Saturday, April 19, 2008

Elephant Indeed (and an Ass)

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice addressed the American-Turkish Council (ATC) yesterday in a speech much anticipated because it was still unclear as to what position the Bush Administration might take in response to the AKP closure case. While the EU has issued a series of firm criticisms, American officials are greatly divided on the issue. Many foreign policy realists favor a cautious approach so as to not jeopardize American security and business interests in the long-term while many officials in the still strong neoconservative lobby is opposed to the AKP government on ideological grounds. When the speech finally came, Rice made no mention to the closure case, but when asked in the question-and-answer period that followed, Rice reflected the divided and cautious stance of the Washington establishment: "It is a matter, obviously, for Turks to decide. We believe and hope that this will be decided within Turkey's secular democratic context and by its secular democratic principles. But I think it is in everybody's interest that it be done in this way, that the voters will be heard. Turkey has democratic institutions, and it is our great hope that it will be resolved in that context." As confusing as the statement State Dept. deputy spokesperson Tom Casey made in the weeks following the case's filing (see April 2 post), Rice's comments essentially dodge the question. An article by Zaman's Washington correspondent characterized Rice's remarks as essentially ignorning the elephant room. Ali H. Aslan of Today's Zaman speculated that Rice had been urged to take a cautious line on the closure case at the last minute:
Details became clear upon a little research. According to a source of mine that receives last-minute news from the American administration, one of the objections stated against referring to the closure case in the speech was this: If we put a strong emphasis on popular will, we will look like we are making a choice between the judiciary and the people and therefore we violate the principle of separation of powers. I also confirmed with my own sources that the section on the closure case was removed from the text in the last minute. My sources told me that these were some of the sentences taken out of Rice's speech:

"We are closely following the developments while the Turkish democracy is dealing with the closure case against the AK Party currently under review by the Constitutional Court. The elements of the case will be discussed by the Turkish people and the Turkish institutions and a final decision will be made based on the deliberations. Democracy is not easy; it is not perfect either. However, it is the best system that guarantees the will of the voters while ensuring commitment to the secular values and the rule of law."

After all, Rice would have never talked about the issue if the Turkish colleague had not asked that question. She was stressful when replying to this question. Her answer was choppy simply because she was careful to select appropriate words. Obviously, she was briefed on what she would say if she encountered such a problem and paid utmost attention to use previously agreed upon statements. She gave the message that they did not make a choice between democracy and secularism by using the "secular democracy" notion a few times in the speech in an attempt to not disturb certain circles in Turkey and the US, then expressed hope 'voters will be heard'.
Aslan concludes with a rhetorical question: Who is influencing the White House's policy toward Turkey. Undoubtedly, the cautious line is contrary to what many academics hoped would be a firm line against the closure case akin to the position taken by the European Union. However, this was not the case. American Enterprise Institute resident scholar Michael Rubin, at the forefront of the neoconservative establishment, urged Rice to completely ignore the question in a piece he authored in America's ultra-conservative National Review:
When Islamists pursue campaigns of hatred, Western officials not only pretend nothing is amiss but also, as in the case of Palestinian leaders, often increase their support. This week Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will address the judicial case against Erdoğan and the AKP. Members of her staff suggest she will lend subtle support to the prime minister. Indeed, it may be tempting to condemn the court action as a political stunt: The prosecutor’s legal brief is shoddily written and poorly argued. Despite its faults, however, the underlying legal issues are real.

Rice should be silent. Any interference will backfire: Turks, already upset that U.S. ambassador Ross Wilson seldom meets with opposition leaders, will interpret any criticism of the case as White House support for the AKP. Secularists will ask why Turkey’s liberal opposition should not have the right to all legal remedies. They already ask why the West applauds legal action taken against Austrian populist Jörg Haider and French demagogue Jean Marie Le Pen, but the same U.S. and European officials appear to bless Erdoğan’s legal exceptionalism. By undermining judicial recourse, Rice may accelerate violence and lead support to those who argue — wrongly — that the government’s disdain for the law and constitution should be met with the same. On the off-chance, however, that Rice accepts that the court case should run its course, Turkey’s religious conservatives will accuse her of masterminding the approach.

Over the past seven years, the Bush administration has made many mistakes. Bush was correct to recognize the importance of democratization; bungled implementation has turned a noble ideal into a dirty word. By equating democracy only with elections, the State Department and National Security Council fumbled U.S. interests in Iraq, Gaza, and Lebanon. One man, one vote, once; parties that enforce discipline at the point of a gun; and politicians who seek to subvert the rule of law to an imam’s conception of God do little for U.S. national security. Never again should the United States abandon its ideological compatriots for the ephemeral promises of parties that use religion to subvert democracy and seek mob rather than constitutional rule.

Turkey is nearing the cliff. Please, Secretary Rice, do not push it over the edge.
Rubin is one of many responsible for the American disaster in Iraq and is the chief hawk and so-called "Iranian expert" that is advocating for U.S. military engagement with Iran. I heard the man speak once at a forum in Washington in which he argued that if only the United States would take bold action against the Iranian regime (invasion?), the majority of Iranians would rise up to support the United States and democracy. Despite the fact that this highly contrary to opinion polls taken of Iranian citizens, many of whom are young and are indeed disenchanted with the regime, but also antagonistic toward U.S. intervention, Rubin's arguments seemed to win the audience over: a magical panacea for an otherwise difficult situation. Rubin's article in the National Review, and I suggest reading it so that you too can stare at your computer screen with your mouth agape in disbelief. Rubin's argument begins with a comparison of controversial Islamist Fethullah Gülen to Ayatollah Khomeini and then moves on to argue that AKP is preparing the way for an Islamist revolution in Turkey. The argument is baffingly misguided (and misinformed), but one would expect no less. Gülen does indeed have ties to AKP, but he has repeatedly denounced the Iranian Revolution and his Islamist movement bears no relation whatsoever to that of Khomeini. Khomeini was staunchly anti-American and clearly authoritarian in his approach long before he came to power. While Gülen should certainly not be immune to criticism, comparing him to Khomeini is preposterous. Further, likening the badly handled arrests of Cumhuriyet columnist İlhan Selçuk to an action taken by an authoritarian police state is equally ridiculous (for more information on Selçuk, see March 27 post).

While hopefully Rice is not being specifically guided by those in the White House's entrenched neoconservative establishment, Rubin's thought is cause for concern insomuch as it might seriously be leading American policymakers away from supporting the institutionalization of democratic procedures in Turkey. The issue of condemning the closure case has much less to do with AKP than it does with the need of bulwarking Turkey's democratically-elected government from what is shaping up to be another post-modern coup. Policy makers around Rice should realize that it is in the United States' interest to promote democratization in Turkey and hold true to Bush's stated support of Turkey's EU accession, which is now in great peril.

Luckily, the likes of Rubin are not the only American actors to have spoken out. In a recent article in the American popular news magazine Newsweek, Turkey experts Morton Abramowitz and Henri J. Barkey argue
. . . . the United States cannot stand on the sidelines. The threat to Turkey's stability is sufficiently grave, and the potential damage to U.S. interests so great that at some point a more forceful U.S. intervention is warranted. The United States must make clear privately, and if necessary publicly, that attempting to remove the AKP in this manner endangers bilateral cooperation and makes U.S. support of Turkish positions politically difficult. The hope is that Turkey recognizes it is far too tied to the West economically and politically to ignore such warnings altogether.

The ideal scenario now would be for all parties somehow to pull back from the abyss and adopt more conciliatory stances.
Noting that such a conciliation will prove difficult, the authors are right in arguing that the consequences of instability are great. Further, it is essential that the United States take a strong stand if only to make it clear to the political forces currently opposing AKP that closure of the party will isolate Turkey. While Turkey has been developing strong relations with Russia in recent years and despite the fact that the rising power of China continues to undermine the power of Western diplomacy, strong pressure from the United States and the European Union might cause those responsible for bringing the closure case to re-think it insomuch as it would be made clear that closure would essentially cut Turkey off from the West, ending Atatürk's ultimate Westward-looking project.

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