Rick Perry, vying for the right to lead the Republican Party into November's US presidential election, claimed in a debate in South Carolina on January 16 that Turkey "is being ruled by what many would perceive to be Islamic terrorists."
In widely reported comments, Perry also said: "Not only is it time for us to have a conversation about whether or not they belong in Nato, but it's time for the United States, when we look at their foreign aid, to go to zero."
For anyone with a fundamental grasp of international relations, Perry's comments are confusing to say the least. Turkey is a long-time member of Nato and contributes the second largest number of troops to the alliance. The government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is considered to be very close to Washington and is playing a leading role in supporting the Arab Spring.
Certainly, there are members of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) who do come from religiously conservative political backgrounds that are considered at odds with the country's officially secular national identity. However, having consistently won elections by a good margin since first coming to power in 2002, the AKP has been chosen time and again by Turkey - a conservative and religious country - as the party that best represents it. In June, the party won a nearly 50% parliamentary victory.
Why then did Perry refer to the leaders of the AKP as "terrorists?"
Firstly, the debate was broadcast by the famously right-wing Fox News in South Carolina, one of the country's staunchest conservative or "red" states. Meanwhile, Turkey's aggressive stance towards Israel, coupled with the fact that the leaders of the AKP are conservative Muslims, makes more reactionary US citizens nervous.
At the same time, the similarities in the social beliefs of conservative Muslims and Christian are likely lost on them, as is the fact that the AKP has a diehard belief in neo-liberal economics, a worldview Turkey has maintained for decades and one that US conservatives like.
The AKP's support of groups such as Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood is likely the stickiest point, while Perry's claim that "the murder rate of women has increased 1,400% since the Islamist-oriented party took over" has some merit on the face of it. While the situation of women, children, and many minorities in Turkey is often dire, this heavy statistic exists because more cases of violence against women are being reported than ever before, rather than there being an actual rise in deaths.
The countries that are reborn following the Arab Spring are likely to be close to Turkey, and groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood are already playing a key role in their futures. Perry's comments, although clearly directed at an insular domestic audience, illustrate that US conservatives remain dangerously behind the curve when it comes to international politics and Turkey.
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