‘Peace at home, peace in the world’

Two of the countries whose fates have a direct effect on Greece – the United States and Turkey – held national elections in the past week. The results signal further change in a world that has become increasingly complicated. This is a time to be awake to the challenges and ready for the opportunities that strong governments in Washington and Ankara will entail. President George Bush took control of Congress in the mid-term elections on Tuesday, with the Republicans winning a majority in the Senate and strengthening their hold on the House of Representatives. Suddenly the man given the presidency by one Supreme Court vote two years ago threw off all doubts of his legitimacy. He has now been empowered to carry out an agenda that could leave a lasting legacy. And this is where the difficult part comes. As the United States faces an economic crunch that has come down hardest on the middle and lower incomes (whose spending is the backbone of the economy and the only hope for its recovery), Bush’s eye, in a news conference on Thursday, was fixed on Iraq. What worries the rest of the world most is if Bush now finds no obstacles in conducting a largely unilateralist foreign policy. To be fair, the United States worked through the United Nations to build a united, international front against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to a much greater extent than anyone would have considered likely a few months ago, leading to yesterday’s unanimous Security Council vote demanding that UN inspectors be allowed back into Iraq or face «serious consequences.» But the campaign against Saddam Hussein and his alleged weapons of mass destruction has clearly been an American one. The Bush administration is clearly determined to act alone if the UN does not approve of military action. So, a Bush who is victorious at home – and who has become used to victory as the only outcome of his contests – will probably not think too deeply about the possible costs of war. On the other hand, not having any domestic obstacles might make one a little more circumspect in foreign policy. Maybe Bush no longer needs to beat the drum of war to make the Democrats look unpatriotic, as they had already eschewed any real opposition role for the last few months. Maybe the knowledge that now nothing stands between them and Iraq will concentrate the minds of Bush and his advisers on what is at stake in this war. So, if the rest of the world cannot stop America, at least it can hope that it will act on the basis of facts rather than on the need to look strong. It is worth noting a related, and truly remarkable, event of the past week. On Sunday an unmanned CIA plane, a «drone» flying high above the Yemeni desert, fired a missile and killed six suspected members of Al Qaeda – including an alleged senior operative – as they traveled in a car. It turned out that the Yemeni government was aware of the action, which undercut the argument that the country’s sovereignty had been violated. But the incident was still remarkable in that this was clearly an extrajudicial killing, with the trigger being pulled by someone perhaps thousands of miles from the scene. Al Qaeda might be a great, shadowy threat calling for unorthodox measures, but it is chilling to consider what this can lead to if unchecked. This is the power of the United States that leaves the rest of us in awe. We can only hope that it will use it wisely. In short, Bush’s unquestioned supremacy at home and his country’s military dominance abroad mean that America will either act like someone who has no need to fear the consequences of his actions, or who will act carefully knowing that it will determine the way nations act in the future. He should also know that if things go awry, the blame is his alone. Smaller nations, in their wiser moments, have known that their survival and success depends on hitching their wagon to a stronger power at the right time. Greece’s history is full of such lessons. When it has been in sync with the policies and desires of greater powers, it has benefited and its territory has grown. When it has acted as if the world had to understand and support its own desires (as in Asia Minor before the catastrophe of 1922) it has overreached tragically. That does not mean that smaller nations should lie down and wait for the big ones to act; on the contrary, they should use imagination, their understanding of history and specialized knowledge of their regions to ride out the storms. If they cannot sway the policies of the great powers they can at least try to save what they can. Which brings us to Turkey. For the first time since the years after the military dictatorship of 1980 our neighbor has a strong government, as one party won nearly two thirds of the seats in the national assembly last Sunday. This should imply that, at last, Turkey will not be hamstrung by the machinations of precarious coalitions. The complication here, though, is that the winner is the Justice and Development Party led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan – a party, in other words, that rose from the ashes of Islamic parties crushed by the power of the secular Turkish state. Its leader was not allowed to run for parliament because he once read a poem that likened mosques to barracks and minarets to bayonets and was therefore imprisoned for «Islamic sedition.» Turkey is at a crucial point in its history, where the civilian and military authorities have to learn to live with each other, at the same time that its chief ally, the United States, is preparing a war against its neighbor, Iraq. It is a sign of the Turkish political system’s instincts that the previous government and Erdogan’s party both strenuously opposed war against Iraq but also indicated that when the time came they would support Washington. War against Iraq is far more dangerous and destabilizing for Turkey than for Greece. And the Turks know also that the Americans will make any promises to them, as well as to the Kurds of northern Iraq, to make their own task easier. The Kurds too know this, and are trying to maneuver into the best possible position from a bunch of risky options. The region’s future will depend on where all the pieces fall, how the players – the Turks, the Kurds and the Iraqis – will relate to each other and what treaties will be signed. We could be heading for the first rearrangement of borders since the «peace to end all peace» was signed at Versailles in 1919. Everyone now claims the borders are sacrosanct, but war has a way of drawing its own lines. Consider Cyprus, where the Turks are keen to achieve precisely what they do not want to see in the case of Iraq, a change of borders through military force. The Cyprus issue has come to a crucial point, with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s proposal for a solution due on Monday. Both the Greek and Turkish sides fear it may include unpalatable conditions, because both have spent 28 years cultivating maximalistic expectations. And Cyprus, the Turkish military’s sole success since it shepherded the modern Turkish state into existence in 1923, naturally became the ground on which Erdogan and the secular establishment clashed after the election. On Monday, Erdogan said that the Cyprus solution could be based on the «Belgian model,» that is a federation with a strong central government. On Tuesday the Greeks said this was «encouraging,» interpreting it as the end of Turksh demands for a confederation of independent states. On Wednesday the Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman said acidly that it was not up to Erdogan to decide Cyprus policy because this was a «state issue.» Yesterday, the chief of the military, Gen. Hilmi Ozkok, thundered, «The Turkish armed forces are as determined and resolved today and tomorrow as they were yesterday to protect the Republic… from all dangers, particularly radical Islam and separatism.» There we have it: The military will defend Turkey against any secret agenda of its new government as well as any presumption by the Kurds of northern Iraq and, by extension, Turkey. And this shows the huge distance between the United States and Turkey. The US president is commander-in-chief of his country’s armed forces, whereas the Turkish government is subordinate to its military. With a strong Islamist-leaning government, the country will be forced to confront the dichotomy between civilian and military rule. For the government and military to serve their people, they will have to be on the same side. Kemal Ataturk’s words «Peace at home, peace in the world» are carved into the heart of every Turk. To achieve it, government and military need to pursue compromise at home – while also enriching their foreign policy.

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