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Muslim Democracy Foils Bush's Imperial Plans

"Turkish support is assured," Paul Wolfowitz declared triumphantly in early December as he emerged from a meeting with top military and government officials in Ankara.

The smug certainty with which the deputy Pentagon chief declared his confidence in Turkish acquiescence was characteristic of the administration's broader imperial ambitions and attitude toward its allies.

There was little doubt in Wolfowitz's mind that Turkey would allow the U.S. to deploy tens of thousands of troops to bases in southwestern Turkey to serve as a second, northern front. And while he loudly praised Turkish democracy, a senior U.S. diplomat assured reporters who traveled with the delegation that the Turkish parliament's exclusive authority to approve the deployment of foreign troops on Turkish soil was unimportant.

The Washington Post quoted an anonymous "Western diplomat" as saying, "Most of the U.S. requests likely will be decided by Turkey's National Security Council, which includes the military's politically powerful general staff, along with senior elected officials."

No wonder it came as a rude shock this weekend when the Turkish parliament did not just vote on the U.S. plan, but rejected it -- along with some $15 billion in economic aid and plans for tens of thousands of Turkish troops to enter northern Iraq along with U.S. forces that Washington offered as incentives for cooperation.

While officials here are hoping that the Turks will accede to pressure -- exerted by both Washington and investors who pulled down the average share price on the Turkish stock exchange by 12 percent on Monday -- to arrange a second vote, the setback is a reality check for high-handed administration hawks. It revealed how Wolfowitz and his cohorts who are leading the charge for war are relying on a whole range of false assumptions about their power, their favored tactics, and the ways in which their allies perceive them.

"The ideologues in Washington think that the invasion can't go wrong, but their moral certitude is going to clash with realities on the ground," Raad al-Kadiri of the Washington-based Petroleum Finance Co. told the Wall Street Journal last week. The Turkish debacle also reveals how the "moral certitude" that accompanies imperial visions of grandeur makes it impossible for hawks to understand and appreciate the sensitivities of public opinion, particularly in countries with democratic institutions.

"We don't like the way we were pushed around by the Americans," said one of the dozens of Turkish parliamentarians who voted against Washington's plan, as reported in the Los Angeles Times. "The Americans kept giving ultimatums and deadlines, asking Turkey to jump into a barrel of fire. They seemed to think we could be bought off."

It is telling that during the same weekend, while the Turks rejected Washington's military plans, half a world away the Philippines government was forced to disavow another Pentagon plan to send 3,000 U.S. troops on a joint "operation" against Abu Sayyaf, a self-described Islamist group that specializes in kidnapping.

While President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was willing to go along with the scheme to involve U.S. forces directly in hostilities, the Pentagon undercut its own plans by framing the operation in a ham-handed fashion. As a result, the operation was viewed in the Phillipines as a clear violation of a constitutional ban on combat operations by foreign forces in the country. According to the Washington Post, "The Pentagon had failed to grasp the political and cultural sensitivities in the Philippines, a former U.S. colony in which nationalist sentiment led to the closure of two U.S. military bases a decade ago."

The end result: Washington's hopes of stepping up the U.S. military presence in East Asia -- a major strategic goal of the hawks -- have been set back primarily as a result of public opinion in a democratic state.

Ditto for South Korea, where Washington's adamant refusal to agree to bilateral talks with North Korea appears to be adding to growing popular anger. U.S. obduracy is exacerbating discontent with the U.S. military over the acquittal of two U.S. servicemen last fall for accidentally crushing two Korean schoolgirls with their armored personnel carriers. The diplomatic rift, which could have been repaired by a straightforward apology by Bush to the South Korean people and an updating of its Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Seoul, now has mushroomed into a much bigger question mark over the future of a 50-year military alliance. Some experts here believe the alliance may be doomed unless Washington changes tactics immediately. But, seemingly oblivious to or contemptuous of South Korean public opinion, the hawks appear to be digging in their heels.

The failure to grasp political and cultural sensitivities of foreign governments, especially those which have democratic institutions, has been the Achilles heel of the hawks. Even their supporters have been less than thrilled with their approach.

"Ministers of defense should talk less, shouldn't they? The more Powell speaks and the less Rumsfeld speaks, that wouldn't be a bad thing altogether." So spoke Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar to reporters, expressing his unhappiness with highly visible and dependably insensitive Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld. Like other European backers of the administration's Iraq policy, Aznar and his party are losing significant ground with their voting public, who view them as cheerleaders for a Bush-led imperialism. The high-handed attitude of the hawks doesn't ease their situation any.

There is, of course, an enormous irony in this most recent defeat in Turkey, if only because the neo-conservatives are trying to persuade the world that a war on Iraq is the essential first step toward spreading democracy in the Islamic world. "The essence of what we believe in -- we in the United States -- is that people should be free to determine their own future," Wolfowitz told Turkish reporters last July. "Turkey is proof that democracy can work for Muslims."

As a former senior state department official quipped, "We back democracy all the way. All the way, that is, up to the point that they disagree with us." When it comes to Iraq, democracy may not work well for the neoconservatives.

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