OBG Talks to Brent Scowcroft


Economic News

22 Jul 2010
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OBG: You recently spoke out against any attempt to remove Saddam Hussein’s regime at the present time. In your view, how would a unilateral US attack on Iraq in the short to medium term affect US-Turkish relations?

SCOWCROFT: I believe it will be manageable, but an attack would put strains on the relationship because of the Kurdish issue. And Turkey is very, very sensitive about that, of course, and very sensitive about its position in the region. In the case of the Gulf War, for example, Turkey was very careful to insist that most of the actions relating to US forces were taken under a NATO umbrella. Now that Turkey is in a similar situation as the end of the Gulf War, when a surge of Kurds crossed the border into Turkey, and given Turkish incursions into Iraqi Kurdistan over the last decade and the enormous concern about Iraq’s territorial integrity, there would be great anxiety over a military operation at this time.

OBG: If however, as you have suggested, UN weapons inspections of Iraq were allowed to recommence and eventually thwarted by Saddam Hussein, leading to a multilateral coalition against Iraq, what role would you see for Turkey?

SCOWCROFT: I think it would likely give Turkey a great deal of comfort to be under an umbrella of collective action rather than helping the United States acting unilaterally with little global support.

OBG: From your perspective, if a unilateral military strike is conducted by the US either immediately preceding or directly following the upcoming Turkish elections scheduled for November, do you think it would significantly impact the formation of a new Turkish government?

SCOWCROFT: Yes, I think it could. It would depend heavily on the circumstances of the strike. The situation would be very complicated. As I understand the polls as of September 2002 show that moderate Islamic parties have significant support. It seems to me, and I am not an expert on domestic Turkish politics, that they would probably be the most agitated about the arrival of a US unilateral strike. And so it would almost certainly affect the formation of the government, exactly how, I couldn’t say. War drums over Iraq come at a very difficult time for Turkey.

OBG: Has the present Turkish government been effectively lobbying their case against unilateral US action?

SCOWCROFT: I think lobbying is too strong a word. They have made clear their concerns about any military activity against Iraq, and while they have not been as strident, for example, as say Germany, they have made it extremely clear that they are not enthusiastic about it.

OBG: You have spoken extensively recently about the need to prioritise the war on terrorism over any other potential US military actions, namely Iraq. What role do you see Turkey, as a traditional Muslim ally, taking on in the war on terrorism?

SCOWCROFT: Turkey has a very important role to play because it is, as you say, a Muslim country with a genuinely secular government. And, of course, that is the model most congenial to the United States, and so it is a model we would like to support. Turkey, also, is of the Middle East, understands that region, and understands its people. I think it is wonderful that Turkey is heading the military peacekeeping operation in Afghanistan – the International Security Assistance Force - at the present time, which serves as an example of the importance of Turkey. This is especially the case for the United States, as it tries to understand and deal with the region, especially societies that are very distant from the US geographically.

OBG: Do you see Muslim-led peacekeeping forces as being of stepped up importance in the future?

SCOWCROFT: Yes, especially in Afghanistan. Because Afghanis have been historically resentful of any foreign presence they consider an occupying force. Given the history of good relations between Afghanistan and Turkey going back to the previous century, this will help Afghanis avoid the notion that the ISAF, which is simply there to help Afghanistan, is an occupying force. So I think it is a more congenial presence than it might otherwise be. Potentially, and this is purely speculative, Turkey might also be useful in some kind of a settlement between Israel and Palestine because Turkey has a special relationship with Israel. And so, were there to be the need for some kind of forces to be imposed there, its conceivable that the Turks could be involved.

OBG: What do you perceive to be common goals between Washington and Ankara in the Middle East?

SCOWCROFT: More broadly speaking, I think the common goal is that we would most like to see a Middle East and Central Asian region that is primarily composed of governments similar to that of Turkey, and that the relationship between Islam and government would develop along the Turkish model. That might go a long way towards the reconciliation of issues between Islam in modern states as well. That is our ideal solution to the problem as opposed, for example, to groups advocating a theocratic state, such as Al Qaeda. So I think the US and Turkey are natural allies in the Middle East and maybe even more so in Central Asia, which is early in state building, and looking for models to emulate.

OBG: Is this ambition something you see as central to your own role as chairman of the American-Turkish Council?

SCOWCROFT: I simply feel that Turkey is an important ally of the US, and has been for a long time, and that I wanted to do my part in supporting and helping that friendship develop. So it’s not with any particular policy goal, but I think Turkey is very special to the United States and I wanted to support our relationship.

OBG:Do you think Ankara could be doing more to garner additional US aid, or support, as part of their continued economic programme?

SCOWCROFT: Well, I think the programme is doing pretty well right now, and I don’t think Turkey needs any more. The US was supportive of assistance to Turkey based on the Turkish economic programme, and my sense is that the United States is supporting it, and that nothing more is needed from the US right now. The programme still has a long way to go, and the political crisis in Turkey does not help. In that regard, a conflict with Iraq probably would not help either.

OBG:How do you view Turkey’s progress towards European Union membership? And how do you perceive a closer relationship between Turkey and the EU affecting Turkish-American relations?

SCOWCROFT: Well, developments in this area are not likely to affect relations. Turkey looks to the US as a friend, together with the EU. But I perceive the EU process as progressing with difficulty. I hope that it might be possible when the EU meets in December to put Turkey on a schedule for membership. Cyprus is a very complicating factor, and if Cyprus enters the EU without some kind of prior understanding, that will set back Turkey’s position. It’s a tough period right now.

OBG: What do you anticipate the Turkish reaction would be to Cyprus entering the EU without any settlement on the island?

SCOWCROFT: First of all, I hope that Ankara and Athens will resolve the Cyprus crisis prior to entry. That would be ideal. But I think, unfortunately, that is not likely to happen. Because a unified Cyprus entering the EU has its own complications, Ankara and Athens working together to solve the problem would boost Turkey’s standing with the EU. That would be my ideal scenario, and I know many in Washington feel the same way.

OBG: If that were not to be the case, and Cyprus enters the EU without a solution, what is the best-case scenario, from the US perspective, for Turkey’s reaction to such a development?

SCOWCROFT: I think a low key, cooperative rather than resentful attitude would be best towards attempting to continue to resolve the problem. But that would be hard.

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