Review: New Turkish Republic–Turkey As a Pivotal State in the Muslim World

5 Star, Country/Regional, Diplomacy
Turkish Republic
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Undergraduate Overview, Superb Price, a Real Value, May 4, 2008

Graham Fuller

I might have made this a four star since it is missing a couple of big pieces, but the overall book is so well presented in summary form, and the publisher has made it so reasonably priced, this would appear to be exactly the kind of book that is ideal for both the undergraduate and the graduate whom might be beginning a more intensive look at Turkey in its new “360 degrees” or Ankara-centric re-emergence as both a regional power and a continental power.

No Turks in, of, and for Turkey are on the credits, which confirms my first impression that this is a superb primer of, by, and for American students, but the US Institute of Peace is the publisher, so I get over it. Still, the book does not address the Muslim world outside the immediate region, and I am immediately irritated by the early depiction of Paul Wolfowitz as a proponent of democracy in Iraq–Wolfowitz lied to Congress and the public, and is no more a proponent of democracy anywhere than I am in favor of making Islam the ruling religion in America.

Having said that, the author's commitment and knowledge cannot be denied, and I found this book totally worthy of my time. I learned from it.

+ Turkey *is* a part of the Middle East, but ignored it up through the 1990's and did not settle its border with Syria until 2004.

+ Turkey, not Saudi Arabia or any other pretender, has been the center of the Muslim world (the Caliphate) for six centuries, and as the center of the Ottoman empire was the protector of the Holy Places.

+ The author asserts that Turkey is the most advanced secular and democratic state in the Muslim world. Huh? Coming out of an era of military dictatorships, and never mind Malaysia, Indonesia, or India (second largest Muslim population after Indonesia)? Not so fast!

+ While the author sets forth a key question, will Muslims embrace democracy, I point the reader to Who Speaks For Islam?: What a Billion Muslims Really Think and the finding in that book that most Muslims consider democracy to be a FOREIGN concept.

+ The author shocks early on in pointing out that Turks consider the USA to be the TOP THREAT to Turkey. I begin to realize the author has delicately folded major truths in, with a minimalist pandering to the jerks that are still in power (or seeking power one last time before they run out of Depends diapers for adults).

+ No one in the White House or anywhere else in the USG is likely to read this book (less well-intentioned Foreign Area Officers on their way there) so I regard the book as a useful cautionary tale for all of us. The neoconservatives took Turkey for granted, offended Turkey, and are so visibly amoral and inept as to inspire contempt from Turkey, a contempt I certainly share. As the author puts it, we are “treading water” with Turkey (as a time when they should be one of our “top ten” for deep engagement).

+ The author tells us that Turkey abolished the Caliphate in 1924, and that this was a body blow to Islam. In a brilliant analogy, he says that this would be the equivalent of an Italian Prime Minister abolishing the Papacy without consulting Catholics worldwide, and doing so as a snap decision.

+ The author illuminated the Turkish intellectual vision of state, faith, and modernity being compatible, and provides two very valuable pages on t he Abant Forum for intellectual tolerance and inquiry.

+ A great deal of the book is undergraduate level brevity (e.g. the Iran-Iraq war gets one paragraph at a time when Turkey was a major adjacent party).

+ Among the prices of the Cold War (see my review of The Fifty-Year Wound: How America's Cold War Victory Has Shaped Our World was the disconnection of Turkey from the Middle East and the Arabs, making is a client state of the USA in unwelcome and ultimately unwise ways.

+ The author teaches me that the Kurdish revolutionaries and separatists, the PKK (Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan, or Kurdish Workers Party) are a problem in Syria and Iran as well as Iraq and Turkey. I gain the impression that Turkey will do just about anything to prevent a free Kurdistan, but I also wonder in Kurdistan and Palestine are two areas that could be turned into zones of peace and development.

+ On that note, I learn that Palestine was part of the Ottoman empire, and that the Sultan was the Protector of Holy Places.

+ I am deeply engaged by the author's discussion of Islamic banking, and Turkish concerns that the Saudi regime is using increased focus on this as a means of reinforcing Islamic forces within Turkey.

+ I learn that Turkey is pursuing a regional strategy of “no enemies” and has a foreign policy strategy of “proactive peace.” Wow. This is seriously good stuff, and it shames me that America cannot rise to this level of sophistication and future-focus.

+ I learn that four of the five Central Asian states are Turkic, and that after the USA and Russia, China is Turkey's major concern, in part because the Uyghurs are Turkic. Has the USA ever had a Turkic strategy or a Caliphate strategy? Highly doubtful.

+ The author states that the Turks are suspicious of Saudi international policies, and I wonder why there is no deeper discussion, especially since it is now widely known that the Saudi dictatorship has been funding Bin Laden, rote-learning madrasses, and total hate crimes against Shi'ites (15%, with Iran as the only state).

+ He says that Turkey has a strong commitment to Afghanistan, but here I have a note, “too much avoidance.” This is an excellent book and easily understandable by an undergrad, but it needs a couple more chapters (one on Saudis as enemies of Muslim stability world-wide, another on Turkey and the non-Arab Muslim states), and a decent bibliography with a 360 view of competing authorities.

+ He tells us the Kurds have entered mainstream Turkish politics, including election to their Parliament, but I am skeptical and wondering if there is not a really big deal to be cut that runs from Turkey to Kurdistan and Lebanon to Palestine–the three trillion we have wasted in Iraq could have resurrected America AND paid for a massive Marshall Plan for the region.

+ The US chapter is vital. It will never be read by those that make their own idiotic reality, but for the rest of us, it is a fine tale of friction, opportunity lost, a lack of sufficient respect, and more. This is a really good and really important chapter.

The book concludes that Turkey has three choices: continue to be US centric, become Europe centric and join the European Union, or return to Ankara centric, with 360 interests and responsibilities in all directions. I am truly inspired by this book, and in the future will factor Turkey in as co-equal to Brazil, China, Indonesia, India, Iran, Russia, and Venezuela.

Bottom line: this book was a real pleasure to read as an adult hooked on respecting reality, and I strongly recommend it for both teaching at any level, and for anyone interested in what is clearly a major player in the 21st Century. On balance, this book respects Turkey in a very sincere and useful way, while delicately calling out the USA (under all recent Administrations of either party) for being distant, dumb, inattentive, and generally stupid. I am reminded of Daniel Elsberg lecturing Kissinger on how one becomes like a moron the higher up the secret classification scale you go, thinking you know more secret, and becoming unwilling to listen to those with their feet on the ground and decades of eyes and ears on and in place. See my review of Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers.

Other recommended books:
The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (Vintage)
Web of Deceit: The History of Western complicity in Iraq, from Churchill to Kennedy to George W. Bush
Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA
Crossing the Rubicon: The Decline of the American Empire at the End of the Age of Oil
The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (The American Empire Project)
Islamic Leviathan: Islam and the Making of State Power (Religion and Global Politics)
Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror

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