What’s Happening in Turkey?
And how will it end?

Taksim Square in Istanbul, June 11.


LOPEZ: Fools? Could you be more pessimistic?

RUBIN: That is the way a lot of Turks speak. The current demonstrations are the first sign of hope. The main opposition is the historic Ataturk party. I was in Istanbul in the last election and heard on television the speech of that party’s leader after that party’s defeat. He said they lost because the voters were stupid. The current leader raised hopes but wasn’t able to deliver.

LOPEZ: How is this important in the context of the Middle East? 

RUBIN: Not at all, really, in terms of the larger picture. This is not changing international issues.

LOPEZ: But isn’t Turkey supposed to be a model secular state in the Islamic world?

RUBIN: It was in the republican, Ataturk era, but that is long gone. A lot of people have an outdated view of Turkey. 

LOPEZ: What might this mean for the future of Turkey? 

RUBIN: Probably nothing. Either slower or faster, Islamization is still Islamization. There is little or no chance of getting rid of Erdogan or of Obama changing policy. There has been much discussion of whether the Turkish economy will continue to do well or will crash. So far it has done acceptably and that helped to keep Erdogan popular.

LOPEZ: What if the White House were to reconsider? What would be a helpful policy?

RUBIN: There are people in the State Department who are very unhappy with what’s been happening in Turkey, as you can see in the embassy reporting. There were high-ranking officials who wanted Obama to take a tougher line toward Erdogan, breaking away from his pro-Muslim Brotherhood policy in Syria. Up to now, U.S. Syrian policy has been made in Turkey. But Obama kept to his pro-Erdogan line. The government renewed the exceptions to Iranian sanctions for Turkey. If Erdogan goes to Gaza, it will really throw a pie in Obama’s face — and show that he has no respect for U.S. interests. Note that Erdogan has disregarded the supposed détente with Israel and broke all his commitments despite the fact that these were made as direct promises to Obama! But he paid nothing for this behavior.

LOPEZ: Can the U.S. be of any help in Syria, as Obama–administration officials — and John McCain — meet with some leaders of the opposition to Assad? 

RUBIN: This is a big question. Remember that the Obama administration courted the Bashar Assad dictatorship until it had to change course because of the rebellion. Then it backed the Muslim Brotherhood — this is easy to document — and was soft on the Salafist radicals. Now they have awoken too late, trying to find non-Islamist moderates. Just as in Turkey, the Brotherhood types in Syria refuse to be flexible or to listen to the United States, but they still get the goodies. McCain understands nothing. He meets with the Free Syrian Army, which probably is less than 5 percent of the armed rebels. The civil war will go on for years, wreck Syria, kill tens of thousands of people, create two repressive regimes, and be a big strategic mess. I prefer the rebels to Assad, but the margin isn’t huge. This is a tragedy; it has become like the Iran–Iraq war. Neither side is good for U.S. interests, and when it does finally end, watch out for more instability. The whole problem has involved so much Western wishful thinking. Every time I’m interviewed by Western journalists, they claim that these radical Islamist regimes will inevitably become moderate, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

LOPEZ: What do the National Security Agency surveillance leaks — Edward Snowden on the run — look like to you, from afar? 

RUBIN: This is not the way to handle a counterterrorist policy. It really looks as if terrorism is an excuse for gathering information on U.S. citizens. This NSA approach is like the TSA approach to airport security: Pretend that everyone needs surveillance rather than using profiles to focus on the likely threats. 

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at large of National Review Online.