Turkey’s Future/ More on the Iraq Surge

Jul 31, 2007 | AIJAC staff

Update from AIJAC

July 31, 2007
Number 07/07 #11

Today’s Update features a couple of pieces looking knowledgeably at the aftermath of the Turkish election last week, where the AKP party, which has Islamist roots, convincingly won re-election.

First up is top Israeli scholar Barry Rubin, who spends a lot of his time in Turkey and edits the journal Turkish Studies. In an interview with an English language Turkish daily, Today’s Zaman, he points out the questions which clearly exist about the way in which the AKP is going to take the country forward, and also some of the signs to look for in evaluating its future path. Rubin, who is due in Australia for a round of speeches and briefing next week, also has some pointed comments about Turkey’s changing relationship with the West. For this evaluation from a highly knowledgeable scholar, CLICK HERE

Next up is Turkish-American scholar Soner Cagaptay, who argues that despite the robustness of Turkish democracy and the growing capitalist economy, there are signs the country is becoming less liberal and less aligned with the West. He particularly points to polls indicating that the country has become the most anti-American in the world, and also increasingly anti-Western, driven in part by AKP pronouncements, appointments and policies. For Cagaptay’s discussion of some of the more worrying signs from Turkey, CLICK HERE.

Finally, we also include an important addition to the last Update dealing with the state of the “Surge” in Iraq. The authors, Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, both of the well-known Brookings Institute strategic thinktank, have been strong critics of the Bush Administration’s handling of the Iraq war up to now.  However, after a recent trip to Iraq, they are now arguing that there are definite signs of military progress there thanks to the “surge” and, while acknowledging there are still many challenges, it would be a mistake to start pulling out troops until there is more time to see what can be accomplished. For this description of the reality of the “surge’s” accomplishments from two prominent Iraq war critics, CLICK HERE.

Barry Rubin: Secular or Islamist still on Turks’ minds

Today’s Zaman, July 28, 2007

Is the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) going to make Turkey Islamist or not?

Which path the victorious party of the July 22 voting will take the country down is the main question Professor Barry Rubin asks while evaluating the situation after a suspenseful election process.

Rubin, director of the Global Research for International Affairs Center, a research center located at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya (IDC), said the AK Party, which won 47 percent of the vote in the July 22 election and will have almost two-thirds of the seats in Parliament, is a pragmatic, conservative and business-oriented moderate party despite its roots as an Islamic-oriented one.

However, he added that in societal terms, the party probably is up to transforming Turkey from a secular into a more Islamic society.

“There is a lot of evidence that the AK Party is moderate and democratic, both in terms of its behavior and composition. The party’s leader, Tayyip Erdooan, made a very conciliatory speech after the election, hitting all the right notes to calm any concerns Turks might have about his intentions,” he said.

But Rubin said the AK Party needs to pass some tests to gain people’s trust — the first one being the presidency and then the important appointments.”On the other hand, [Foreign Minister] Mr. [Abdullah] Gul’s press conference [on July 25] showed something else, a greater confidence and desire to make demands. So if you compare these two speeches, you get a very good idea of the two options in front of the party.”

Rubin, who was in Turkey for meetings and observations about the election, said that Turks hope Erdooan’s remarks point to the direction Turkey will pursue.

After a roundtable meeting arranged by the ARI Movement, an independent Turkish youth organization involved in high-level debates about regional security issues, Rubin answered questions for Today’s Zaman.

*In one of your articles you asked if Turkey will Islamify? What did you mean by that?

I made up a new word because Islamism is a radical, political philosophy that says Islam should rule politically. Islamic is a word that refers to the religion. The word Islamify is somewhere in between. Now you have secularism. Is the situation going to move from secularism — with religion in second place — to an open system where both are equal? Or is it going to tip over to a third situation, one in which what some people define as proper Islamic behavior will rule and then people who don’t do that are going to be punished? What’s Turkey going to be like in 15 or 20 years? That’s the question.

*What do you think Turkey is going to be like?

I don’t know. Nobody knows. No matter what party you support or who you are, nobody knows what’s going to happen. No one knows if this government will last three years or 20 years.

*Why do you think there is such unpredictability?

What the leadership of the AK Party really wants is important. They’ve turned the corner and now they are moderate conservatives with the image of being a family values and a business-oriented party whose historical roots are not so important. That’s possible. Or is this a party many of whose members want to create a new kind of society in Turkey?

*So what are the criteria for evaluating the AK Party’s route?

There are three areas to look at. First of all foreign policy; the old position of a Turkey allied with the West is no longer true. Secondly, social factors; what happens when social changes and pressures affect people. For example, there is reason to believe that certain companies feel that they may not get government contracts any more because they don’t take the right political stand. And is that true and is that going to happen? Is there going to be favoritism? Is there going to be pressure on people in their jobs?

*Should the AK Party redefine what it stands for?

The question is what they stand for. If they are moderate and don’t make much change over the way they have governed for the past five years, and if they pick a president everyone likes, then people will continue to believe that the party is in fact moderate and centrist. They have to continue to prove themselves. The danger here is triumphalism. It means that if you feel like you win totally, you can do whatever you want. If the leadership says we’ve won 47 percent, we’re the party of the people, and we can do whatever we want, then a lot of voters might change their minds. The question is: Is [Prime Minister] Erdooan smarter than that? So far he has been. If he is not, then the party is going to go down, and in three years people are going to vote them out of office. So a lot depends on Erdooan. What is he thinking right now? His speech after the election indicated something.

*What did it indicate?

That he understands this danger. But on the other hand [Foreign Minister] Mr. [Abdullah] Gul’s press conference [on July 25] showed something else, a greater confidence and desire to make demands. So if you compare these two speeches, you get a very good idea of the two options in front of the party.

*You think Gul’s speech at the press conference didn’t help Prime Minister Erdooan much?

I think [it is interesting] to compare these two speeches; Erdooan’s speech was very conciliatory. And I talked to people and they said they were really impressed, although they were opponents of the party, that this is what they wanted to hear — that they [the AK Party] would continue to try to bring everyone together, not do anything extreme and keep the country on its course. But at Mr. Gul’s press conference, he was saying the election was a referendum about him being president; they won and this shows the people want him to be president. This is, of course, their first-right decision — who to choose to be the president. Whereas, Mr. Erdooan in his speech was saying, we understand that we can do what we want to do because we were elected on the basis of being a centrist party. There are problems including one very big one, maybe two very big ones.

*What are they?

Actually, I think there are three problems. Are they are going to continue on what they have worked on until know? Turkey has three basic choices: secularism, an open system or a more Islamic system. I think the party clearly intends to move Turkey from secularism to a more even system, to a more open system of equality between the secular and the religious. The question is, they’ve now reached the point, some of the main decisions are going to be made about that move.

*What main decisions?

Who can be an army officer? Can you be an AK Party supporter and strongly practicing as an army officer? What kind of judges are you going to have? Are you going to have judges who may make ruling more because of considerations of Islamic law? What are you going to do with the educational system? Are you going to have equality between the Islamic — the prayer leaders’– schools and the government schools? And each of these decisions is going to be very controversial; how will they handle them, how hard will they push, how quickly will they move? So, that’s the first problem. And a lot of that is tied up with the presidency because the president can make certain decisions.

*You’ve mentioned three problems…

The second problem, I think, is the problem of the economy. I don’t think there is any question that the good state of the economy was perhaps the single most important issue in the election, but can they keep this up? And there are certain dangerous sides. A key element of the success is the high interest rates. But if you continue the high interest rates, you have to pay the interest. And it is possible that at some point there could be a major crisis. Especially because this could mean that money is flowing out of Turkey. So, what happens if the economy doesn’t do well? Will that mean they’d lose their support? That would bring a lot of political change.

*And what is the third problem?

The third big problem issue is foreign policy. The most important issue in the Middle East and perhaps in the world is the question of radical Islamism. Iran is seeking nuclear weapons, it’s becoming more powerful. There is a war in Iraq between two groups, I mean Sunnis and Shiites are the Islamist movements, and the Iraqi government is strongly Islamic flavored. You have the problem of Hezbollah trying to take over Lebanon. You have a problem of Syria even though it is a relatively secular regime, but is acting as if it were Islamist and supporting Islamist movements. You have Hamas trying to take over, perhaps taking over the Palestinian movement, the Muslim brothers. … The US to some extent and the West in general are against this development. But the Turkish government under the AK Party does not view these forces as enemies. I think it’s important to remember that even if within Turkey, the party is not necessarily so Islamist, internationally it sees these as friends. This puts it [the AK Party] on the opposite side of the West.

*What do you think of the reporting of the election in the Western media?

I think that the problem with the media coverage is that it doesn’t reflect the issues and the problems, complexities I’ve talked about. It tended to be,”These people are moderate, it’s okay, don’t worry and everything is fine.” And I am not saying it should be negative and say,”This is terrible, Turkey is going to become an Islamic state.” But I do think it should be more even-handed, and the problem is that the Western media coverage sees Turkey in terms of what the people who write it are thinking.

*So you think Turkey is really unique…

Totally unique people, unique history and the whole approach is completely different. The existence of the AK Party as it is, is totally unique. That’s by the way an important point. Because in the Western media coverage they want to say,”Turkey will be a model to other Muslim majority countries and Turkey will be a model for the Arab world.” I have to tell you, in 35 years of working in the Middle East I have never heard any Arab view Turkey as a model. Turkey is Turkey, and it deserves the respect of studying it separately. I feel very strongly that this is not going to help Turkey in terms of the European Union. Because I don’t think that the French, German and other governments are saying:”Oh, Turkey now has half the population voting for an Islam-oriented party, that’s no problem.” I think they’re going to be scared. I think that the government reaction in Europe is totally different from the European media reaction and I think in the US it’s somewhat different. I think there are certain people in the US government who are going to say,”This is good because this is moderate Islam.” But I don’t believe that the majority of the people in the US government are happy about it. I think they’re happy that it happened peacefully, they’re glad the AK Party is centrist rather than not.

*Could you elaborate on the relationship between Turkey and the United States?

Although no one is going to say so in the government, the nature of the relationship between Turkey and the US has changed in very big way. That’s my job to say things that no one else wants to say. I think that between 1946, and I don’t know what year, should I say 2002 or 2003, Turkey and the US were ally countries. And I don’t think they’re ally countries today. Not because of northern Iraq, simply because the Turkish government is on the other side. The government is on the other side on key issues. And the Kurdish issue is important for Turkey, but the Kurdish issue is not the problem; the Kurdish issue is the result. The Kurdish issue is important, but it is not the only issue for Turkey. In Iran right now, Mr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; is this the person you want to have as your closest ally? The AK Party has avoided the [former Prime Minister Necmettin] Erbakan’s foreign policy but it is in some way in that direction. I don’t think that Iran’s nuclear weapons program is good for the Turkish interests. I don’t think that the gulf dominated by Iran is good for the Turkish interests.

*You don’t mean Turkey and the US are enemies now…

It’s very easy to misunderstand my words. Countries can be enemies; they can be allies; they could be friendly and they could have good relations. Turkey and the US are not enemies, but they are not allies; they have good relations. And incidentally the same thing applies to Europe. I think, under an AK Party government, Turkey will have good relations with Europe.

*Do you see that happening?
There is no respective opposition. The collapse of central-right parties, the True Path Party [DYP], the Motherland Party [ANAVATAN], there is no big central right party; that’s problem number one. Problem number two is the paralysis of the CHP [Republican People’s Party]. [The head of the CHP] Mr. [Deniz] Baykal seems to be set to be in power for the rest of the 21st century. I mean he doesn’t seem able to do the job. Maybe the next party that’ll govern Turkey would be the MHP [Nationalist Movement Party] if people get tired of the AK Party, and if the CHP cannot increase its votes, and there’s no center-right party. Where are people going to turn? And the MHP could become a centrist party that could govern. Is that going to happen or not, again we don’t know. So the election wasn’t the end of history; the election is the beginning of what may be — some people would think this is exaggerating it — but what may be the second or third big era in the history of the Turkish Republic.


Liberal Turkey?

By Soner Cagaptay

Wall Street Journal Europe, July 30, 2007

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, the AKP, emerged victorious in the July 22 parliamentary elections with a solid 47 percent of the vote. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in office since 2003, will also head the next government. While rooted in Turkey’s Islamist opposition, the AKP declared itself a liberal movement when it came to power five years ago. So, as the party gets ready for another five years in office, is the AKP really a liberal party? Let’s have a look at its record so far.

* * *

Under the AKP, there have been two dramatic changes in Turkey. First, the country has become a choice market for foreign investment. Until 2003, Turkey attracted a measly $1 billion a year in foreign direct investment. By contrast, in 2006, Turkey received over $20 billion. The AKP has privatized state-owned enterprises. Thanks to its pro-business policies, the AKP has rightfully received much praise as an economically liberal party.

However, capitalism alone does not make a country liberal. It also needs a sense of common destiny with the Western world, a sense sorely missing in the AKP’s Turkey.

In addition to the FDI boom, a second and decidedly illiberal shift has taken place in Turkey under the AKP. Before the party took office, Turkey ranked first in pro-American sentiment among Muslim majority countries. According to polls, once staunchly pro-Western Turkey has now become the most anti-American country in the world. A 2007 Pew Center Poll puts Turkey at the bottom of the list; fewer than 9 percent of Turks today say they like the United States, and I think I know all of them.

Part of the decline in Turkish pro-American attitudes can be attributed to the lack of U.S. action in response to terror attacks by the Kurdistan Workers Party, the PKK, from its safe haven in northern Iraq. Yet the drop in pro-American sentiment in Turkey is sharper than in the broader Middle East. Today the percentage of Turks who hate the U.S. is higher than among Palestinians, and the slump in pro-American sentiments in Turkey is four times greater than that in Jordan.

Anti-Westernism comes through clearly in the AKP’s rhetoric, acts and bureaucratic appointments. The ruling party has for years lambasted the U.S. for its actions in Iraq. For instance, the AKP head of the human rights commission in the Turkish parliament claimed in November 2004 that the U.S. troops were committing massacres in Iraq. In February 2006, the AKP speaker of the parliament praised the notorious film Valley of the Wolves, which depicts the Iraq war as an organ-harvesting operation run by greedy Jews and American fundamentalist Christians. After this positive endorsement, a record-breaking 4.5 million Turks went to see the film.

Recently, the AKP has muted its anti-U.S. rhetoric and boosted cooperation with Washington on important issues, including Iraq. Three-fourths of all cargo going to Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, flies through Turkey. But while the AKP benefits from good ties with Washington, the government fails to explain such ties to the Turkish public.

Not long ago, I chatted with three 17-year-old Turks in a lower-middle class suburb of Istanbul. The staunchly secular men had come of age during the war, and had only horrible things to say about the U.S. When I asked for proof of their claims that the U.S. was committing war crimes in Iraq, they cited repeated AKP statements on the issue. That an overwhelming majority of Turks do not read English or other foreign languages means that they form impressions of the U.S. through local papers and the daily rhetoric of their country’s leaders. After years of anti-U.S. rhetoric, a negative view of the United States is now so pervasive that secular Turks, and their parties, are also on board.

The AKP has distanced itself from the West with specific policies, as well. Before the AKP, Turkey had a thriving military relationship with Israel. Joint defense projects totaling over $3.3 billion between 1995 and 2003 formed an important pillar of growing bilateral ties. What’s more, these contracts provided Turkey with sensitive high-tech weaponry that proved useful in its struggle against the PKK. This is not the case today, as a bureaucrat from the Turkish Defense Ministry told me during a recent visit to Ankara. Since 2003, companies doing business with Israel have been methodically excluded from defense contracts. Defense projects with Israel have totalled only $245 million in the past four years.

True, Turkey hands out fewer defense contracts today than in the 1990s. And even then, for some reason, the contracts the Israelis get move into a slow motion world. For instance, the largest AKP era Israeli-Turkish deal, an unmanned aerial vehicle (drone) project, is at a standstill. The Israeli company that’s due to deliver the drones to Turkey by next year has been granted only one meeting with the AKP-run bureaucracy.

Finally, the AKP’s appointments are driving illiberalism. I was recently in Midyat, in southeastern Turkey, to see the monasteries of the Syriac Church. Many Syriac Christians were driven out of their homes by the PKK in the 1990s. A community leader told me that before the AKP, government authorities were helpful in facilitating their return. But the new AKP-appointed officials have a negative attitude toward Christians. When community leaders paid the newly arrived provincial governor a courtesy visit, the governor’s first words were: “I am a Muslim,” hardly the words befitting a liberal, secular state. And the return of Christians to Midyat has now been encumbered. In one of their villages, Elbegendi, the Christians have built new homes with the hope of returning, but the AKP governor has refused to pave their roads. So Elbegendi is a Kafkaesque site, with brand new villas, mud on the streets and no public services in sight.

* * *

From Midyat to the suburbs of Istanbul, a new Turkey is taking shape, away from the attention of Western financial markets, the glitter of Istanbul’s moneyed class, and the fancy drinking holes on the Bosporus. Capitalism alone does not make a party or country Western or liberal.

The new AKP government can prove its liberal credentials in its second turn in power by desisting from political illiberalism and anti-Westernism. This is a chance Turkey cannot afford to miss.

Mr. Cagaptay, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, is the author of Islam, Secularism, Nationalism in Modern Turkey: Who Is a Turk? (Routledge, 2006).


A War We Just Might Win


New York Times, July 30, 2007

VIEWED from Iraq, where we just spent eight days meeting with American and Iraqi military and civilian personnel, the political debate in Washington is surreal. The Bush administration has over four years lost essentially all credibility. Yet now the administration’s critics, in part as a result, seem unaware of the significant changes taking place.

Here is the most important thing Americans need to understand: We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms. As two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq, we were surprised by the gains we saw and the potential to produce not necessarily “victory” but a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with.

After the furnace-like heat, the first thing you notice when you land in Baghdad is the morale of our troops. In previous trips to Iraq we often found American troops angry and frustrated — many sensed they had the wrong strategy, were using the wrong tactics and were risking their lives in pursuit of an approach that could not work.

Today, morale is high. The soldiers and marines told us they feel that they now have a superb commander in Gen. David Petraeus; they are confident in his strategy, they see real results, and they feel now they have the numbers needed to make a real difference.

Everywhere, Army and Marine units were focused on securing the Iraqi population, working with Iraqi security units, creating new political and economic arrangements at the local level and providing basic services — electricity, fuel, clean water and sanitation — to the people. Yet in each place, operations had been appropriately tailored to the specific needs of the community. As a result, civilian fatality rates are down roughly a third since the surge began — though they remain very high, underscoring how much more still needs to be done.

In Ramadi, for example, we talked with an outstanding Marine captain whose company was living in harmony in a complex with a (largely Sunni) Iraqi police company and a (largely Shiite) Iraqi Army unit. He and his men had built an Arab-style living room, where he met with the local Sunni sheiks — all formerly allies of Al Qaeda and other jihadist groups — who were now competing to secure his friendship.

In Baghdad’s Ghazaliya neighborhood, which has seen some of the worst sectarian combat, we walked a street slowly coming back to life with stores and shoppers. The Sunni residents were unhappy with the nearby police checkpoint, where Shiite officers reportedly abused them, but they seemed genuinely happy with the American soldiers and a mostly Kurdish Iraqi Army company patrolling the street. The local Sunni militia even had agreed to confine itself to its compound once the Americans and Iraqi units arrived.

We traveled to the northern cities of Tal Afar and Mosul. This is an ethnically rich area, with large numbers of Sunni Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens. American troop levels in both cities now number only in the hundreds because the Iraqis have stepped up to the plate. Reliable police officers man the checkpoints in the cities, while Iraqi Army troops cover the countryside. A local mayor told us his greatest fear was an overly rapid American departure from Iraq. All across the country, the dependability of Iraqi security forces over the long term remains a major question mark.

But for now, things look much better than before. American advisers told us that many of the corrupt and sectarian Iraqi commanders who once infested the force have been removed. The American high command assesses that more than three-quarters of the Iraqi Army battalion commanders in Baghdad are now reliable partners (at least for as long as American forces remain in Iraq).

In addition, far more Iraqi units are well integrated in terms of ethnicity and religion. The Iraqi Army’s highly effective Third Infantry Division started out as overwhelmingly Kurdish in 2005. Today, it is 45 percent Shiite, 28 percent Kurdish, and 27 percent Sunni Arab.

In the past, few Iraqi units could do more than provide a few “jundis” (soldiers) to put a thin Iraqi face on largely American operations. Today, in only a few sectors did we find American commanders complaining that their Iraqi formations were useless — something that was the rule, not the exception, on a previous trip to Iraq in late 2005.

The additional American military formations brought in as part of the surge, General Petraeus’s determination to hold areas until they are truly secure before redeploying units, and the increasing competence of the Iraqis has had another critical effect: no more whack-a-mole, with insurgents popping back up after the Americans leave.

In war, sometimes it’s important to pick the right adversary, and in Iraq we seem to have done so. A major factor in the sudden change in American fortunes has been the outpouring of popular animus against Al Qaeda and other Salafist groups, as well as (to a lesser extent) against Moktada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

These groups have tried to impose Shariah law, brutalized average Iraqis to keep them in line, killed important local leaders and seized young women to marry off to their loyalists. The result has been that in the last six months Iraqis have begun to turn on the extremists and turn to the Americans for security and help. The most important and best-known example of this is in Anbar Province, which in less than six months has gone from the worst part of Iraq to the best (outside the Kurdish areas). Today the Sunni sheiks there are close to crippling Al Qaeda and its Salafist allies. Just a few months ago, American marines were fighting for every yard of Ramadi; last week we strolled down its streets without body armor.

Another surprise was how well the coalition’s new Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Teams are working. Wherever we found a fully staffed team, we also found local Iraqi leaders and businessmen cooperating with it to revive the local economy and build new political structures. Although much more needs to be done to create jobs, a new emphasis on microloans and small-scale projects was having some success where the previous aid programs often built white elephants.

In some places where we have failed to provide the civilian manpower to fill out the reconstruction teams, the surge has still allowed the military to fashion its own advisory groups from battalion, brigade and division staffs. We talked to dozens of military officers who before the war had known little about governance or business but were now ably immersing themselves in projects to provide the average Iraqi with a decent life.

Outside Baghdad, one of the biggest factors in the progress so far has been the efforts to decentralize power to the provinces and local governments. But more must be done. For example, the Iraqi National Police, which are controlled by the Interior Ministry, remain mostly a disaster. In response, many towns and neighborhoods are standing up local police forces, which generally prove more effective, less corrupt and less sectarian. The coalition has to force the warlords in Baghdad to allow the creation of neutral security forces beyond their control.

In the end, the situation in Iraq remains grave. In particular, we still face huge hurdles on the political front. Iraqi politicians of all stripes continue to dawdle and maneuver for position against one another when major steps towards reconciliation — or at least accommodation — are needed. This cannot continue indefinitely. Otherwise, once we begin to downsize, important communities may not feel committed to the status quo, and Iraqi security forces may splinter along ethnic and religious lines.

How much longer should American troops keep fighting and dying to build a new Iraq while Iraqi leaders fail to do their part? And how much longer can we wear down our forces in this mission? These haunting questions underscore the reality that the surge cannot go on forever. But there is enough good happening on the battlefields of Iraq today that Congress should plan on sustaining the effort at least into 2008.

Michael E. O’Hanlon is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Kenneth M. Pollack is the director of research at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings.

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