Safire of The New York Times
can sure be funny. The vehemently pro-Israeli columnist in the generally
anti-Turkish newspaper would almost always be sure to say a bad word about
Turkey, whenever the subject of Turkey would come up. Since the nation forged
an alliance with his beloved Israel, suddenly Turkey became a good guy, in his
eyes. (At least for this article, anyway.)
In the articles
following, this page will deviate from the main topic, and get more into
December 10, 1997
Turks and Israelis forge new ties.
Two meetings are taking place this week that will affect the power balances of tomorrow’s
Most eyes are on Teheran’s Islamic conference, where leaders of 55 mostly Muslim nations
listen impassively to a radical Ayatollah — whose internal theological authority they
know is crumbling — rail at the “poisonous breath” of the United States and Israel.
Less observed abroad, but far more significant, is Turkey’s answer to fundamentalists
and dictators: the first official visit to Turkey of an Israeli Defense Minister,
accompanied by a large delegation of military officials, technicians and business
Turkey is a secular Muslim country. As its neighbors that are Arabs — led by Iraq, Syria
and Egypt — passed a resolution in Teheran denouncing the Turks for their growing ties
to Israel, the Defense Minister of Turkey coolly replied, “We respect the Islamic
conference, we belong to it, but we cannot allow it to dictate our relations.”
The man who has done most in the past eight years to bring about this tectonic shift is
the former Israeli Air Force general David Ivri. Reached by telephone in Ankara yesterday,
the nonpolitical General Ivri told me that “despite the passionate statements from other
countries, this strategic tie is stabilizing. It’s not directed against anybody.”
Turkey needs some new friends in the world. It sees Syria playing host in Damascus to the
P.K.K. Kurds trying to break off a large piece of Turkey. It sees Iraq and Iran developing
fearsome new weapons and the missiles to deliver them. It sees Germany and Greece
selfishly blocking its entry into European integration, and its importance to NATO
diminished with the temporary reduction of the Russian threat.
What can Turkey get from its new bonds with Israel? It has already contracted for a $630
million modernization of its air force: 54 of its outdated fighters will be equipped with
the latest avionics and radar systems, and a new deal is in the works for 48 more. That
doesn’t turn them into F-15’s, but will enable them to knock down what nasty neighbors
might send aloft.
Also, Israelis know how to build advanced tanks; talks are under way on a joint design for
production in Turkey. Ground-to-air missiles are on the shopping list. Because the
U.S.-Israeli military tie is not subject to political vicissitudes, Turkey will look to
Israel to get American permission to sell Arrow anti-missile missiles (a joint U.S.-Israel
defensive weapon coming on line in 1999), and to urge the U.S. to help Ankara.
Israel’s interest in the Byzantine bond goes beyond a chunk of future billions in
military spending. Its airmen can now train in airspace that offers a land profile of
battle sorties. Mit-Mossad intelligence cooperation is a prospect. And a nation of six
million is more willing to take risks for peace with a nearby nation of 60 million as a
The Israelis will leave it to the Americans to remind Ankara, cracking down on Kurdish
separatists and closing up the religious party, about the value of human rights.
The Turks know the U.S. will do that, too, despite our need for Turkish bases to maintain
our no-fly zone over northern Iraq. Before Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz visits the White
House next week, I expect him to throw the outspoken Kurdish dissident Leyla Zana out of
prison, though that member of Parliament prefers to remain locked up for dramatic impact.
As General Ivri foresaw, the geopologic of Turkish-Israeli military, economic and
technological ties (it’s impolitic to call the new relationship an alliance) is greater
than Islamic solidarity or European clubbiness.. Common threats create mutual interests,
and growing trust develops comrades in more than arms. In ancient times, the Jews and
Greeks lost to the Romans, who were swallowed up into the Byzantine Empire, which was
broken up by the Turks, Persians, Russians, Arabs and Venetians.
In modern times, the Turks and Jews are protecting themselves against the Persians of Iran
and Arabs of Iraq and Syria, who are supported by the Russians, Greeks, and Goths and
Romans of Europe. The Venetians seem to be out of it, as are the Americans.
A Small Backdrop on Relations
Relations between Turkey and Israel go back to
March 1949, less than a year after Israel came into existence, when Ankara
recognized the Jewish state. Establishing formal ties to Israel sent a strong
message about Turkey's international orientation, bringing it close to the West even
as it alienated the Arabs; as Gamal Abdel Nasser explained in 1954, "Turkey,
because of its Israeli policy is disliked in the Arab world." But the
Turkey-Israel tie at that time was mostly symbolic and despite efforts to make it
substantial, had little content. Relations diminished in the aftermath of 1973, when
Turks, bowing to the Arab oil weapon, distanced themselves from Israel. Coolness
toward Israel remained for about a decade afterwards, eroding only as did the Arabs'
wealth and clout. Israel and Turkey quietly enhanced intelligence cooperation in the
aftermath of Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon but formal and public relations
|Safire Renews Attack During Gulf War II
As the TAT site is "going to press,"
"Operation Iraqi Freedom" is underway... and Turkey's name is currently mud for
not whole-heartedly supporting every move of the United States. The kinds of quotes heard
on American television are: "Since Turkey Screwed Us..."
"Because Turkey Jerked Us Around..."
"If Turkey hadn't messed with us..."
"Turkey tried to bribe us into letting them invade Iraq by offering us
Airspace rights..." (All from Fox News, as cited in an editorial by Sedef M.
Buyukataman entitled, "Examine the Facts.") Turkey's unusual decision
not to wag her tail the moment the United States snapped her fingers is a move that will
(as Ms. Buyukataman wrote) "not only cost Turkey billions of dollars in foreign aid
but also countless dollars in tourism, foreign business opportunities and, as the
following months will show, by making the job of anti-Turkish lobbies a hundred times
What does all this mean? Time for Billy Safire to go
on the attack again.
In an April 3, 2003 opinion for The New York Times ("On Rewarding Friends"), the former speechwriter for Richard
Nixon wrote, "But trust is shot. With our ships laden with troops and tanks offshore,
Turkey suddenly embraced neutralism. Generations of Americans with memories of gallant
Turks fighting alongside us in the Korean War — and saving refugees after the first gulf
war — are being replaced by a generation that will remember the slamming of Turkey's
door in our faces."
He concluded his piece with, "Peoples have memories that profoundly affect
international ties. Those memories are being forged right now, and Americans won't forget
How odd. All these many years, Turkey would
obsequiously do whatever the United States wanted — the U.S. could perhaps find no
greater ally. It's peculiar that William Safire suddenly recalled the gallantry of the
Turks from the Korean War, as he forever has
had the worst case of amnesia when it came to writing anything positive about the Turks.
For half a century, Turkey has been America's greatest friend and ally (besides Britain),
and when Turkey decides to look out for her own interests before the United States', Billy
Safire threatens he will no longer regard Turkey as a friend. What a phony.
Josh Marshall wrote in a March 26 2003 article for The
Hill entitled, "Don’t place blame on
the Turks": "The drive for
Baghdad, they now tell us, just proved what we should have known all along: that our
so-called “friends” and allies were never really our friends at all. The most
pernicious and self-serving of these arguments is that aimed at America’s erstwhile
allies, the Turks. Beside Britain, no country was thought more likely to be at our side
when the bombs started falling. And resentment toward them has been ferocious."
The same writer exposes William Safire's hypocrisy
with the following article:
Is William Safire just another Tricky Dick?
Ten days ago Safire fired off a barrage of
accusations against America's erstwhile ally, Turkey ("Turkey's Wrong
Turn," March 24, 2003). He blamed Turkey's refusal to give the US a northern
front on an amalgam of incipient Islamism and greed for northern Iraqi oil. He said
Prime Minister Erdogan had turned Turkey into "Saddam's best friend."
Thus Safire wrote ...
Adding diplomatic insult to this military injury, Turkey massed 40,000 troops on its
border with Iraq, hoping to grab the oil fields of Kirkuk if Iraqi Kurds rectified
Saddam's ethnic cleansing by daring to return to their homes.
The Turks' excuse for seizing today's moment of
liberation to bite off a rich chunk of their neighbor is this: they insist that
Iraqi Kurds plan to set up an independent state, which would then supposedly cause
Turkish Kurds to secede and break up Turkey.
That's strictly Erdogan's cover story for an oil grab, undermining the coalition's
plans for an Iraq whole and free.
Now, as I noted in The Hill
last week, Safire's argument was really little more than a bundle of slurs built on
a series of fairly straightforward logical contradictions. The long and the short of
it was that Safire was just letting the Turks have it because they refused the
United States. That required taking them down two or three notches.
But if Turkey really was refusing us because it
craved the oil fields of Kirkuk, would Safire really be in much of a position to
criticize them? Not really, since he's spent the last eighteen months dangling the
lure of Iraqi oil in front of the Turks as their reward for helping the US topple
For instance, just after 9/11, Safire wrote a column in which he was supposedly
"channeling" his one-time boss Richard Nixon about the wars on terrorism
and Saddam ("The Turkey Card," November 5th, 2001).
Here's a snippet from the 'interview' ...
Q: The Turks have already volunteered about a hundred commandos -- you mean we
should ask for more?
Nixon: Get out of that celebrity-terrorist Afghan mindset. With the world dazed and
everything in flux, seize the moment. I'd make a deal with Ankara right now to move
across Turkey's border and annex the northern third of Iraq. Most of it is in
Kurdish hands already, in our no-flight zone -- but the land to make part of Turkey
is the oil field around Kirkuk that produces nearly half of Saddam Hussein's oil
Q: Doesn't that mean war?
Nixon: Quick war, justified by Saddam's threat of germs and nukes and terrorist
connections. We'd provide air cover and U.N. Security Council support in return for
the Turks' setting up a friendly government in Baghdad. The freed Iraqis would start
pumping their southern oil like mad and help us bust up OPEC for good.
Q: What's in it for the Turks?
Nixon: First, big money -- northern Iraq could be good for nearly two million
barrels a day, and the European Union would fall all over itself welcoming in the
Turks. Next, Turkey would solve its internal Kurd problem by making its slice of
Iraq an autonomous region called Kurdistan.
Now, that was "Nixon" talking. And even though it was pretty clear these
were slightly more coarse and candid expressions of Safire's own thinking, maybe you
figure it's unfair to identify him directly with these ideas. But how about another
column ("Of Turks and Kurds," August 26th, 2002) from just last summer, in
which Safire speculated on what the Turks might gain from getting involved in the
regime change game ...
But many Turks, having just defeated their own
Kurdish terrorists headquartered in Damascus, are still transfixed by the chimera of
Kurdish separatism. They worry that when Saddam is overthrown, Iraqi Kurds will
split off into an independent Kurdistan, its traditional capital in oil-rich Kirkuk,
which might encourage Turkish Kurds also to break away. But that defies all logic:
would the Kurdish people, free inside a federated Iraq and with their culture
respected in Turkey, start a war against the regional superpower?
Turks also worry about the million Turkomen in northern Iraq. It should not be
beyond the wit of nation-builders to ensure that minority's rights and economic
improvement. Turkey has a claim on oil royalties from nearby fields dating back to
when Iraq was set up [italics added]. As a key military ally in the liberation and
reformation of that nation, and with judicious U.S.-guaranteed oil investments,
Turkey should begin to get its debt paid.
See the game Safire has been playing? First, he tries to get the Turks on the
regime-change bandwagon with the lure of Iraqi oil. When they refuse the temptation,
he accuses them of cravenly lusting after the very thing he unsuccessfully tried to
tempt them with. Yesterday in the Times he was actually at it again. What sort of weird
combination of disingenuousness and projection is this? Tricky Dick? How 'bout just
plain ... well, this is a family website. But you get the idea.
-- Josh Marshall, Talkingpointsmemo.com, April 3, 2003
It would appear The New
York Times published the following reply on March 31, 2003:
To the Editor:
Re ''Turkey's Wrong Turn,'' by William Safire (column, March 24):
It is strange that the moment Turkey proves beyond a doubt that it is much more
democratic than many give it credit for is when it is harshly criticized for not
being less democratic.
Perhaps those who purport to be friends of Turkey should reconsider whether they are
really interested in a democratic Turkey or a vassal state of the United States.
Sunnyvale, Calif., March 26, 2003
The alternate news outlet, Counterpunch,
charges Billy Safire and The New York Times for
making up a tale accusing a Taiwanese-American of being a spy for the Chinese:
Wen Ho Lee