrian model of free-market economics undergirded by a strong constitutional republic and a profound respect for the law and property rights---that's the key to long-term growth and prosperity.

The Islamist movement in Turkey, as elsewhere, is of great concern to us. It is a threat to Turkish freedom and security, and threatens to fracture your country's bond to mine. There is nothing the Iranians and Syrians would enjoy more than for that to happen, for it would leave Iran as de facto regional ruler able to terrorize subject nations at will. That is the future we're trying to prevent.

Thanks for reading and please enjoy a bowl of sac tava and an adana kebap on my behalf.

6:18 PM  

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