Governor Rick Perry's comments on Turkey this week tell us more about his desperation heading into the South Carolina Primary than about politics in Turkey. Losing ground in the national polls, he perhaps hoped to keep his candidacy alive with his over the board remarks about the nation of Turkey. This act of desperation may have signaled the "kiss of death" for his candidacy, but it is, nevertheless, an opportunity for American voters to learn more about the strong relationship and longstanding cooperation between the two countries.
Firstly, Governor Perry questioned Turkey's more than half century-long NATO membership, adding that Turkey and Turkey-US relationship has changed since he visited in the 1970s. Turkey has indeed changed since then. Turkey has embraced democracy and the period of military coups is over. The Turkish economy, based on free market principles, has become one of the fastest growing markets in today's global economic downturn. Moreover, the US has supported this political and economic transformation. Turkey does not receive significant sums of US foreign aid anymore. Turkish politics has become more democratic and this civilian rule allows open discussion and independent decision-making, which has resulted in the decision of the Turkish parliament in 2003 not to send troops for the War in Iraq.
Secondly, Turkey is the only Muslim majority country that is a NATO member and a candidate for European Union membership, an ideal established by Ataturk, founder of the Turkish Republic, since the 1920s. Any smart politician knowledgeable about US foreign policy would cherish this unique case of a Muslim majority country that is democratic, secular, and a NATO member.
Turkey's transformation under the leadership of Erdogan into a prosperous democracy would strengthen the US hand in the ongoing fight against global terrorism. Indeed, Turkish troops are serving in Afghanistan alongside US soldiers to stabilize that country. Moreover, Turkey has recently accepted NATO's missile defense system to be placed in southeast Turkey, which Russia and Iran had opposed. In other words, Turkey is accepting the risk of missile attacks in order to keep NATO and its members safe. Thus, Governor Perry's association of Turkish government with terrorism is not only ludicrous but also self-defeating.
Lastly, in his latest comments on CNN, Governor Perry stood behind his previous remarks. He confused the responsibility of governments with unfortunate events or concerns-- despite official efforts to eliminate them -- such as domestic abuse, racial discrimination or honor killing. Democratic governments anywhere, here or in Turkey, normally make every effort to protect the lives of their citizens. Turkish and American politicians and civil society leaders should cooperate to combat any acts that infringe upon basic human rights and liberties.
Any candidate for the Republican Party or any politician who aims to improve US foreign policy should seek ways to turn enemies into friends and not vice versa. Governor Perry's comments were so off the mark that although they could not harm the long-standing Turkish-US partnership, they could end his political ambitions sooner rather than later.
Ahmet Yukleyen is professor of anthropology at the Croft Institute for International Studies, University of Mississippi , and 2011-2012 senior fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. This is his first piece for OfftheBus.