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August 05, 2003

Wolfowitz v. Turkish Democracy

Since a military coup in the early 1980s (and repeatedly before that), the military in Turkey has exercised an antidemocratic hand against democratic leaders in that country. With little restraint, the military had overthrown elected governments and even institutionalized direct military power through a military council that could overrule democratic governments.

Finally-- partly under pressure by the European Union that only democratic reforms would allow the country to join the EU, the Turkish parliament has stood up and passed reforms (a bit more here), curbing the power and democratizing the power of the military council, expanding freedom of assembly, protecting the minority rights of Kurdish citizens, and reforming the criminal justice system.

Sounds like a good thing all around, yes?

Well not according to the Defense Department's Paul Wolfowitz. Because the current Turkish government has Islamic leanings (although it is officially not religious), the US government favored a dictatorial military-dominated system over a democratic country. When the Iraq war came, the US openly indicated that the Turkish parliament should bow to military demands to support the war. According to the New York Post:

The vote had many consequences. It increased tensions between the AKP and the military. It upset the U.S. government; Paul Wolfowitz of the Defense Department dubbed the decision a "big, big mistake."
After all the rhetoric about democracy in Iraq, this hypocrisy by the United States in opposing democratic decision-making and reforms in Turkey will hardly go unnoticed in the Islamic world. That the US was openly urging the Turkish military to override democratic resistance to participating in the war-- that along puts a lie to Bush's claims that the war was about any ideal of promoting democracy.

It's worth remembering that for all of the US rhetoric about Hussein oppressing his Kurdish population (which was real oppression), the United States has remained essentially silent for decades as its ally Turkey killed and oppressed its Kurdish minority, including mass killings, violations of civil liberties, banning use of the Kurdish language, and suppressing political parties associated with the Kurds.

Why don't progressives believe that the Iraqi war was about promoting democracy and minority rights, rather than about oil and regional power for the US military? Because we can look next door at Turkey where that same Bush administration opposes the democratic values it professes to support in Iraq.

Update: The summary has been modified to clarify that Wolfowitz's comment was about the original democratic conflict between the civilian and military leadership over the Iraq war.

Posted by Nathan at August 5, 2003 08:02 AM