Ankara Shows Its Hand
Turkey's scheming at the Strasbourg summit proves it doesn't belong in the European Union.
The most underreported story of the month must surely be the announcement by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner that he no longer supports the accession of Turkey as a full member of the European Union. His reasoning was very simple and intelligible, and it has huge implications for the Barack Obama "make nice"school of diplomacy.
At a NATO summit in Strasbourg in the first week of April, it had been considered a formality that the alliance would vote to confirm Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the prime minister of Denmark, as its new secretary-general. But very suddenly, the Turkish delegation threatened to veto the appointment. The grounds of Turkey's opposition were highly significant. Most important, they had to do with the publication of some cartoons in a Danish newspaper in 2005 lampooning the Prophet Mohammed. In spite of an organized campaign of violence and boycott against his country, and in spite of a demand by a delegation of ambassadors from supposedly "Islamic" states, Rasmussen consistently maintained that Danish law did not allow him to interfere with the Danish press. Years later, resentment at this position led Turkey—which is under its own constitution not an "Islamic" country—to use the occasion of a NATO meeting to try again to interfere with the internal affairs of a member state.
The second ground of Turkey's objection is also worth noting. From Danish soil a TV station broadcasts in the Kurdish language to Kurds in Turkey and elsewhere. The government in Ankara, which evidently believes that all European governments are as untrammeled as itself, brusquely insists that Denmark do what it would do and simply shut the transmitter down. Once again unclear on the concepts of the open society and the rule of law—if the station is sympathetic to terrorism, as Ankara alleges, there are procedures to be followed—the Turkish authorities attempt a fiat that simply demands that others do as they say.
The implications of all this, as Kouchner stated in an interview, are extremely serious. "I was very shocked by the pressure that was brought upon us," he said. "Turkey's evolution in, let's say, a more religious direction, towards a less robust secularism, worries me." This is to put it in the mildest possible way. It's not just a matter of a Turkish political party undermining Turkey's own historic secularism. It is a question of Turkey trying to impose its Islamist and chauvinist policies on another European state—and indeed on the whole NATO alliance. And if this is how it behaves before it has been admitted to the European Union, has it not invited us all to guess how it would behave when it had a veto power in those councils?
For contrast, one might mention the example of reunited federal Germany, easily the strongest economic power in the European Union, which painstakingly adjusted itself to its neighbors—to the extent of giving up even the deutsche mark for the euro—and adopted the slogan "not a Germanized Europe but a Europeanized Germany." With Turkey, it seems the reverse is the case. Its troops already occupy one-third of the territory of an EU member (Cyprus), and now it exploits its NATO membership to try to bully one of the smaller nations with which it is supposed to be conjoined in a common defense. For good measure, it continues to be ambiguous about its recognition of the existence of another non-Turkish people—the Kurds—within its frontiers.
President Obama's emollient gifts were on display at the NATO summit, where he eventually persuaded the Turks to withhold their veto on the appointment of Prime Minister Rasmussen. Accounts differ as to the price of this deal, but a number of plum jobs and positions now appear to have been awarded to Turkish nominees. Much more important, however, the foreign minister of France has reversed his previous position and has now said: "It's not for the Americans to decide who comes into Europe or not. We are in charge in our own house." Put it like this: Obama's "quiet diplomacy" has temporarily conciliated the Turks while perhaps permanently alienating the French and has made it more, rather than less, likely that the American goal of Turkish EU membership will now never be reached. And this is the administration that staked so much on the idea of renewing our credit on the other side of the Atlantic. This evidently can't be done by sweetness alone.
On the question of Turkey's accession, I used to be able to make either case. Admitting the Turks could lead to the modernization of the country, whereas exclusion could breed resentment and instability and even a renewal of pseudo-Ataturkist military rule. On the other hand, admission would put the frontiers of Europe up against Iran and Iraq and the volatile Caucasus, so that instead of being a "bridge" between East and West (to use the unvarying cliché), Turkey would become a tunnel.
The Strasbourg crisis clarifies the entire picture and should make us grateful to have been warned in such a timely fashion. Turkey wants all the privileges of NATO and EU membership but also wishes to continue occupying Cyprus, denying Kurdish rights, and lying about the Armenian genocide. On top of this, it now desires to act as a proxy for Islamization and dares to waste the time of a defensive alliance in trying to censor the press of another member state! Kouchner was quite right to speak out as he did, and the Turkish authorities will now be able to blame the failure of their membership scheme not on the unsleeping plots of their enemies, but on the belated awakening of their former friends.
Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) was a columnist for Vanity Fair and the author, most recently, of Arguably, a collection of essays.
Photograph of French Foreign Affairs Minister Bernard Kouchner by Elvis Barukcic/AFP/Getty Images.