If you think back over a few years or even a couple of decades how often to remember seeing anything about Turkey in the news? It is a good guess you can’t recall any. Don’t feel bad there weren’t that many anyway. But if you are a person who does keep up with the news a bit then you will surely have noted that Turkey now appears regularly on the back pages of the paper. It doesn’t make headlines but there are the little bits here and there. This has accelerated since the Islamists have increased their power in the government in the last decade. That increase in power is working its inevitable influence on the Turkish government and policies both domestically and on the diplomatic scene. These changes have and will have a profound effect on the US and its European allies and present the West with another set of challenges in dealing with the Islamist around the world.
Hate to bore anyone with a geography lesson but it is essential to understanding the importance of Turkey. It truly is the epicenter of where East meets West and where the Mid East meets West. It is the bridge between those two worlds and has been for millenia. From the time of Troy to Alexander the Great and the World Wars that has been vital territory for empires, kings, tyrants and rulers of all stripes. It has also been the historic melting pot for cultures and religions over the history of Man. The US is a new comer relatively speaking as a melting pot compared to Turkey. It fell under the influence of Islam centuries ago and that conquest was completed when Constantinople fell to the Islamist in 1453 and allowed a permanent foothold on Europe proper for the Muslims that has endured to this day.
Istanbul controls the entrance to the Black Sea. You may not think that is very important but ask the Russians, it has been their dream for centuries to have power over that vital outlet to the world by access to the Mediterranean Sea. The Sea of Marmara at Istanbul separates Europe and the Mid East by only a few miles. You can see across the expanse from one land mass to the other. Whoever controls that passage controls the Black Sea. They even have a back on a few miles to the southwest in the Dardanelles and the Hellespont where once again the seas narrow so much you can look across from one to the other.
Think of the hot spots in the world today and Turkey either shares a border with it or is within a relative stone’s throw away. The obvious ones are Iraq, Iran, Syria, Armenia and Georgia. Israel is only a short drive to the south as is Lebanon. The Ottoman Empire waxed and waned for centuries but the critical mass of Turkey has been under Muslim domination for lo these centuries. When the Ottoman Empire was weakened by the events of WWI the young and ambitious in Turkey led a revolt to modernize the country and bring it into the 20th century. They were successful and although they did not ever come close to abandoning Islam they were mostly secular in their outlook about government and economics and politics. It was not a theocracy anymore. The advances they made were so profound that the European Union began to give serious consideration within the last decade to admitting Turkey as a member state. Recent developments have put that idea of hold if not killed it for a generation of more, depending on the near future events in Turkey.
Under the rule of the Young Turks and their successors Turkey was mostly a civilized and westernized state with basic freedoms and prohibitions on allowing Islam to dominate the government or its policies. The new party in Turkey has begun to change that and it is rapidly moving to return Islam to the forefront of power. From schooling to dress to allowing westerners to dress and drink in their many tourists attractions they are clamping down with Islamist injunctions on behavior and culture. The secularists in Turkey are under assault on all fronts and many have been recently arrested for alleged plots to revolt and eject the current religious party. You don’t have to be a member of some fancy think tank to observe and realize they are winning and likely will have total control of the country in the very near future.
The new Muslims in charge are already playing more than footsy with Iran and Syria and are suspected of having support groups for Hamas and Hezbollah both covert and overt. Historically Turkey has been a supporter of Israel out of perceived self-interest but that perception appears to be changing. Now the thinking there is they are better off in partnerships with the more radical Islamists governments in the area. That carries serious implications for the US and Europe. You think it is hard now to travel from Pakistan or Yemen to the US then just imagine how much easier it will be for new radical Islamist terrorist to travel in and out of Turkey to destinations in the West. Turkey has a well-armed and funded military thanks in large part to the US and NATO. One wonders if we have been supplying our future enemy.
Once the Islamist have a firm grip on total control of government the reliability as an ally will be questionable at best. They will be having a new effort to rewrite their Constitution this year. If that succeeds the US and Europe need to treat Turkey as not an ally but an adversary to be dealt with firmly and looking only to our own protection and interests. Name one place where the Islamist once in power have ever willingly allowed civil liberties and western rights without a war? For our own best interest we need to recognize that this Turkey is done and stick a fork in it. We don’t need to invade or anything that dramatic but we should never turn our back on them for one minute and treat them as hostiles with whom we have a truce. They will be in the enemy camp or at least their informal allies.
“Almost any man worth is salt would fight to defend his home, but no one ever heard of a man going to war for his boarding house.” Mark Twain. http://www.olcranky.wordpress.com