Anderson: For one Middle East policy, throwing Trump a (Turkey) bone

By On September 08, 2018

Anderson: For one Middle East policy, throwing Trump a (Turkey) bone

Sunday

Sep 9, 2018 at 12:01 AM

President Donald Trump has been tangled up in one error after another for the past week: scandal, jailed allies and now a “mole” in the White House.

But let me change the focus of the conversation to another arena, where Trump’s policy is spot on, and where his actions have been absolutely on target.

The Turkish republic is the only constitutionally secular country in the Middle East. When Kemal Ataturk and his cadre of revolutionary soldiers took over the place after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I, the constitution his regime promulgated banned the nation from ever again hosting a caliphate, from enforced readings of the Koran (or any official religion), from using Arabic as an official language, and even from the wearing of the fez, headgear once a s common as the baseball cap in the U.S., now found only on the heads of Shriners at their conventions.

Turkish was the national language, but could now only be written in Latin letters (our own alphabet). Ataturk’s rule was dictatorial, but the constitution it produced was a democratic one â€" and turned the direction of this new nation from its sprawling heritage firmly towards Europe.

The Ottomans â€" the family and the cultural group â€" ruled much of the Middle East, Arabia, the Levant, Egypt and large chunks of North Africa for centuries. But they always had European leanings. They conquered turf “to the gates of Vienna,” as I learned in high school, the high water mark of the Ottoman Empire. After the war, Turkey was much shrunken, though still one of the largest economic and political forces in the region.

Turkey stayed the heck out of World War II; once bitten, twice shy, so to speak. And though Istanbul (the post-Ataturk name for Constantinopl e) was overrun with spies from all combatants, they managed to ride a neutral course. After the war, Turkey, which had a centuries-old hatred of Russia and all things Russian, joined the emerging anti-Soviet NATO alliance. Where they are to this day. Allies.

Turkey is one of the only democratic states in the region, and the only one in the Levant never to have had bad relations, much less a war, with Israel. They have formed a buttress between Europe and the macabre politics of the Middle East; most recently, in the civil war with Syria, Turkey has played a major role in fighting ISIS and other ugly emerging savageries â€" and played counter to the Russians as they sought to prop up the hideous regime of Bashar al-Assad.

Political twists and turns in Turkey have followed a pattern: the dictatorial leanings of a president are often softened (sometimes fatally) by the intervention of the military, a coup often followed, followed by elections and a return to something l ike normalcy.

This pattern was interrupted in 2016 when a group of military officers, citing what they saw as a breakdown of secularism and democracy, launched a coup against President Recep Tayyip ErdoÄŸan â€" and, for the first time, failed.

ErdoÄŸan is, post-coup, every bit of the nasty little dictator that the military opposed, but he is also the leader of a NATO ally. Making decisions based on the “best of the worst” is pretty common in foreign policy, but NATO is different. The proximate cause of the current issue between the Trump administration and ErdoÄŸan’s regime is the baseless accusation that an American pastor â€" along with 20 other American citizens â€" participated in the coup. They are being held, as a result, in close custody.

Holding hostages in the Middle East is not a scenario historically popular with the U.S., and cannot be tolerated, whatever the status of the nation involved.

NATO is the sharp edge of the free world, no t a spiderhole for the powermad. The efforts of this administration to force ErdoÄŸan into good behavior â€" or to cause conditions that might result in his ouster â€" are entirely appropriate. We should value having an ally as well-positioned as Turkey, and one with such a solid history of secularism and democratic values. But we also need to know when these values have been lost, however temporarily, and to act swiftly to haul them back from the cliff.

This is not only the right move morally, it's simply good foreign policy. It should stand as a warning to other NATO allies who are toying with the idea of taking the dictatorial road. President Trump’s struggle to curb Erdoğan’s horrendous behaviors should be supported not only here at home, but by all of our NATO allies.

R. Bruce Anderson (randerson2@flsouthern.edu) is the Dr. Sarah D. and L. Kirk McKay Jr. Endowed Chair in American History, Government, and Civics at Florida Southern College in Lakeland.< /p>Source: Google News Turkey | Netizen 24 Turkey

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