US Viewed as Turkey’s ‘Greatest Threat’

Nearly two-thirds of the Turkish public named the United States as their country’s greatest future threat, a recent Pew Global Attitudes Project survey has revealed – the highest percentage of any Middle Eastern or Islamic country polled.

The survey, which was also conducted in Palestine, Egypt, Lebanon, Kuwait, Jordan, Morocco and Israel, asked an open-ended question: "What country or groups pose the greatest threat to (survey country) in the future?" Turkey was the only country in which a majority of respondents pointed to the US.

Turkey, a US NATO ally and recipient of US and NATO security guarantees, also harbors the second-most negative attitudes towards the US, with 83 percent holding an "unfavorable" opinion of it – up 29 percent since 2002, the biggest drop in public opinion of the US in recent years.

Eighty-six percent of Palestinians express an unfavorable opinion of the US, the most negative response from a Middle Eastern country.

Dr. Emre Erdogan, a political scientist and founding partner of Infakto Research Workshop, says that this is "a result of intensifying terrorist activities of the PKK" – an armed militant group founded in the 1970s also known as the Kurdistan Workers Party – which has found increasing support since the Iraq war began.

The Turkish people "perceive the US as responsible for the worsening situation," said Erdogan in a World Public Opinion (WPO)/Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) analysis of the Pew results.

The "increasing terrorist and political activity of the PKK" is seen to be "under direct supervision of the Northern Iraq Administration and the US,” and the Turkish media "continuously present evidence for this [US-PKK] collaboration," said Erdogan.

According to a 2005 Infakto poll, 71 percent of Turks think that "the West has helped separatist groups in Turkey gain strength,” and a Pew 2007 survey found that 79 percent of Turks oppose "US-led efforts to fight terrorism".

"[T]his intolerance and antipathy towards the PKK became converted to the perception of the US as the major enemy of the country," Erdogan said. "Before the invasion of Iraq, the worst enemy of the country was stated as Greece or Armenia… rather than the US."

The 2005 Infakto poll also found that 66 percent think that "Western countries want to divide and break Turkey like they divided and broke the Ottoman Empire in the past," an idea that Steven Kull, director of PIPA and editor for WPO, found "surprising".

"[The] Turks are very concerned that the Kurds are going to leave and want to gain independence," Kull told IPS, but the suggestion that "the US is intentionally seeking to divide [Turkey] surprised me…the US has a commitment to protect Turkey from aggression, and has never threatened to [directly] attack Turkey, unlike Greece, which is why I find this particularly striking."

Dissatisfaction with US foreign policy is not only prevalent in Turkey. A January 2007 Gallup poll of US citizens found that 56 percent of respondents were dissatisfied with the current role of the US in the world – up from the 51 percent who shared that view in 2006 – and not only do majorities of US citizens see the world as more dangerous, but large numbers attribute that to the George W. Bush administration’s foreign policy.

A Chicago Council on Global Affairs poll found that 69 percent of US citizens support Washington’s involvement in world affairs, reflecting the trend of greater support for US involvement since the attacks of 9/11, but a February 2007 Gallup poll showed that only 15 percent of US citizens believe the US should take "the leading role" in solving international problems – 58 percent said the US should "take a major role but not the leading role."

The Pew survey found that 81 percent of Turks dislike "American ideas about democracy,” 83 percent dislike "American ways of doing business,” and 68 percent dislike "American music, movies and television,” statistics that have all increased by at least 22 percent in the last five years.

Erdogan commented that, before, Turks might dislike the US government but they still appreciated its culture, whereas now there is an "emerging antipathy" towards US citizens and their life style, with 77 percent saying they held unfavorable views of US citizens.