Tuesday, May 03, 2005

We'll Write You from Brussels


Stop the presses: Turkey has agreed in principle to let the U.S. expand its non-lethal military cargo flights in and out of a U.S. airbase in Turkey.

It doesn't sound like that big a deal on its face, but there's a back-story here that's worth telling.

As deep as the U.S.-European Union divide over Iraq is, it's nothing compared to the gulf caused by the idea of admitting Turkey to the E.U.

As you've heard, most European governments oppose—as politely as they can through gritted teeth—Turkish E.U. membership. It's only with the greatest reluctance that the E.U. has agreed to start negotiations about a Turkish accession to the Union, and this after 20 years of trying by Ankara.

The U.S. has long supported Turkey's bid for accession. American policymakers see this as helping to stabilize Turkey's democracy and economy, crucial in a country that's the linchpin of a half-dozen Central Asian nations with Turkic populations or roots.

It also helps keep Ankara part of "us" in the us-vs.-them War on Terror, particularly absent a compelling post-Cold War reason for the U.S., E.U. and Turkey to cooperate via NATO.

Now, an L.A. Times article says, Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has told Parliament:

... "the United States is the main axis of our foreign policy."

In his warmest description of relations with the U.S. since taking power more than two years ago, Erdogan added: "We can never forget America's support" for Turkey's efforts to join the European Union.

Payback time! Steady, patient U.S. support for Turkey's aspirations over the years—

Even though the U.S. quietly opposed Erdogan, a moderate Islamist, in his bid to become prime minister; and

Even though Erdogan once referred to Iraqi insurgents as "martyrs"; and

Even though Turkey refused to let the U.S. use it as a staging area for the attack on Iraq; and

Even though Turkish commandos treated Kurdish northern Iraq like their private playground right after the war,

... is paying dividends in increased numbers of non-lethal flights in and out of Incirlik, which since September 11 has become even more vital to the U.S.'s ability to maintain operations in southwest and Central Asia.

(It helps that Erdogan doesn't have to go to Parliament for permission, since he'd probably be laughed out of the chamber. But still.)

Look for a follow-up American goodwill gesture, the L.A. Times article says: An invite for Mr. Erdogan to come to Washington.

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