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16.1.03

The Northern Front

When the U.S. asked for permission, as required by Turkey's Constitution, to use bases in Turkey from which to stage an invasion, dickering began over how many hundreds of millions of dollars would be provided to upgrade the bases and lengthen landing fields. While this dragged on with no concrete being poured, an economic aid package was sought that Ankara estimates at $5 billion and U.S. sources say is more than double that. ... the unseemly hard bargaining going on now over money for military assistance is demeaning and could change the nature of the two nations' alliance.

What should Turkey's new leaders do? First, make prompt parliamentary and construction arrangements to welcome the U.S. troops. And then go the extra mile: Volunteer to mass 100,000 Turkish troops on its border with northern Iraq. (When it did this with Syria, which had provided the base for the harassment of Turkey by P.K.K. terrorists, the Syrian dictator got the message and booted the terrorist leader out of Damascus, which led to his capture.)


There's something unsettling about the arrogance of this argument -- that the proper role of the less-powerful is to volunteer aid to the more-powerful in hopes of earning the more-powerful's favor. The US in this picture is the emperor in his sedan, while Turkey is the street urchin getting in the way of the royal procession, who ought to be thankful for the emperor's benevolence, and perhaps put his coat over a mud puddle to get a pat on the head. It's reminiscent of George W. Bush's attitude toward the UN -- "you're either with us or you're irrelevant. You need us, but we don't need you."

The content of the actions Safire is proposing for Turkey aren't the issue. It would be valid to argue that such unconditional support is simply the right thing to do. Or that it's effective strategy for a country in Turkey's position to swallow its pride and -- to use the hottest new cliche in punditopia -- carry water for the US. Both of those elements are in the article, but there's an added layer that projects the idea of knowing one's place in a permanent and absolute power hierarchy.

Turkey's bargaining makes perfect sense. In the long run, the most important relationship it has to cultivate is with Europe, as EU membership is the guiding goal of Turkish politics, and theoretical equality within a neighboring confederation seems quite a bit more advantageous than being the client of a state on the other side of the world (even if that patron state does have more guns). Europe, you may have noticed, is not so gung-ho about war as the US (or Safire). And domestically, there's the need to look tough vis a vis a nation widely rumoured to want a war on Islam -- especially important given that the ruling party in Turkey depends on a largely Muslim base of support.

Even those strategic concerns, though, don't get at the real issue: Turkey has power here. The US needs Turkish air bases to mount a successful war on Iraq. Kuwait offers a tiny entry in the far south. Saudi Arabia's support is shaky at best, while there's no point even asking Syria or Iran for help. It's a frustrating prospect to those who have internalized the idea of total American hegemony. Turkey is, understandably, using its power to keep from being trampled on, to become a partner in a mutually beneficial exchange rather than a doormat for a war it's not entirely sure about. Relations between unequals are about patronage and favor-seeking. Equals, on the other hand, bargain with each other.

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