Israeli special forces and their commanders were apparently shocked to find their boarding attempt on the Mavi (“Blue”) Marmara met with violence. They should not have been. I have no doubt that the Turkish “peace activists” aboard the ship regarded Israeli troops as something akin to the second coming of Hitler’s SS.
To follow Turkish discourse in recent years has been to follow a national decline into madness. Imagine 80 million or so people sitting at the crossroads between Europe and Asia. They don’t speak an Indo-European language and perhaps hundreds of thousands of them have meaningful access to any outside media. What information most of them get is filtered through a secular press that makes Italian communists look right wing by comparison and an increasing number of state (i.e., Islamist) influenced outfits. Topics A and B (or B and A, it doesn’t really matter) have been the malign influence on the world of Israel and the United States.
For example, while there was much hand-wringing in our own media about “Who lost Turkey?” when U.S. forces were denied entry to Iraq from the north in 2003, no such introspection was evident in Ankara and Istanbul. Instead, Turks were fed a steady diet of imagined atrocities perpetrated by U.S. forces in Iraq, often with the implication that they were acting as muscle for the Jews. The newspaper Yeni Safak, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s daily read, claimed that Americans were tossing so many Iraqi bodies into the Euphrates that local mullahs had issued a fatwa ordering residents not to eat the fish. The same paper repeatedly claimed that the U.S. used chemical weapons in Fallujah. And it reported that Israeli soldiers had been deployed alongside U.S. forces in Iraq and that U.S. forces were harvesting the innards of dead Iraqis for sale on the U.S. “organ market.”
he secular Hurriyet newspaper, meanwhile, accused Israeli soldiers of assassinating Turkish security personnel in Mosul and said the U.S. was starting an occupation of (Muslim) Indonesia under the guise of humanitarian assistance. Then U.S. ambassador to Turkey Eric Edelman actually felt the need to organize a conference call to explain to the Turkish media that secret U.S. nuclear testing did not cause the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. One of the craziest theories circulating in Ankara was that the U.S. was colonizing the Middle East because its scientists were aware of an impending asteroid strike on North America.
The Mosul and organ harvesting stories were soon brought together in a hit Turkish movie called “Valley of the Wolves,” which I saw in 2006 at a mall in Ankara. My poor Turkish was little barrier to understanding. The body parts of dead Iraqis could be clearly seen being placed into crates marked New York and Tel Aviv. It is no exaggeration to say that such anti-Semitic fare had not been played to mass audiences in Europe since the Third Reich.
When I interviewed Prime Minister Erdogan (one of several encounters) in 2006, he was unabashed about the narrative.
Erdogan: “I believe the people who made this movie took media reports as their basis . . . for example, Abu Ghraib prison—we have seen this on TV, and now we are watching Guantanamo Bay in the world media, and of course it could be that this movie was prepared under these influences.”
Me: “But do you believe that many Turks have such a view of America, that we’re the kind of people who’d go to Iraq and kill people to take their organs?”
Erdogan: “These kind of things happen in the world. If it’s not happening in Iraq, then its happening in other countries.”
Me: “Which kind of things? Killing people to take their organs?”
Erdogan: “I’m not saying they are being killed. . . . There are people in poverty who use this as a means to get money.”
I was somewhat taken aback that the prime minister could not bring himself to condemn a fictional blood libel. I should not have been. He and his party have traded on America and Israel hatred ever since. There can be little doubt the Turkish flotilla that challenged the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza was organized with his approval, if not encouragement. Mr. Erodogan’s foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, is a proponent of a philosophy which calls on Turkey to loosen Western ties to the U.S., NATO and the European Union and seek its own sphere of influence to the east. Turkey’s recent deal to help Iran enrich uranium should come as no surprise.
Sadly, Turkey has had no credible opposition since its corrupt secular parties lost to Mr. Erdogan in 2002. The Ataturk-inspired People’s Republican Party has just thrown off one leader who was constantly railing about CIA plots for another who wants to expand state spending as government coffers collapse everywhere else in the word. What’s more, Turks remain blind to their manifest hypocrisies. Ask how they would feel if other countries arranged an “aid” convoy (akin to the Gaza flotilla) for their own Kurdish minority and you’ll be met with dumb stares.
Turkey’s blind spot on the Kurdish issue is especially striking when you recall that Turkey nearly invaded Syria in 1998 for sponsoring Kurdish terrorism. Kurdish separatist leader Abdullah Ocalan then bounced around the capitals of Europe, only to be captured in Kenya and handed over to the Turks by the CIA. Turkey’s antiterror alliance with Israel and the U.S. couldn’t have been more natural.
Yet Prime Minister Erdogan was one of the first world leaders to recognize the legitimacy of the Hamas government in Gaza. And now he is upping the rhetoric after provoking Israel on Hamas’s behalf. It is Israel, he says, that has shocked “the conscience of humanity.” Foreign Minister Davutoglu is challenging the U.S: “We expect full solidarity with us. It should not seem like a choice between Turkey and Israel. It should be a choice between right and wrong.”
Please. Good leaders work to defuse tensions in situations like this, not to escalate them. No American should be deceived as to the true motives of these men: They are demagogues appealing to the worst elements in their own country and the broader Middle East.
The obvious answer to the question of “Who lost Turkey?”—the Western-oriented Turkey, that is—is the Turks did. The outstanding question is how much damage they’ll do to regional peace going forward.
Mr. Pollock is the Wall Street Journal’s editorial features editor.