Thursday, January 16, 2003

I seem to be turning into a lefty SmarterTimes lately. Put it down to pressure and time constraints. Grumpf.

That said, Safire's column today is a remarkable piece of work. Let's start with this:

The new, freely elected government in Ankara, with roots more Islamic than secular, is waffling about joining President Bush's "coalition of the willing" against Iraq. The old Turkish power structure --- the nation's military leadership and governmental establishment, which previously called the shots --- is laying back to show Europeans how sensitive to public opinion Turkey has become.

That public opinion is neither as pro-Saddam nor anti-U.S. as recent polls report it to be. When asked, "Are you for war?" of course the answer 9 times out of 10 will be "No," but if asked, "Are you for the overthrow of Saddam?" Turkish friends tell me the answer would be much more sharply divided.

So, Safire suggests tossing actual polls in favor of his own poll, based on a statistically sound random selection from among the Turks in his rolodex. So, let's try to take him at his word, and suppose that the latter procedure actually does yield a sounder result. I think a formal poll of the demonstrators at an American anti-war rally would show a strong positive response to the question "are you for the overthrow of Saddam?" --- provided it was achieved peaceably; even better if it didn't result in American support of a regime with a different face and the same basic policies (a likely result of an indigenous coup, given who makes up the current Iraqi power structure). But that doesn't mean support for that result achieved by war.

By the way, if Safire is going to take this nuanced approach to polling in Turkey, I'll trust him to note, the next time he mentions polls in America, that they only show unambiguous support for the war on conditions which Dubya hasn't yet met, particularly U.N. support, which probably won't be happening on Dubya's timetable. But back to the Turks.

Beyond the "waffling" of the Turkish government, and its failure to "prepare the public for the necessity of deposing Saddam" by force --- to Safire's evident disgust, the prime minister is actually "racing around to Arab capitals" trying to arrange a diplomatic solution (the brute!) --- Safire has a further complaint:

When the U.S. asked for permission, as required by Turkey's Constitution, to use bases in Turkey from which to stage an invasion, dickering began over how many hundreds of millions of dollars would be provided to upgrade the bases and lengthen landing fields. While this dragged on with no concrete being poured, an economic aid package was sought that Ankara estimates at $5 billion and U.S. sources say is more than double that.

Far from making such demands, Safire argues, the Turkish government should be "making parliamentary and construction arrangments to welcome the U.S. troops" at its own expense. He even suggests that the Turks should volunteer 100,000 troops of their own (and then takes it back almost instantly, noting that if that army took the Iraqi oilfields, it might not want to hand them over to the U.S.). Why?

... the unseemly hard bargaining going on now over money for military assistance is demeaning and could change the nature of the two nations' alliance.

And what is the nature of that alliance? Well, Safire describes it right at the top of his piece:

I like the Turks. They shared our human sacrifice in the Korean War, were a NATO bastion against the Soviet Union in the cold war, and provided all we asked for in gulf war I. In recent years, the "secret alliance" --- quiet military cooperation among the Turks, Israelis and Americans --- has been one of the few forces for stability in the Middle East.

That history of reliable alliance is the basis for longtime American support of Turkey's interests. This has ranged from influencing the International Monetary Fund to bolster its economy to urging the anti-Muslim European Union to admit this model of a secular Muslim democratic state.

The IMF is, as everyone knows, pretty much a creature of the United States Treasury. So, the alliance has been founded for a long time now on financial quid pro quos. If Safire wants to abandon that, then he's the one proposing to change the nature of the relationship. And, if you look into the text preceding the "unseemly hard bargaining" quote, you find out he doesn't seem to really mean it himself:

If the Turkish economy, already in deep trouble, takes a hit in the coming war, our ally could legitimately turn to the U.S. as well as to New Iraq's oil resources for recompense.

Spoils of war! Loser pays! Loot for everybody! It worked out so well at Versailles after World War I!

("New Iraq" --- Dubya's puppet regime already has a name. Crikey).

There's more to say here, even about just the bits I've quoted. One might wonder, for instance, what the Turkish Kurds think of Turkey's "model of a ... democratic state". The European Union does; their continuing mistreatment is one of the major things keeping Turkey out of the "anti-Muslim European Union" (many of whose leading states support large Muslim populations). But I'll just close where Safire does, with this:

But if Turkey acted like a strategic ally rather than a nervous renter of bases, it would have an unwavering superpower on its side for decades to come.

Ah yes, America has always stood by allies who qualified themselves with a willingness to do our dirty work. They have a long-time member of a former "secret alliance" with America right to their south, who is surely reminding them right now what firm allies the Americans can be. His name is Saddam Hussein.


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