They pushed aside such "ancient history" facts as "modern, secular" Turkey being the creation of a military dictator turned gentleman in mufti, Mustafa Kemal, who slaughtered millions of Christians in order to "cleanse" his post-Ottoman "modern" creation of all of its nagging minorities; and did not hesitate to hang quite a few of his own people from the neck to boot in order to suppress Islam with the evil gusto of a man who knows history is his (more often than not, this almost always ill-fated conviction leads to eventual disaster).
So, Turkey as West (a most unlikely garb and an abomination in the eyes of those who kept their historical wits) entered NATO in 1952 to become the darling of the United States and a preferred diplomatic partner for Britain, then struggling with the de-colonization of Cyprus and in need for a counter-balance to the Greek Cypriots' demands for emancipation. Senior diplomats in Washington and London quickly sponged Ankara's slate clean: Turkey, a "democracy" with nevertheless a long bloody tail of mass atrocities marking her historical path, would assume a leading role in the Cold War skirmish line and be relied upon to block the Soviet bear on the eastern fringes of NATO.
Few of these Western diplomatic geniuses ever gave a thought to the true sleeping Turkish giant: the Muslim faith, suppressed and reduced to a private affair, but never really finished. Even fewer among these rocket scientists anticipated trouble in case that the majority Turkish population, mostly rural, mostly illiterate, piously Muslim to suffocation, and as removed from Western values as the devil from burning incense, would acquire the kind of leadership that could resurrect the fundamentally "Turkish" social and political trends and undercurrents in this overwhelmingly Islamic country -- a "rampart" of the West nevertheless! Almost none lost any sleep when neighboring Iran, another Western "rampart" with strong social and political similarities to Turkey, quickly fell to an Islamic revolution in 1979, complete with the instant collapse and massacre of its secular elite and imposition of a theocratic dictatorship that turned Iran into a perennial threat to regional stability and, more recently, world security as well.
Nothing would really shake Western faith in Turkey.
Glitches like the 1974 invasion of Cyprus, and the slicing of the island in half by the attacking Turks that made over 200,000 Greek Cypriots refugees in their own home, or Turkey's more than three decades worth of threats of gun-play in the Aegean against a steadily retreating and morose Greece, didn't really register as problems in Washington and most European capitals. But the apogee for this mainly U.S.-driven Turkey fan club came in the early part of this decade, with a concerted diplomatic effort to push Turkey into the European Union. Suddenly, Ankara (smirking at the West's semi-paralytic attitude when confronted with Turkish 'greatness') found itself a candidate for full EU membership.
Unnoticed by her cheerleaders in Washington and Europe, however, Turkey had entered a critical phase with the rise to political prominence of the "moderately" Islamic Justice and Development party and its cunning leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Again, the West was caught sleeping at the helm. Erdogan's seemingly "modernist" disposition as prime minister, his apparent commitment to a "European" Turkey, and his shrewd public language about reform led Turkey's fan club to even greater public spasms of satisfied gurgling.
But, unbeknownst to, and unnoticed by, all these ignorant nincompoops, Erdogan had also put into motion the most ambitious political, social, and religious project since the foundation of "modern" Turkey in 1923: to challenge the historical structure of secular Kemalism and restore Turkey's Islamic identity as the precursor of Turkey claiming her "rightful" place at the head of a powerful union of Islamic states.
Far from being the illusory mental acrobatics of an unstable ephemeral Turkish Mussolini, Erdogan's obvious conception possessed all the elements of a power ideology bent on progressing slowly, perhaps, but so inexorably as to sweep aside any obstacles, irrespective of their nature and past inviolability.
Erdogan did not join battle without measuring his real strength among the people. Even from the earliest days of his regime, it was obvious that his message resonated strongly among the vast swaths of Muslim Turkey in a manner that made Turkey's small secular elite to begin sweating and even her all-powerful army generals to begin realizing that, perhaps, they were being flanked, unexpectedly but undoubtedly, by a political figure that was neither fearful of the army's commanding presence in the course of Turkish history since 1923 nor, in any way, nervous at the prospect of a brass knuckles brawl with the armed forces.
The generals were right. Erdogan has spent the better part of early 2010 arresting and imprisoning senior rank military officers after his security services uncovered back-to-back conspiracies by Turkey's apex gold braided hats to unseat him via fomenting domestic and international trouble. Despite this enormous and unprecedented challenge from a "moderate" Islamist, the army, unlike the recent past, hasn't moved an inch in any direction, which is unchallengeable proof that Erdogan hasn't gambled blindly and that he rests very firmly on his own two feet.
With the Turkish prime minister taking further quick steps in radical directions in support of Turkey's newfangled Islamic drive -- embracing Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his pronouncements of the Holocaust being a "Zionist conspiracy," slamming Israel with complete abandon at every given opportunity and orchestrating the Gaza "freedom flotilla" challenge of May 31, 2010, embracing the Hamas terrorist regime, missing no opportunity to fan anti-U. S. traits inside Turkey -- Turkey's Western cheerleaders have almost lost their voices; Turkophiles are literally groping in the dark but Erdogan isn't helping.
As a result, no other than the Wall Street Journal, flagship of the American establishment, a platinum partner of U.S. government "sources" delivering exclusive policy insights to its editorial staff, and one of the most supportive of the pro-Ankara U.S. stance over the years, belatedly discovered thus:
To follow Turkish discourse in recent years has been to follow a national decline into madness. Imagine 80 million or so people sitting at the crossroads between Europe and Asia. They don't speak an Indo-European language and perhaps hundreds of thousands of them have meaningful access to any outside media. What information most of them get is filtered through a secular press that makes Italian communists look right wing by comparison and an increasing number of state (i.e., Islamist) influenced outfits. Topics A and B (or B and A, it doesn't really matter) have been the malign influence on the world of Israel and the United States. [...]
The obvious answer to the question of "Who lost Turkey?" -- the Western-oriented Turkey, that is-- is the Turks did. The outstanding question is how much damage they'll do to regional peace going forward.
Suddenly, Turkey's 800-pound gorilla maneuvers are hurting in ways no Ankara fan would have ever thought possible, even as part of a sandbox exercise among virtual reality PC game designers.
Although it is still early to write the obituary of bien pensant opinion pieces, "analyses" by "regional experts," let alone government statements, the writing on the wall is glaringly visible. And the process of asking the key question of whether Turkey can continue as a member of the Western alliance -- let alone a "rampart" -- is already being asked with poignant precision.
A few concluding words on Israel and Greece and their Turkish "policies."
It is hard to believe that Israel, a state with unfailing methods of international survival in place, would have ever honestly believed that it could make an "ally" out of Turkey. History was simply against any such notion, especially given the dormant Muslim factor and the deep anti-Semitic feeling permeating Turkish masses. Those in Israel who advocated this "strategic relationship" obviously missed quite clear history lessons, plus obvious practical facts about "modern" Turkey, in a fashion most incongruent to Israel's almost always meticulous analysis of historical and geostrategic variables, informed by somber intelligence, and their impact upon the longer term.
As for Greece, Turkey's increasingly fast-changing strategic priorities pulls the rug from underneath the local supporters of "Greek-Turkish friendship" and the future of a rapprochement that will cure all the ills in Greek-Turkish relations. But the rot is too far advanced for the local appeasement benevolent society to change course at this late stage. The current Greek government has just given Erdogan, during his official visit to Athens in mid-May, an unparalleled public opportunity to demonstrate to all how Turkey deals with weak, submissive neighbors and how Turkey perceives "zero problems" on her periphery.
Greece has become a primary target of the developing Turkish neo-Islamist strategic reach and has willingly surrendered her right to self defense. The Turkish play in Finlandizing Greece should be closely watched by the Western allies, although, right now, there is little hope that the European Union -- divided onto itself, destabilized by the fiscal crisis, and castrated when it comes to broader questions of security -- can do anything effective to parry the Turkish thrust. As for NATO, it should go simply unmentioned.
The next decade would be crucial. Even if Erdogan suffers political defeat, or is somehow sidelined, Turkey's Muslim heart has been irrevocably awakened. It would be next to impossible for the West to "manage," let alone "contain," what appears to be in store for the former Cold War "rampart" and now happy partner of Iran and winking friend of Islamic fundamentalism.