Are US-Turkish ties getting strained over the Middle East?

The Daily Mirror was probably wrong when it asked, after last November’s US presidential election, how could 59,054,087 people be so dumb. The assumption that the world would have been a much safer place had the Democratic candidate, John Kerry, been elected is simplistic. It was going to be Pax Americana revisited, no matter which candidate was to win. From 1947, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) started to build a «consortium» whose double task it was to innoculate the world against the contagion of communism and to ease the application of American foreign policy interests abroad. The result was a remarkably tight network of people who worked alongside the agency to promote an idea: that the world needed a Pax Americana, a new age of enlightenment, and it would be called the American Century. It was called the American Century. The CIA, for a while, toyed with an idea: Who better to fight the communists than former communists? The idea later gave birth to the thesis which animated the mobilization of what cultural Cold Warriors called the Non-Communist Left (NCL), America’s main policy instrument in its psychological warfare against Soviet communism. The American spying establishment felt that democratic socialism was the most effective bulwark against totalitarianism. Although some American postwar policymakers felt that «they were being invited to summon up Beelzebub in order to defeat Satan,» America’s embrace of the NCL worked smoothly. It supported leftist groups to provide them with a mouthpiece so they could blow off steam – and, in extremis, to exercise a veto over their actions if they ever got too radical. Freedom houses like the Congress for Cultural Freedom and the National Committee for a Free Europe were not there to defend freedom only (British philosopher Bertrand Russell, for example, did not know his freedom comrades-in-arms were mere CIA subcontractors). More than half a century later, the old enemy no longer an enemy but a new one just emerging from the world’s «greener» parts, America’s doctrinal paper on Islam and democracy is exactly the same model as that used by the CIA to justify its embrace of the NCL. Fifty years ago America needed leftist intellectuals to boost the NCL against Soviet communism. Today it is boosting what it sees as mild Islamists against not-so-mild ones. Replace former communists with former Islamic militants, and the NCL with – well, why not call it the Non-Radical Islam – there you’ll get the picture. Different enemy, same policy tool. Hence, the Daily Mirror’s automatic assumption that a Democratic president would make the world a more decent one is a blend of fallacy and naivete in the extreme. As for Ankara, George W. Bush’s re-election would have meant a few things. First, it would be good news for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and not-so-bad news for the military establishment. The bitter dates like March 1, 2003 (when the Turkish Parliament refused to let American troops use Turkish territory for an attack against Iraq) and July 4, 2003 (when the American troops briefly detained 11 Turkish Special Forces in northern Iraq), now already remote memories, it would have been «business as usual.» After all, for Ankara, there had to be some truth in the argument «better the devil you know.» Once again, Pax Americana would invite all to summon up Beelzebub in order to defeat Satan. Well, all that is pure theory these days. In the span of a couple of months, the Turkish-American alliance has turned grossly bitter. First, the American government «noted» when Mr Erdogan banned his party officials from attending a reception hosted by the American ambassador in Ankara because the invitation referred to Istanbul’s Greek Orthodox Patriarch Vartholomaios as the «ecumenical patriarch.» Then the Turkish military «noted» when a group of Turkish policemen were machine gunned in northern Iraq while on their way to Baghdad to protect the Turkish Embassy there. A senior Turkish general implied, to put it mildly, an «American apathy» in the incident. Neither Mr Erdogan’s «undiplomatic» criticism of the Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip, nor the labeling by one of his senior deputies of the US offensive in Fallujah as «genocide» went unnoticed in Washington. Under pressure from his party’s Islamist grass roots, Mr Erdogan began to behave according to his «genes» rather than his «pragmatism.» US reluctance, despite repeated commitments to Ankara, for a military offensive against an estimated 5,000 armed PKK men now holed up in the northern Iraqi mountains has further soured the doctrinal alliance between Turkey and the USA. But worse is yet to come. The Iraqi elections will widen the differences between Ankara and Washington, especially over northern Iraq. Soon there will be a visible divergence of goals, preferences and interests in the occupied territory.