Who Lost Turkey?

WHO LOST TURKEY?….After Mao’s communists won China’s civil war in 1949 and forced Chiang Kai Shek to flee to Taiwan, the cry from U.S. conservatives was “Who Lost China?” (Answer: Democrats, of course.) Via Matt Yglesias, Soner Cagaptay asks in the New Republic today, “Who’s Losing Turkey?” ? and then suggests that the answer is George Bush:

The [Iraq] war has angered every significant political group in Turkey, from Islamists to leftists to nationalists. The most leftist Turks, harkening back to the 1970s, see the war as a neocolonial effort to achieve U.S. hegemony in the region, and Iran and Syria as a balance to that hegemony. The Turkish daily Cumhuriyet, a vocal proponent of socialism in the ’70s and social democracy later, runs regular articles criticizing the U.S. campaign as an attempt to rule the Middle East.

….Over the past few years, Washington has failed to use the kind of diplomacy that worked for years in Turkey, such as visits by high-level American statesmen involving interaction with ordinary citizens, which Turks love. Washington cannot afford to let Iraq devolve further into chaos, a development that would alienate Ankara even more.

Now, as it happens Islamic parties have been gaining strength in Turkey for years, so there’s more going on here than just the war. And in fairness to the Bush administration, they’ve been pretty steadfast in urging the European Union to admit Turkey to their club.

Still, Turkey’s drift away from secularism and its budding friendships with Syria and Iran make it all the more inexcusable that Bush has not paid more attention to American relations with Ankara. In the end, if we gain a chaotic but slightly more friendly Iraq but lose Turkey in the process, it’s not at all clear we’d be ahead in the deal.

Time will tell how this works out. But it’s a very concrete example of a potential downside of the Iraq war and the hamhanded way the Bush administration handled prewar diplomacy. Stay tuned.