Friday, April 17, 2009

Obama's Trip to Turkey

In his recent G20 tour, President Obama praised Turkey’s democracy and culture, and embraced Ataturk’s vision of Turkey as a modern and prosperous democracy. Obama avoided the tripwires, taking care not to characterize Turkey as a moderate Islamic Republic, which makes it sound like Iran without the Ayatollahs and offends almost everyone (the country is 99.8% Muslim) by implying a lukewarm commitment to Islam.

The President was even willing to strain his new “bromance” with Sarkhozy, saying that Turkey should be admitted to the European Union, a view that has persistently been rejected by France, quite aggressively. Former French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing claimed, on the contrary, “Turkish membership would result in the end of Europe.” The French decision to hold a referendum on Turkey's entry upon the completion of accession negotiations lays the groundwork for a French "non" on Turkey even if Turkish reforms fulfill the requirements of the Copenhagen criteria--very different treatment than that faced by the CEECs.

Would Turkey in the EU mean the end of Europe or the beginning of the end of Sam Huntington’s pernicious clash of civilizations theory?

For centuries eastern and central Europe have marked the frontier and battleground between Christian and Muslim peoples and empires. The huge enlargement of the EU in 2004 and 2007 signaled both the incorporation of Orthodox Christianity and a relaxation of standards when it comes to human rights, consolidated democracy, levels of development and prosperity, and the treatment of ethnic minorities and women.

Meanwhile Turkey, which has sought membership in “Europe” since the founding of the EEC in 1958, is in the early stages of negotiations for accession, with no resolution in sight.

OK: it is a big country— with 70 million people it would be second to Germany in the EU, with all (or most) of the voting power and institutional clout that goes with it, so membership is a much bigger deal than, say, Estonia.

But Sam Huntington is gone and it is time to put to rest his clash of civilizations. Both more Islamist and more secular currents in Turkey embrace globalization and neoliberalism, so Turkey is a good place to start. As one prominent Turkish political scientist put it, “the Turkish Islamic political movement has evolved to a point that it has ceased to be Islamic.”

It’s a pity that neoliberalism reigns supreme in Turkey but, unfortunately, that puts it in the mainstream of European policy and right in sync with EU stability and growth mandates.

In October 2008, Turkey won a seat as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in the “Western European and Others” bloc, with 151 of 192 votes.

If Turkey can represent European interests at the Security Council, shouldn’t it be able to join the EU?


  1. I thought Obama did a generally good job in Ankara (and wrote about it here.) However, I'm in two minds, really, on the question of his having come out so strongly there in favor of the EU accepting Turkey's membership bid.

    On substance, I am completely for the EU bringing Turkey in. This could do a lot to strengthen the EU, Turkey-- and the concept that "Europe" is not a monolithically "Christian" entity, but embraces multi-culturalism in many forms.

    However, I don't think it's appropriate for an outside power to try to throw its weight around in the intra-European discussions on who should be allowed to join. The EU is determinedly not a plaything of the American empire-- or at least, should not be.

  2. Point taken. I'm not for an American president throwing his weight around to shape critical regional dialogues, although I am prepared to bend that rule given the uneven fight Turkey is facing.

    What worries me most, however, is what Obama extracted in return. Face time and support from an American president is a very valuable commodity.

    It is hard to believe Obama squandered political capital and got nothing in return.

    Is it twenty-thousand Islamic Turkish troops in Afghanistan? Turkish oil and gas as an end around Russian or Iranian supply?