When Turkey denied the U.S. military permission to use Turkish soil on its way to invade Iraq in 2003, I thought it was a decision that ran counter to Turkey’s national interests. I was surprised to hear some years later from a U.S. diplomat that his daughter, who was visiting Istanbul at the time, joined those celebrating the Turkish Parliament vote against the U.S. in the city’s central İstiklal Avenue.
I could not imagine that the U.S. administration would lie to the whole world that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. I could not foresee that the Americans would lead such a disastrous campaign in Iraq, creating such a mess that it turned the whole region into a huge fireball.
The U.S. track record in the Middle East is enough to make anyone suspicious about living in a U.S.-dominated world. But according to Stephen Kinzer, a senior fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University, this opinion disqualifies me as a “Westernized secularist” (whatever that means), while also somehow making me a “pious nationalist” at the same time.
In his recent article for the Boston Globe, “NATO is headed for a very messy break up,” Kinzer argued that Turkey is about to become “the first NATO dropout.” “Rather than accept decisions made in Washington and at NATO headquarters in Brussels, it now behaves like a Middle Eastern country pursuing its own interests,” Kinzer wrote.
The article suggests that after a long period of secularist rule, the Turkish political system “opened up enough to allow the masses to express their true views. Many voters and political leaders turned out to be pious nationalists who do not want to live in an American-dominated world.”
Does one have to be a pious nationalist to not want to live in an American–dominated world? After the U.S.’s disastrous policies in the Middle East, can you blame any country in the region (and yes Turkey is geographically a Middle Eastern country) for objecting to U.S. dominance? Does this objection automatically prove that, as Kinzer suggests, most Turks are not “Westernized secularists at heart”?
Ironically, Kinzer contradicts himself when he suggests that others will follow suit in dropping out of NATO.
“Turkey’s defection is the latest and most vivid symptom of NATO’s failure to adapt to the 21st century,” he writes, adding that NATO “will never again be the powerful and united force it was during the Cold War. Turkey is splitting off because it now sees its own security goals as more important than those of the alliance. Other countries will make the same calculation. They will follow Turkey’s example: pretend to be NATO members while going their own way.”
In other words, it is OK for others to drop out of the “not so powerful” NATO and pursue their own security goals. But when it is Turkey that is drifting away from NATO it is not because of the alliance’s “inner weakness,” but because Turks are not “Westernized secularists” at heart!
There is no doubt that the ideology of Turkey’s current ruling elites has accelerated the deterioration in ties with the transatlantic community. But it is very problematic and unfair to present Turkey’s possible departure from NATO as the act of an “anti-Western Middle Eastern country,” while seeing the same move as a normal course of action for other European countries.
Anyway, Turkey is not dropping out of NATO. The U.S. could well do so though – at least if it was up to Donald Trump, a fully-fledged “Westernized secularist.”