A Democratic Windfall for Turkey?

Turkey's seeming fall from grace with the US may turn out to be a blessing in disguise. The Iraq war and the tortured diplomacy that led up to it may help resolve Turkey's conflict between its "strategic alliance" with America and its drive to join the EU.

The elections last November that brought the Justice and Development Party (AKP) to power were preceded by a dispute between the members of the then-ruling coalition over enacting the reforms demanded by the EU. Some liberal elements of that "secular" coalition resigned from the government and joined with the Islamists to push the reforms through parliament.

After coming to power, the AKP's leaders, former Islamists who had reinvented themselves as "conservative democrats," energetically engaged with the US, the EU, and the UN on issues ranging from Cyprus to Iraq, from Kurdish language rights to other human rights issues within Turkey. Having suffered the oppressive practices of Turkey's "secular" state and recognizing that human rights must be protected across-the-board, the AKP emerged as a credible interlocutor with the West. The US, preoccupied with the supposed specter of a "clash of civilizations" between Islam and the West, saw the AKP's modern, westernized face as an opportunity and urged the EU to admit Turkey.

Today, both "conservative democrats" and liberals advocate passing all the reforms needed to gain accession to the EU, while opponents include extreme nationalists, of both left and right, as well as some elements of the "secular" establishment. The Europeans could have tipped the balance decisively in favor of the reformers by finally rewarding the efforts of the pro-EU Turks at last December's summit of EU leaders. Instead, the EU kept Turkey waiting yet again, putting off formal negotiations that, in any case, may take years to complete.