• More about Turks and their views of America…

    by  • July 30, 2013 • Uncategorized • 1 Comment

    In response to my last post on why Turks have such negative views of America, Americans, and Barack Obama, I received this response from Franklin C. (Chuck) Spinney, a longtime Pentagon analyst, and independent critic of military procurement. After retiring from the Pentagon’s Office of Program Analysis and Evaluation in 2003, Chuck and his wife bought a sailboat and have been cruising the Mediterranean ever since. Much of their time ashore is spent in Turkey and with Turks.

    Here’s Chuck’s intelligent comments in full:

    I have not studied Turkey in an academic sense, but I lived there for the better part of two years and it is one my favorite places — your comment about their welcoming nature and how that characteristic can be misleading is spot on, IMO.  Sometimes you can not even tell if you are having a disagreement with a Turk.  They are also intensely nationalistic and justifiably proud of their history and culture and especially their achievements after WWI.  But push a Turk too hard and he can explode.
    What follows is mostly impressionistic, so excuse the ramble.

    My views are based on casual discussions with all types of Turks, but mostly secularists, who are concentrated in the coastal regions of Mediterranean, Aegean, and Black Seas, where I spend most of my time.

    USS Enterprise

    The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, Enterprise, sits at anchor at Marmaris, Turkey, in 2011.
    U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Nathan R. Carpenter.

    BTW, the coastal – interior distinction is very important.  An electoral map of Turkey is stunningly similar to that of the US — better educated, more socially liberal, secular, richer, more internationally oriented people are concentrated in coastal regions (Blue in US), with the interior being more religious, poorer, less well educated, more socially conservative, and less cosmopolitan (Red).  Politically conservative defenders of the Kemalist status quo are concentrated in Turkish coastal regions, whereas change agents tend to come from the interior — or, more accurately, the emerging political-economic forces in the interior.  Istanbul, is an anomaly because it has such a huge population of immigrants from the interior — it is bifurcated like the entire country.  Prime Minister Erdogan, a shrewd, street-tough from the barrios of Istanbul, reflects the Istanbul anomaly.  As mayor, he made his reputation as a reformer fighting corruption.  But as PM, his record, while still tending in that direction, is less clear.

    The U.S. foreign policy and military and media establishments have long identified with the secularist wing of Turkey and Turks know this.  Part of Erdogan’s appeal is that he represents the interests of many of the nouveau riche and rising middle class in Turkey, particularly the new wealth that is emerging in the industrializing parts of the interior — cities like Konya.
    His economic reforms and politics have been particularly beneficial to this class.  These people feel that their time in the sun has come, yet  they have been excluded from the secularist (Kemalist) power structure of old money, the military, the media, the bureaucracy, and academia.  Many in this new elite view the old elite as ossified and corrupt and Erdogan as a social/political/economic change agent whose policies are more in tune with their interests. (BTW, I am a great admirer of Ataturk’s achievements and most of my Turkish friends were Kemalist secularists)
    Of course, like politicians everywhere, Erdogan also caters to the traditional power structure, in addition to his base.  Despite this, it has been in the domestic political interests of what is left of the Kemalist elite to portray him as a radical Islamist to the west.  These politics of resentment are a little like the Right painting Obama as a socialist even though Obama may be a more effective defender of the establishment’s wealth and power than was Bush, who sowed the seeds of anger and resentment.
    The head scarf issue is a case in point:  while it has been portrayed as rising Islamism in a western press (E.U. as well as U.S.) that sources much of its information from the old establishment, some young Turkish women in university view it as an issue of individual freedom of expression.  Headscarves were banned and they assert they ought to be allowed to wear one in university if they wanted to.  Also, many more of these students are from the new middle class, which is more religious, so the issue is complex but has a resonance — but they also hang out in Taksim Square.
    My most memorable impressionistic image of Turkey is a huge Mercedes Benz I was parked next to in a roadside stop in the backwoods of Gallipoli Peninsula: The driver, a man, elegantly dressed in a dark suit, Rolex watch, et al, looked like a rich Italian goombah from Milan, his wife was dressed in the traditional brown ankle length coverall with a white headscarf.  The back door opened and out stepped the twenty-something gorgeous daughter — right out of Taksim: tank top, mini skirt, platform shoes, hooped earrings.  Imagine the cultural dissonance inside that car! Turkey in a nutshell.
    I also think there is another far simpler dimension to Turkey’s rising negative attitude to the US:  Obama.
    While I agree completely with your statement that the shift in attitudes began with the Iraq invasion, Obama raised the hopes and dreams of Turks (and Arabs) to a level unappreciated in the U.S.  I was in Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon (and Israel) in the summer of 2008, and the excitement over Obama (Israel excepted) was unbelievable.  Even in remote Syrian areas, people were following the election closely.  As soon as anyone realized I was American, they would start chanting Obama, Obama, smiling, with a “thumbs up.”   My impression is that Turks, Syrians, and Lebanese were almost 100% for Obama while it appeared that vast majorities in Israel opposed him (except for some lefties in Haifa).  In Marmaris on election nite, many Turks (and Europeans) stayed up all nite watching the election results roll in.  Imagine doing that for Angela Merkel or David Cameron, or Francois Hollande.  Most Americans probably would not recognize the names.
    Obama’s actions have dashed those dreams and hopes for change in U.S. policies.   I think there is a very serious ‘lover scorned’ phenomena at work in Turkey and the Arab world — ironically more so than in the U.S. where Obama — a man who ran on a theme of change — has likewise sold out the hopes and dreams of his supporters on the left.  Yet in America, scorned lovers  refuse to act on the reality of his sellout.  Think about it, LBJ did far more for the left, and remember how they turned on him!  When it comes to soothing contradictions and selling out supporters, Obama makes Clinton’s oiliness look like sandpaper, and Clinton set the bar in this regard.
    Sorry for the ramble, but your excellent comment triggered me.


    Patrick Pexton has been a journalist for three decades. He most recently was editor-in-chief of The Frederick News-Post, a daily newspaper and website serving Maryland's largest county by geography. He has served as the ombudsman for The Washington Post, the deputy editor of National Journal, an editor and reporter at the Military Times, and a local reporter in four states.

    One Response to More about Turks and their views of America…

    1. Paul Starobin
      August 3, 2013 at 3:50 pm

      Apologies, as I am a bit late to this discussion–what I’d like to add or at least stress is the element of the U.S.-Israel friendship/alliance as an important factor helping to explain how Turks feel about America. I draw here on my own experience in Turkey–in particular, as a journalist/author, on travel a few years in the Turkish heartland in Anatolia. I made a point to talk to ‘ordinary’ folks and was taken aback by rank, casually-expressed anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli sentiments–perhaps I should not have been so surprised but in any case it was certainly impressed upon me that there is, to begin with, a kind of primal animus against the Jewish State, which then spills over to America as Israel’s prime backer. Such sentiments possibly are inflamed at or at least made more permissible by the shift in tone and to some degree substance in an ‘Ottaman’ and Islamic direction by the current Turkish regime. Or to put it another way, Turkey is looking more East, less West, for orientation (an outreach to the ‘Persians’ in Iran also part of this) and so a bias against America (the imperial interloper in the Middle East) and Israel (a heretic state, protected by Uncle Sam) is a part of this adjusted viewpoint. The pity is that Europe’s own rejection of Turkey as a ‘legitimate’ Western actor in institutions like the EU has helped propel Turkey in this direction. But it might have gone that way anyway…

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