Essay: The upheaval in the Arab world is a reminder that the Turkish military -- a NATO member -- can play a major role in the region. The secularist military's political power at home has been greatly trimmed in recent years, but some look to th
ISTANBUL - Turkey is in the hot seat. Muammar Gaddafi's forces have long since given up hope that Ankara might help them. But the Libyan opposition is also restive, with demonstrators in recent days chanting slogans about Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan disappointing them by not sending arms.
The Libyan rebels believe Turkey prevented them from receiving arms, which has hindered their fight against Gaddafi's army. Ankara finds itself caught in a unique quandary, as it tries to stop the war from spreading throughout Libya. It's a fight Turkey can't win
For this reason, Ankara is now emphasizing its contribution in humanitarian aid. The Turkish military ship that brought in hundreds of wounded from Libya for medical care was a highly successful PR operation, both in terms of Turkey's international profile and its position amongst the Libyan people. When you look at what's happening in the region, you can see that Turkey's armed forces is increasingly becoming more significant.
I have said this before and been criticized for it. Some accused me then of wanting the Turkish military to once again play a larger role in politics. But isn't it more apparent now how much this country needs a strong armed forces, one which is not politically interventionist, not bogged down in domestic politics and free from polemic exchanges?
When stripped of a political role, this institution is the most important card this country has within this region. The more we can strengthen and effectively use it, the more prestigious this card can become.
We need to know that beyond its sheer might, The Turkish Armed Forces is especially successful when it comes to education and humanitarian aid. We have seen this demonstrated on every mission from Afghanistan to the Balkans. Turkey needs to play this card well.
Changing dynamics within the military
No Chief of Staff has had it easy in recent years. Since 2003, there has been so much tension between the military and the government, such an uprooting of former habits and breaking of taboos, that whoever is heading the military has inevitably found himself faced with an almost impossible challenge. They are caught between two forces: the way they were raised and trained and the principles they believe in, and a changing Turkey and the decisive attitude of the AKP government.
Would the military keep up its former hard-line stance to protect secularism and territorial integrity, or would it adopt a new attitude? Former military chief of staff General İlker Basbug fought what appeared to be a major internal battle to protect his institution. He looked for any occasion to hold a press conference. He spoke out strongly, often flanked by two or three other top brass.
But that didn't change the course of events. The political leadership stuck to their guns. General Işık Kosaner took over at this difficult point. Retired generals, writers and academics, and many others were asking the same question: ‘What would he do? Was he going to hand the country over to these guys?"
Kosaner behaved with extreme realism. First off, he decided to protect his institution. He saw that further damaging the military-civilian relationship would be detrimental to the country as a whole. He paid no heed to provocations. He did not change his basic principles, but he adopted a fundamentally different approach. He did not step beyond the boundaries of the Chief of Staff's ‘area of duty." He didn't speak publicly, and made sure other generals didn't either.
It was a new working order, with new rules. Kosaner brought the Chief of Staff back to its original duties. It is thanks to this sensitive balance during this time of transition that there is no longer any public friction between the military and politicians. General Kosaner is doing the right thing. He is allowing neither his own institution nor the political leadership to be discredited. Perhaps some people see this as ‘the military laying low and biding its time to make its grand return". I believe that the Kosaner era will one day be known as the ‘restructuring" or ‘rehabilitation" of the Turkish Armed Forces.
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