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14:58, 23 June 2018 Saturday
Update: 14:27, 25 March 2011 Friday

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What is Turkey\'s position in the Greater Middle East Initiative?
What is Turkey\'s position in the Greater Middle East Initiative?

We want to look at “the Greater Middle East Initiative and the position of Turkey in this initiative” in the light of changing structure of the political scenes and concepts.

By İsmail Duman, World Bulletin

"If we, both the Americans and the Turks, have stood forward and said we support the protestors and they have now been thrown in jail, are we willing to go in with our tanks to liberate them? Are we willing to take a stand? Or are we going to have the moral ground and say to Mubarak, we think you shouldn't be as repressive, we think it would be nicer if you let some of this up. So I think the Broader Middle East Initiative is a great idea that will continue to live. I think Obama is personifying it in some ways, but I think the idea is we do not want a Made in the USA stamp on this; I don't think a Made in Turkey stamp is good either, it's a lot better than a US one, but I think a Made in Egypt, in Tunisia, in Yemen is going to go a whole lot further than anything we can come up with." said Joshua W. Walker, a research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School and a non-resident fellow at the German Marshall Fund based in Washington, about the last developments in the Middle East.

Today, we want to look at "the Greater Middle East Initiative and the position of Turkey in this initiative" in the light of changing structure of the political scenes and concepts.

It is known fact that Turkey supports and shares the aims of Greater Middle East Initiative(GMEI); but the divergence is about whether Turkey acts in the direction of U.S. or not. Or else, does it try to become an "indigenous role model" independent from U.S.' long-future plans?

Before looking at this inquisition, we should focus on the aims and roadmaps of GMEI.

What does GMEI provide for the Middle East?

As Eddie J. Girdner says, "the George W. Bush Administration launched the Greater Middle East Initiative (GMEl) as 'a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East' in November 2003. The policy emerged as a central plank in the 'war on terrorism' just as Operation Iraqi Freedom began to encounter stiff resistance to the US occupation of Iraq. Marketed as a 'brand new strategy' of 'ending autocracy' in the region and bringing democracy to those deprived of freedom, officials clainned the policy was designed to "clean up the messy fart of the world."

On the other hand, Hüseyin Bagcı and Bayram Sinkaya extend and detail the aims of GMEI for us:

"The aim is to improve the economic, social and political situation in the Middle East so as to counter "extremism, terrorism, international crime and illegal migration" in the region. The initiative addresses such areas as open markets, free elections, press liberty and support for human rights organizations. The document released following the G8 summit was called "Partnership for Progress and a Common Future with the Broader Middle East and North African Region." It expressed the G8 countries' commitment to pursue cooperation with regional governments, business and civil society in the region.

The document addresses political, socio-cultural and economic issues. In the political domain, the document views democratic structures and the rule of law as the first step towards guaranteeing human rights, fundamental freedoms, diversity and pluralism in the region. In the socio-cultural sphere, the statement emphasizes universal education, freedom of expression and gender equality. In the economic area, it calls for job creation, reforms and the promotion of intra-regional trade."

Actually, when we look at this picture, we come across many American lies again and again. We have seen the real picture in Iraq, Afghanistan or any other oppressed region. But, although we know these facts, why, today, are we still talking about the position of Turkey in this initiative? We firstly focus on this question. Many commentators answer this question through different goals/aims of Turkey in the region; but we will see that this is not so easy and demandable. Sedat Laciner is one of these commentators:

"When the US talks about the Greater Middle East Project, it argues the need for more human rights, democracy, liberalism, women rights, and economical development; as a matter of fact that many countries, including Turkey, share these ideas. However, the US' Middle East policies were based on three totally different goals: First, change the leaders; second, change the regimes; and third, change the borders. The US thought that it could easily change leaders, then regimes and finally the borders. The Bush administration used an Israeli-centric approach in planning its short-term goals. One reason for this was the lack of regional support for leaders, regimes, and artificial borders in the region."

In addition to this, our some commentators give advice to America and say that "this way is not good; of course our aims is the same with your aims, but you do not know this region very well. If you want to be successful, you should not focus on Turkey model and you should change your concepts about the values of Middle East." Metin Camcigil is one of these commentators. His answer to his "should the modernization of Islam be an issue of a formal international agenda?" question is so:

"The question should not be to moderate Islam or whether Islam can embrace modernization and democracy, but whether Muslims as individuals can embrace liberty and modernity. To achieve this we should rather look for means of educating, thus modernizing the minds of these people, rather than modernizing their religion. Transforming minds is an easier task than transforming a religion. Once people are transformed they may attempt to modernize their religion on their own volition, without the bloodshed that happened during the two hundred years of Reformation in the West.


Therefore, there should not be any reference to Islam or to any religion for that matter, much less any reference to its moderation or modernization, in any foreign policy design of the US in the Muslim world. In fact, even a perception of any religious element in any US foreign policy should be avoided at all cost for it would produce an entirely opposite effect in some Muslim countries."

What is Turkey's position?

As Ozan Ormeci says, "the vice-President of Bush administration, Dick Cheney, points out Turkey as the prime example of "Islamic democracy" which is the reason why Turkey is very important both for the Islamic and the Western world. He talks about the problems in various regimes on matters like women rights, human rights, democratic deficits, hatred and prejudices against the West and the Israeli-Palestine problem. What is important in his article is that while talking about "Islamic democracy", Cheney points out Turkey as its best example, a comment that is highly disturbing for a country having a secure, albeit a little problematic, secular rule more than 80 years.

Moreover, the Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz explained his thoughts in July 2002 so:

"To win the war against terrorism, and, in so doing, to shape a more peaceful world, we must reach out to the hundreds of millions of moderate and tolerant people in the Muslim world. We must speak to those people around the world who aspire to enjoy the blessings of freedom and free enterprise. Turkey offers a compelling demonstration that these values are compatible with modern society — that religious beliefs need not be sacrificed to build modern democratic institutions."

According to Hüseyin Bagcı and Bayram Sinkaya, "this (Paul Wolfowitz's) view is widely shared in Western circles and especially among US officials. In this context, Turkey can serve as an example for the Muslim world of a country that reconciles Islam with liberal democracy. Furthermore, recently the AKP's image as an Islamist party has altered mutual perceptions between Turkey and the Arab states. Thanks both to the characteristics of the AKP government in Turkey and its historical and cultural bonds with the region, Turkey is well suited to help realize the GMEI. Additionally, the United States needs the cooperation of indigenous states in order to avoid the impression of imposing an agenda unilaterally."

Although Metin Camcigil does not approve the model of Turkey in this initiative and writes so: "By supporting the Western style secularism and by showcasing Turkey as a model of modern Islamic country, the West is encouraging the influence of religion in politics without knowing its possible consequences in an Islamic society. Why adapting Turkey to the circumstances of the Muslim world anyway, instead of the Muslim world following in the footsteps of Turkish modernization of yesteryears, unless of course we have some ominous ulterior motives? Are we out to promote modernity or religiosity in the world? We must have learned our lesson from the Green Crescent Project of 1970s designed to curb the spread of communism in the countries flanking the southern border of Russia. We need to wake up to the reality that the wars we are waging today are the consequences of that infamous misconceived project."; many commentators do not agree with him. Bulent Aras explains Turkey through three factors/reasons as a role model:

"One, Turkey's modernization, its social and cultural achievements, its economic development, its political and economic stability, and its democratization and good governance made it an attractive civil-economic power to the countries of the region. As an example, Turkish TV series gained considerable popularity in the Arab countries. The rising interest in Turkey in the Middle East prompts more visits to Turkey by citizens of the regional countries.

Two, Turkey's ability to pursue an active foreign policy, which pays attention to international legitimacy and regional concerns, with the aim of resolving the region's serious problems increases the country's prestige in the Middle East.

Three, Turkey pursues its diplomacy carefully and modestly. Turkish policy aims to include all related actors, forming a broad coalition to solve problems and develop initiatives. Turkish policy-makers keep an equal distance from all actors and avoid taking part in any regional alliances or groupings."

Up to this point, we do not come across any important divergence about these questions and issues. This is the fact that U.S. wants to see more democratic countries in the Middle East and Turkey can be model for these countries. But, the problem emerges here. Greater Middle East Initiative is an American project and U.S. wants to see Turkey in the scene as a helper. Turkey has also almost same aims with U.S. in the region. But, as we ask before, the question is: "Does Turkey acts in the direction of U.S. or not. Or else, does it try to become an 'indigenous role model' independent from U.S.' long-future plans?"

Can Turkey be an "independent" role model or not?

Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, evaluates GMEI as follows:

"Greater Middle East Project, a concept put forth by the US administration, was never more misunderstood anywhere else than in Turkey. In the first phase of the project, Turkey, Italy and Yemen were co-president countries. But it was killed before it was born. Our part was improving women's rights and democratization. Would it have hurt if we had made gains in these areas?


It has to be said from the outset that, long before the Broader Middle East Initiative became the subject of every other newspaper article or televised debate, Turkey had been articulating its ideas and vision for the Middle East in various forums, including the meetings of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC). Turkey wants to see a more democratic, free, and peaceful Middle East Initiative that is well governed and has an efficiently functioning economy. This should not be mistaken as idealism. Turkey's own interests require peaceful and stable neighbors that it can interact with positively at all levels. Turkey's aspirations for the region, therefore, are harmonious with the positive objectives of the Broader Middle East Initiative."

"USA's forced democratization policies are not in conformity with Turkey's "peace at home, peace in the world" principle which was first stated by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the republic's founder. Turkish people are also very suspicious of America's hidden agenda in this project." says Ozan Ormeci.

On the other hand, according to Gökhan Çetinsaya, "in principle, the ruling JDP elites support the American BMEI project as an essential initiative for the good of the future of the Middle East. This vision accepts globalization as a natural stage of world history. In that sense, it is not surprising to see the effects of globalization in the Middle East. Globalization will manifest itself in the Middle East sooner or later, regardless of the American initiative. The Middle East cannot survive for very long with its present political system, and should, therefore, adopt democratic values and structures, and integrate into the global system. But they criticize the method or the style of implementation of the initiative by the Bush administration. For Turkish elites, there are two main conditions for the implementation of the American project: a) It should not change the political landscape of the Middle East. It should not fragment or dissolve existing nation-states or alter their current borders. This would lead to chaos in the region; b) The initiative should come from within the system or the people, and should take social, cultural and economic parameters of the region into account. This new Turkish foreign policy vision argues that a self-confident Turkey should formulate and develop its own project in terms of the BMEI initiative, and implement it with its own paradigms or parameters. Then, according to this vision, Turkey could manage or lead great transformations in the region without any foreign intervention. In this regard, Turkey should have an active policy for the future of the region, prepare the mental framework for this initiative, share it with the people of the region, and transform the region in peace and stability."

On the other hand, according to Ferdi Çetin, from Ege University, "Will Turkey play given role from U.S. or its own role in the Middle East?" question is very crucial in order to understand the real picture. He says that "Rejection of the abovementioned 1 March 2003 motion on US forces, Hamas Leader Khalid Mashal's visit to Turkey and 'One Minute' in the Davos Summit" are among the issues which actually could cause to problems in the America-Turkey relations. But, because of Turkey's position in the region, U.S. condones Turkey's these wrongs for the sake of GMEI. According to him, if AKP keeps its position, it derives from that it represents "moderate Islam" in the region very well. On the other hand, for Turkey, America is always important element/power in Turkey's decisions.

But Hüseyin Bagcı and Bayram Sinkaya look at this issue from some different viewpoint:

"Thanks both to the characteristics of the AKP government in Turkey and its historical and cultural bonds with the region, Turkey is well suited to help realize the GMEI. Additionally, the United States needs the cooperation of indigenous states in order to avoid the impression of imposing an agenda unilaterally.

However, cooperating with the United States within the GMEI has not been easy for the AKP government to justify, given the widespread anti-Americanism in Turkey and the Middle East. AKP leaders need to avoid being perceived as the forward base of the United States and the West in the region. Thus, they have argued that they have been behaving "indigenously." Resorting to the discourse of "universal values" while emphasizing that Islamic civilization contributed greatly to their emergence is one way to indigenize the basic features of the GMEI and to ward off objections from the region. Moreover, as noted, AKP leaders have kept emphasizing that the initiative should not be imposed from outside and should be based on the willing cooperation of the regional countries.

Some factors have facilitated the AKP's job, such as the rejection of the abovementioned 1 March 2003 motion on US forces and the AKP's Islamist roots. The AKP's reserved attitude towards the United States has also boosted Turkey's image in the region. It further adds credibility that the AKP is perceived in the region as having Islamic sensitivities. AKP leaders' declarations have boosting this perception as well. For instance, when Gül spoke on the need for reform in the Islamic countries, he said that "we should put our house into order before someone else does it" with special emphasis on "we".

Nevertheless, the active role the AKP plays in the GMEI confronts it with difficult choices. The AKP advocates certain indigenous values related to the concept of civilization as well as championing democracy and human rights as universal values. Whereas its advocacy of the so-called universal values necessitates close cooperation with outside forces that promote them, in the indigenous dimension the AKP needs to acts on its own and reduce outside interference as much as possible."

Different viewpoints from Turkey in this issue...

According to Dr. Duygu Bazoglu Sezer, there are three major clusters of opinion:

"Cautious Optimists: This group sees the GMEI as a positive project in principle with the potential to help the region modernize itself politically and economically only IF certain preconditions are met.

The first precondition relates to the question of the ownership of the project. Who will be the leading policy-making and implementing agents? The second precondition is the need to recognize that the Arab-Israeli conflict was and continues to be the central source of instability in the region. For GMEI's acceptability, let alone success, Arabs must see the light at the end of the tunnel for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Official Turkish position seems to be somewhere along these lines. Officials insist that Turkey does not wish to present itself as a "model" to others on the question of reform or the recently popular thesis in the West that it has successfully married democracy to Islam.

Pessimists: The second group of opinion dismisses the project as unwise and undoable. A foreign-made project designed to transform Muslim countries through foreign social engineering will trigger deep regional resistance. They believe that in the absence of a popular demand for change—as is the case in the GME—social engineering will not work; instead, it will create greater instability.

Rejectionists: The third group consists of Islamists who believe that the GMEI is another ploy of Western imperialists in the heartland of the Islamic world to destroy their culture and identity and to break to pieces the social fabric of Islamic society."

On the other hand, Metin Camcigil's comments represent the viewpoint of the secular elites in Turkey: "My conclusion is that we should meticulously avoid making any reference to religion in general, to Islam in particular, and to the Turkish model, whether as the modern Turkey of past years or as the envisaged Islamic Turkey, in a GMEI or in any other international initiative that may be considered for the future of the ME. The solution for the modernization of Muslim countries lies elsewhere, it lies in rational education."


"The GMEI has aroused intense interest in Turkey for a variety of reasons. The most obvious ones are geographic proximity and cultural/religious affinity. Any major change in the region is likely to have deep repercussions here." says Dr. Duygu Bazoglu Sezer. "Also, the word "reform" rings a very familiar bell in Turkish ears, as the country has been immersed in a radical reform process almost day after day since the year 2000 in order to qualify for EU membership negotiations."

So, Turkey's role in GMEI is very crucial. Saying that we have been behaving 'indigenously' is not enough in order to justify Turkey's cooperation with U.S. in this Initiative. In my opinion, Turkey-AKP- is playing chess as taking account of both Islamic roots and global realpolitik. In other words, although AKP knows that U.S. has very different agenda in this region, it thinks that there is no anyway in order to develop Middle Eastern countries. While Turkey's sharing the same aims with U.S. in democratization process is very controversial, its cooperation with America is more and more controversial. We should remember again and again that Turkey is not a big player in this chess.

"We all know of Huntington's theory of the clash of civilizations. Even though this theory was thought to have flopped, this is not the case. If we were to put aside the erroneousness of the violent destructiveness of George W. Bush and the neocons in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we were to consider Islamophobia, which is holding its ground in Europe, as well as the end of multiculturalism and other factors, we would see that the theory of the clash of civilizations -- just like the Greater Middle East Project -- is still in effect, having changed only methods and vehicles." says Ali Bulac, from Today's Zaman.

Actually, we saw/see these changing methods and vehicles in Egypt and Tunisia. In addition to this, presentation of Turkey as a successful model in the region is not an accident. The big players of this chess are thinking more broadly. So, we should be very careful in taking a step. As Ozan Ormeci says, "it is not surprising to see that JDP government's success and the rise of moderate Islam in Turkey coincide with USA's plans to reshape not only the Middle East but also Caucasia, Northern Africa and Asia."

So, we should give an ear to these facts/realities. Otherwise, although AKP government wants to win this global chess, it can be a pawn of global superpowers. This is the most horrible scenario for Turkey and AK Party.

As a conclusion, we can see that although there are very different claims and defences, neither Turkey's aims nor its means and vehicles do not seem an independent from global superpowers. We know many think-tank organizations which focus on the change in the Middle East and their calculations and plans coincide with Turkey's role, position and means. Hence, Turkey and AKP should avoid betraying its Muslim brothers.

As a last comment, I want to give an ear to Eddie J. Girdner's sentences about the real agenda of GMEI:

"The Greater Middle East Initiative is not about bringing 'democracy' to the Middle East, but precisely the opposite. It is a program to ensure that the only 'democracy' to emerge in the region is that which serves the interests of the US domestic ruling class, the corporate or business class."


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