Monday, April 27, 2009

Another Step Toward Turkey's Radicalization: Joint Military Exercises with Syria

The Turkish military has announced joint military maneuvers with Syria. That means a NATO ally is working more closely--and to some extent revealing military equipment and tactics--to a country that sponsors Hamas, Hizballah and the Iraqi insurgents killing U.S. soldiers in Iraq; orders terrorist attacks in Lebanon to assassinate political and military figures there; wages war on Israel, and just got caught building a covert nuclear weapons' building installation in conjunction with North Korea and Iran.

Anyone see a problem there?

The Justice and Development (AKP) Party in Turkey presents itself as a center-right reform party, the evolution of former Islamists to support democracy. As such, it has been very attractive at least to U.S. policymakers though EU governments, for a number of reasons, are increasingly reluctant to admit Turkey to the EU.

While the AKP did start out as a reformist regime, the concern about whether it had a secret Islamist agenda has always been present. As the AKP wins election after election--due partly to the total disorganization and lack of leadership among the opposition--its Islamist aspects come out more sharply. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that the current regime feels more comfortable with Iran than with the United States.

The barrier to the government's going further down this road has been both fear of voter response and the possibility that the military will some day stage a coup. The former was somewhat reinforced by the AKP's somewhat reduced showing in the recent local elections.

The latter problem is not so immediate for a number of reasons. At EU insistence, the political role of the military was reduced. Knowing how popular the government is, the officers have been reluctant to strike lest such an operation unleash a civil war. Finally, the government has been arresting and trying officers (and other opponents) accusing them, in most cases falsely of plotting a takeover.

Turkey's regime has moved toward Iran, ignoring international sanctions, in no small part due to energy needs. Yet the improvements of relations go well beyond that. The latest step in rapprochement with the Iran-led alliance is the announcement that Turkey and Syria, Iran's ally, will stage joint military exercises for the first time, April 27-29.

While Turkey is a NATO member, Syria is an Iranian bloc member and a sponsor of terrorism in its own right. This is one more step in the erosion of any serious effort to build an alignment against the growing power of the Iran-Syria alliance and should be treated seriously. Unfortunately, Western enthusiasm about Turkey as the perfect example of a Muslim-majority state being a democracy and illusions about Syrian moderation will prevent this from happening.

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