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The Turkish Puzzle

By Ed Koch

An interesting and vital question in today's international maelstrom is, what should the U.S. government's position be toward Turkey? What should we do if the Turkish army -- which has long regarded itself as the guardian of Turkey's secular form of government --decides to take action against Turkey's democratically elected government?

The Turkish army has held the keys to power since the death of Kemal Ataturk, who radically reformed Turkey's government and culture. The army has exercised its perceived prerogative to oust Turkish national civil governments four times since 1960, and may do so again.

Turkey's army command sent signals it was opposed to the selection of Abdullah Gul as president of Turkey. The army perceives Gul to be an Islamist and supporter of a religion-dominated government. Nevertheless, in a recent national election the Turkish people reelected the Justice and Development Party. Based on its huge electoral victory in a subsequent election held by the parliament, that party voted to elect Abdullah Gul as president of Turkey by a vote of 339 to 83.

The military command conveyed its upset by declining to attend the inauguration, a clear signal that its opposition to the presidential selection remains.

If the Turkish military leaders -- who see themselves as the guardians of a secular Turkey and fear Mr. Gul and his party will gradually whittle away at the secularity of the Turkish government -- steps in and supersedes the civil government imposing military rule to protect a continued secular Turkey, should the then U.S. president, the U.S. Congress, national media and our nation's other leaders denounce the Turkish military in such event and call for sanctions against them?

When the Algerian military in 1992 stopped the then pending second round of the national election because it was clear that were the election to go forward, the fundamentalist Islamic party, Islamic Salvation Front (F.I.S.) would win, deposing the National Liberation Front (F.L.N.), a secular party which had ruled Algeria since its independence achieved in 1962, and seek to implement its official slogan, "No Constitution and no laws. The only rule is the Koran and the law of God."

The New York Times in an editorial of August 24, 1993 after the F.L.N. with the support of the military cancelled the elections, inveighed, "Algeria, with opportunities for peaceful change rapidly disappearing and its unpopular government clinging to power by military force, slides deeper into the sterile politics of death." The article went on, "Most Western governments winked when Algeria's army seized power in January 1992 to deny the Islamic movement a victory it had won in parliamentary elections." It continued, "Had the Islamic movement been allowed to assume parliamentary power, would it have been any less repressive, or more competent, than the army? No one can know."

On May 17, 2007, after a bloody civil war which claimed at least 100,000 lives, the Algerian military allowed an election to be held and the secular, current Algerian civil government led by the F.L.N., won.

Was that preferable to the Islamist F.I.S. taking power? I think so.

If Musharraf of Pakistan, Mubarak of Egypt, King Abdullah II of Jordan, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia -- all leaders of authoritarian-style governments -- were to allow fair elections in their countries, there is little doubt but that the Islamic party religious fundamentalists in those countries wanting to impose Sharia (which among other penalties provides for the cutting off of hands for those who steal and the stoning to death of those who commit adultery or acts of homosexuality) and restore the caliphate with one religious leader in command of all of the Islamic republics, would prevail.

Would that be good or bad for the U.S. and the Western world? Is the conclusion reached responding to that question a legitimate reason for our response in seeking as best we can an avoidance of such an outcome? I think it definitely is and that first and foremost as their obligation for any president and Congress is the protection of the U.S. from foreign attack. I fear there are many in Congress, the media and the public who would conclude, it is the choice of the people of those countries and we have to live with it.

What would former President Jimmy Carter say? I have no doubt he would denounce any action on the part of the U.S. to assist those in those countries seeking to prevent such an outcome.

I for one believe we would be fools not to intervene and support those seeking to stop the rise of another Islamic state bent on our destruction. I believe Senator McCain best summed up what our response should be in like situations when he said, "There's only one thing worse than the United States exercising the military option, that is, a nuclear-armed Iran."

Ed Koch is the former Mayor of New York City.

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