That's the question currently making the rounds in Washington, D.C. Many observers were stunned by Ankara's support of the "aid mission" to Gaza that ended in a confrontation with Israeli commandos.
So, how does an important U.S. ally (and NATO partner) get involved with groups that are sworn enemies of Israel? And, how did we fail to notice Turkey's move away from the west, and towards its new friends like Iran and Syria?
As Robert Pollock explains in today's edition of The Wall Street Journal, Ankara's march towards Islamic extremism began almost a decade ago, with the election of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan. Since then, Turks have been fed a steady diet of anti-Semitic (and anti-U.S. propaganda), inflaming public sentiment against two of the nation's most important allies:
To follow Turkish discourse in recent years has been to follow a national decline into madness. Imagine 80 million or so people sitting at the crossroads between Europe and Asia. They don't speak an Indo-European language and perhaps hundreds of thousands of them have meaningful access to any outside media. What information most of them get is filtered through a secular press that makes Italian communists look right wing by comparison and an increasing number of state (i.e., Islamist) influenced outfits. Topics A and B (or B and A, it doesn't really matter) have been the malign influence on the world of Israel and the United States.
For example, while there was much hand-wringing in our own media about "Who lost Turkey?" when U.S. forces were denied entry to Iraq from the north in 2003, no such introspection was evident in Ankara and Istanbul. Instead, Turks were fed a steady diet of imagined atrocities perpetrated by U.S. forces in Iraq, often with the implication that they were acting as muscle for the Jews. The newspaper Yeni Safak, Erdogan's daily read, claimed that Americans were tossing so many Iraqi bodies into the Euphrates that local mullahs had issued a fatwa ordering residents not to eat the fish. The same paper repeatedly claimed that the U.S. used chemical weapons in Fallujah. And it reported that Israeli soldiers had been deployed alongside U.S. forces in Iraq and that U.S. forces were harvesting the innards of dead Iraqis for sale on the U.S. "organ market."
It is especially telling that Mr. Erdogan, in a subsequent interview with Robert Pollock, refused to denounce such claims. That is hardly a surprise; such lies clearly serve his political goals. Now, in the wake of the Gaza incident, Erdogan's foreign minister is demanding U.S. "solidarity" with Turkey. So far, the Obama Administration has refused to take the bait. So far.
The question really isn't "who" lost Turkey. Ankara lost its way years ago. The question now is what happens to its relationships with the U.S., Israel and NATO. As we noted previously, Tel Aviv has gone out of its way to preserve its long-standing relationship with the Turkish military, which remains the cornerstone of the modern, secular state. We would hope that our own Defense Department is doing the same thing.
Bottom line: someone needs to take the pulse of the Turkish General Staff (TGS); if Ankara's senior military leaders are firmly behind their Islamist Prime Minister, then it may be impossible to preserve our alliance with Turkey.