Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Time to Heal US-Turkey Wounds

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Time to Heal US-Turkey Wounds

Article excerpt

Imagine a stable, prosperous, secular Muslim democracy in the Middle East. The dream of just such an outcome was the worthiest, albeit least likely, of President Bush's stated aspirations for the war in Iraq.

Unfortunately, the way in which the administration has pursued this objective has damaged what remains the best hope for a successful moderate Muslim democracy in the region: Turkey.

Since the founding of the modern republic more than eight decades ago, Turkey has charted a long and uneven journey toward democracy. A responsible member of the NATO alliance, it was among America's most dependable and effective allies in a turbulent region.

The Pew Research Center poll of 2000 found that 52 percent of Turks held a favorable view of America, a higher percent than any country in the region other than Israel.

Since then, things seem to have gone terribly wrong. The 2007 Pew poll found US favorability in Turkey has plummeted to 9 percent. Even more remarkable, Turks now see the US as the single biggest threat to their nation's security. Far from bolstering what could be an exemplar for the region, the Bush administration is responsible for a catastrophic collapse in bilateral relations.

America's unpopularity stems from Turks' perception that US policies are making their country more insecure at a time of great insecurity. As it modernizes to meet the political and economic criteria for joining the European Union (EU), Turkey has undertaken wrenching reforms. Rather than dampening factors that could fuel religious extremism and ethnic separatism, the policies of the US and some EU member countries have served to accentuate them.

Ironically, the schism in US-Turkish relations took place as a result of democracy at work. In March 2003, with 90 percent of the Turkish public opposed to the US invasion of Iraq, parliament voted down a measure allowing US forces to use Turkey's border with Iraq as a northern front in the invasion.

American officials suddenly found democracy an inconvenient obstacle. A former US ambassador to Turkey questioned Turkey's "democratic credentials," arguing that the government was pandering to the forces of public opinion, rather than providing enlightened leadership to its citizens.

Stung by Turkey's rejection, the Bush administration conducted the war in Iraq with no regard for Turkey's interests. A US-backed, autonomous, and increasingly emboldened Kurdistan Regional Government poses an existential threat to nationalists in Turkey. Failure to address the reality of a sanctuary in Iraqi Kurdistan for members of the PKK - a Turkish-Kurdish terrorist group - enrages even moderate Turks.

Imagine American reactions if terrorists were exploding bombs in American cities and then slipping across the border to sanctuaries in northern Mexico. …

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