April 27, 2009
In 1914, on the very eve of the Great War, G.K. Chesterton published his humorous novel The Flying Inn. The story concerned a Turkish plot to invade England, all with the connivance of Britain’s progressive elite. At the superficial level, Chesterton’s fears of the Ottoman Empire must have seemed preposterous. Turkey had long been the “sick man of Europe,” and it would emerge from the coming military cataclysm with only its core in Asia Minor and a strip of land in Europe that permitted control of the Bosporus. The great writer’s underlying aim, however, went far beyond contemporary power politics.
Chesterton sought to convey the central truth that seemingly fantastic turns of events can come about through spiritual collapse. This assertion was proved correct outside the pages of his book. As Europeans, supremely confident of their material civilization, plunged into industrial-scale suicide, hindsight shows us that physical disaster was preceded by disaster in higher realms. Philosophers, statesmen and scientists rejected their ancient Christian faith to exalt the seemingly limitless potential of man. It is therefore ironic that the very circumstances of The Flying Inn hint at correspondence with today’s geopolitics. A century later, Turkey is ascendant, and Islamic inroads into Europe are aided and abetted by the ruling classes of the West.
With this context in mind, it shouldn”t surprise us that America is intensively courting Turkey as an enhanced strategic ally. When President Barack Obama delivered a speech before the Turkish parliament on April 6th, he wasn”t simply seeking to smooth feathers ruffled from the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The president included his usual appeals to “common dreams” and “coming together,” but also outlined substantive aspects of the U.S.-Turkish relationship. The White House’s vision for an alliance is expansive; it seeks to harness Ankara’s growing influence in multiple regions. Policy planners in Washington appreciate Turkey’s rising power and hope to channel it in their designs for Eurasia, the Islamic world and even Europe.
Turkey is proving attractive to U.S. policymakers for a number of reasons. The first of these is the country’s geographic centrality. As their Ottoman predecessors extended political, economic and cultural influence from the Middle East to Central Asia and from the Caucasus to the Balkans, so too can modern-day Turks. Washington needs Turkey for its strategic agenda in Eurasia. Ankara would be a major participant in U.S. efforts to undermine Russia’s sphere of influence and secure a “new Silk Road” of energy pipelines from Central Asia to Europe that bypass Moscow. The Turks would also play a key role in countering Iranian ambitions in the Middle East.
Demographics and an economic base for future power projection make Turkey a potential heir to the Ottoman Empire. Its population is increasing steadily at replacement rate, and will reach almost 90 million by 2020. While problems with the Kurdish minority persist, the country remains ethnically cohesive. The Turkish economy is robust, and Ankara has weathered the global financial downturn better than many European states. The nation is a regional manufacturing center that exports not just textiles and food products, but electronics and Toyota automobiles. With assistance in military technology transfers from partners such as the U.S., Israel and South Korea, Turkey is seeking to achieve 50% self-sufficiency in armaments production by 2011. This fact is also significant, as it is the only Muslim state with a viable industrial sector.
Turkey’s Islamic identity is the other major reason that brought Obama to Ankara. Washington holds Turkey as a model for emulation by other Muslim countries. Turkey seems, in the eyes of policymakers, the perfect fit to complement U.S. strategy in the region: it’s a large Muslim democracy and a member of NATO. “Moderate” Turkish Islam, influenced by the mystically oriented Sufi brotherhoods, is seen as a less rigid and more even-tempered alternative to the Salafist strains that inspire many jihadist movements. Ankara is hailed by Western media for its simultaneous adherence to Islam as well as secular and pluralistic political notions. Confounded with the intractability of Muslim populations in relation to American “outreach,” the United States would dearly like for Turkey to help manage the Islamic world, and the Turks seem willing to oblige.
Ankara has already taken the lead in mediation efforts from the Levant to the Hindu Kush. The Turks have been holding intermittent peace talks between seemingly implacable foes Syria and Israel for almost a year. They also recently sponsored Afghan-Pakistani negotiations aimed at quelling the cross-border Taliban insurgency that now rages in both countries. Washington can only be pleased with these initiatives, since its convoluted social engineering agenda for the Muslim world is receiving little help from the Europeans. The Obama administration hopes to extricate itself from Iraq, only to reinvest men, money and materiel into the counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, in addition to containing Iran. Turkey could ease Washington’s problems in the region, though such assistance naturally has its price.
In return for Ankara’s assistance on matters of stability in the Muslim world and pipeline geopolitics in Eurasia, Washington will promote Turkey as a major regional power. This is seen by the foreign policy establishment as a natural and responsible choice. If anyone was unsure of the centrality of the U.S.-Turkish alliance, the man nominated to be the Department of State’s Secretary of European and Eurasian affairs, Philip Gordon, is a Turkish specialist. Gordon in his statements has been careful to avoid naming the 1915 Armenian genocide as such, and has also referred to Turkey’s 35-year military occupation of northern Cyprus as a “Turkish presence” on the island.
The Turks themselves have been adept at lobbying for such outcomes in the halls of power on K Street and Capitol Hill. They have received guidance and advice from influential friends, as well. Ankara’s main lobbying organization in Washington, the American Turkish Council, was created along the lines of AIPAC. The Israelis and Turks enjoy support from some of the same patrons, including prominent neoconservatives Douglas Feith and Richard Perle. Former intelligence officer Philip Giraldi has investigated these connections as well as the activities of the Turkish, Israeli and Pakistani secret services in acquiring classified political information and nuclear weapons technologies. Influence operations and espionage aside, there has been bipartisan consensus (with the blessing of several major defense contractors and oil companies) under successive U.S. administrations for boosting Turkey’s rise.
The symbolic culmination of American support of Turkish power has been U.S. backing for Turkey’s accession into the European Union. In his Ankara speech, Obama explained this policy in the following terms:
“Turkey is bound to Europe by more than the bridges over the Bosporus. Centuries of shared history, culture, and commerce bring you together. Europe gains by the diversity of ethnicity, tradition and faith- it is not diminished by it. And Turkish membership would broaden and strengthen Europe’s foundation once more.”
The current administration is giving U.S. sponsorship of Turkish entry into the EU, also enthusiastically supported under Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, a new resonance. “Diversity” has at last become a real foreign policy objective! Yet even the leaderships of France and Germany, who permit Muslim immigrants to settle in their countries by the millions, have enough sense of popular sentiment (and memory) not to push for Turkish membership. Why might Europeans instinctively reject a proposal in line with Brussels” own multiculturalist ideology?
Turkey is bound to Europe by invasion. This is the source of Obama’s pleasant-sounding “centuries of shared history.” The Byzantine Empire, longtime guardian of Christianity in the East, was conquered in a series of campaigns by the Seljuks and Ottomans, Turkic tribes that swept in from the steppes of Central Asia. History acts as a witness. Ankara could receive EU membership tomorrow, but Turkey has never been European in any meaningful sense. As the armies of Suleiman the Magnificent battered against the walls of Vienna in 1683, the city’s defenders understood this implicitly.
Identity is often less a matter of race than of religion and cultural heritage. The Bulgarians, for example, were a Turkic people that adopted Slavic ways and accepted Christianity. Magyars, horsemen from Siberia and the terror of 10th-century Christendom, under St. Stephen founded the Kingdom of Hungary. Europe, whatever the drafters of the multivolume EU Constitution might suppose, can ultimately only be defined through the origins of a common Christian culture. The Ottomans long commanded suzerainty across the Balkans and Mediterranean as conquerors, but they were never of Europe. Turkey maintains an undeniably rich and unique culture, but its core and overall character are Islamic and Asiatic.
It is perhaps because of Turkey’s cultural character that US foreign policy elites are so insistent upon the country’s integration into the EU. Washington’s strategy in the Balkans, which is predicated on empowering Muslim Albanians and Bosnians, offers a remarkable parallel to Ottoman rule. It would also be a prelude to empowering Turkey in Europe. Eliminating the already flimsy European frontier with Turkey would further undermine the nations of the continent, especially in terms of demography. How many Turks would travel, unimpeded, to join their almost 3 million compatriots already residing in the cities of a Germany reproducing below replacement levels? Fellow Turks in Europe are to remain wholly Turkish, as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has emphasized. Liberal fantasies about the assimilation of incompatible cultures can be put to rest.
U.S. advocacy of Turkey’s integration into Europe is just one facet of a long-held revolutionary dream that has shaped the leaders of Western societies. This vision seeks to overturn natural order in favor of an atomizing egalitarianism that can conceive of nothing above economic expediency and the whims of the sovereign will. Every measure of its progress leads individuals and entire nations further into dissolution. Sufficient tragedy has already resulted from European governing classes” abandonment of religious tradition and its cultural vessels, from mass politics and mechanized slaughter to crime-infested third world ghettoes that abut red light districts. There is little reason to allow Turkey into Europe if a spiritually bankrupt modern West is to someday have a chance at renewal.
America’s Turkish gambit will produce a series of unintended consequences. U.S. foreign policy is assisting the reemergence of a pivotal Muslim state with an imperial past and a growing capability for power projection. The Turks are unlikely to do Washington’s bidding for long; even before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the Ottoman sultans had controlled an empire on three continents for almost three hundred years. Debates over “moderate” Islam and “radical” Islam are entirely uninformed by historical experience and miss the point, as the dwindling grip of the secular Kemalists will be seen as an aberration. Turkey is an Islamic power with its own interests, its own civilization and its own cultural mission. NATO allies or not, Ankara’s Christian neighbors in Greece, the Balkans and the Caucasus know this fact well. Their peaceful acceptance of Turkish regional primacy will be unlikely.
Washington’s complicity in the rise of Turkish power will be on the level of the “blowback” created by U.S. support for the Shah and the Iranian Islamic Revolution. The case of Turkey, even without dramatic events in the near term, will be of greater significance. While Iran would like to lead the Muslim world, Turkey is the strongest candidate. It is, after all, Sunni, not Shia, and Ankara’s political and economic relations with the Arab states of the Middle East have a solid foundation from the Ottoman period. By virtue of strategic geography, the Turks can also pursue their foreign policy along multiple vectors. The professionalism and capabilities of today’s Turkish military, the second largest in NATO, give form to what Hilaire Belloc foresaw in 1929:
Islam was [once] our superior, especially in military art. There is no reason why its recent inferiority in mechanical construction, whether military or civilian, should continue indefinitely. Even a slight accession of material power would make the further control of Islam by an alien culture difficult. A little more and there will cease that which our time has taken for granted, the physical domination of Islam by the disintegrated Christendom we know.
Among other arms acquisitions, Turkey is planning to receive delivery of 100 advanced F-35 Joint Strike Fighters beginning in 2014. Belloc’s prediction is already coming to pass.
The United States has for the better part of a decade been engaged in poorly defined actions against jihadists guided by a universalist, liberal creed. By forging a strategic alliance with Turkey, U.S policymakers betray the same willful blindness and illusory hopes imposed by such a limited worldview. Our elites” “democracy” advocacy and fanciful projections of Islam are leading again to disaster. Through its celebrated partnership with Turkey, Washington is helping to materially revive Islamic power from its centuries of slumber. As the Turks make their return to the arena of great states, the ages-old enmity between Islam and the West will assume dimensions previously unimagined.
The U.S. embrace of Turkey is symptomatic of our secular elites” disdain for the roots of Western culture, and their desire to replace it with something wholly alien. Such are the wages of an empty and world-flattening humanism. Rather than explore our natural bonds with the Orthodox Christian nations to better confront the challenges of Islam and China, Washington antagonizes and attempts to encircle a Russia still scarred from the ravages of Communist rule. Who will protect the tattered remnants of Christendom and aid in its recovery? Elected officials, bureaucrats, corporate executives and judges on both sides of the Atlantic are engaged in an unceasing campaign to destroy any traces of its vitality.
Chesterton’s Flying Inn closes on a hopeful note. With the help of some tipsy eccentrics, the people of England mount a revolt and defeat the sultan’s army of occupation. Faith, tradition and the organic integrity of culture prevail. The moralistic social engineer who hoped to inaugurate a new, enlightened era in Britain was revealed to be insane precisely because of his warped ideological program. Today’s ruling classes are long entrenched and still wield great power, but their ruinous policies are catching up with them. With grace and good will, the peoples of the West may yet arise, shake off the absurdism of our establishment, and restore sanity to the land.
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