By Patricia lee Sharpe
Turkey’s courting of Europe was pathetic while it lasted. For years the so-called sick man of Europe tried to prove itself worthy of joining the European Union. No sooner were requirements set and all but fulfilled than the goal posts were moved. Former Soviet satellites (much of their territory previously part of the Ottoman empire, at that) with more fragile economies, weaker democratic institutions and far more corruption went sprinting by and won the prize, but Turkey was expected to wait, wait, wait, then kowtow some more, because in truth Europe wasn’t so sure it wanted Turkey in the club.
It was painful to watch, and I for one wondered what the Turks were thinking. I know what I was thinking: If the members think so little of you during the application process, how nice are they going to be even if they eventually let you in? No doubt the Turkish guest workers in Germany were hoping that the parent country would make the cut, but no one else was all that eager, although diplomatic rectitude reigned.
The Impressive E. U. Vision
Even I could understand the E.U. goal, for Turkey, back then. The very creation of the European Union seemed so miraculous after the wars of the 20th century. The coming of the Euro, though not all EU countries signed on, was surely a sign of ultimate consolidation. Suddenly it seemed as if there were going to be a Western power to rival and balance the U.S. Why wouldn’t Turkey want to be part of that, politically? And Turkish business was ready, too.
Americans, ambivalent at best about the rise of a powerfully consolidated E.U., were already criticizing individual European countries for allocating too much to social services and not enough to defense, thanks to America’s post World War II commitment to European security. With Europeans so well off now, U.S. defense analysts complained, they should bear the financial burden of defending their territory and values. It didn’t help that Europe continued to produce the luxury goods that the rich, new and old, throughout the world, clamored for. Europe, to produce such products, much be rich indeed. Might not the magic wear off on them as new countries, including Turkey, were absorbed into the promising new political entity?
Bubbles Began Bursting
And then the world changed. Arabs forgot that they were supposed to be passive remnants of past history. Economic and financial bubbles were bursting all over the place. Already Turkey had found its voice in international affairs, and its economy, evidently, was on solider grounds than of major European countries, like Italy and Spain, to say nothing of peripherals like Greece and Ireland. So what had Europe to offer or teach Turkey? And to what country were many Arabs looking as an example of what they, too, might achieve?
No wonder this headline appeared in the New York Times last week: “For Turkey, Lure of Tie to Europe is Fading.”
The Flame Flickers
There’s a message here for the United States, I think. Like Europe, the U.S. has rested on once deserved laurels for too long. Worse, perhaps, the U.S. has drifted far far away from the post World War II ideals that inspired the world by actualizing a vibrant, virtually classless democracy, where nearly everybody could live comfortably, aspire to higher education, have leisure time to enjoy. This sad decadence (that has nothing to do with sex) has been noticed even in Latin America, a part of the world that Americans used to regard as a hopeless backwater ruled by unsavory authoritarians. An op-ed by the Mexican scholar Jorge G. Castenada notes, not happily, that the U.S. economy is beginning to look more and more like the stagnant economies of a vanishing Latin America: the middle class is shrinking; its power is waning; an irresponsible small minority controls the lion’s share of national wealth.
Castenada goes on to mention the remarkable rise of Brazil, of course, while reminding us of the longer-standing accomplishments of Chile. Other countries are close behind, he writes, not least his own Mexico, though hope must play a very strong role in this part of his vision.
This is how Castenada concludes: “Americans cannot retain the tolerant, forward-looking and innovative national character they cherish if they give up the egalitarian middle-class configuration that comes with it. Mexico and other Latin American lands are reshaping our national characters and democratic politics in our quest for a larger and more vibrant middle class, and at last we are having some success. The United States’ middle class is coming under increasing pressure as the income gap between it and the very rich widens. Do Americans really have nothing to learn from us, after we have learned so much from them?”
New Voices Can't Be Ignored
Who ever expected Turkey to spurn Europe? Who dreamed that Latin Americans would ever be in a position to tell the United States to shape up. As the song goes, "the times they are a changing." These are straws in the wind that are best not ignored.