The American Interest

Our Interest in Turkey

Trying to spread democracy in the Middle East has always been a bad idea.  The quagmire in Iraq is largely thanks to George W. Bush and his team extending the original mission from depriving Saddam of his (nonexistent) weapons of mass destruction to the establishment of a democratic Iraq as a first step to transforming the region as a whole.  The d-word was claimed to be the universal remedy for fundamentalism, terrorism, poverty, ignorance, and violence.

As we now know (and as some of us warned back then), democratizing the Middle East is unattainable in practice and undesirable in principle.  “Democratic transformation” tends to benefit one variety of political Islam or another—from the Muslim Brotherhood’s offshoots (in Gaza) to Iranian protégés (in Iraq).  Muslim political parties are happy to use the rhetoric of democracy for the imposition of a very different model of society.  That scenario is being played out even in the formerly Kemalist Turkey, which is once again an integral part of the Middle East.  No system of governance is viable outside of the framework of ideas and habits of the civilization that sustain it.  In the Muslim world Allah is the only sovereign, the ultimate source of authority and legislation.  All over the Middle East governments consist in practice of only one branch—the executive—controlled by a political party (Turkey), or a family...

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