Famous Turkish poet Attila Ilhan was an extraordinary leftist and thinker par excellence Hakan Arslanbenzer wrote some years ago. He left many strong impressions on his society as a poet, but his most enduring contribution to our societal conscience has been a question with which he changed our opinion about the West. He asked on the cover of his book "Which West?" In its 324 pages, he answered almost all the questions we internally wondered about since the 1839 Tanzimat Fermanı (The Gülhane Edict).
He wrote that Sultan Abdülmecid’s reforms and reorganization of the Ottoman Empire were an example of simple cosmopolitan westernization in the bureaucracy, but they had quickly become the model of contemporizing for the early republicans’ official modernization theory.
"Not only the bureaucracy but also the cadres of the national salvation – who had fought against the occupation forces of the Allied European powers – quickly shelled their nationalistic crust and went back to the Ottomans’ cosmopolitan Europeanization," he claimed.
For this, Ilhan was somewhat ostracized from the circle of the official "Republican revolutionary ideology," but he was able to put the bug into the minds of the young elites of the Republic: Does modernization necessarily entail Westernization? Does the contemporization of the society need a westernization with a capital “W”?
This easy veneration of Europe can be explained: Russia helped the Anatolian nationalists win the war against the occupation forces with its diplomatic support (the Bolsheviks released the secret treaties among the British and the French on how they would share the Ottoman lands, which left the Italians out. Rome immediately withdrew its forces from Anatolia forcing Paris to sign a unilateral agreement with the Turks, etc.) and smuggled gold bullions, but the communist regime could not financially afford to keep Turkey as a satellite state.
The Kemalist cadres consisted of classical Ottoman intellectuals and inherited their intrinsic propensity to turn their collective faces to Europe (Remember, only 60 years later after founding the Ottoman state, the founders moved their capital from the Anatolian side to the European side of the Aegean Sea.)
The Kemalist cadres – the future elite of the Republic – left the Asian lands (the term “Middle East” had not been invented yet) so fast that the local Arabs and the occupying British commanders did not even notice that Turks had already vacated Jerusalem, Mosul and Baghdad. (The commander’s horses would have been dispatched from Baghdad to Istanbul on the following train a month later!)
The key words here are “The Kemalist cadres – the future elite of the Republic.” Mark Meirowitz of State University of New York's (SUNY) Maritime College reminded me how important they were in selecting which West and which Turkey for Turkey and the U.S., respectively.
Meirowitz and I were guests of Mark Mourad Hammami on a discussion program on A News (which is operated by the Turkuvaz Media Group, which also publishes this newspaper) to talk about the importance of NATO and its regional support against terrorism.
Meirowitz specializes in Turkish foreign policy, U.S.-Turkish relations and Turkish-Israeli relations, and he frequently appears on U.S and Turkish media as an expert on issues related to Turkish politics and American foreign policy.
When I was voicing some general opinions in Hammami’s program, Meirowitz reminded us that there is more than one perspective of Turkey from the other side of the Atlantic.
Depending on the elite group in consideration, there will be differing views on Turkey. He is so right, and he is so “Attila Ilhan-esque” in that sense. Basically, it is the age-old “Elite Theory” of political science, which started with the Italian school of elitism (For instance: Vilfredo Pareto, 1848–1923) and later influenced subsequent elite theory in the Western tradition.
This theory explains power relationships in society. A small minority – it purports, mostly the members of the economic and policy-planning networks – holds the power and that (this is the crucial point) their power is independent of the democratic process.
William Domhoff in his controversial book "Who Rules America?" claimed that this is the elite class that dominates the American power structure both politically and economically.
Wouldn’t it explain the continuation of U.S. foreign and security policies – since former U.S. President George W. Bush vowed to “win the war against terrorism” – by four presidents, eight secretaries of defense and seven secretaries of state later, today? Those presidents held differing views on almost everything. President Donald Trump, for example, was more than ready to rewrite the U.S. Constitution but he could not move even one single soldier from Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria. He told “eyewitness stories” about how President Barack Obama and his Secretary of State “crooked Hillary” Clinton created Daesh:
“ISIS (Daesh) is honoring President Obama. He is the founder of ISIS. He is the founder of ISIS, OK? He’s the founder. He founded ISIS. And I would say the co-founder would be crooked Hillary Clinton.”
One day, the whole Daesh organization – its armies, oil extracting and selling apparatus and beheading brigades disappeared from Syria and resurfaced in several African countries. Yet Trump was not able to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria. He did not have even the slightest idea about how many U.S. soldiers were in Syria. His Syria envoy James Jeffrey, after resigning his post, said that the elite in the State and Defense Departments would not inform the president about the exact number of troops abroad.
U.S. President Joe Biden, in his policy papers issued from the basement at his Delaware house, promised to withdraw all U.S. forces from Afghanistan. Now he is busy issuing excuses about why he won’t make good on his promise.
I am willing to bet that he doesn’t know how many marines, soldiers and sailors are in Afghanistan. It is not because the elite that runs the U.S. security and foreign policy does not like this president or that president! What they don't like is interference from politicians.
If a political movement, like the one that brought President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to power, bestows a government with enough efficacy to restructure the bureaucracy with its own elite and with enough time to rear enough people to maintain those cadres, then perhaps the system would have the elite and the politicians speak the same language.
Since former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill passed the buck to U.S. President Woodrow Wilson at the Yalta Conference in 1945, the U.S. elite, with different degrees among their subgroups, have hated the post-Ottoman design of the Near, Middle and Far East. They want to redo it. They always believe they have enough “personal resources, intelligence and skills and a vested interest in the government, while the rest are incompetent and do not have the capabilities of governing themselves.”
The quotation is an extract from Pareto’s definition of elitism. He could as well be describing the Brookings Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, the Hudson Institute or the Project for the New American Century – the incubation stations of the elites who run the U.S. State and Defense Departments.
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