Democracy for whom? [Archives:2003/682/Opinion]

October 30 2003

By Doug Bandow
For the Japan Times

Although the Bush administration won formal U.N. recognition for its rule in Iraq, that diplomatic victory is likely to yield few allied troops for occupation duty. In fact, even Turkey, which agreed to dispatch 10,000 soldiers after Washington’s approval of $8.5 billion in loans, is now reconsidering its decision in the face of overwhelming Iraqi opposition.
The Bush administration’s bid for Ankara’s help reflects a dramatic change from just four months ago, when U.S. Secretary of Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz dismissed potential Turkish contributions. “I wouldn’t rule out a role for Turkey, but I think right now we are looking to those people who were with us in the coalition to build a core of the peacekeeping function.” Indeed, he added, “My experience is if you talk to Iraqis, almost every one of their neighbors, including Turkey, is viewed from a historical perspective that is not always positive.”
But that was then, when the administration was talking about cutting its occupation forces to 30,000 by the end of the year. This is now, when officials are debating increasing the U.S. garrison. That means pushing Turkey to contribute troops.
Alas, Washington will have to pay a high price for Turkish help. Ankara has treated its Kurds with brutality approaching that used by former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. In fact, shortly after the war’s conclusion, Turkey dispatched special forces, captured by American soldiers, to the city of Kirkut in U.S.-occupied Iraq to assassinate the Kurdish interim governor.
But now the Bush administration has reportedly promised to suppress the Kurdistan Workers Party, today known as KADEK, operating in northern Iraq. That would involve Washington in Turkey’s guerrilla war, which cost nearly 40,000 lives over the last two decades.
Moreover, Iraqis, Kurds and non-Kurds alike have little love for Turkey, which long occupied their lands as part of the Ottoman Empire. With Kurds threatening Turkish troops that enter their territory and terrorists already aiming one bomb at the Turkish Embassy in Baghdad, Turkish authorities have promised a firm response to any attacks.
That is a prescription for violent opposition far more widespread than anything that has greeted American forces so far. The United States might need to add far more than 10,000 troops to handle the resulting instability.
Of equal concern, Washington’s pressure for military aid has undercut Turkish democracy.
Last year Wolfowitz cited Turkey as “a model for the Muslim world’s aspirations for democratic progress and prosperity.” But negotiations between America and Turkey over aid in the war against Iraq took on the appearance of haggling over a carpet at Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar. And then the Parliament rejected the deal.
Wolfowitz responded with the rather astounding assertion that the military did not play “a leadership role” on the issue. The fact that the vast majority of the Turkish population opposed the war didn’t matter. In an interview with CNN Turkey, Wolfowitz proclaimed that the military should have said “it was in Turkey’s interest to support the United States” in Iraq. But members of Parliament were hardly unaware of the stakes.
Although Wolfowitz stated that “I’m not suggesting that you [the military] get involved in politics at all.” But what else could have been the implications of his remarks for a country where the military has formally overthrown and more often maneuvered to pressure and overthrow democratically elected governments and dismantle popular political parties?
In fact, while the Bush administration wants the military to play a larger role in Turkish policy, Turkey’s Parliament recently approved a measure reducing the military’s control of the National Security Council, which influences most domestic as well as foreign policy decisions, and the defense budget.
Warns Omer Taspinar, a visiting fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, “the current mood in Turkey is still very anti-American.” Appearing to range itself against the democratization of Turkish politics could only worsen Washington’s image. Nor will civilian rule benefit if Ankara finds its troops involved in an expanding Iraqi conflict.
Turkey “is a model for the Muslim world’s aspirations for democratic progress,” Wolfowitz proclaimed last year. Which is how a moderate Islamic government came to power and a democratically elected Islamic Parliament came to reject America’s request for military aid in the war against Iraq. And how the Erdogan government might change its mind about augmenting America’s occupation force.
Throughout the Mideast, and especially in Iraq, Washington must decide whether it values indigenous democracy or geopolitical support more. As the Turkish experience vividly demonstrates, foreign democracies often make decisions Washington doesn’t like. In this case, all parties are probably better off if Ankara ultimately decides no.