by Barry Rubin
President Barack Obama has made Turkey one of the first countries he’s visiting, intending to show support for what he thinks is a model moderate Muslim-majority democracy. Unfortunately, his presence and words will reinforce a regime that is increasingly Islamist, close to radical states, and encouraging anti-American propaganda at home.
A big effect of his visit will be to demoralize the opposition, both left and right, which interprets it as endorsing the party in power. He will thus help entrench a regime which is bad for U.S. interests and bad for Turkey.
Domestically, the AK government has been subverting democracy society, for example, by buying up or intimidating media, pushing women out of government jobs, and breaking the country’s secularism. Abroad, it has moved closer to Iran, Syria, and Islamist extremist groups like Hamas and Hizballah.
In addition, Obama is attending a meeting sponsored by the Alliance of Civilizations, a group based on an Iranian proposal, has been headed by two UN officials– Giandomenico Picco and Iqbal Riza—involved in helping Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in the oil-for-food scandal, and has endorsed punishing those deemed to have criticized Islam.
Of course, Turkey has long been a moderate democracy with a Muslim majority but that status was based on its secular state model. Equally, the AK government during its first years in power portrayed itself—and was understandably seen by many—as a center-right good-government party with an Islamic flavor that was of limited importance. As the party won elections and gained confidence, however, it has become more radical and intolerant.
Now it has lost some support in the local elections. This happened because its Islamism became so open and its arrogance so intense that a lot of voters were frightened. Will the regime now pull back? Perhaps for a while but it is still strongly entrenched and could argue that despite a decline in support, it is still very popular.
Here’s some things to watch for: Will Obama utter the word “secular” when praising Turkey? Will he mention Kemal Ataturk as Turkey’s great founder? Is he going to say anything nice about Turkey’s armed forces? Will he say that one of the great things about Turkey’s secular republic has been its progress on women’s rights?
In other words, will he show some awareness of the factors that made Turkey so successful or will he just turn into a cheerleader for the regime?
The United States needs good relations with Turkey but Obama will be lauding something which doesn’t exist. Good intentions; bad strategy; negative outcome.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books, go to http://www.gloria-center.org