Punishing Turkey

Does anyone remember the movie The Boys from Brazil?  It told the story of how a group of top Nazis had moved to Brazil where they made a number of clones of Hitler-as-a-child that were being strategically placed around the world to eventually bring about a Fourth Reich. The movie ended ambiguously, with many of the Hitler children still alive and evidently expected to eventually turn into Hitler adults.  The movie makers were clearly on to something because there have been a lot of Hitler sightings by Israel and its friends over the past few years.  Saddam Hussein was described as a new Hitler while Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been depicted in even more heinous terms as a reborn Nazi leader preparing a new Holocaust.  More recently Israel demonstrators have displayed effigies of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan with the hairline altered and a moustache added to create a caricature of Hitler. 

The Turkish prime minister’s Hitler-like leanings first appeared when he dared confront Israel’s President Shimon Peres at an international meeting in Davos in January 2009.  Referring to the slaughter of Gazan civilians earlier that month, Erdogan told Peres "…you know well how to kill."  But if there was any lingering doubt, Erdogan definitely became Hitler through his support of the flotilla that sought to bring aid to Gaza three weeks ago followed by his denunciation of the massacre initiated by Israeli commandos. His diabolical intent was made manifest when he then demanded justice for the nine Turkish citizens who were murdered.  Hitlerization is the price one inevitably pays for criticizing Israel or opposing its policies. 

Whenever Israel discovers that yet another foreign nation has turned Nazi and is intent on recreating the Holocaust, the American lap dog soon picks up the scent.  Andrew Sullivan has recently described the phenomenon as "Israel Derangement Syndrome," which he describes as a "…form of derangement, or of such a passionate commitment to a foreign country that any and all normal moral rules or even basic fairness are jettisoned.  And you will notice one thing as well: no regret whatsoever for the loss of human life, just as the hideous murder of so many civilians in the Gaza war had to be the responsibility of the victims, not the attackers.  There is no sense of the human here; just the tribe."  

The Gaza flotilla has been handled by the mainstream media in precisely that fashion – blaming the victim with a unanimity that overwhelms both justice and fairness.  No humanity, no mention of the deliberate attempt to starve Gaza most recently endorsed by alleged United States Senator from New York Charles Schumer who said "strangle them economically."  Or, if one prefers the wisdom of Representative Eliot Engel, also from New York, the flotilla was "filled with hate-filled provocateurs bent on violence."  Confronted by such hatred it is surprising that the Israeli commandos were so restrained, killing only nine passengers and wounding about forty more. 

As the popular narrative in the media has unfolded, Turkey was the aggressor and Israel yet again the victim.  Turkey now has to be punished.  Congress is already considering passing the frequently shelved Armenian Genocide resolution and Representative Mike Spence warns "There will be a cost if Turkey stays on its present heading of growing closer to Iran and more antagonistic to the State of Israel."  Representative Shelley Berkley agrees, saying that she would actively oppose Turkey’s attempt to join the European Union.   Just exactly how she will do that is not completely clear.

The American media and the punditry in Washington has obediently been lining up to condemn Ankara, using two basic arguments.  The first contention is that Turkey has become a stronghold of Islamism, is edging towards a political and economic alliance with Iran, and is even acting friendly to terrorism-supporting neighbors like Syria.  The second narrative is that Turkey is no longer reliable due to its support of initiatives like the flotilla and also its bid to negotiate a solution to the Iranian nuclear program dilemma.

Those who know Turkey well realize that the country’s Islamism is a reflection of the simple fact that many Turks are deeply religious.  It does not mean that Turkish democracy is dead and the desire to make the state more reflective of religious sentiment will be held in check by the many Turks in the judiciary and military who see themselves as guardians of the secular constitution. Educated Turks in liberal urban environments are also frequently not religious at all and many are hostile to expressions of piety.  It is absolutely in the United States’ national interest to encourage the development of political systems in Muslim majority countries that accommodate both democratic pluralism and religiosity.  Turkey is far from perfect but it is a good example of how such a system might develop and should be encouraged, not subject to criticism that really has nothing to do with the Turks themselves and everything to do with Israel.

As for the claim that Turkey is sliding eastward, Turks have always seen themselves as a bridge between east and west and establishing a modus vivendi with one’s neighbors is just good politics and good business in the Near East.  As for the charge that Turkey is no longer reliable, one only has to note that nearly the entire world excepting only Israel supports the lifting of the siege of Gaza while many nations welcomed Turkey and Brazil’s initiative to resolve the stand-off over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.  The United States, inevitably lining up in support of Israel and seemingly willing to go to war with Iran on Tel Aviv’s behalf, is, as usual, politically isolated in its support of policies that will go nowhere and accomplish nothing.

The hysteria about Turkey is, if anything, more intense at the various neocon think tanks and in their websites on the internet where leading supporters of Israel are calling not only for punishing Turkey but also for kicking it out of NATO.  The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) has led the charge.  JINSA is the home base of leading neocons to include John Bolton, Michael Ledeen, Joshua Muravchik, Richard Perle and Kenneth Timmerman.  A JINSA report issued on June 8th cited Turkey for its "anti-Semitic ravings" and recommended that Washington "seriously consider suspending military cooperation…as a prelude to removing it" from NATO.  The hue and cry was shortly thereafter picked up by the other neocon heroes who continue to feature on the mainstream media in spite of their inability to get anything right.  The National Review Online’s Victor Davis Hanson called Turkey a "…sponsor of Hamas, ally of theocratic Iran, and fellow traveler with terrorist sponsoring Syria" conditions that are "antithetical to its NATO membership."  Professor Eliot Cohen of Johns Hopkins University added in a June 7th Wall Street Journal op-ed that "A combination of Islamist rule, resentment at exclusion from Europe, and a neo-Ottomanist ideology that envisions Turkey as a great power in the Middle East have made Turkey a state that is often plainly hostile not only to Israel but to American aims and interests."

In a Weekly Standard article on June 21st, Elliot Abrams chimed in with more of the same, observing that "it’s obvious that our formerly reliable NATO ally Turkey has become a staunch supporter of the radical camp. In the flotilla incident, it not only sided with but also sought to strengthen the terrorist group Hamas."  As always the neocons speak with one voice in defense of Israel, making it appear that the entire process is orchestrated, which, of course, it is.  Will the neocons marginalize Ankara and succeed in forcing Turkey out of NATO?  Difficult to say, but one should fully expect moves by Congress to do just that or to pressure Turkey in such a way as to make Ankara withdraw from the alliance. 

Turkey is a vital strategic partner for Washington. With its large population and thriving economy, it might well be the indispensible nation in the arc of states running from the Mediterranean to central Asia.  It has a long history of friendship towards the United States combined with a national interest that compels it to encourage stability among the countries that it borders and more broadly throughout the Middle East.  In spite of misgivings about specific policies, it houses a major US airbase at Incirlik and has supported Washington’s nation building efforts in Afghanistan.  But now it must be punished because it has crossed the line by opposing the kleptocracy Israel.  And it will be punished, first pilloried in the US media, a process which is underway right now, and then by the US Congress and White House, which will together find some subtle and not-so-subtle ways to bring Ankara to heel.  And the loser in all of this will be the American people, who will alienate a good and staunch friend in the Middle East and make another unnecessary enemy.

Author: Philip Giraldi

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is a contributing editor to The American Conservative and executive director of the Council for the National Interest.