Turkey says no to U.S. deployment — Is this the start of real democracy in Turkey?
In the span of a few minutes this morning, the Turkish parliament approved the deployment of 62,000 U.S. troops, 255 warplanes and 65 helicopters in a squeaker vote (264 to 250 with 19 abstentions) only to have the vote nullified a few moments later by speaker of parliament Speaker Bulent Arinc because a majority of legislators present had not voted in favor. He then shut down the parliament until Tuesday.
This will throw some sand in the gears of the U.S. war machine, to say the least, as Turkey apparently refuses to stay bought. The $15 billion in loans and grants — and the right to run roughshod over Iraq’s Kurds — isn’t enough.
Believe it or not, this is cause for hope, and not for any reasons having to do with stopping the war, which is a train that left the station some time ago. No, this is cause for hope the world is witnessing the growing pains of a mature Turkish democracy.
About 94 percent of the Turkish public is opposed to a war on Iraq, since the country suffered so in the first one. Justice and Development Party (AKP) leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, urged party legislators to side with the United States and approve the deployment, since Turkey needs assistance from the IMF and the World Bank, two institutions dominated by the United States. The generals in Ankara also backed the vote, seeing that Turkey is a major purchaser of American military hardware and the U.S. was the country’s most reliable ally in the war with PKK separatists from 1984-1998. Plus, the Americans were going to let the Turks have Iraqi Kurdistan.
But the unruly Turkish parliament — and especially AKP deputies — defied their party leader and listened to the Turkish public, dissing the United States on its No. 1 foreign policy issue. The dangers of this to Turkish parliamentarians are great and those who voted against the resolution are brave men and women.
Why? Turkish democracy has always existed under the spectre of military coups. If the civilian government got too unruly, the military would step in and take control to protect the secular nature of the republic and its interests, as it did in 1960, 1980 and 1997. To their credit, the generals never wanted to rule Turkey for its own sake; they genuinely believed they were upholding the ideals of Kemal Mustafa AtatÃ¼rk and quickly turned power back over to a more pliable civilian government. However, this paternal attitude has stunted Turkish democracy and retarded its pace in reaching AtatÃ¼rk’s goal of a Western, secular democracy with a seat at Europe’s table as an equal.
And now, we are faced with another crisis. If the generals don’t step in and push the AKP out of power as they did with the Welfare Party, another Islamist political group, in 1997, the world could be seeing the people of Turkey enjoying true democracy for the the first time in the history of their young republic. Turkey would enjoy a government without the threat of a parental military stepping in and “fixing” things. The country would finally be able to let its own very capable citizenry make decisions through the ballot box — and it would be forced to live with their decisions. That’s the definition of true democracy, and the citizens of Turkey have wanted it — and deserved it — for far too long.
Make no mistake. If this vote sticks and the military stays out of it, it will not be easy for Turkey. They are heavily dependent on the IMF and World Bank for economic assistance and the United States will no doubt retaliate for Turkey’s “treacherous” actions, a.k.a., listening to the will of the people. (The United States has already threatened to retaliate against Germany and France.) The economic damage from a war in Iraq will be high, possibly higher than the $100 billion Turkey says it has suffered since 1991. But I suspect that if Turkey defied the United States on this issue, it might find itself more welcome in Europe’s bosom when France and Germany look a little more kindly on the Turks…