EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the text of a speech that was delivered to the American & Turkish Veterans Association on January 28, 2003.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for the invitation to appear here today. I am Senior Policy Analyst at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, and the director of an Islam and Democracy project there. I am the author of a book, The Two Faces of Islam: The House of Sa’ud From Tradition to Terror, the first study published in the West of the Islamic sect of Wahhabism, its involvement with the royal authorities of Saudi Arabia, and the entanglement of both the sect and the kingdom with the global organization and financing of Islamic extremism and terrorism.
But let me humbly salute the memory, and the presence here, of valiant men of arms, who bravely and selflessly put themselves on the front lines, on the barren, cold hills of Korea, to defend freedom. I am an American patriot and enthusiastic friend of the Turkish people, whose sons, organized in the Turkish Brigade, fought there side-by-side with our own, and showing an immortal example of resistance when held as prisoners-of-war by the Communists. In Korea, it is said, “no enemy attack ever succeeded in penetrating the front held by the Turkish Brigade.” Time magazine noted, “The courageous battles of the Turkish Brigade have created a favorable effect on the whole United Nations Forces.” In the words of a British officer, “The Turks, who were out of ammunition, affixed their bayonets and attacked the enemy, and there ensued a terrible hand to hand combat. The Turks succeeded in withdrawing by continuous combat and by carrying their injured comrades on their backs. They paraded at Pyongyang with their heads held high.”
I am also a great admirer of the distant relatives of the Turks, the Korean people. I have visited Korea twice and have spent many hours pondering the world-historical significance of the Korean War.
I join you today to discuss the tensions on the eastern border of NATO, involving the confrontation with Saddam Hussein and the role of Turkey in the democratic coalition against him.
I will be blunt. I believe that the history of the democracies is that of great moral challenges, and great tests of arms, in which defeatists, the fainthearted, isolationists and enemy sympathizers are swept into the dustbin of history. Let me return, for a moment, to the Korean example, so as to draw some analogies.
When the insane Communist dictator Kim Ilsong attacked peaceful South Korea in 1950, he did so in part because then-U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson had made the absurd error of indicating in a speech that the U.S. did not consider Seoul within our area of active defense.
But North Korea did not directly threaten the United States, and the isolationist and pro-Soviet elements within our country dwelt on this fact in their agitation against U.S. action to stem the Communist terror.
Still, if North Korea did not immediately threaten the U.S., unopposed Communist aggression then threatened the whole world. I have a favorite anecdote to explain this concept, which seems to elude so many of our fellow citizens today. One of my dearest friends, then-U.S. Navy first class petty officer Lawrence Cott, was serving in Heidelberg, West Germany when North Korea invaded the South. He told me that with news of the invasion, everybody who saw him on the street in his U.S. uniform had an aspect of fear and anxiety.
Put simply, the whole of Europe held its breath, waiting to see if the U.S. would act in Korea. Because the whole of Europe knew that if the Communist attack was not halted in Korea, Stalin would be emboldened to invade Western Europe.
Petty officer Cott has told me in unforgettable terms about the reaction of Germans in the street when news arrived that Gen. Douglas MacArthur, a man I consider among the greatest of Americans, had landed at Incheon, commanding a force of U.S. soldiers and marines, along with 5,000 Republic of Korea marines. Smiles returned to the faces of the ordinary people of West Germany.
One might consider my view of these events, which occurred when I was a tiny child, to be excessively influenced by my own affection for Korea. But I also know that Marshal Tito, the leader of Yugoslavia, told his cabinet at that time that MacArthur and the Americans, by acting in Korea, had saved Yugoslavia and Western Europe from a Communist invasion.
For me, the parallels fit exactly today. Saddam Hussein may or may not directly threaten our people; he may or may not have the capacity to attack our own citizens with weapons of mass destruction and support for terrorists. But in acting to remove Saddam Hussein, we will not only liberate the people of Iraq — we will remove the threat Saddam poses to his neighbors, including Turkey, and our actions will have positive consequences for the whole world. In carrying out this noble mission, we can gain much inspiration from the sacrifices and steadfast commitment of Turkish soldiers, as well as our own American troops, in Korea. Nevertheless, a question faces all of us who support action against Saddam, and who also value the special relationship between Turkey and the U.S. That is, how far can Turkey go to assist in the liberation of Iraq? We all know that the status of the Iraqi Kurds remains a source of legitimate concern for the Turkish government, because of the sad history of Greek-backed Kurdish leftist terrorism on Turkish soil. But other voices now tell us that with the election of an Islamo-democratic party to power in Turkey, that country’s Muslims may be lured into solidarity with Saddam against the West.
I do not believe this for a moment. I do not believe Turks need to be convinced of the evil of Saddam Hussein, and I do not believe any more elaborate case need be made to them for his removal. Saddam Hussein is an insane, bloodthirsty, fascist dictator, and it is the moral thing to do to free the world of such men.
I will also not present more “evidence” for the connection between Saddam and al Qaeda. I don’t think the morality of our action against Saddam depends on presenting some kind of lawyerly brief on these matters. I don’t consider our action against Saddam to be a court case, and I don’t see our president as a prosecuting attorney, and I certainly don’t consider the United Nations to be the judge of the correctness of our policies. I am grateful that the U.N. was induced to support action against Communist aggression during the Korean War, but that seems to me to be virtually the only bright spot in the U.N.’s record.
As far as I am concerned, the alliance between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda is self-evident, above all in the fact that Osama bin Laden himself constantly calls for support to Saddam, regardless of the supposed conflict between bin Laden’s fanatical “Islamism” and the alleged secularism of the Baghdad regime. As I wrote in my book, the rhetoric used by Osama bin Laden, when he talks about Iraq, is indistinguishable from the editorials appearing in The Nation, or lectures by Noam Chomsky, repeating the false and absurd charge that sanctions against Baghdad have killed a million Iraqi children.
Some of us know atrocity propaganda when we see it, and some of us recognize the alliance among totalitarians against the democracies when we see it, and we don’t waste our time complicating our approach to these phenomena. Rather, we seek to mobilize our fellow citizens, and our neighbors around the world, to defend democracy and defeat dictators.
As to the Turkish Islamo-democratic movement, the AK party, and their attitude toward the removal of Saddam: I do not reproach them for caution. They are newly elected. They do not wish to be seen as too easily subordinated to foreign orders. But the AK party, its leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the new prime minister, Abdullah Gul, represent a political force that is firmly constitutional in its principles.
The Turkish leaders known as “Islamists” are neither fundamentalists nor extremists. Korkut Ozal, the younger brother of the former Turkish prime minister Turgut Ozal, has eloquently described the inspiration he drew from a visit, with his wife, to the U.S. in 1956 and 1957. He has written, “we were able to develop a somewhat deep and close understanding of the social, cultural, and religious aspects of American life. Our most significant observation was that religion was one of the most important and deeply rooted elements of American society… On the one-dollar bill it is written, ‘In God We Trust.’” Korkut Ozal avers that his experience in America inspired him to commit himself to Islam anew, and to a revival of Islamic values in his own country.
The new regime in Turkey has pledged itself to a democratic policy that supports, but does not impose, Islamic values. They and the traditional Muslims of the world have a clear interest in the liberation of Iraq and the implantation of democracy, or, at least, the first steps toward the achievement of democracy. I will not tell you that Iraq can be turned into Connecticut in 24 hours. But I repeat my belief that Iraqis, and Arabs and Muslims in general, yearn to live in normal, stable, democratic societies. I believe the liberation of Iraq will provide a powerful incentive for the success of the rising democratic movement in Iran, and will lay a foundation for a transition in Saudi Arabia, to a constitutional and parliamentary monarchy on the Malaysian model.
What does this mean for NATO? I do not claim expertise as a military strategist, or on the internal character of the Atlantic alliance. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that NATO was founded to advance the cause of democracy. Some NATO partners now use the democracy that NATO secured for them as a basis to oppose American policies, and to obstruct the spread of democracy to the Arab and Islamic worlds. They may consider such a stance to be useful in the short term, as they seek the approval of their own misguided publics. But as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said, that is the old Europe. The old Europe, aside from Britain, did little to free itself from Nazism; old Europe was less-than-eager to defend itself from Soviet aggression, and old Europe failed to prevent Muslims in Bosnia-Hercegovina from being slaughtered. The old Europe rejects Turkish membership in a “union” it considers its private, Christian club, even though such membership represents a logical, imperative parallel to Turkey’s honorable assumption of the duties of NATO membership.
Let me conclude by summarizing the opportunity I believe to be present on the eastern border of NATO, where Turkey and Iraq meet. I would echo the words of Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz, who recently commented, “It is the great good fortune of NATO and the West, indeed of the world, that Turkey, one of our strongest, most reliable and most self-reliant allies, occupies one of the most important strategic crossroads in the world.”
For my part, I do not accept the superficial claims that action to remove Saddam Hussein is motivated by some scheme involving oil, or by a Zionist conspiracy. Rather, I believe we stand at a crossroads in history, much like 1941, and much like 1950, when the success of our efforts can transform regions of perpetual conflict into areas of peace, prosperity, and stability. In this great cause, I believe we have a valuable friend in Turkey and its people, whose soldierly sons General MacArthur called “heroes among heroes.”
Thank you for your time and attention.
— Stephen Schwartz is senior policy analyst at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and author of The Two Faces of Islam: The House of Sa’ud From Tradition to Terror.