Tuesday, November 28, 2006
The Pope is in Turkey this week, and PBS's "The News Hour with Jim Lehrer" is airing a series of reports from that country, narrated by Margaret Warner. I haven't caught today's yet, but last night's was very disturbing. The level of anti-American sentiment in Turkey at present is astonishing. Just how unfortunate this is can only be grasped when one considers the evolution of Turkish public opinon on this count. An archaeologist friend who's worked in Turkey for several decades recently told me that children in villages in southeastern Turkey today say, "Kill Bush," when he encounters them, while in years past a more friendly salutation was the norm. Warner's report cites a best-seller in Turkey, which depicts a Turkish nuclear attack on Washington in retaliation for, I believe, an American invasion of Turkey from Iraq.
What are the sources of Turkish anger with the US? Several are obvious, but one, perhaps less so, is hinted at in the report: a growing feeling among Turks that the prestige and indeed the territory of their state, cobbled together in the wake of the Ottoman collapse, are under threat. The US has exercised a steady hand in restraining Turkish raids across the border into Iraq in pursuit of Kurdish militants, but it's unclear how long the Turks are willing to be held back. I, for one, was not aware of the sheer numbers of Kurdish attacks inside Turkish territory this year or the scale of the casualties.
This is a country where public opinion matters. It was the Turkish public, after all, which elected an Islamist government, which denied US forces bases and air space from which Iraq "might" have been better secured in the invasion in March 2003.