Turkey Blocks Rasmussen at NATO

The NATO summit is off to a shaky start. It was supposed to elect a new leader, and the Obama administration backed Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen for the role. Rasmussen has been a strong supporter of the NATO mission in Afghanistan, where there are Danish troops, at a time when many European countries in NATO are dragging their feet on this issue. Rasmussen, however, proved unacceptable to Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Recep Erdogan. Turkey is the only Muslim-majority country in NATO.

Some of the wire services have unduly simplified Turkey’s opposition, but the Turkish press tells a more complex story. Rasmussen was backed by Turkish President Abdullah Gul, who should have had the final say, but Prime Minister Erdogan over-ruled him. So “Turkey” did not block Rasmussen, Erdogan did. (Gul and Erdogan both belong to the Justice and Development Party (AKP), which is mildly tinged with political Islam, so the difference between the two is personal, not party-based).

In turn, Erdogan did not simply shoot down Rasmussen’s candidacy because the latter declined to intervene against the publication in a Danish newspaper of cruel caricatures of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad.

Rather, a key issue for Erdogan was that Denmark has hosted Roj-TV, a Kurdish-language station that Turkey maintains supports the separatist Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK) that has attacked Turkish troops and other targets in eastern Anatolia, and which is widely designated as a terrorist organization.

Turkey hosted one in a series of regular tripartite conferences in Ankara earlier this week, attended by Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Asaf Ali Zardari. Personally, I wonder if Zardari weighed in with Gul against Rasmussen, since his heading NATO could tar the whole enterprise in Afghanistan and Pakistan with the brush of supercilious European hostility to Islam, from the point of view of the major Muslim leaders.

(For Turkish politics, see Kamil Pasha (scroll down for comments on the implications of the outcome of the recent provincial elections).

The next big challenge for NATO is to reach a consensus on Afghanistan, which won’t be easy. Canada is leaving Afghanistan in 2012. Obama wants his allies to be in for the long haul.

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