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Analysis: The danger of 'losing Turkey'

Turkey strikes Kurdish rebel targets in Iraq: army
Turkish warplanes on Monday bombed Kurdish rebel targets in northern Iraq, the general staff said. The raid targeted Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) rebels in the Zap area of the autonomous Kurdish-run north of Iraq, a statement on the general staff's website said. All the planes returned safely to base after completing their mission, it added, without saying if the raid caused any casualties. The Turkish army has been hitting PKK targets in northern Iraq -- with intelligence from ally the United States -- under a fresh one-year mandate which was approved by parliament in October. The previous cross-border air strike was on October 28. Ankara charges that 2,000 PKK rebels are holed up in the mountains of northern Iraq, where they allegedly enjoy free movement and obtain weapons and explosives for attacks in Turkey. Turkey has often accused the Iraqi Kurds, who run an autonomous administration in the region, of tolerating and even aiding the PKK, but has said it will still pursue dialogue with them to resolve the problem. The PKK, listed as a terrorist group by Ankara and much of the international community, took up arms for self-rule in Turkey's Kurdish-majority southeast in 1984, sparking a conflict that has claimed about 44,000 lives.
by Claude Salhani
Washington (UPI) Dec 1, 2008
Is it possible to lose something you haven't yet found?

That is a question being asked by two scholars from the Brookings Institution in Washington, and what would happen in the event that Turkey got tired of waiting to be accepted as a full partner by the West.

Philip H. Gordon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and former director for European affairs on the National Security Council, and Omer Taspinar, a professor of national security studies at the U.S. National War College, as well as a director of the Turkey Project and a non-resident fellow at Brookings, just released their thoughts on the matter in a publication put out by Brookings, titled "Winning Turkey."

They start off by asking, "Who lost Turkey?" and play off the following scenario: The year is 2012, and a televised presidential debate is under way in the United States. Following a coup by Turkey's military, the elected Islamist-leaning government is overthrown after being accused of "promoting a hidden Islamic fundamentalist agenda and selling out Turkey's national interests."

As might be expected, Europe and the United States impose strict economic sanctions on Turkey. The new government in Ankara responds by declaring it would pursue a more independent foreign policy.

Turkey's military government withdraws Ankara's more than 10-year-old application to join the European Union, suspends its membership in NATO, bars the United States from the use of military bases on its territory and announces that henceforth Turkey would pursue a more independent foreign policy in which it would seek to develop closer diplomatic, economic and energy relations with Russia, China and Iran. Furthermore, Turkey orders its military forces into northern Iraq to act against the Kurds.

The questions in this hypothetical presidential debate being asked by the moderator are the following: How could the United States let this happen to a relationship with such an important American ally? As president, the candidates in the debate are asked what they would have done to prevent this foreign policy disaster. Who lost Turkey? And how can we win it back?

Indeed, there is a growing feeling among many Turks of being fed up with the way they are currently treated by the West, and particularly by the Europeans. In addition to the current problems facing Turkey in foreign policy, the Islamist-leaning government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is accused of pursuing a hidden Islamist agenda. However, as the authors point out, Turkish secularists believe Western observers tend to underestimate what is really transpiring in Turkey and to see the country more as a "moderate Islamic country."

A monumental mistake being made by the West is falsely believing that Turkey has no other option but to align itself with the West. Turkey's love affair with Europe and the United States is a result of a policy set out by Mustafa Kemal, the founder of modern-day Turkey. Kemal, also known as Ataturk, saw the future of his country after the demise of the Ottoman Empire, when Turkey retrenched itself within its borders after having lost all its territories in World War I with Europe.

While the vast majority of Turkish politicians since Ataturk have followed his ideas and remained faithful to the Kemalist principle, there are no ironclad guarantees that this will remain the same in the years to come. It is not impossible to expect future Turkish governments -- either through elections or, as the two Brookings scholars point out, through a military coup, something modern-day Turkey has already experienced several times -- to alter the course of Kemalism. Yes, this is unthinkable today, but who could have predicted the sudden turn of events in Iran, for example, when the shah, a staunch U.S. ally, was overthrown by an Islamic revolution?

Turkey represents an important ally in the Levant for a number of reasons. The country counts more than 70 million Muslims, and despite its paradoxes it remains the most advanced democracy in the Islamic world. It straddles far more than just Europe and Asia; but with borders with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, Iran, Iraq and Syria, it also straddles the Caucasus and Europe, as well as the Middle East and Europe, the Arab world and Iran.

It should not be ruled out that Turkey one day might decide enough is enough and turn away from Europe and Kemalist ideas, and seek alliances with the Central Asian republics, with some of whom it even shares a similar language, not to mention religion.

In conclusion, the authors point out that at this time Turkey is not "lost." Of course, it could become so, unless current trends are quickly reversed and Turkey is given a reason to believe its future is well assured as part of the Western world.

With almost certain guarantees that the situation in Afghanistan will get much worse before it gets any better, and with tensions between India and Pakistan rising to dangerous new levels, "losing" Turkey would be more than a monumental mistake. It would border on outright stupidity.

(Claude Salhani is editor of the Middle East Times.)

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US military probes troops over alleged Afghan prisoner abuse
Kabul (AFP) Dec 1, 2008
US military authorities have opened an investigation into the alleged abuse of Afghan detainees by two American soldiers, officials said Monday.

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