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Monday, April 1, 2024

Turkey as a bridge between islam and the West.

 Chris and I lived in Turkey for two years, during which time I served as Head of the Political Military Section in the US Embassy.  During that time, half a century ago, Turkey was a valued member of NATO and had the second largest army in the alliance.  The political leadership of the country was dominated by the military which saw itself as the heir to the Ataturk Revolution.  Relations with the United States were adequate to excellent, depending on the subject, and we had a very important military presence in country.  We saw Turkey as being NATO’s Southeastern bulwark against the Soviet threat.  Then, along came Erdogan, who managed to overthrow military control of the political system and establish a government that sought a greater role for Islam in domestic politics and a much less western aligned role in International politics.  During the internal struggle that brought him to power, Erdogan was literally saved from assassination by a telephone call from Vladimir Putin, which I suggest has gone a long way toward explaining their subsequent relationship.  Erdogan consciously, brutally, and systematically destroyed the domestic military structure that had aligned itself with the West, and reversed Ataturk’s effort to align the country with Europe, seeking, instead, to burnish Turkey’s Muslim heritage.  The political apparatus that he fashioned to control Turkey is modeled on philosophies and beliefs advocated by the Muslim Brotherhood.  Many analysts argue, convincingly, that he is trying to reestablish the Turkey that was at the center of the Ottoman Empire.  Following Erdogan’s ascending to power, our relationship with Turkey suffered dramatically, particularly since there was some suspicion that the Obama/Biden administration in Washington was behind efforts to overthrow him.

Last year, Turkey held presidential elections and Erdogan was narrowly reelected for a third term.  Today, we are getting the results of municipal elections across the country and it appears that his party was narrowly defeated more often than not, particularly in the large urban areas, to include Ankara, the capital, and the country’s largest city, Istanbul.  The hope is that the Turkish people are turning away from Erdogan’s international policies and turning back toward a closer alignment with Western Europe.  I share that hope.  The first time that I ran into Turks was in Korea where they served alongside of us in the fight against North Korea and China.  I was a grunt and I had absolutely no understanding of what was happening outside of my immediate chunk of turf, but I was mightily impressed with the quality of fighting man that characterized the Turkish engineer battalion next to me.  On a personal level, I want Turkey on our side just exactly as much as I do not want to have to fight them.  From a political perspective, I see Turkey as occupying a critical geographic position between Asia and Europe and I believe that it is to our advantage to see Ankara act as a positive cultural bridge between the two regions.  Were I influential, I would make every effort to improve and strengthen relations between Turkey and Western Europe.  That relationship is at the heart of the internal discussion inside of both Turkey and Europe and it is a critical part of the discussion between Islam and the non-Islamic world.  To the extent that we can improve relations between Ankara and Western Europe, to that extent, we are making a significant step toward improving relations between Islam and the West.

With eight billion people in the world, what practical steps are necessary to accomplish something as momentous as I am suggesting?  How do we go about improving relations between billions, repeat billions, of people who do not talk to each other directly?  Who do not know much of anything about each other and certainly do not see the specific reasons why they need to get along.  The Turk living in eastern Turkey is, understandably, far more interested in his Kurdish neighbor’s intentions than he is in what a German thinks about Turkish immigrants living in Europe.  How do we convince American voters that all of this foreign stuff is at least as important as the number of chips in the bag?  How do we Americans select leadership that will understand the need to help bridge the gap between Turk and German as a practical step in resolving the conflict between Western thought and Islam when we voters do not understand any of it?  How do we encourage actual thought about seeing Turkey as a bridge between Asia and Europe?  And once we get agreement that we need to do something, what specific things do we do, and will we have the intellectual courage to stick with our decisions when things don’t work out just exactly the way in which we had hoped?  These are some of the valid questions that face us, and you and I are incapable of even seeing them, let alone agreeing to address them.  It very well may be that life is too complicated for humans to understand, let alone deal with intelligently.  It is much easier to cancel intelligent thought, hide from problems, and vehemently blame the other.  We can understand the charge that he grabbed her by the pussy, but we refuse to understand what is necessary to make a democracy effective in standing up to authoritarianism.

PS:  I see the hierarchy of challenge to be, in ascending order of complexity: Russia, China, Radical Islam, Population, all infinitely complicated by technology.  We had Russia starting to talk sense and we are letting stupidity reestablish itself in that huge country.  China is cleaning our clock all over the world and we close our eyes to it.  Radical Islam will trigger a nuclear conflict that nobody will win.   And then we are faced with population.  Wouldn’t it be better to start talking to each other about some of our challenges instead of cancelling each other and hiding our minds in the imaginary world scrolling across the screen on our cell phones?  Oh, and apologies if I have hurt your precious feelings with my impolite, unsanctioned speech.  I actually thought that we were a real democracy.  That is how dumb I am.

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