Thursday, April 26, 2012

Is Moderate Turkey Losing Its Balance?

What will happen to the Mideast if the Turkish model of moderation fails to keep its balance on the tightrope of regional affairs?

At one level, Turkey appears heroic in the Mideast for its effort over the last several years to lead, indeed, create from whole cloth a moderate coalition to reform regional affairs. Rebuffed on all sides, it remains a coalition of one and even the one seems to be faltering. Washington slapped Ankara down when it tried to moderate the U.S.-Iranian nuclear dispute before Washington was quite ready even to discuss a balanced resolution, then its ties with Syria fell into disarray, and now Ankara—which by rights should have applauded Ankara’s help in avoiding Israeli attack—prefers Iraqi (!) mediation. Making matters considerably more complicated, Ankara has been violating Iraq’s borders to attack Kurdish separatists, hardly a tactic designed to facilitate the “good-neighborliness” Davutoglu keeps proclaiming, and recently Ankara seems to have been intentionally getting itself embroiled in the very dangerous relationship between Iraqi Kurdistan and Baghdad.

Then there’s that old bugaboo of Turkish military involvement in Turkish domestic politics.

More military officers, including retired Gen. Erol Özkasnak, a leading actor in the Feb. 28, 1997 unarmed military intervention, were detained on Thursday after the Ankara Specially Authorized Prosecutor’s Office issued warrants for eight retired and four active duty officers as part of a deepening probe into the 1997 coup. [Today’s Zaman 4/22/12.]

The process of bringing rogue military leaders to justice is, at long last, going even further back:

The trial of a former general who went on to become Turkey's president and another former senior soldier have gone on trial in Ankara over their alleged roles in the country's 1980 military coup.An Ankara court on Wednesday began hearing the case against 94-year-old Kenan Evren and former air force commander Tahsin Sahinkaya, who is now 87. [Al Jazeera 4/4/12.]

Supporters of Turkish democracy can find reassurance in the ability of the government to investigate old accusations of illegal behavior by the military, and yet, one wonders what troubles this “deepening probe” may bring to a young democracy that simultaneously faces continuing domestic ethnic problems and rising regional entanglements with the same ethnic group. Questionable accusations against the military, shadowy Islamists, the incomplete nature of reforms under Erdogan to place the military securely under governmental control, and pointed public comments about the abortive Turkish military effort in 2007 to tell the government what to do all add up to a confusing and potentially unstable Turkish domestic political situation. Meanwhile, Turkey has found cooperation with Iran to be a political minefield and its trumpeted ties with Syria are worsening by the day as Syria slides toward Sunni radicalism.

As bad as events in the Mideast have been over the past decade, the likelihood of another decade as bad seems high. The moderate Arab Spring has been largely subverted, Israeli threats of war continue unabated, and the Iranian-Saudi competition for regional influence seems to be hardening and spreading. Egyptian democracy advocates may yet regain the initiative, but to date, the bright spot in Mideast affairs has been Turkish domestic democratization and international policy of “good-neigborliness.” Both Turkey and the Mideast will be impoverished and endangered to the degree that Turkey’s domestic democratization and regional moderation processes are undermined.  

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