Today’s Turkey is a cautionary tale for the West. But Western leaders are loath
to consider its lessons.
Ever since Turkey’s Islamist Justice and
Development AKP party under Recip Tayip Erdogan won the November 2002 elections,
Western officials have upheld the AKP, Erdogan and his colleagues as proof that
political Islam is consonant with democratic values. During Erdogan’s June 2005
visit to the White House, for instance, then-president George W. Bush praised
Turkish democracy as “an important example for the people in the broader Middle
Unfortunately, nine years into the AKP’s “democratic” regime it is
clear that Erdogan and his colleagues’ embrace of the language and tools of
democracy was a mile wide and an inch thick. They used democracy to gain
power. Now that they have power, they are systematically destroying freedom in
Turkey ranks 138th in the international media freedom
group Reporters Sans Frontieres country index on press freedom. Sixty-eight
journalists are languishing in Turkish jails for the crime of doing their job.
The most recent round-up of reporters occurred in early March. And it is
demonstrative of Turkey’s Islamist leaders’ exploitation of democratic freedoms
in the service of their tyrannical ends.
As Der Spiegel
week, veteran journalists Ahmet Sik from the far-left Radikal newspaper and
Nedim Sener from the highbrow Milliyet journal were among those rounded up. As
radical leftists, both men oppose the AKP’s Islamist politics. But they shared
its interest in weakening the Turkish military.
The Left opposed the
military’s constitutional role as the overseer of Turkish democracy because the
military used that role to persecute leftists. The AKP party opposed the
military’s power because it blocked the party’s path to Islamizing Turkish
society and politics. When the AKP turned its guns on the military it used
leftist journalists to support its actions.
This collusion came to a head
in 2007. In a bid to destroy the legitimacy of the military, the AKP regime has
engaged in unprecedented levels of wiretapping of the communications of senior
serving and retired generals.
This wiretapping operation preceded the
exposure in 2007 of the so-called Ergenekon conspiracy in which senior military
commanders, journalists, television personalities, entertainers and
businesspeople have been implicated in an alleged attempt to topple the AKP
government. As part of the Ergenekon investigation, over the past four years,
hundreds of non-Islamist leaders from generals to journalists have been arrested
and held without trial.
Ironically, Sik, who is now accused of membership
in the Ergenekon plot, was an editor at the leftist weekly magazine Notka that
“broke” the conspiracy story.
As Der Spiegel
notes, the arrest of Sik and
Sener shows that the AKP’s early embrace of investigative reporters and
championing of a free press was purely opportunistic. Once Sik, Sener and the
other 66 jailed reporters had finished discrediting the military, the regime had
no need for them. Indeed, they became a threat.
Both Sik and Sener have
recently written books documenting how Turkey’s version of the Muslim
Brotherhood, the Fetulah Gulen network, has taken over the country’s security
In an interview this month with the opposition Hurriyet Daily
News and Economic Review
, former Turkish president Suleyman Demirel warned that
the AKP has established “an empire of fear” in Turkey.
into Islamist tyranny has not simply destroyed freedom in Turkey. It has
transformed Turkey’s strategic posture in a manner that is disastrous for the
West. And yet, in this arena as well, the West refuses to notice what is
Earlier this week the US Ambassador to Ankara Francis
Ricciardone gave an interview to the Turkish media in which he romantically
upheld the US-Turkish partnership. As he put it, “Our interests are similar.
Even if we have different methods and targets, our strategic vision is the
Sadly, there is no way to square this declaration with Turkish
This week it was reported that NATO member Turkey is opening
something akin to a Taliban diplomatic mission in Ankara. Turkey supports Hamas
and Hizbullah. It has begun training the Syrian military. It supports Iran’s
nuclear weapons program. It has become the Iranian regime’s economic lifeline by
allowing the mullahs to use Turkish markets to bypass the UN sanctions
In less than 10 years, the AKP regime has dismantled Turkey’s
strategic alliance with Israel. It has inculcated the formerly tolerant if not
pro- Israel Turkish public with virulent anti-Semitism. It is this systematic
indoctrination to Jew-hatred that has emboldened Turkish leaders to announce
publicly that they support going to war against Israel.
government stands behind the al- Qaida- and Hamas- linked IHH group. IHH
organized last year’s pro-Hamas flotilla to Gaza in which IHH members brutally
attacked IDF naval commandoes engaged in a lawful mission to maintain Israel’s
lawful maritime blockade of Gaza’s coast. With the support of the Turkish
government, IHH is now planning an even larger flotilla to assault Israel’s
blockade of Gaza next month.
Actually, in a sign of the intimacy of its
ties to the AKP regime, this week IHH announced it is considering postponing the
next pro-Hamas flotilla in order to ensure that its illegal pro-terror campaign
will not harm the AKP’s electoral prospects in Turkey’s national elections
scheduled for June.
American and other Western officials have argued that
it would be wrong to distance their governments from Turkey or in any way
censure the NATO member because doing so will only strengthen the anti-Western
forces in the anti- Western government. Instead, Western leaders have done
everything they can to appease Erdogan.
The US even allowed him to invade
Unfortunately, this appeasement policy has only harmed
the West and NATO. Take the behavior of NATO’s Secretary-General and former
Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen. As Denmark’s prime minister,
Rasmussen stood up boldly to the Islamists when they demanded that he apologize
for the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten
’s publication of caricatures of
Muhammad in 2005. Yet when Turkey threatened to veto his appointment as NATO
secretary-general in 2009 over the Islamists’ rejection of free speech,
Rasmussen abandoned his strong defense of Western liberal values to placate the
In a humiliating speech Rasmussen said, “I was deeply distressed
that the cartoons were seen by many Muslims as an attempt by Denmark to mark or
insult or behave disrespectfully towards Islam or the Prophet Muhammad... I
respect Islam as one of the world’s major religions as well as its religious
Rasmussen then proceeded to appoint Turks to key positions in
Far from reining in Turkey’s anti-Western policies, by
maintaining Turkey in NATO Western powers have been forced to curtail their own
defense of their interests.
NATO’s incoherent mission in Libya is case in
point. It can be argued that Germany’s large and increasingly radicalized
Turkish minority played a role in German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to
risk her country’s good ties with Britain and France and refuse to support the
Libyan mission. So, too, it was reportedly due to President Barack
Obama’s deference to Turkey that the US failed to support the anti-regime forces
until Gaddafi organized a counteroffensive against them. So if as appears
increasingly likely, Gaddafi is able to survive the NATO-backed insurgents’ bid
to overthrow him, he will owe his survival in no small measure to
TURKEY IS a cautionary tale for the West, which is now faced
with the prospect of AKP-like regimes from Egypt to Tunisia to Jordan to the
Persian Gulf. And the real issue that Western leaders must address is how things
in Turkey were permitted to deteriorate to the point they have without any US or
European official lifting a finger to stem the Islamist tide? The answer, it
would seem, is a combination of professional laziness and cultural weakness.
This mix of factors is also on display in the US’s behavior toward the
revolutionary forces active throughout much of the Arab
Professional laziness stands at the root of the West’s decision
not to contend with the unpleasant truth that the AKP is an Islamist party whose
basic ideology has more in common with Osama bin Laden’s values than with George
Washington’s. This truth was always available. Erdogan and his colleagues
did not make any special efforts to hide what they stand for.
chose not to pay attention because its senior officials knew if they did, they
would have to do something. They would have had to distance themselves from
Turkey, remove Turkey from NATO and seek to contain the power of the Erdogan
regime. And this would have been hard and unpleasant.
So, too, they knew
that if they noticed the nature of the AKP they would have to throw themselves
deep into Turkish society and defend the superiority of Western values over
Islamist values. They would have had to locate and support Turkish
leaders who are willing to adopt Western values and then cultivate, fund and
empower them. This also would have been hard and unpleasant.
post-Mubarak Egypt, it is easier to believe fairy tales about Facebook
revolutions and Westernized student leaders than face the harsh truth that from
Amr Moussa to Mohamed ElBaradei to Yousef Qaradawi there are no leaders in
post-Mubarak Egypt who support the peace with Israel or believe that Egypt has
common interests with Israel and the US. There are no potential leaders in Egypt
who share Western values of individual liberty and human rights.
in Turkey, the price for recognizing these inconvenient facts is taking
effective action to counter them. As in Turkey, the West will be forced to do
hard things like develop a policy of containing rather than engaging Egypt, and
of identifying and cultivating forces in Egyptian society that are willing to
embrace John Locke, John Stuart Mill and Adam Smith over Hassan al-Banna and
Rather than do any of these hard things, Western leaders have
lied to themselves about the nature of these forces and regimes. They have told
themselves that there is no problem with the likes of Erdogan and his Egyptian
cohorts, and opted to limit their meddling in the internal affairs of others to
endless attempts to undermine and overthrow successive pro- Western, democratic,
non-leftist governments in Israel. These governments, they have argued, must be
replaced by leftist parties in order to feed the West’s fantasy that all the
problems of the region, all its Qaradawis and Erdogans, will magically become
Thomas Jeffersons and John Adamses if Israel would just cut a deal with the
This fantasy is convenient for lazy Western cultural cowards. They
know that there will be no pushback for their policies. Israel won’t attack
them. And by pretending the Islamists share their values and strategic interests
they are free to take no action to defend their values and strategic interests
from Islamist assault.
But while this strategy has been convenient for
policymakers, it has done great damage to their countries. The growing menace
that is Islamist Turkey teaches us that professional laziness and cultural
squeamishness are recipes for strategic