US Diplomatic Strategy in Turkey Based on Outdated Roadmap ; the Head of Turkey's Ruling Party Announced Plans Yesterday to Seek a Second Vote on US Troops

By Ilene R. Prusher Writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, March 5, 2003 | Go to article overview

US Diplomatic Strategy in Turkey Based on Outdated Roadmap ; the Head of Turkey's Ruling Party Announced Plans Yesterday to Seek a Second Vote on US Troops


Ilene R. Prusher Writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


It was a gentlemen's disagreement that turned into an arm wrestle.

According to conventional wisdom, there was no question whose arm would fold when Turkey went elbow-to-elbow with its superpower ally. But the conventional wisdom that has shaped ties between the US and Turkey since World War II may have proven to be an outdated playbook for reaching a deal to base tens of thousands of US troops here for a war against Iraq.

Turks say that trying to force their arm - and assuming that it would give way without much resistance - is a strategy that has backfired on the Bush administration. Among the developments that prickled politicians here most: Washington's deadline for an answer before a week-long Muslim holiday, the image of US ships hovering off the coast of Turkey, and American newspaper cartoons depicting Turkey as a slippery rug dealer.

"The [US] stance during the talks and American publications that hurt Turkey's feelings had a negative effect," Prime Minister Abdullah Gul told Secretary of State Colin Powell after Saturday's parliamentary vote failed to support US troop presence, according to the daily Milliyet.

Others here acknowledge that Turkey's new leadership and old military establishment had, in recent months, indicated that Turkish cooperation was inevitable and that parliament would rubber-stamp any decision by the country's higher-ups.

That may have been the case in a 20th-century Turkey, one in which power was centralized, geography meant Ankara was a bulwark against Soviet communism, and the nation's secular leadership could not fathom being ruled by an Islamic-inspired party. But this is 21st-century Turkey, where a ruling party with conservative Muslim roots worries about constituents who see a US-led war as an imperialist, oil-driven crusade at best and as a war on Islam at worst.

In the current diplomatic quake, several analysts say both sides are at fault. But it is Turkey whose geography still makes it a coveted staging ground for the Bush administration, which has muted its frustration with Ankara in the hopes that a second vote on basing troops here could be forthcoming.

The shock of this weekend's "no" vote here not only has the Pentagon's war plans in a holding pattern, it raises the possibility that the US may ultimately look for closer cooperation with key Kurdish factions in northern Iraq. These groups, however, have in recent weeks complained that Washington was preparing to give Turkey too much leeway to suppress Kurdish self-rule during the course of the war.

On Monday, the Pentagon ordered another 60,000 US troops to the Gulf Region, which would bring the number of US and British forces there to more than 230,000. But it's not clear whether the Bush administration could wait another two weeks, the amount of time Turkish officials estimate it would take for another motion to be brought to parliament.

Yesterday, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the head of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party announced that the government would pursue another vote in parliament, but failed to specify when. …

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