Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Pax Ottomanica?

You know that something strange is happening when the usual crew of neocon critics takes out after Turkey -- yes, Turkey! -- a country that, as Inter Press Service's Jim Lobe points out, they long cultivated and supported as a key ally and supposedly model democracy in the Islamic world.  Of course, that was then.  Now, Turkey's involvement in a nuclear deal with Tehran and its prime minister's outrage over the Israeli attack on a convoy bringing aid to Gaza that resulted in the deaths of nine Turks has soured them considerably on the country.  In fact, the strength of the Turkish reaction -- essentially a breach with Israel, once a close ally -- sent the Obama administration scrambling awkwardly for a way to mollify the Turks without condemning the Israeli attack.

And don't think it's just the usual suspects on the right blaming Turkey either.  The Washington Post editorial page denounced its government for "grotesque demagoguery toward Israel that ought to be unacceptable for a member of NATO," while the Christian Science Monitor typically declared it "over the top," raised the specter of "anti-Semitism," and swore that its leaders now ran "the risk of further undermining Turkey's credibility and goal of being a regional problem solver."  In a news story, the New York Times offered a classic statement of the problem from Washington's perspective: "Turkey is seen increasingly in Washington as 'running around the region doing things that are at cross-purposes to what the big powers in the region want,' said Steven A. Cook, a scholar with the Council on Foreign Relations. The question being asked, he said, is 'How do we keep the Turks in their lane?'"

And which lane might that be, one wonders?  It looks ever more like the passing lane on the main highway through the Middle East.  Talk about a country whose importance has crept up on us.  It's a country that, as John Feffer, co-director of the invaluable Foreign Policy in Focus website and TomDispatch regular, indicates, has been in that passing lane for some time now (whatever Washington may think), whether in its relations with Iran, Russia, or Iraq, among other countries.  And what surprising relations they turn out to be.  If one thing is clear, it's that, as American power wanes, the global stage is indeed being cleared for new kinds of politics and new combinations of every sort.  The future holds surprises and, as Feffer makes clear, it will be surprising indeed if Turkey isn't one of them.  Tom 

Stealth Superpower
How Turkey Is Chasing China to Become the Next Big Thing
By John Feffer

The future is no longer in plastics, as the businessman in the 1967 film The Graduate insisted. Rather, the future is in China.

If a multinational corporation doesn't shoehorn China into its business plan, it courts the ridicule of its peers and the outrage of its shareholders. The language of choice for ambitious undergraduates is Mandarin. Apocalyptic futurologists are fixated on an eventual global war between China and the United States. China even occupies valuable real estate in the imaginations of our fabulists. Much of the action of Neal Stephenson's novel The Diamond Age, for example, takes place in a future neo-Confucian China, while the crew members of the space ship on the cult TV show Firefly mix Chinese curse words into their dialogue.

Why doesn't Turkey have a comparable grip on American visions of the future? Characters in science fiction novels don't speak Turkish. Turkish-language programs are as scarce as hen's teeth on college campuses. Turkey doesn't even qualify as part of everyone's favorite group of up-and-comers, that swinging BRIC quartet of Brazil, Russia, India, and China. Turkey remains stubbornly fixed in Western culture as a backward-looking land of doner kebabs, bazaars, and guest workers.


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