Thursday, April 27, 2017

Guilty Men


Preface: This article made no more than an average impression on my American readers. But to my surprise, it set light to a firestorm of Dresden proportions in Turkey, much of which you can read on Twitter. The debate and responses are a bit hard to follow, but not impossible, if you're willing to give them a few minutes.

It would be disingenuous for me to say I expected no controversy at all -- when you read it, you'll see that I obviously knew full well that I'd never eat lunch in D.C. again. But I was surprised, and I guess gratified, that it set off as much debate as it did -- much of it even constructive -- in Turkey. I do wish American readers would read some of that debate. Many comments are in Turkish, but just as many are in perfectly limpid English. And the new (vastly improved) Google Translate will make the general tone of the Turkish comments clear enough.  

I don't think what I wrote was so unusual. I guarantee you that anyone who lived there during that time would have said, and still says, the same thing. But perhaps it was unusual for someone to put it quite so bluntly -- and I reckon the reaction it prompted among so many Turks is genuinely instructive. Many in the West, especially foreign-policy experts-in-prospect, would benefit from reading what they have to say. Their comments hint that I was not exaggerating about the loathing and contempt in which we’re now held in Turkey. And they suggest as well that I might be right about why. 

The discussion also conveys what I find so unutterably sad about the whole business. So many people in Turkey who should naturally have been our friends and allies, men and women who deserved our loyalty -- and whose friendship would have served us well, especially now -- are instead thoroughly disillusioned about the West. (I know a unitary thing called "the West" only exists to a certain extent, but to that extent, that's what I mean.) So many feel so deeply betrayed by people they had long admired. This fills me with shame.  

Young Western foreign policy experts who are only now beginning their climb up the greasy pole might do well to reflect a bit on what they're saying. Surely it can’t leave any of us feeling that we handled all of this as well as we might have. 

Turkish democracy didn’t die all at once in last week’s referendum; it’s been languishing for years. Why did so many in the West fail to notice?
On April 16, Turkish voters narrowly approved a referendum that replaced their country’s parliamentary democracy with an “executive presidency.” Steven Cook, of the Council on Foreign Relations, was quick to pronounce modern Turkey dead. “RIP Turkey, 1921–2017,” read the headline of the article in which he explained that the Turkish public “gave Erdoğan and the AKP license to reorganize the Turkish state and in the process raze the values on which it was built.”

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