Senator Chuck Hagel
Mr. President I want to thank you and congratulate you, and the founder, and all of you who have had so much to do with this organization. Your organization played a relevant role in furthering understanding between the two countries, relevant to the challenges of the day.
In your remarks, Mr. President, I thought you captured not only the essence of the relations but also the historical reflection and context in which we operate today. I want to address a couple of general areas that the President talked about in his remarks and where he left off in this very important relationship between Turkey and the United States.
This relationship was anchored in 1952 in NATO partnership. This relationship changed with the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1989. We are still working our way through those changes. There was a bumper sticker at the time that read “Peace Dividend”. The reference was to new opportunities and new freedoms that now abounds across the former Soviet Empire. So the United States downsized the military significantly, we cut our State Department and foreign assistance for two years. The State Department did not even have foreign service exams to bring in new foreign service officers.
I use this as but one of examples to point out we are still in this process of working through the consequences of the Soviet implosion. During the Cold War it was a bipolar world. The West and their allies representing hope, prosperity and possibilities, and the captive nations of the Soviet Union. That world is now blurred with new complications and new challenges of the 21st century. Terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and I would add an even more insidious one to deal with, and that is a cycle of despair that plagues so many of the Earth’s people. 6.5 billion people in the world, a third of which are under the age of 21, and a third of those live on less than $2 a day. Radicalism, fundamentalism, groups that prey on religion, abuse religion, misuse religion are centered in these areas of despair and hopelessness. Now I do not connect that terrorism is a direct result of poverty. But the fact is that this new challenge of the 21st century is as big as any we have and it is on every continent.
As was noted, the Turkish-U.S, relations have had some challenges over the last few years, most recently being Cyprus. We are not unaware of those challenges, but if in fact we are to prosper in a stable world then we have to fasten onto the common interest, the common denominator interests. It is those interests that integrate into a fabric of a relationship. It is not unlike individuals. They every now and then have a little blip in their relationship. Yes, nations respond in their own self-interest, but there is a predictability in relationships. You anchor back onto the foundation you build up, and you work out to deal with the differences.
What has always been remarkable to me as I look back to the last sixty years of Turkish-U.S. relations are the accomplishments we have had together, that NATO has had together, and other institutions founded after WWII. If you think in the context of the last sixty years, what remarkable accomplishments the world has seen. First we have averted WWIII, no simple matter considering the first fifty years of the 20th century. Second, no nuclear war. Third, incredible advance in every discipline, science, space, medicine, telecommunication, transport. A lot of those have been developed into possibilities that the world has never dreamed of. And, only we can undo that, because of lack of attention, of fundamental appreciation of relationship, what it took to build these relationships in the last sixty years, and it will take to build them in the next sixty years.
Atatürk is a particularly important player in this because of what he represents and how he formed nation. His was a diverse plan, historic in every way, in that historic land. Ataturk’s principles, because of what he believed in, were able to bring together this great framework that produced this great country. Those principles are very much in place today in Turkey as other nations of the world grapple with their destiny, their future.
Certainly Turkey has internal dynamics, challenges and issues that it is working them out with its new government. I think there is great hope for this new government that I got acquainted with. I was in Turkey about a week after the elections. I had an opportunity to meet with Prime Minister Gul. Mr. Erdogan was not the Prime Minister at that point, as you know. Senator Joe Biden was with me at the time. He was the Chairman of the Congressional Foreign Relations committee. Sen. Biden and I went to White House to brief Condoleeza Rice, who was then National Security Advisor, and Secretary Powell. I told both that what I saw and thought with this new government in Turkey was a very significant step forward for Turks. I gave my reasons. This was different, there were new opportunities. We talked about Iraq, I said I did not believe that in any plans to invade Iraq this Turkish government, through its new policies, was going to take the same approach as the past governments have in this kind of issues. And, of course, they did not. The issues that are still there, certainly Iraq and Kurds that are more immediate, are going to be dealt with. I am going to that region. In two weeks I will be in Armenia, Georgia, Ukraine, and Turkey to talk about these issues.
But I think what is important tonight at least in my opinion, as you celebrate this great man and your tenth anniversary, is the tremendous progress that has been made. Do not minimize that, we must build on them as we move forward. There are too many common interests we have: Baku-Ceyhan pipeline. I remember when I got to the Senate nine years ago I was one of the out front advocates for that project to happen. I did not hear anyone in the Subcommittee in Foreign Relations that I chair believing that this could happen. It did happen. In fact, it brought more the region together. It was a matter of common interest of all countries in the region. I never believed, whether it is Iraq, Iran, Palestine-Israel issue, or North Korea, the great challenges across the globe, that you can deal with these issues individually or in compartments. These are regional issues. If there is to be peace in the Middle East we will have to include Iran in the Palestine-Israel issue. You cannot just take Iraq and say we are going to build democracy in Iraq oblivious to everything around it. It will not work. The region is in a very critical juncture geopolitical, strategically. We see Turkey with the same critical concern, not just because of its geopolitical and strategic location but also its economic strength. It is the East-West bridge just as critical as it was fifty years ago.
There is a big job for the West in reversing the optics in the Muslim world, in reaching out to the Muslim world. Turkey plays an important role in that too. Wherever you go to delineate geopolitical and strategic interest of the future, Turkey is there some way. It is some way positioned in all this greater, grander picture. It is in our interest to be in a closer alignment in whatever the issue is. We will do that. I think trade will help us do that. Yes, there are reform issues, rights issues. Yes, Kurdish issue is a real live issue. It is still quite a concern what is going to happen in Iraq. It is still very unclear where this will go. If Turkey also has responsibility here, it has to be played out very carefully. We need to ensure that we do not act precipitously to urge some action or some reaction to an action that would complicate the Middle East relationships, that would make actually Middle East and Central Asia more dangerous. So it is incumbent upon us all to consult, and Turkey is again at the core of that. We will work this through carefully and wisely, we will include all nations of area in the process as we work it through.
I am much honored to be included in your tenth anniversary. My knowledge of Ataturk was acquired in the high school. He is one of those characters and speakers in history who caught the imagination of individuals, rightly so. He was responsible for framing the institutions of a modern Turkey. Ataturk was a very powerful figure at a very critical time in history.