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Remarks by Ambassador Eric Edelman at the Washington Institute's Eighth Annual Turgut Ozal Lecture

Presenters: Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Ambassador Eric S. Edelman
June 19, 2006 12:00 PM EDT
 Sayin Arkadashlar Merhaba. [Hello, my good friends.]  It is an honor to be here today to deliver this year’s Turgut Ozal lecture.  I would like to thank the Washington Institute, Rob Satloff, Soner Cagaptay, and in particular, Mark Parris (one of my distinguished predecessors as Ambassador to Turkey) for inviting me.  This institution’s excellent work in promoting U.S.-Turkish relations does not go unnoticed and I am proud to be a part of it.  In fact, I would argue that the Institute’s work on Turkey is more important now than it has ever been.  I would also like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the important efforts of my successor, Ambassador Ross Wilson, who with great dedication and skill works everyday at maintaining our strong relations. 

 

            From my own experience in Ankara, I can tell you that the U.S. values Turkey as a great ally and friend.  Ours is a friendship that shares a long history.  For half a century Turkey has served as NATO’s southern anchor.  From Korea to Kosovo to Kabul, the U.S. and Turkey have stood together in defense of peace and prosperity.  As important as our cooperation has been in the past, it is even more important in addressing today’s challenges.  Turkey has been a strong ally in support of freedom and democracy and is, today, working with the United States in the global war on terror.  The United States truly values Turkey’s assistance and friendship in defense of the values we share.

 

            It is no secret that the U.S.-Turkish relationship has been through a bit of a turbulent period.  The impact of the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington and the U.S. response (Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom) have created perturbations in the relationship that are still working themselves out.  In that context it seems a worthwhile exercise to go back and revisit the fundamentals of the relationship.  In particular, it is worth reviewing the special characteristics of Turkey, the shared values, as well as the common geopolitical interests that have underpinned the desire of the United States to have a strong partner and ally in Turkey.  It is, after all, those things which have been the basis of U.S. support for Turkey over the past fifty years.  It has also been those fundamentals that served as the core of Washington’s consistent and determined support for Turkey’s European aspirations and vocation.

 

            Because this annual speech is dedicated to Turgut Ozal, I thought it appropriate to take a closer look at this great man and discuss how his courageous leadership and progressive policies helped shaped the kind of Turkey which we have sought as a valued partner.  Building on the work of others, Ozal was:

 

  • A visionary, who was proud of Turkey and confident in Turkey’s future; 
  • A devout Muslim, who was comfortable in separating his private piety from his secular governance;
  • A democrat, who restored multi-party politics and understood the importance of accountability of government;
  • A realist, who was not afraid to open Turkey up to the world;
  • A creative thinker, who immediately grasped the significance of Central Asia’s liberation from Soviet domination;
  • A perceptive leader, who valued the legacies of his predecessors and was able to apply them to modern times;
  • And a true friend to the United States.

 

           Ozal’s strong leadership was a product of the hard work of past leaders.  It goes without saying that Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s remarkable leadership provided the base for a modern, democratic Turkey.  He was a forward-looking leader with faith in the concept of a Turkish Republic.  He led Turkey on a path toward modernization, with a series of innovative reforms, all geared towards setting Turkey on a Western course.  Among his many lasting accomplishments, he made Turkey a secular democracy.

 

            Ataturk was committed to the preservation of the independence and integrity of the Turkish Republic. He realized the nation would not be a success unless the people were proud of it.  He demonstrated his dedication to the Turkish people by investing in the country’s infrastructure, by granting political rights to women, and investing in literacy and education.  When Ataturk began reinventing the Turkish language, he personally led the public education campaign that followed.  He himself went into the park in Ankara on Sundays to teach the Latin alphabet as part of the language reform.

 

            He understood the advocacy and intellectual role leaders must play in the modern world.  In today’s parlance he understood strategic communications.

 

            The fundamental governing principals set by Ataturk continue to guide Turkey today.  Ataturk clearly saw that Turkey’s future was in the West.  His social, political, and linguistic reforms guided Turkey in that direction and required great ingenuity, strength, and perseverance.  Ataturk condemned dictatorships and his legacy lies in the fact that he left the nation with a structure that enabled democracy to take root.  Lord Kinross in his laudatory biography of Ataturk acknowledged that the great man had achieved “swift, liberal ends pursued often by illiberal means.”  In some sense Ataturk’s successors have spent the past 70 years bringing means and ends back into balance.  For that reason the work of both the Ecevit and AK Party governments over the past years has been both breathtaking and important.

 

            Their pursuit of a broad economic and political reform agenda is not only positive in its own right but has brought the prospect of Turkey’s entry into Europe closer than it has ever been.  Obviously that work must continue to be deepened and broadened.

 

            Following Ataturk’s death, Mustafa Ismet Inonu’s presidency led Turkey to successfully fulfill Ataturk’s reforms and to consolidate a secular, democratic order. One of his key accomplishments was the introduction of democratic elections and opening Turkish politics to a multi-party system.  Inonu recognized that a loyal and constructive opposition is important for the democratic functioning of a nation.  It is the crucial mechanism for ensuring accountability of government to the governed.

 

            During World War II, Inonu initially viewed neutrality as a way to preserve Turkey’s sovereignty.  However, by the end of the war he realized it was more important for the Turkish nation to join the Allies in defense of their shared values.  The Turkish Straits crisis of 1946 symbolized the shifting reality.  The transport of the late Turkish Ambassador Ertegun’s remains to Istanbul aboard the U.S.S. Missouri provided a powerful signal of U.S. determination to stand with Turkey against intimidation by a powerful neighbor.  In a way, the incident came to stand for more than that.  It came to symbolize the cultural and people-to-people ties between our countries.  Ambassador Ertegun’s son, Ahmet, remained in the U.S. where he went on to become a successful businessman whose important role in American popular culture has been beautifully captured in the Oscar winning movie Ray. 

 

            Inonu recognized that the world had changed after World War II.  He saw the value of collective security and strong global alliances.  Under his leadership, Turkey became one of the original members of the United Nations, joined the IMF, and expressed immediate interest in joining NATO. The 1947 Truman Doctrine showed that Turkey’s position had changed from one of neutrality to that of a staunch ally and a key member of what we came to know as “the West.”  Inonu’s pivotal role and Turkey’s eventual entry into NATO taught an important lesson: serious leaders and nations do not stand by in crisis situations.

 

            Crises require choices and those choices frequently require leaders (both in government and opposition) to educate and to shape the perceptions of their countrymen about the real alternatives confronting the nation.

 

            Inonu went on to reform the political system to reflect the emerging world order of capitalism and democracy.  In May 1950 the first free elections were held in Turkey.  When Inonu lost the election, the military offered to step in and secure his presidency.  However, Inonu declined.  Instead, he chose to follow the democratic principles he instilled and became an opposition leader.  In doing so, he also showed great courage and confidence in the decisions made by the citizens of Turkey. As renowned historian Bernard Lewis once stated, “[Turkey] has passed the more searching test, of a second change of rulers by democratic procedures—of a government willing to submit to the will of its people and leave by the self-same route by which it came.” Turkey’s democratic success can be attributed to Inonu’s commitment to the principles of democracy and free choice.

 

            The West indeed viewed this democratic change in power as a sign of Turkey’s maturity and as a reflection of the solid foundations laid by Ataturk.  It remains an important and lasting achievement despite the many vicissitudes of Turkish politics over the years.

 

            The next few decades were somewhat troubled for Turkey.  While Turkey did not fully stray from Ataturk’s founding principles, the nation was missing a strong leader needed to further carry out these reforms.  When the military intervened in Turkish politics in 1980, Turgut Ozal was the only cabinet member who remained in power due to his highly-regarded economic reforms. 

 

            However, Ozal realized that to have a greater impact, he had to extend his leadership beyond his military ties. In 1982 he founded the Motherland Party and was elected Prime Minister. It was then that Ozal successfully became leader of Turkey as a whole, not simply representative of a small group.  He rose beyond his original constituency to become a true national figure.

 

            One of the Motherland party’s primary objectives was to continue on the path of economic restructuring.  The Party, under Ozal’s leadership, renounced the introverted attitude that dominated Turkish economics. Through his reforms, the Turkish economy opened to competitive world markets.  He also improved Turkey’s infrastructure and raised living standards.  Through his encouragement, the Turkish people became empowered to secure the continued growth of their country.   Opening Turkey’s economy to the world was a huge achievement but sowed seeds of difficulty as well.  With greater openness came greater opportunities for corruption, among other things.  Although he did not, unfortunately, live long enough to see the completion of his vision, I think it is fair to say that he understood that Turkey’s internal process of change needed a broader international context.  He believed that long-term economic stability could only be based in cooperation with the West.  He was confident that this was the direction for Turkey and renewed the quest for Turkish membership in the European Economic Community.

 

            In his view, Turkey’s geographic location made it a natural partner for Europe. The fact that Europe was a Christian community did not discourage him.  Ozal believed that the values which tie Europe and Turkey are based on secularism not religion.  He was confident that faith–no matter which one–was a private matter and ought not impact on democratic governance.   Accepting Turkey as a member would globalize the European Community, strengthening its values of tolerance and peace. 

 

            Perhaps Ozal was confident in the strength of cultural tolerance due to his own background.  Ozal was of partial Kurdish decent.  Not only did he display great courage when announcing this to the public, he also displayed immeasurable confidence in the Turkish people and their progressiveness.

 

            Ozal also possessed the pragmatism to explore non-military solutions to the Kurdish issue.  He advocated greater cultural liberty for the Kurdish people. By repealing laws that forbade non-Turkish languages, he continued to build upon the openness that characterized his leadership.  Ozal realized that often times creative solutions are needed to resolve controversial challenges.

 

            Ozal was able to take the principles of Ataturk’s modernizing reforms and apply them to his contemporary situation.  He saw that it was important to recognize Turkey’s multicultural background, to encourage dignity and confidence among the people, while pursuing a more open approach to foreign policy.  Ozal traveled abroad more frequently than his predecessors, and frequently appeared on network television in foreign countries.  In 1985 his official visit to the United States was the first of any Turkish leader in over a decade.  Ozal had made the revitalization of U.S.-Turkish relations an integral part of his leadership.

 

            As a new world order emerged with the collapse of Communism, Ozal saw the opportunity for Turkey to redefine its role in global politics and position itself as a strategic ally.  He was president for less than a year when Iraq invaded Kuwait.  This was a pivotal moment in defining Turkey’s global stature. While some advised that he should proceed with caution, Ozal acted resolutely and courageously.  Despite the domestic, economic, and political risks, he stood firm in his support of Turkey’s historic Allies.  He granted Allied use of Incirlik air base and overflight rights and participated in the Iraqi oil embargo.  These measures were widely criticized in Turkey.  However Ozal saw the importance of standing by friends and Allies.  Today’s contributions by the Turkish Government to assist Coalition efforts to stabilize Iraq (by allowing the use of Incirlik as a cargo hub and reaching out to bring Sunni Arab political leaders into the political process) descend directly from the line pioneered by Ozal.  By supporting the United States and Europe, and recognizing the dangers the Iraqi regime posed to Turkish national interests, Ozal remained committed and true to the vision of a modern, secular democracy.

 

            Some of Ozal’s decisions were controversial–that is a burden that any great leader must bear.

 

            But leadership requires the courage to carry out difficult decisions, the ability to look beyond the partisan disputes of the moment and the willingness to make sacrifices in defense of the nation’s basic values and long-term goals.  In describing his security policy, Ozal once said: “The only thing not to do in a crisis situation is to remain in the status quo.  Up to the present every crisis has ultimately served as a springboard for progress.  We believe that the same will still be true in the future.”  These are words that could only come from a courageous, shrewd, and visionary leader.

 

            Today, the global community of democracies faces numerous challenges; and Turkey’s role in addressing these challenges remains critical.  As in the past, the U.S. continues to count on Turkey as a leader and friend in defending the values we share; and we vow to continue our support to Turkey in pursuit of our common goals.  The work of my U.S. and Turkish colleagues in drafting a document memorializing our common strategic vision (which is nearing completion) will go a long way to advance that mutual agenda.

 

            We are committed to continuing our backing of Turkey’s accession to the European Union.  The recent successful conclusion of the first round of talks is a positive first step.  As Turkey makes its way toward the EU, there will undoubtedly be some hurdles.  However, we are confident in the ability and determination of our Turkish friends to accomplish what they set out to do.  The U.S. will stand side by side with the Turkish people in support of their EU aspirations. 

 

            At the forefront of our common security agenda lies the future of Iraq.  It has been over three years since a coalition of free nations chose to put an end to the brutality and oppression of the former Iraqi regime.  This has been a difficult road, but the Iraqi people have never given up hope.  The most recent example of their perseverance and determination lies in the newly elected, representative government.  The Iraqis should be proud of all that they have accomplished after having endured so much. 

 

            I am not trying to sugar coat the security situation.  There is much more work to be done.  Iraq is at critical point and cannot achieve full success without the help of other free nations. 

 

            International support for the nascent democracy is more necessary now than ever before. And I cannot stress the critical importance of support from democratic allies–allies like Turkey–to ensure the Iraqi people a secure, peaceful home, free of terrorism and tyranny.  We owe that to the Iraq people and to the citizens of our nations as well.  Former NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson summed this up quite well in his recent Washington Post op-ed:

 

It’s time that European leaders recognized that what is playing out in Iraq today is their future, too.  It’s difficult, complex and, at the moment, bloody.  But that did not stop us 60 years ago, or 10 years ago in Bosnia, or even seven years ago in Kosovo.  We knew what we had to do, and we did it then to save our people and preserve their security.  In Baghdad today they are fixing, or breaking, our future, too.  It is no time to look away.

 

            No nation knows the security implications of an unstable Iraq better than Turkey.

For years northern Iraq has served as a safe haven for the PKK.  Just in the past weekend these brutal and bloody terrorists appear to have struck again.  Our hearts go out to the many Turkish families who have suffered great loss at the hands of this terrorist group.  In our ongoing battle against terror, the international community cannot overlook the PKK.  The United States stands side by side with Turkey in this struggle.  In fact, our information sharing has never been closer on this subject.  We remain committed to working with Turkey and Iraq, as well as our European friends to put an end to this hateful terrorist organization.    As we work toward securing Iraq from terrorist activity, we should also keep in mind that there are various ways–beyond the use of conventional force– to tackle terrorist networks.  Regional development in the southeast is also a critical imperative.

 

            Afghanistan is another vital battleground in the global war on terror.  It is also a place with many linkages to Turkey and where the Government of Turkey and the Turkish military have played a very helpful role.  Turkey has twice taken the command of ISAF and has assumed special responsibilities, along with France, for improving the security situation in Kabul.  The Turkish private sector is also on the cutting edge in Afghanistan by taking a leading role in the country’s reconstruction.

 

            Let me turn my attention to another one of Turkey’s neighbors: Iran.  Iran’s pursuit of nuclear enrichment capabilities is extremely troublesome to say the least.  A nuclear Iran would pose a great threat to the peaceful nations of the world, particularly those in geographic proximity to Iran–nations like Turkey and Israel and our other friends in the Middle East and the Gulf region.  The U.S. is fully committed to resolving this issue diplomatically and has devoted time and attention in support of the EU-3 effort . As we work to find a solution to a potential highly destabilizing situation, we need allies like Turkey standing resolutely by our side, sending a firm message: Peaceful nations will join together with certainty to prevent a nuclear Iran. 

 

            We are grateful for Turkey’s firm position over the past few years in the IAEA Board of Governors holding the Iranian regime to account for its prevarications on the nuclear program and appreciate the continued support for the U.S. and EU-3 negotiations. 

 

            As we face today’s security challenges, the United States needs strong, decisive partners–partners like Ataturk, Inonu, and Ozal–who were not afraid to make controversial decisions for the progress of their great nation.  In describing his policies, Ataturk once said, “I never cared to be loved.  I only cared to create a strong, proud country.”  It is leaders like him who make a lasting historical impact. 

 

            Today Turkey holds a strategic place in the world and with that important position come critical responsibility, numerous challenges, and sometimes difficult decisions.  However, the nation’s strength remains in its strong founding principles, which still hold true decades later.  Turkey can proudly look back on a great heritage for guidance in today’s world: Kemal Ataturk’s vision of a modernized Turkey anchored in the West,  Ismet Inonu’s commitment to carrying out democratization.  And Turgut Ozal, whose courageous leadership during critical times made decisions that restored multiparty democracy, opened the economy and positioned Turkey as a reliable ally, committed to working with partners and friends on a shared vision for a better future.  May Turkey’s leaders and people look to the legacies left by each of these great men for inspiration as their nation continues its progressive advance through the 21st century.

 

            Tesekkur Ederim. [Thank you.]

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