All three are intimately connected, though U.S. foreign policy has yet to understand why the troubled relationship with Turkey relates directly to France and why Pakistan relates to them both.
The main connection is that Turkey’s greatest fear is that it could become another Pakistan, with a return to military rule, a simmering Islamist threat and a nasty guerrilla war in its hard-to-police border lands where a proud and warlike ethnic minority can find sanctuary over the frontier.
This would be a worst-case scenario for Turkey, but such a scenario is far from impossible. The militant Kurdish rebels of the PKK, operating from safe havens inside northern Iraq, have killed many Turkish soldiers and civilians inside Turkey and provoked the Turkish Parliament to authorize military action across the border.
Islamist extremists have planted bombs in Turkey. At a trial in Istanbul this year, 73 men were accused of involvement in a terrorist cell with al-Qaida links in the 2003 suicide attacks that killed 58 people in a British-owned bank, the British consulate and two synagogues.
The commander of the Turkish army, Gen. Ilker Basbug, has publicly warned about a "fundamentalist threat" to Turkey that has reached "alarming dimensions." The English-language New Anatolian newspaper has asked whether Erdogan will turn Turkey into a second Iran. This seems overblown, but the influence of strict Islam is growing; witness the Education Ministry decree that copies of the famous Delacroix painting "Liberty Leading the People" be removed from schoolbooks because Liberty displays bared breasts.
The army has launched coups to seize political power at least three times since the military coup of 1960. It imposed "guided democracy" in 1971 and overthrew the newly elected Demirel government in 1980. In 1997 it launched what has been called a post-modern coup, in which the army backed a media campaign to force the replacement of the Pro-Islam government of Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan with a new coalition.
The diaries of former Navy Commander Adm. Ozden Ornek, published by the newsweekly Nokta, (closed after a military prosecutor’s request for an inquiry), suggest that there were plans for two more coups in 2004, codenamed Sarikiz and Ayisigi. They were reportedly stopped by Chief of General Staff Gen. Hilmi Ozkok.
Whether these coups were close to fruition, the Turkish military enjoys a special role under the constitution as guardian of the secular system established by modern Turkey’s founder, Kemal Ataturk. The Erdogan government has started drafting a new constitution in which the military would be under civilian control. It remains to be seen how the army reacts to this. Earlier this year the Turkish general staff issued a formal statement. It read:
"It is observed that some circles who have been carrying out endless efforts to disturb fundamental values of the Republic of Turkey, especially secularism, have escalated their efforts recently. The Turkish Armed Forces are an absolute defender of secularism… (and) will display its attitude and action openly and clearly whenever it is necessary."
A coup is not likely. The Erdogan government has a new election mandate and has delivered the best economic results that Turkey has ever known. Turkey should not be heading for a Pakistan-style crisis, above all if U.S. hopes for Turkey to join the European Union come to fruition. Turkey is a longstanding NATO member; joining the EU would seal the country into the West’s two premier prosperity and security clubs.
The problem is that Bush’s other guest this week, France’s President Sarkozy, is firmly opposed to Turkey joining the EU. Indeed, it was part of his election platform. He has offered some nebulous alternatives, like a new Mediterranean grouping that would fob Turkey off with membership in an economic club that included Egypt and Libya. Turkey sees this as close to an insult, and a German Marshall Fund opinion poll last month found just 26 percent of Turks who believe that their country will actually join the EU.
Sarkozy, who has won a reputation as a pro-American with an Atlanticist viewpoint, has not done much to deserve that tag beyond some hard rhetoric on Iran and vague promises about rejoining NATO’s military command structure. His Turkish policy is dead set against U.S. policy, and his 700-odd French troops in Afghanistan are kept very safely out of harm's way. All the fighting is being done by U.S., British, Dutch and Canadian forces. As a gesture, French warplanes were instructed to fly air support missions for U.S. troops this week while Sarkozy was in Washington.
So amid the mutual congratulations this week at improved Franco-American relations, it is important to consider just how far France is prepared to back up its words with real commitments over Turkey and over Afghanistan, which is fast becoming a very serious crisis for the NTO alliance. NATO decided that it would formally take responsibility for security in Afghanistan, and it is failing, largely because the French and Germans and other NATO members will not put their troops on the line.
And of course, the worse the Afghan situation becomes, the deeper the crisis in neighboring Pakistan, where the military regime signaled its desperation over the weekend by imposing emergency rule. And the crises of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkey are not separate; they are all part of the same massive challenge of the struggle in the Islamic world between the forces of modernization and of medievalism, between militant extremism and the rule of law, between authoritarian rule and pluralist, representative government.
Modern Turkey wants to avoid the fate of Pakistan and be on the right side of that struggle, if France would only let it.