Jewish Journal


President Obama, is Turkey a Democracy?

by Shmuel Rosner

June 5, 2013 | 7:51 am

President Barack Obama and Turkish PM Recep Tayyip
Erdogan in the White House Rose Garden on May 16
Photo by Jason Reed/Reuters

If you had a chance to take a look at our new Israel Factor survey you might have noticed that besides the questions related to presidential candidates, we also included a question on policy: "Please rank the Obama administration’s policy on the following topics from 1 (terrible policy) to 10 (great policy)". The topics covered were all about the Middle East, and on all of them the Obama team got between a 6 and a 7 – not terrible but also far from great. The Israel Factor panel is hardly impressed with Obama's foreign policy.

It was interesting to note though, that the one issue on which Obama is closer to a 7 than to a 6 is "handling relations with turkey" (6.78). Of course, our questionnaire was sent to the panel prior to the recent protests in Turkey and prior to Obama's cautious response to them and one wonders what the panel might say next time about this question.

There was an interesting headline yesterday on ABC.com saying that "Anti-Government Protests Target Obama Ally in Turkey" – as if demonstrations were somehow against Obama as well as against the Turkish regime. Another unexpected development, another headache for Obama. A "test" for Obama, Foreign Policy called it, as it mentioned that "So far, though, Obama has left discussion of the protests to the State Department". Maybe because at this stage it isn't clear what answer should be given to pass the test. "The Turkish government’s crackdown on demonstrators is complicating U.S. relations with Turkey", reported Bloomberg. I think it would be more accurate to say that it complicates US relations with itself. Following the hurdle of Benghazi, inaction in Syria, and a general sense of a hesitant US, the country is once again facing a dilemma: should it support the pro-democracy demonstrations against a staunch ally?

The case of Turkey is no less complicated than previous ones: In Egypt, abandoning Mubarak had a cost, but could easily be defended on the grounds that he was an ally but also a dictator. In Syria, hesitation to side with anti-regime forces is also explainable: the opposition is of unclear nature and a murky future. Turkey is not a dictatorship, so the US would be right to say that if changes are to be made it should happen through the electoral process. Or is it? White House Spokesman Jay Carney, seems to think it is:

Spokesman Jay Carney said they were ordinary citizens exercising their rights to free expression. But Carney also said that all democracies have to work through issues, adding that Washington is concerned about Turkey’s response toward the protesters but expects the U.S. ally to resolve the matter while respecting its citizens’ rights.

Democracies? Think again:

Successful democracies provide their citizens with ways in which to express their desires and frustrations beyond periodic elections, and Turkey has failed spectacularly in this regard.

If it's not a democracy, maybe Jonathan Tobin has a point:

But in Turkey, the Islamists are already in power and have spent, as our Michael Rubin has documented many times, the last several years transforming an imperfect democracy into an authoritarian state…. Yet with the Turkish people beginning to push back against the seemingly inexorable drive of Erdoğan’s AKP to Islamicize what was once a thoroughly secular country, surely what is required from the president of the United States is more than a hug for his friend in Ankara.

In recent days this issue has rekindled the core debate between those who want Obama to be more forceful in condemnation of Erdogan's Turkey, and those who argue that the US has little business lecturing Turkey. Naturally, there are all sorts of other considerations as well, chief of which is the way Turkey might impact other American interests in the region. However, when it comes to debating the moral imperative of US foreign policy in lieu of Turkish unrest, the question is basically this: is Turkey a democracy in danger of decline- but still a democracy- or is it a place that can no longer be treated as democratic?

Tracker Pixel for Entry


View our privacy policy and terms of service.