Foreign policy “realists,” back in the saddle since the Texan cowboy left town, are extremely fond of the concept of “stability”: America needs a stable Middle East, so we should learn to live with Mubarak and the mullahs and the House of Saud, etc. You can see the appeal of “stability” to your big-time geopolitical analyst: You don’t have to update your Rolodex too often, never mind rethink your assumptions. “Stability” is a fancy term to upgrade inertia and complacency into strategy. No wonder the fetishization of stability is one of the most stable features of foreign-policy analysis.
Unfortunately, back in what passes for the real world, there is no stability. History is always on the march, and, if it’s not moving in your direction, it’s generally moving in the other fellow’s. Take this “humanitarian” “aid” flotilla. Much of what went on — the dissembling of the Palestinian propagandists, the hysteria of the U.N. and the Euro-ninnies — was just business as usual. But what was most striking was the behavior of the Turks. In the wake of the Israeli raid, Ankara promised to provide Turkish naval protection for the next “aid” convoy to Gaza. This would be, in effect, an act of war — more to the point, an act of war by a NATO member against the State of Israel.
Ten years ago, Turkey’s behavior would have been unthinkable. Ankara was Israel’s best friend in a region where every other neighbor wishes, to one degree or another, the Jewish state’s destruction. Even when Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP was elected to power eight years ago, the experts assured us there was no need to worry. I remember sitting in a plush bar late one night with a former Turkish foreign minister, who told me, in between passing round the cigars and chugging back the Scotch, that, yes, the new crowd weren’t quite so convivial in the wee small hours but, other than that, they knew where their interests lay. Like many Turkish movers and shakers of his generation, my drinking companion loved the Israelis. “They’re tough hombres,” he said admiringly. “You have to be in this part of the world.” If you had suggested to him that in six years’ time the Turkish prime minister would be telling the Israeli president to his face that “I know well how you kill children on beaches,” he would have dismissed it as a fantasy concoction for some alternative universe.
Yet it happened. Erdogan said those words to Shimon Peres at Davos last year and then flounced off stage. Day by day what was formerly the Zionist entity’s staunchest pal talks more and more like just another cookie-cutter death-to-the-Great-Satan stan-of-the-month.
As the think-tankers like to say: “Who lost Turkey?” In a nutshell: Kemal Ataturk. Since he founded post-Ottoman Turkey in his own image nearly nine decades ago, the population has increased from 14 million to over 70 million. But that five-fold increase is not evenly distributed. The short version of Turkish demographics in the 20th century is that Rumelian Turkey — i.e., western, European, secular, Kemalist Turkey — has been outbred by Anatolian Turkey — i.e., eastern, rural, traditionalist, Islamic Turkey. Ataturk and most of his supporters were from Rumelia, and they imposed the modern Turkish republic on a reluctant Anatolia, where Ataturk’s distinction between the state and Islam was never accepted. Now they don’t have to accept it. The swelling population has spilled out of its rural hinterland and into the once solidly Kemalist cities.