Friday, November 19, 2010
Exceptionalism is usually a term that the Americans love to couple it with their own country, and that generally refers to the extraordinary nature of the U.S. as “a uniquely free nation based on democratic ideals.”
Certainly, in order to talk about Turkish exceptionalism in this sense, Turkey has much ground to cover in terms of even reaching moderate democratic ideals, starting with a moderate freedom for its press. Though, on the foreign affairs track, Turkey has been able to play a much different and confident role, one that carries more colors of a Turkish exceptionalism. In this spirit, Turkey, in recent years, often found the audacity to opt for policy options that proved Turkey does not want to be restricted by the old way of Western alliance line ups.
However, the NATO alliance, led by the U.S., decided that it is about time to renew its collective commitment to each other and be sure that everyone on the same page about the future threats (ballistic threats that are expected mainly from Iran and non-state actors), the current monumental struggles (Afghanistan war and financial crises which continues to make a dent in defense budgets) and new strategic friendships (hopefully with Russia).
The alliance’s largest shareholder, the U.S., set an ambitious agenda for the Lisbon summit to reinforce and display this solidarity, which will be presented in the new strategic concept, for the first time during the post-9/11 period.
President Obama’s high ratings among Europeans, especially when comparing those ratings with the previous U.S. president, also come in handy and played an important factor in gaining the backing of the public.
One exception that seems to be ever more resentful to the Obama magic, besides America, unsurprisingly, is the Turkish public. Low ratings on the U.S. presence and policies in the region further encourages Turkey’s Justice and Development Party, or AKP, to voice objections more freely in the absence of any penalty or backlash. Currently, the nationalists and securalists in Turkey are even madder at the U.S. administration’s policies in recent years towards Turkey.
During the week, in Washington, U.S. senior administration officials made a series of briefings over the upcoming Lisbon summit. The officials were extremely careful not to criticize Turkey every single time they were asked about the situation.
Dr. Philip Gordon, an assistant secretary of state, who has toed a tougher policy line against Turkey in the past, was committed to not making a single statement that could be interpreted as criticism towards Ankara.
I was determined to push Gordon, out of a basic reporters curiosity, and asked: “Before the Toronto meeting between President Obama and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, you invited an AP reporter and stated that ‘we think Turkey remains committed to NATO, Europe, and the U.S., but that needs to be demonstrated.’ Do you think Ankara’s decision over this new NATO missile system is one of those moments” that should be understood in the same category of demonstration of commitment to the West by Turkey? Gordon did not reject the notion of the question, though he was not going to draw ire before the summit. He stated: “We believe there is a growing threat from ballistic missile proliferation, particularly short- and medium-range ballistic missiles that can threaten all of the alliance ... and that’s why the United States puts such a high priority on moving forward on missile defense. ... What we would like to see at the Lisbon summit is for all allies to take a further step and endorse a NATO capability in this regard and we’re hopeful that we can achieve that goal.”
Before the Lisbon summit, one hurdle seems to be unsolved, and it is to find out who would command the radar system that would be deployed in Turkey. Erdoğan made it clear this week that he sees the command-control issue as a pre-condition and stated, “If ... our entire territory is considered, then it [the command] should be given to us ... otherwise, it is not possible to accept such a thing.”
The U.S., over the command-control issue, clearly holds a different position, and considers it more of a technical matter to be dealt with in later phases. As Gordon stated this week, the U.S. administration wants the members of the alliance to make a fundamental decision about whether the alliance should have the capability to protect its territories and population against the ballistic threat. Gordon, when pressed further about the discrepancy over the issue and the Turkish pre-conditions, stated simply: “Well, I’ll let the Turkish government represent itself. I’ve described what we hope the alliance will agree to at Lisbon.”
Despite some drawbacks before the summit, not many in Washington believe that Turkey will reject the missile shield system, mainly because it is believed that the stakes simply are too high for such opposition.
Most believe or wish to believe that Turkey, despite its objections and even apparent unwillingness, at the end of the day, will come aboard. However, agreeing in Lisbon does not mean the rest of the process will just go smoothly. In later implementation phases of the adaptive missile approach, promise great challenges handle.
As Turkey’s constituency in the East is growing, so too does the need on Ankara’s part to satisfy this constituency’s expectations.
The decision that Ankara has to make this weekend in Lisbon, would be a wake-up call to review the kind of constituency Ankara wishes or has limits to entertain. For instance, is Turkey competing with Iran to reach the hearts of a radical and extremely conservative Muslim constituency in the East, or to win the moderate Muslim constituency?
Because if the Iranian rhetoric is the one Turkey would like to compete with, Turkey needs to beat statements such as what the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman said this Tuesday: “The possible deployment of NATO missile defense systems in Turkey is solely aimed at defending Israeli interests.”
One of the potential best upshots of the Lisbon summit might be to start a realization process for Ankara that it needs to find its own authentic and moderate voice to address its eastern neighbors and that it does not have to vie with Iran’s out-of-touch and radical rhetoric.
The AKP, when it came to the power in 2002, went through a similar kind of realization process by breaking with its Islamist past, setting the Copenhagen criteria as a target and slowly moving to the center right.
Turkey’s positive response this weekend would push Ankara to steer away from its radical fans in the East, disappoint them and show that the AKP steers a country that has its own unique set of circumstances and would not leave the West so easily and so fast.
In Washington, the U.S. senior administration officials made it clear this week that they want to win Turkey, they want Turkey to search for its own moderate voice and surely they want Turkey go forward with the missile shield.