Thursday, June 23, 2005

Beacon No. 47: Caution about Consistency


In "Weighing the Effects of Freely Elected Islamist Governments," National Public Radio discusses the perils of the U.S. refusing to deal with freely elected Islamist governments in the Middle East. It would be inconsistent, Jackie Northam reports, for the administration to do so after pushing so hard for democratic elections in the region.

Matters of taste aside, U.S. law would forbid dealings with, say, a Hamas administration in Ramallah, since Hamas is classified as a terrorist organization by the State Department. But Northam's story doesn't mention that the Bush administration has already had nearly three years of relations with a freely elected Islamist government: that of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party in Turkey.

Before his election, Erdogan was tried for reading poetry that was too "Islamic" for Turkish tastes, never mind what U.S. officials thought. But like any newly elected politicians, Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party found that campaign-trail rhetoric clashes with the need to govern. Turkish citizens' strong desire for EU membership and the threat of a veto by Turkey's secular military also moderated the new government's attitudes.

Following a low point just before the Iraq war—when Ankara refused to let its territory be used by U.S. troops or aircraft headed for Iraq—relations have improved dramatically; Prime Minister Erdogan and President Bush have even swapped visits to each others' countries.

Today the Turkish state is easier for the U.S. to deal with than its putative European allies, and I hope the Bush administration remembers this when deciding who to deal with and who to ignore.

It might even be better for State to find a way to reclassify a freely elected Hamas government out of "terrorist" status, rather than have no direct way to deal with an administration the whole Arab world will watch for decades.

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