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American-Turkish Council
Remarks as Delivered by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Washington, DC, Monday, March 26, 2001

[Former National Security Adviser] General [Brent] Scowcroft, thank you for that very kind introduction. At a time like this I am glad that you have a reputation for telling the truth, and I hope you haven't damaged it too much in the process. [Laughter]

In listening to you, it seemed to me that maybe what we should do is talk about the [previous] Bush-Scowcroft era, and now the [present] Bush-Rice era [National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice], and then we can get away from ["Bush 41" and "Bush 43"]. And certainly, you were crucial to so much that the first President Bush accomplished.

Members of the Bush team; [Turkish] Ambassador Ilkin, it wasn't so long ago that you and I shared the podium at Johns Hopkins to discuss Turkey and it's a pleasure to see you here once again. Members of the Turkish General Staff; I extend a warm welcome to them and to our distinguished guests, particularly to our former Senator Nancy Kassebaum Baker. Thank you for your work in promoting Turkish-American relations.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me take a moment at the outset to congratulate the American-Turkish Council on its 20th Anniversary. Today, more than ever, we need organizations like the ATC that understand the importance of Turkish-U.S. cooperation, not only for our two countries, but for the world at large. In the Defense Department our efforts with our Turkish partners are to build security. That security is the foundation for the efforts that so many of you in this room are engaged in, to build prosperity--prosperity that works to the benefit not only of Turks and Americans, but the whole world.

If I had not been given the opportunity to return to the Pentagon for my third tour--as Secretary Rumsfeld said, "We'll keep bringing you back until you get it right"[laughter]--instead of standing here with you today, I would at this moment be returning from Turkey, from Gallipoli where some of my former students from Johns Hopkins have been studying that great battle in Turkish history. It is the battle where Ataturk, the "Father of the Turks," first distinguished himself and learned from the horrors of war the value of lasting peace.

Galipoli might have gone down in history as a brilliantly successful strategic gamble, but the allies underestimated the bravery and the tenacity of Ataturk and his comrades who fought even when their ammunition was exhausted. My students will learn another great lesson when they visit Anzac Cove and read the words of Ataturk to his former enemies. In a monument dedicated to Johnnies and Mehmets alike, they will read: "[Mothers,] wipe away your tears. Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are at peace." They will be moved as they learn of a great man's magnanimity and generosity, even to those who bore arms against him. And while I wish I could share that moment with my students, I value the opportunity today to talk about Turkey and to see some of my Turkish friends here.

In 1923 Ataturk had a vision for the future that put Turkey on the road to democracy and saw it through a period of extraordinary change. I first visited Turkey in 1976. I was astonished by its dynamism, astonished by how far this nation had come since Turkish independence at the end of the Ottoman Empire. I was reminded a few years ago, listening to the great scholar Bernard Lewis talk about Turkey, that I came to Turkey literally from a trip to the Middle East. And as Professor Lewis has pointed out, Turkey looks very different, whether you approach it from the Middle East or from Europe. It has come so far from the Middle East of its origins, and yet some Europeans look and say, "Well Turkey has such a long distance to go." Turkey has come an incredibly long distance, and I am confident that it will keep moving ahead.

Today we face a similar period of extraordinary change, a period that has witnessed amazing shifts in the international environment. I like to point out that the end of the Cold War has transformed Turkey from a country of enormous strategic importance … to a country of enormous strategic importance. But Turkey's strategic importance today is vastly different in character from what it was during the Cold War. Turkey possesses the gift, and some might consider it in part the misfortune, of being at the crossroads of so many contending international forces.

Today Turkey is the link to building a Europe that is undivided, democratic and at peace, a vision that seemed totally fantastic a mere 20 years ago. It is a key to building peace in Southeastern Europe and to preserving peace in the Black Sea region. It is a key to bridging the dangerous gap between the West and the Islamic world. Indeed, Turkey is indispensable. The United States understands this well.

We appreciate also the extraordinary difficulties now facing Turkey's economy and we support [Turkish Minister of State for Economic Affairs, Dr.] Kemal Dervis, whom I'm proud to call a friend, in his crucial mission to bring about much-needed reforms. He is certainly the right man to tackle such serious challenges. He is one of the most knowledgeable economists, and one of the finest civil servants I have known.

But no man, no matter how brilliant, can fix the problems of the Turkish economy by himself. It will require enormous political will to make the necessary changes, and political will is not a normal characteristic of coalition governments--whether in Turkey or anywhere in the world. But this is not a normal time, and it is not a time for business as usual.

Turkey faces a crisis today. In East Asia it is frequently noted that the Chinese character for "crisis" is made up of two characters: one, the character for "danger," the other the character for "opportunity." And as I just heard Dr. Dervis point out, this crisis that Turkey faces can also be a major opportunity.

Turkey has an opportunity to emerge from this crisis even stronger than before, but only if it undertakes the necessary reforms. And these need to be not only reforms in economic policy, but reform of the fundamental institutions that are critical for the Turkish economy to enter the 21st Century.

It is the great good fortune of the United States, of NATO, of the Western countries, and, indeed, of the whole world that in this critical crossroads we have one of our strongest, most reliable and most self-reliant allies. Let me dwell for a moment on their characteristic of self-reliance, because Turkish self-reliance is almost legendary. It is captured in a story that I first heard from a Turkish officer many years ago, but my military assistant, Army Brigadier General John Batiste, tells me that he's heard it also.

It is a story from the Korean War about how a Marine company came to relieve an Army battalion that was holding a crucial position and the Army officer in command said, "Well, you only have a company. How do you expect to hold this position?" And the answer was, "We're Marines." Not too long afterwards, a Turkish platoon came to relieve the Marine company and the Marine commander now asked his Turkish relief, "Why do you think you can hold this position with just a platoon? And the Turk responded, "We're Turks." [Laughter.]

Now I'm sure General Batiste would disagree with that implied comparison of U.S. Marines and U.S. Army soldiers, but he personally attests to the professionalism of Turkish soldiers with whom he served in Bosnia. And while that particular story may well be apocryphal, my old friend, General Al Gray, former Commandant of the Marine Corps, fought with Turkish troops in Korea, and he's told me what you can read in the history books--that the troops were as tough as any troops he served with. Now those of you who know Al Gray know that he's one tough Marine, so that is indeed high praise.

Turkey stood with us through the Korean War, and Turkey stands with us today as a vital NATO partner. In Operation Northern Watch over northern Iraq, Turkey's ongoing material and moral support is indispensable.

Turks call Incirlik, the place where American forces are deployed, "the place where figs grow." The American troops stationed there call Incirlik "the place where good will grows."

And Turks have every right to be proud of their military contributions during the Kosovo crisis, in aircraft, in aid to Kosovar refugees, and in allied access to Turkish bases. And they have every right to be proud of Turkey's contribution to KFOR--that is, the Kosovo Force--and SFOR--that is, the stabilization force in Bosnia today.

And I remember, and General Scowcroft may remember also, some nine years ago when we first suggested the possibility that Turkish troops might contribute to peacekeeping in the Balkans, many people said, "Oh, no; Turkey has a bad history in the Balkans;"--they said the same thing of the Germans, by the way--"can't ever have Turkish troops in the Balkans."

Today in KFOR there is a Turkish infantry battalion of close to 500 men in the town or Prizren, and, yes, they are supporting the German brigade in Kosovo. And in SFOR in Bosnia, another infantry battalion of close to a thousand Turkish troops supports the U.S. sector out of Zenica. And in a true cooperative spirit, Turkey has incorporated Georgian and Azari troops into Turkish ranks.

These Turkish commitments are not the Ottoman Empire of old. They are Turkish commitments to peacekeeping and to stability. And they are in thorough keeping with Ataturk's vision of "peace at home, peace abroad." They demonstrate vividly Turkey's important role as a member of the NATO Alliance, an alliance that is increasingly important to strengthening stability in Central and Eastern Europe and encouraging the development of new democracies.

When Secretary Rumsfeld addressed the NATO allies at February's Wehrkunde Conference in Munich, he pointed out that NATO has been the key instrument for keeping the peace in Europe for over 50 years. In light of the discussion going on about the European Security and Defense Identity, it's important to emphasize that we support ESDP as a tool for improving European capabilities, but not if it should undermine NATO's effectiveness. NATO must remain preeminent in European defense planning. As Secretary Rumsfeld said, "Weaken NATO and we weaken Europe, which weakens all of us." We know that we have an ally in Turkey, an ally who is with us 100 percent.

As part of strengthening security, it is also important to develop defenses against ballistic missiles. Turks understand all too well that some of the world's most dangerous tyrants and terrorists are determined to acquire ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction. Some of them are already within missile range of Turkey, and others are developing missiles that will bring Turkey within range.

Ten years ago, when I addressed this same group, we were concerned about just such a tyrant. We said of him, if you'll permit me to butcher the Turkish language for a moment, Yanlish hisap Baadat tan doner [laughter], "bad news comes back, even from Baghdad." And ten years later, we're still getting bad news from Baghdad, and it's still called Saddam Hussein. [Laughter.] He still rules his people under the yoke of oppression. He remains a threat to his neighbors as long as he remains in power. That is why the United States continues to look for new leadership in Iraq--united ethnic and religious leadership that will preserve the territorial integrity of Iraq. We are committed to that. We will work for that.

Iraq provides a most striking counterpoint to Turkey's democratic journey. Just as Turkey does all that it can to ensure that every citizen, regardless of ethnicity or origin, is brought into the political process, the same must happen to Turkey's neighbors. We are committed to a policy of inclusion in the democratic process for all nations who aspire to democracy. That is our goal for Iraq, and we must do everything we can to support democratic forces in Iraq.

Turkey serves as a beacon, not only for its oppressed neighbors, but as a model of success for the entire Muslim world. It is an example that the benefits of democratic politics and market economics can be available not just to the Christian West or to the Asian East, but to the world's one billion Muslims.

We are delighted that so many in Turkey, and especially the young, look to the United States. We consider that an honor. Like Turkey, we are dedicated to the democratic ideal, and we want to see all included in the democratic process. And indeed, reference to democratic ideals reminds me--and General Scowcroft probably remembers the conversation--of the first conversation between the first President Bush and then-President Gorbachev of the Soviet Union at Malta, when Gorbachev said, "Please stop talking about Western values. We want to be part of what is the world of democratic values." And, indeed, the world of democratic values is a world that ultimately can and should include everyone.

I am told that a 19th Century Turkish thinker expressed the Turkish view of the world in the following words. "Look at all the crucial thoughts that we do not know. Let us learn these thoughts ourselves, and then let us teach them to those of us who don't yet know them." These words capture a Turkish philosophy that has always deeply impressed me. Turks take responsibility for themselves, unlike those who are always blaming others for their difficulties. And it is that tenacious sense of responsibility and self-reliance that has inspired serious discussion within Turkey today about further reform: reform to strengthen the rule of law, reform to provide greater political transparency and more accountability, reform to underscore the importance of ethical conduct, and reform to invite everyone, especially the young people who are the future of Turkey, to participate more fully in the process of democratic government. That is a very encouraging trend.

Turkey has moved an enormous distance in the eight decades since the founding of the modern Turkish Republic. It has become one of the most dynamic countries in the Muslim world. I am confident, based on Turkey's past record, that it will overcome its present difficulties and will move even further.

Let me conclude with the words of the Turkish poet Sureya who wrote, "We are novices of a new life. Maybe we are living in the last difficult days. Maybe we shall live the first good days, too." We are all novices of a new world, born of unbelievable change. But for the nations of Central Asia and the Caucasus, the Middle East, Southeastern and Eastern Europe, indeed all the world, these can be the first good days of a brighter future, a future made possible in part by a strong American-Turkish partnership.

So I thank you for the opportunity to address you today. I thank you for everything you are doing to strengthen bonds between our nations. Tesekkur ederim. [Thank you.] [Applause.]