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Losing Turkey matters

July 14, 2007
Turkish Daily News

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What country in the world is most anti-American? According to the Pew Global Attitudes Project’s 47-nation survey released Wednesday that would not be the usual suspects in the Palestinian territories, Pakistan, or Venezuela but rather America’s 50-year-NATO ally Turkey. This finding should deeply trouble the Bush administration; Turkey is exactly the type of Muslim-majority democracy that officials have been touting as a model for the Middle East and the Islamic world. Consider the facts: Turkey ranked dead last in all the most important categories on the survey which indicates the depth of anti-American sentiment. Most tellingly, Turks have the lowest favorability for both America and its citizens (9% and 13%). Moreover, Turkey tied with the Palestinian territories for the lowest percentage of citizens who think the US is fair in its Middle East policies at a paltry 2%. Another disturbing sign for US policymakers is the fact that Turkey, an active partner in Afghanistan and crucial transportation hub for Iraq, has the second lowest level of support for the US-led War on Terror (9%) of all nations surveyed. It does not stop at US foreign policy. Turkey had the highest percentage of respondents who disliked American ideas about democracy (81%) and even the way that Americans do business (83%). Turks have never been the most pro-American Middle Eastern country, yet the drop in favorability from when Bush first took office (52% in 2000) and even at the one-year anniversary of the war in Iraq (30% in 2004) to today is truly unprecedented and shocking.

The trends are clear

 We are not just dealing with the usual anti-Bush or anti-US policy sentiment in Turkey. We have now slid into an anti-Americanism that can not simply be erased with a new president in January, 2009 or a special envoy to the Muslim world.  The causes for the pervasive anti-Americanism are fairly straightforward and obvious to even the casual observer. US missteps in Iraq have heightened Turkey’s own security on its southeastern border. In particular, the re-emergence of PKK terrorism in Turkey, where a soldier dies daily, has produced a non-stop drumbeat of nationalist and anti-American rhetoric throughout the country in the run up to the July 22 parliamentary elections. The perception that America controls Northern Iraq and restricts the Turkish army from crossing the border all while doing nothing to stop the PKK terrorists who operate with impunity in Iraq is widespread. Bush’s words, “You’re either with us, or against us” now ring hollow to Turks. US policy is increasingly seen as being hypocritical and Americans themselves are now viewed as untrustworthy.  Turkey has officially slid from being anti-US policy to anti-American. This is particularly worrying given the Bush administration’s emphasis on democracy promotion and reform throughout the greater Middle East. The underlying assumption is that a more democratic and open society is in the US national interest because such a nation would surely be more pro-American. Within this context, Turkey has been a particularly important country upon which to focus. It is the only Muslim-majority nation of NATO and it is the only fully functioning Middle-Eastern, Muslim democracy. The results from the Pew survey disprove the preconceived notions of administration experts and should force policymakers to reconsider their underlying assumptions.  Turkey matters to America. Its geo-strategic position is vital for US interests throughout the region, but more importantly it represents what a truly democratic Middle East might look like. Hating US policy or a particular president is undesirable, but repairable. Hating America and Americans is a disturbing trend that requires serious attention and prolonged engagement. Increasingly Ankara is viewing America in light of the Turkish adage, “Turks have no friends but themselves.” Proving Turkey wrong and combating anti-Americanism in the Middle East more broadly must become an imperative for policymakers in Washington. 

This article appears in full on CFR.org by permission of its original publisher. It was originally available here.

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