Turkey says no to Rasmussen for top NATO job

Despite the headline, let me make two things clear at the outset. Firstly it is not clear that Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen is eyeing the job of NATO secretary general after he leaves his office. He himself has been quoted in the international media as saying he is not. Whether this is due to the fact that he sees the going difficult, and therefore feels compelled to say so, or whether he is genuine in saying this is an open question.

The second thing is that if there is an overwhelming desire in the alliance to see Mr. Rasmussen as NATO secretary general, it is clear that Ankara will find it extremely difficult to veto his candidacy, no matter what serious misgivings it has about him. But whether such support will emerge is an open question also, even if reports from Brussels suggest that he is a "favored candidate." For this commentator, at least, such support is unlikely due to objective factors, which shall be explained below. Now to come to the details of the matter.

I was interviewed by Danish Radio earlier this week, and while the whole subject has not hit any major headlines in Turkey, it appears that it has become something of a topic back in Copenhagen. This being the case I felt it necessary to "sound out Ankara" and found that much of what came to my mind initially on the topic is not off the mark. I would like to recall at this stage a conference I was invited to in Copenhagen, as the "caricature crisis" was raging, organized by the "Free Press Society," headed by a gentleman named Lars Hedegaard Jensen, and supported by the right-wing Danish People’s Party.

Just to put things in perspective it might be useful to mention that Hedegaard Jensen is currently supporting Geert Wilders, the Dutch politician and rabidly anti-Islamic crusader, on his "world tour" to promote his provocative film "Fitna," a hate-filled piece of work that is bound to make an already difficult situation in the world worse. As it was my fellow Daily News columnists Yusuf Kanli and Burak Bekdil felt during the conference that we had been invited there to receive a "serious dressing down from the representatives of the civilized world," being curiously considered (given who we are and what our world view is) representatives of the Islamic world.

I explained during my presentation there that if Denmark wants to play an international role on key issues of importance to the world, then the government had to cultivate a more subtle and nuanced attitude in the face of a crisis, such as the one that was raging internationally as a result of the caricatures published in the daily Jyllands-Posten. "If not," I said, "then there is not a problem." But I suggested that to assume that there would be no diplomatic fall-out for the government, and Prime Minister Rasmussen, if Denmark values its international role, then that would be naive.

Having said this let us turn to Ankara’s position on this matter. Foreign Minister Babacan has already spoken on the matter, in the most diplomatic of terms, saying Ğ in the first instance Ğ that the new NATO secretary general "should share the vision and principles of the alliance," and in the second, "that he is not aware that Mr. Rasmussen is a candidate anyway." Reading between the lines, this means that as far as Turkey is concerned Mr. Rasmussen has a different conception as to what constitutes "support for terrorism," not just for Turkey but also a number of NATO countries that believe that the PKK funded Roj TV’s broadcasting freely out of Denmark constitutes "support for terrorism."

The reason they believe this is obvious. Firstly this channel is not just a mouthpiece and propaganda outlet for the PKK, considered by the EU and the United States a "terrorist organization," but intelligence reports also maintain that it is the means by which PKK operatives in Europe send coded messages to their militants in the field. At any rate, Denmark is the only country in Europe where Roj TV has found a safe haven to operate without any encumbrance. Given this situation, it is unlikely that Turkey would want to see a Dane at the helm of NATO, and this is not simply out of "spite," as some back in Denmark are no doubt suggesting, but out of "principle."

But there is an even greater problem than this involved if a Dane were to head NATO, and Ğ despite reports from Brussels that Mr. Rasmussen is a "favored candidate" Ğ there can be no doubt that other NATO members, starting from the United States, have to take this into consideration. NATO today is engaged in a fight against terrorism in Afghanistan. In many ways it has staked its honor and credibility on this. This also involves a very delicate situation for the alliance, which knows it must not in anyway give the impression that it is fighting against Islam.

In addition to this, it is clear that the bulk of NATO’s engagements in the near future will have to keep this perspective in mind, given that its foreseeable roles will be in places like the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan, rather than in Europe. It would make no sense for the alliance, therefore, to select a Secretary General from a country that has seriously compromised itself in the eyes of the Islamic world. Especially at a time when the new administration in Washington is trying to extend a hand of friendship to this world based on the principle of respect for the sensitivities of others.

Just imagine, for example, Mr. Rasmussen, as secretary general of NATO, traveling to Afghanistan or Pakistan to hold meetings with the leadership in those countries on issues pertaining to the war against terrorism. Which of those leaders could afford to be seen with him Ğ given that his effigies were being burned in the streets of those countries only two years ago Ğ and not incur some kind of a cost domestically?

My interviewer from Danish Radio the other day appeared to be very perturbed when I put these ideas of mine openly on the line. But these are issues that any country in the alliance will have to consider in selecting the next secretary general of NATO, given the current international environment. As I said during the conference in Copenhagen, unfortunately we do not live in an ideal world. It is a big bad world out there, and people in administration have to have the capacity to balance their ideals, in a highly nuanced way, with the ugly realities of this world, while also keeping their national interests in focus, which at the end of the day is what really matters from most countries.

Mr. Rasmussen clearly did not display much aptitude with respect to this. Therefore, if he has it in his heart-of-hearts to be NATO secretary general, then unfortunately we will have to quote a Turkish saying, namely that "He is saying amen to a prayer that has little hope of being realized." But if not, and he says so himself, then there is no problem. All there is in that case is some food for thought for Danes.
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