June 10, 2005
We Could Have Had Turkey
The Duck of Minerva is another international-relations blog that you IR fans should be reading, especially since one of its writers is Daniel Nexon, and we all know that the best foreign policy bloggers are always named Daniel, right? Anyway, Daniel-not-Drezner-not-Starr-but-Nexon observes a few weak points in a recent post from yet another good new IR blog, the foreign-affairs blog at TPMCafe, which features various accredited folk dishing out a steady supply of thoughtful if melancholy commentary on our President's foreign policy.
Basically I agree with Mr.Nexon's point: the "unilateralism" charge is harder to make convincing than a lot of people (including Mr.Daalder at TPMCafe) seem to think. On the other hand, I will happily pick a nit with my fellow Daniel on what happened between America and Turkey in the runup to our war in Iraq.
Daniel Nexon suggests that Turkey, like France and Germany, may have been determined all along to not cooperate with America on Iraq. But I think Turkey's cooperation was a winnable bit of diplomacy, and the Bush Administration has to take the blame for not getting Turkish cooperation.
Turkey, incidentally, has been one of the few recent cases where an American diplomatic failure cost us an obvious painful price. Because Turkey wouldn't let our troops pass through into northern Iraq, we took much longer to get heavy forces into the Sunni Triangle. By the time we did, Saddam's friends had gone to ground. Secretary Rumsfeld has declared that failure gave a key early boost to today's insurgency.
So, was Turkey winnable? You can never prove "what would have happened." But we know four things that should make us strongly suspect that a more diplomatic Administration could have gotten Turkish approval to pass troops through.
First, Turkish Islamists had strong reasons to want credit for seeing Iraqi Muslims free of Saddam Hussein, while Turkish nationalists had strong reasons to want to give Turkey leverage to veto any would-be Kurdish state. Turkey could not simply stand by and be uninvolved the way "Old Europe" could. Turkey stood to lose much more than France and Germany if the Iraq war happened without it and was a big American success.
Second, the Iraq war was no more unpopular among Turks than our war in Kosovo was among Greeks. And America was less popular in Greece than in Turkey. Yet during Clinton's Administration, the Greeks were persuaded to sign on to Kosovo.
Third, America never brought out the diplomatic heavy hitters for Turkey: no Cabinet official visited during the months of negotiation, and Bush himself had never been to Turkey at all. In the prior Administration, Clinton visited Turkey in person, more than once. So it's fair to say the Bush Administration left a lot of personal-prestige ammunition unused.
Fourth and most importantly, the key Turkish parliamentary vote was extraordinarily close. A 4-vote shift out of over 500 present members would have given approval for troop passage. Are we supposed to believe that better salesmanship couldn't have gotten us even one percent more?
You can always find a way to blame any cause you like (divine humor, Muslim solidarity, the French, Bill Clinton) for why the past happened one way and not another. But by far the simplest explanation of our failure to get Turkish cooperation on Iraq is that this Administration made mistakes in its diplomacy with Turkey.
But let me finish by more or less siding with Mr.Nexon and arguing with Mr.Daalder again: I think unilateralism is a straw man. The problem isn't our unilateral goals, it's our clumsy and hasty negotiating approach that knocks us into unilateral outcomes. President Reagan went after plenty of things that allied populations or else allied leaders didn't like in the least -- putting intermediate-range nuclear missiles on West German soil, skirmishing with Libya, pushing South Korea and the Philippines' dictators toward democracy. But Reagan's team was only rarely blindsided by lack of allied cooperation: either we got them to go along with us or we knew not to try in the first place. Yet Bush's team keeps publically backing projects only to be rejected by surprise. See, for example, our latest South American democracy-promotion initiative, going down in smoke.
If we were going it alone because we knew we had to, that might just be an educated choice. But when we can't even see the rejections coming, that tells us that Bush's diplomatic team is simply less competent than Reagan's.
Which is a pity, because our goals today -- democracy promotion, antiterrorism cooperation, antiproliferation -- require a lot more sustained diplomacy than Reagan's.
Posted by danielstarr at June 10, 2005 04:06 AM
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Posted by: Dan Nexon at June 10, 2005 05:25 AM
Who was Secretary of State? Does he bear any responsibility for failed diplomacy?
Posted by: Mrs. Davis at June 11, 2005 05:30 PM
Major diplomatic efforts have in recent years been run out of the White House by the President's personal team, not the State Department. Clinton handled the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations himself; Reagan's personal convictions were central to US-Soviet negotiations in his Administration. The Secretary of State is just one voice among many advisors on these key projects. And since Bush's Administration has been even less tolerant of independent-minded Cabinet members, we have to give George W. Bush's personal choices -- who to appoint, what policies to follow, and how to manage the team -- full credit or full blame for the success or failure of the major efforts of Bush Administration diplomacy.
Having said that, it didn't help that Bush chose so many strong egos for his foreign-policy leaders (Secretary of State Powell, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, Vice-President Cheney) -- it made breakdowns in coordination more likely, unless the President reined them in and enforced a common policy, which he didn't. Now that the team's had four years in office, and now that Rice has replaced Powell (and Wolfowitz has left), people seem to be cooperating somewhat better. But, again, the big story is not about untalented individuals, but an ineffective team.
For example, where Powell personally stumbled, it always traced back to his being blindsided by a shift in Administration policy. That's a group decisionmaking issue, a teamwork issue, not a talent issue. Powell didn't take a stupid pill before becoming Secretary, and he didn't stop reading his memos; it was the team as a whole that wasn't working. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld had similar, though less widely noted, problems in the first term. The credit or blame goes to the President who appoints and manages the team so as to get the best -- or worst -- performance out of them.
But the credit for the successful big efforts (such as democracy promotion) also goes to Bush much more than any single foreign policy team member. Major foreign-policy initiatives get their fuel from the President or not at all.
Posted by: Daniel Starr at June 11, 2005 10:40 PM
The Turkish state had several reasons to make the decision they did. No diplomacy could have changed the outcome.
Firstly, the ever-present obsession in Ankara with maintaining a brutal chokehold on Northern Kurdistan. They didn't join the Gulf War I coalition until just days before the war for this reason. A Gulf War II, in Ankara's eyes was a risk they just couldn't take, seeing as how Turkey's Kurds would inevitably want freedom as their Iraqi brothers have.
Secondly, Turkey's pride of place as the "Western, modern Islamic" state has allowed it to get away with committing crimes for which most other nations would be burnt at the stake. Ethnic cleansing, illegal occupations, genocide denial, brutality against indigenous peoples have all been swept under the rug by both Washingotn and Brussels. Bringing in a truly democratic and free Iraq to this picture and Turkey loses much of its "specialness" in the eyes of the West.
Thirdly, 95% of the populace was opposed to the war, in a country whose people have never looked upon the US as a friendly nation despite decades of American one-sided patronage. The MGK (Milli Guvenlik Kurulu - the general staff) believed that Erdogan and the AKP could have used the war as an occasion to remove the generals from power permanently. Yes, similiar numbers could be found for Greece during the Kosova War, but Greece and Turkey are very different nations to say the least, despite the fact that most Westerners conceptualize of them as antipodes.
Posted by: Gregory Carlisle at June 13, 2005 01:53 AM