March 02, 2005
Turkey - Can public opinion affect the relations between two states?
It is tempting to say “no”, and this might be taken as a satisfying answer in traditional circles. In today’s world though, with the growing impact of democracies, and the emergence of everyday more powerful civil societies it looks insufficient and potentially dangerous.
Let’s take the case of Turkey on the basis of a fascinating story published yesterday by the Turkish Daily News about the tensions between Ankara and Washington.
Turkish public opinion is not favorable explains TDN. Iraq is a great cause of concern.
[...] religious Turks, […] are infuriated by what they see as the persecution of Sunnis in Iraq. Secular Turks, for their part, are frustrated by what they perceive as American efforts to pave the way to the creation of an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq.
As usual, it can take some exacerbated forms:
Some eccentric Turkish newspaper reports even blamed the United States for the tsunami that hit southern Asia late last year, killing more than 250,000 people. Accusations ranged from "causing the tsunami with a secret nuclear test" to deliberately failing to inform the region's people in time.
Also, Turkey's new best-selling novel, “Metal Storm,” although it is pure fiction, highlights the deep fear and anger that many Turks feel toward the United States. The book is about a U.S. invasion of Turkey in 2007.
100,000 copies of “Metal Storm” have been sold since its publication in December. It strikes a chord with Turkish fears, and is said to be cautiously read by political and military leaders (according to this story published in Middle East Times.)
Could all this alter the relation between Ankara and Washington? TDN is very ambiguous about that.
Nothing seems to have changed behind the scene except for some tension at the beginning of each bilateral meeting. The “fundamental of ties between Ankara and Washington remain unchanged” in particular in the military cooperation field.
This is traditional diplomacy in tense situation. And a Turkish Foreign Ministry official went further when, according to TDN, he commented that:
“The anti-American sentiment in the Turkish public opinion has very limited leverage on the government. Has anyone ever seen a fundamental change in historic ties between two states because of negative public sentiment?”
In fact US officials seem to have a different view and they let it be known. They complain about the media, and, according to TDN:
remarks by Douglas Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy […] made a major impact in Ankara. “It's crucial,” said Feith, “that the appreciation of our relationships extend beyond government officials down to the public in general, because otherwise the relationship is really not sustainable ... We hope that officials in our partner countries are going to be devoting the kind of effort to building popular support for the relationship that we build in our own country.”
Feith’s understanding of how a government should deal with public opinion may be a subject of interesting controversies, but it clearly reveals that the US administration is paying attention to anti-Bush, and anti-American sentiments in the world.
Politicians, diplomats and scholars who see the world in terms of Realpolitik may still believe that public opinion does not matter much in state to state relations. They cannot ignore the fact that it is a cause of serious concern for the most powerful of them.
The US government is learning that even with unchallenged military power it cannot ignore the feelings of the people abroad. That is becoming a fact of international relations that everybody will have to adjust to. And we might discover on the way that civil society is becoming a major actor of foreign relations.
Posted March 2, 2005 04:56 PM
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