Versions of the below editorial were published in periodicals across the U.S.
Tough Love for Turkey
By P. D. Spyropoulos
Turkey is frequently portrayed as a reliable U.S. ally in one of the world's toughest neighborhoods. Yet the controversy surrounding a recent Congressional resolution to recognize the Armenian Genocide has laid bare one of Washington's best-kept foreign policy secrets: that the allegiance of our only Muslim NATO ally is becoming increasingly uncertain, and that Turkey has already frustrated key U.S. foreign policy objectives in the Balkans, the Mideast and the Caucasus.
Turkey engineered failed coup attempts in Central Asia, and has in the past refused use of its Incirlik airbase by U.S. fighter jets against Iraq.
Ankara covertly armed and trained Albanian separatists in Kosovo, thereby helping to escalate the conflict to its current tragic dimensions. Now Turkey is stoking the flames of Albanian nationalism in the Balkan tinderbox -- placing U.S. troops in harm's way in one of the most volatile places on earth.
Turkey is also risking war with a close U.S. ally and the region's only stable democracy by making wildly irresponsible territorial claims against EU-member Greece and routinely backing these with military threats. All the while, the State Department has been looking the other way as Turkey violates UN sanctions against Iraq with virtual impunity.
Under pressure from Ankara, the Clinton Administration forced U.S. oil interests to plan their much-heralded Caucasus pipeline through the southern Turkish port of Ceyhan, even though this route was far costlier and more circuitous than alternative ones. Though the plan is currently on hold, it demonstrated the President's willingness to sacrifice vital American interests on the altar of our Turkish policy.
Now Turkey has successfully blackmailed the House of Representatives to censor a resolution that would have acknowledged what most historians already recognize -- that the killing of 1.5 Armenians by the Turkish state constituted this century's first genocide.
In the resolution's wake, Turkish officials threatened to impose anti-American trade sanctions, cancel billions of dollars in U.S. military and commercial contracts, open a second oil pipeline from Iraq, forbid the U.S. from using Turkish airbases to patrol northern Iraq, and establish closer economic and diplomatic ties with Saddam Hussein.
Incredibly, in a not-so-veiled threat Ankara warned that Americans in Turkey would be in danger should the resolution pass, and the State Department warned that the lives of U.S. citizens could be at risk in Turkey.
As a result, on October 19th Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) withdrew the resolution from the House floor just moments before a vote. Hastert acknowledged his own support for the bipartisan resolution -- as well as his belief that it would have secured a majority of House votes -- but cited intense pressure by the Administration regarding "grave national security concerns" and a fear that the resolution might "risk the lives of Americans".
In a scathing statement issued on the House floor, Representative Frank Pallone (D-NJ) charged that the U.S. government had "succumbed to the threats of the Turkish government against American soldiers." Pallone pointedly asked "what kind of ally threatens American lives if it doesn't get its way? With friends like that, who needs enemies."
Notwithstanding these widening fissures within the U.S.-Turkish alliance, its greatest cost to U.S. interests has arguably been the erosion of American moral authority and our resulting inability to take a global leadership role.
The booing of U.S. athletes during the Olympics in a friendly country like Australia and the killing of 17 Americans by terrorists are warning signs that we can no longer afford to ignore. Our use of force in places like Iraq, Colombia and Yugoslavia and our patronage of repressive governments throughout the world has played a major role in projecting an image of America as imperialist bully.
Yet it is our condoning of Turkey's domestic human rights epidemic, our consent to its 25-year occupation of Cyprus, and our acquiescence to its ethnic cleansing of millions of its Kurdish minority that are repeatedly cited as evidence of a morally bankrupt U.S. foreign policy.
Hence, insisting that Turkey own up to its commission of genocide would be an important first step in integrating Turkey with the community of democratic nations. Doing so would ultimately be an act of friendship, not hostility, towards Turkey and would go a long way towards rehabilitating the U.S.'s tarnished image abroad. Allowing these difficult issues to fester instead of tackling them head-on will leave Turks trapped in a backward, anachronistic holding pattern while the rest of the world moves towards democratization and regional integration.
If Turkey is to genuinely evolve into a close American ally, we cannot afford to continue turning a blind eye to its military adventurism and severe human rights problems. Helping Turkey democratize is a responsibility that the U.S. has already undertaken with its no-holds-barred campaign to push Turkey into the EU and other key Western institutions.
The time for making excuses has passed, and tough love for Turkey is long overdue. We need to roll up our sleeves and embark upon a strategy of engagement that uses both rewards and punishments to compel a genuinely democratic, law-abiding and western-oriented Turkey -- for both Turkey's sake, as well as our own.
P. D. Spyropoulos, Esq. is the founder and Executive Director of the American Hellenic Media Project (AHMP), a non-profit think-tank created to address bias in the media and encourage independent, ethical and responsible journalism. Commentaries, letters and opinion-editorials by AHMP have been published in The Baltimore Sun, Billboard, The Boston Globe, The Celator, The Chicago Tribune, The Christian Science Monitor, The Daily Republican, The Daily Telegraph, The Dallas Morning News, The Detroit News, The Economist, El Nuevo Herald (Miami), The Financial Times, Forbes Global, The Fresno Bee, The Globe and Mail, Insight Magazine, Investor's Business Daily, The Irish Times, The Knoxville News-Sentinel, Media Bypass, The Miami Herald, The National Review, New York Newsday, The New York Post, The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, The Orlando Sentinel, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Plain Dealer, The South China Morning Post, The St. Petersburg-Times (Fla.), The Star-Ledger (NJ), The Tampa Tribune, The Toronto Sun, USA Today, The Village Voice, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, and World Press Review.