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« Nixon and Deng: architects of our globalized world | Main | The prisons we build: the company we keep »
Sunday
Apr082007

Most important American ally you've never heard of

Name this country if you can:

  • Europe's largest NATO military force.
  • Loyal member of that alliance for over 50 years.
  • Booming economy, currently 17th largest in the world.
  • Fiercely secular political system.
  • Population more than 99 percent Muslim.

If you guessed Turkey, then march to the head of the class.

If you didn't have a clue, don't feel bad. If I weren't on the verge of publishing my third book in Turkish, I'm not sure I would have done much better.

Turkey is arguably the most important - and least appreciated - bellwether of how America's doing in this long war against radical Islamic extremism, and yet its ultimate fate seems entirely out of our hands.

That's because France, Germany and Austria, three societies whose knee-jerk racism against Muslims outdistances America's goofy post-9/11 variety, are openly sabotaging Turkey's long-anticipated accession to the European Union.

This is a stunningly historic injustice to a country that served for decades as NATO's southern bulwark against Soviet expansion, especially since Turkey has made such huge strides in reforming itself in preparation for these negotiations, which began only last year.

I say "only last year" because several former Soviet-bloc states were fast-tracked into EU membership in 2004.

No wonder Turkey feels like the EU is a closed, Christians-only club.

There's a lot of demographic fear behind Old Europe's resistance to Turkey's membership. With roughly 70 million inhabitants and high birth rate, Turkey would soon own the most seats in the European Parliament, surpassing current kingpin Germany - ground zero for Europe's rather permanent, Turkish "guest workers" presence.

But given Europe's rapidly aging population, the fact that 25 percent of Turkey's population is younger than 15 would do plenty to stem the continent's declining worker-to-retiree ratio.

Of course, much like some Americans' concerns about our ongoing Latinization process, many Europeans fear the invasive species Homo Islamicus - as in, there goes the neighborhood and our sacred national identity.

Boo hoo!

Tell me, if the West is ultimately going to defeat the radical Islamic jihadist movement by successfully integrating the Middle East into global society, what better signal can we send than Turkey's accession into the European Union?

I mean, if you play by our economic and political rules, and you firmly separate religion and state, don't we let you into the club?

Ideally, Turkey provides the Middle East with a model of secular democracy and market-oriented development similar to West Germany's showcasing function during the Cold War.

Turkey's rapid succession would be the best thing that could happen to the EU because it would speed up a much-needed social dialogue across Europe regarding racial identity in an increasingly globalized world.

In the end, all this process really boils down to is getting Europe adjusted to the inescapable historical reality that it has shifted from exporting surplus population to importing labor.

Bringing Turkey inside the fold would extend Europe's geographic boundary right to the front lines of this long war. Good incentive structure, say I.

The alternative could be a lot worse - namely, the radicalization of a rejected Turkey.

That may not sound particularly likely, given Turkey's decades of secular rule backed up by a military willing to intervene when necessary to prevent any slippage, but here's where our current occupation of Iraq comes into play.

By toppling Saddam Hussein in neighboring Iraq, America set in motion the rise of a free and increasingly independent Kurdistan.

Since Kurds are the largest non-Turkish minority in Turkey, serving as the source for an occasionally quite violent liberation movement there, most Turks have been gripped by the paranoia that our real motive in Iraq is to dismember Turkey as a unitary state.

Nothing could be further from the truth, and yet, look at it from Turkey's perspective.

Turkey still has some way to go to qualify itself for EU membership, but fast-tracking those negotiations should be a primary goal of U.S. foreign policy in this long war.

Simply put, Washington should be twisting arms in Berlin, Paris and Vienna to make this happen sooner rather than later.

For our European allies, it's time to put up or shut up. It's not enough for Europe to close the door on the Cold War by integrating former socialist states.

It needs to open up some new ones in this long war against radical extremism.

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