A veteran Democratic congressman is calling for the resignation of Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, claiming the Pentagon official is “undermining” democracy in Turkey.
Speaking from the floor of the House of Representatives on Monday, Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank called on Wolfowitz to resign over remarks he made in an interview that aired on CNN Turk, the Turkish affiliate of the cable news network. During the interview, which aired May 6, Wolfowitz said it was “disappointing” that the Turkish military had not been as “forceful” as it could have been in pushing the country’s parliament to cooperate with the American invasion of Iraq.
Frank accused the Pentagon deputy of sending an anti-democratic message to the rest of the world. Wolfowitz’s remarks were especially disturbing because the country in question was Turkey, Frank said.
“Trying to encourage Islamist movements that are genuinely democratic is one of our highest goals,” Frank said in his House speech. “We have in Turkey now a government that has Islamist groups, the political majority, and is also committed to democracy.”
Frank also blasted Wolfowitz during separate appearances Tuesday night on CNN’s “Live From the Headlines” and MSNBC’s “Scarborough Country.” A Frank aide said that the congressman also plans to circulate a letter to be signed by House members urging President Bush to disavow Wolfowitz’s statements.
The White House reportedly has voiced its continuing support for Wolfowitz. In a statement sent to the Forward via e-mail, the Pentagon defended Wolfowitz as an “outspoken supporter of democracy in Turkey.”
During the interview with CNN Turk, Wolfowitz argued that it would have been legitimate under the Turkish democratic system for the military to push harder for backing of American war plans.
In a March vote shortly before the war, the Turkish parliament failed to approve plans that would have allowed American forces to launch a northern assault on Iraq from Turkey. The vote came after Wolfowitz had visited Turkey to plead America’s case.
“When you had an issue of Turkey’s national interest and national strategy,” Wolfowitz said in the CNN Turk interview, “I think it’s perfectly appropriate, especially in your system, for the military to say it was in Turkey’s interest to support the United States.”
The debate over the military’s role in Turkey highlights the challenges facing the administration’s attempt to promote democracy in the Muslim world. Critics of the White House argue that such efforts are undermined by the administration’s attempt to win the support of the Turkish military during the buildup to the Iraq invasion and the White House’s reliance on Muslim dictators in the war against Al Qaeda. Some observers counter that in many countries, including Turkey, seemingly undemocratic measures might be the only way to advance democracy in the long run.
“As much as Barney Frank may feel he is the safeguard of Turkish democracy, the reality is that the safeguard of Turkish democracy over many years has been the Turkish military,” said Frank Gaffney, president of the Washington-based Center for Security Policy and a former Reagan administration official. “In the absence of deeply rooted and broadly supported institutions, you’ve got a distinct possibility that various forces, whether religious or secular, can erode, if not destroy, democracy. What has been true, certainly in Turkey, is that the military has helped prevent that kind of erosion from taking place.”
While Gaffney defended the Turkish military’s role, he also said that Wolfowitz’s remarks were misinterpreted by many observers, including some in Turkey, who mistakenly thought that Pentagon official was calling for something along the lines of a military coup. “That’s certainly not what he said,” Gaffney added.