Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Axis shield

Now that NATO’s Lisbon Summit is over, there should presumably be fewer concerns left as compared to ones earlier about where Turkey stands in its vocation on the ever-changing global map of power.

Overall, the summit seems to have achieved its envisioned results -- in general terms -- and the leaders got what they hoped for. There is now an agreement on a missile defense system which will cover the entire territory of NATO’s European allies (although there will be much work left on structuring the system and fine-tuning its command and control mechanism in a coherent and functional framework). The Russians have been “won”: There will for the first time in history be a coordinated defense model which aims to bring together Moscow and NATO to direct cooperation. Agreement has also been reached on the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan.

Is Ankara, too, content? According to President Abdullah Gül and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, yes, very much so. In the past weeks, there has been a lot of publicity and alarmism in the international press, as if Turkey had already shifted its axis in favor of its Muslim brotherhood, and would behave like an “enfant noir”; this occurred, with voluntary backing of the neocon camp and the Israel lobby. Gül was certainly right when he complained of “psychological warfare” targeting his country.

There was certainly a great deal of unease as the leaders entered the talks. It was not entirely about the missile shield. Beyond that, Lisbon came to symbolize a historic, defining point about NATO’s new collective defense model, and its global role in a rapidly evolving, volatile environment.

Ankara was deeply concerned and involved with the outcome, the (re)shaping of the Strategic Concept. Gül and Davutoğlu reaffirmed Turkey’s commitment to NATO’s updated mission, as they managed to help allies reach a smooth agreement on “indivisible defense,” which strengthens the level of engagement in the event of hostility against individual allies.

So, it looks as if the actors engaging in psychological war against the current Turkish administration ended with a considerable amount of disappointment. Turks played ball, but friction that marked the summit appeared between France and others.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy heavily insisted on specifying country and region, when the missile shield issue was on the table. It was hard to understand the reasons for his insistence because when it comes to projects such as the one agreed upon, the threat is not equaled to any specific country; it is a practice that dates back to the earliest days of the Cold War.

Why did Paris insist? One possible explanation is that Sarkozy wanted to expand ground by winning over powerful allies around the idea in order to corner, alienate and expose Turkey as an “enfant noir,” but if his plan was so, it failed badly for him.

The concealed idea to bash Turkey through the issue of Cyprus seems also to have backfired. Thanks to the fair attitude of Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO secretary-general, the unfair treatment of Turkey in the past decade was thoroughly exposed.

Furthermore, the difference between the old and new attitudes became even more apparent in an exchange between President Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Gül during the same dinner. When the issue of NATO-EU relations was discussed, the former two apparently asserted that Ankara was blocking them due to its policies on Cyprus.

Gül’s response was firm. “We have a crisis of confidence with you,” he said. “You do not stick to your promises. The EU promised Turkey would be part of the European Defense Agency, which never happened. The security treaty between Turkey and the EU has not been signed either. These have caused mistrust towards you. You must fulfill your promises.”

To the objection that the “EU has principles” and “it has to protect the rights of its members [Cyprus],” Gül’s response was also firm. “I agree that principles are crucial. Why then did you not remember those principles when you accepted Cyprus as a member? The principle was never to accept a member that has problems with a neighbor and that has a dossier of conflict at the UN Security Council. You may say that Cyprus as an EU member is a fact of life, but it is also a fact of life that Greek Cyprus does not represent the entire island.”

These words reflect the real fact that Turkey and Cyprus will remain big problems both for the EU and NATO as the symmetry created calls for a bold and flexible solution to satisfy all parties.

Nevertheless, the end result of the summit for NATO and Turkey may help all concerned relax. “This [agreement] can carry NATO for 10-15 years,” Gül said. Meanwhile, there is much work to do to consolidate Turkey’s position in the axis. Myths on Turkey “shifting away” have received a huge blow.

CHP: Into the unknown

As soon as he felt a bit safer with regard to the fragile political landscape after his entry as chairman of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), one of the most defining moments for Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu was to assemble a conference with a limited and secretive attendance that strictly adhered to the Chatham House Rule.

The meeting, which ended with a series of ideas and proposals for a new identity and direction, preceded the “operation” of ousting Önder Sav from the post of secretary-general within a matter of days.

Those with insider knowledge of the meeting cannot conceal their surprise at how quickly Kılıçdaroğlu moved in to “implement” some of the decisive major points underlined in the meeting. One insider commented, “Usually it takes a leader time to absorb the content before acting, but in this case he saw the opportunity and did not hesitate.”

There is a lot of truth in this, showing where Kılıçdaroğlu is moving to turn his chairmanship into leadership, in the slippery, treacherous environment called the CHP. His ensuing steps confirmed that they will either make or break his party.

It is hard to know whether or not he impressed his comrades in the Socialist International, but he clearly displayed the profile of a leader exactly opposite that of Deniz Baykal, his predecessor. Kılıçdaroğlu has the old leftist in his DNA, which helps to establish a common terminology and new prospects with the SI community.

While in Paris he went even further, and did something Baykal never would do: He visited Père Lachaise Cemetery and laid flowers at the graves of two Kurds -- the legendary Marxist director Yılmaz Güney and Kurdish singer Ahmet Kaya. He topped his surprise moves with a visit to Diyarbakır, where he met locals and talked about what he calls “the new CHP” attempting to create a “third path” between the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) as a “democratic alternative” to shape a “united or allied left” and challenge the current status quo. These remarks came as some politicians even discussed the (remote) possibility of a CHP-BDP alliance in the next elections. Fruitless or far fetched as these moves look, they tell us that Kılıçdaroğlu intends to push his party into new waters.

But, he is only in the beginning of a tough journey. Challenges will be multifaceted, both inside and outside. Kılıçdaroğlu knows that the old Baykal line is an infinite loser, but it is doubtful he knows how to convince party people. For this, he needs to convince himself that the party’s worn out ideology, Kemalism, must at least be sharply revised to harmonize with the democratic left -- a very arduous task. The widely shared belief among the party’s modern flank and outside observers is that leaving behind the legacy of Kemalism is the only way for the party to be integrated into civilian politics and to be “normalized.” This is a precondition for Turkey’s major, chronic issues to be resolved by consensus.

Every step he takes brings the party closer to a watershed. Now, the next issue is whether or not Kılıçdaroğlu will need to hastily assemble an extraordinary congress, possibly before the end of the year. The reason is obvious: He controls only one-fourth of the party assembly, which defines the candidate deputy lists for the next elections. Baykal and Sav lurk in the background and still have considerable power. Should the new leader keep the party assembly intact, he may face an uphill battle and end up breathless. To consolidate his power even more, the need for a congress seems inevitable as days go by.

His own identity as an Alevi from Dersim is both an asset and a disadvantage. As this helps him win back the Alevis and warm up to Kurds, the old elite of the CHP feel increasingly uncertain about his intentions. Kılıçdaroğlu has so far moved in the area of what is possible, and it may not be enough. At the moment he is on a move into the unknown.