Monday, June 16, 2008

RAND Recommends U.S. Seek Alternatives to İncirlik

From Today's Zaman:
The study, sponsored by the Pentagon and conducted by the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, said the Turkish policy toward the Middle East is likely to remain a sensitive issue in bilateral US-Turkish relations. “Turkey’s growing interests in the Middle East are likely to make Ankara wary about allowing the United States to use its military facilities for regional contingencies except where such operations are clearly perceived to be in Turkey’s interest,” it said, calling for a diversification of US access options that would provide alternatives to İncirlik air base in case Turkey increases restrictions on US use of it or other Turkish facilities.

Turkey disappointed the US by refusing to cooperate militarily in the war on Iraq in 2003. Iran, whose nuclear program is viewed with deep suspicion by the US, is expected to be the next issue of contention between Ankara and Washington in the event the US administration decides to go ahead with military sanctions to force Tehran to end its nuclear program.

The RAND report also cautioned the US administration against describing Turkey as a “model” for coexistence of Islam and democracy in its political system because this makes many Turks, particularly the secularists and the military who believe that it pushes Turkey politically closer to the Middle East and weakens Turkey’s Western identity, “uncomfortable.”

This, however, does not mean that Turkey is different from other Muslim countries in its long experience with fusing Islam with Westernization. Referring to Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), the report said: “The ability of a party with Islamic roots to operate within the framework of a secular democratic system while respecting the boundaries between religion and state would refute the argument that Islam cannot be reconciled with modern secular democracy. On the other hand, if the experiment fails, it could lead to greater secular-Islamic polarization, further reducing the middle ground needed to build the moderate Muslim bulwark needed to contain the spread of radicalized Islam.”

“Beyond Turkey, the accommodation of Islam with democracy and secularism that has been achieved there is a valuable resource in the current ideological conflict between radical and mainstream interpretations of Islam. Mainstream entities in Turkey, therefore, should be encouraged to partner with groups and institutions elsewhere in the Muslim world to propagate moderate and pluralistic interpretations of Islam,” the report also noted.
No recommendations on U.S. action in the closure case, but RAND's recognition that Turkey is no longer the stalwart Cold War ally it once was and is developing a foreign policy that might run counter to future U.S. actions should fall on primed ears after its 2003 refusal to allow the U.S. to use its borders to invade Iraq. While this move brought Turkish policy closer to Europe, Turkey seems ready to use its military might as it sees fit, as seen its pursuit of the PKK inside Iraq's borders and especially in light of the Parliament's green light last fall to allow for such an invasion. Rather than seeing the adjustment of Turkish foreign policy as a strictly negative development, Washington would be well-benefitted to seek creative ways to use Turkey's new foreign policy independence as a bridge to reaching states with which it does not have a strong foundation for positive relations. Turkey's new positioning places it in a pivotal role to perhaps negotiate with Iran and even become an important actor for forging peace with Israel, not to mention building stronger ties with Central Asia. Turko-philes in Europe have already realized this potential and have used it as an argument for Turkish membership.

In the meantime, the United States should continue to support the development of democratic institutions in Turkey by taking a posture akin to that taken by Europe. This means supporting democratizing forces within the country (not necessarily just AKP). Such support, of course, entails condemning the Turkish state's more authoritarian elements. A Turkey anchored to Europe and the United States is a Turkey that will not only be more likely to set a positive example in the region, but also build the kinds of alliances and partnerships with other countries that have before been lacking. Further, RAND's recommendation that the United States not identify Turkey as a "moderate Islamist regime" should be taken seriously. Doing so has prompted much of the hostility and hysteria on the part of the secular establishment, and unjustified or not, it is one of many reasons for increased anti-American sentiment (see April 28 post).

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