President Obama counts Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as among his favorite leaders, and successive American ambassadors to Turkey—Eric Edelman being the exception—bought the notion that Erdoğan truly sought to liberalize, modernize, and democratize Turkey. Erdoğan has just put to rest the idea this was his goal. Speaking to an assembly from his ruling party, Erdoğan addressed criticism leveled by the main secular opposition party:
“Do you expect the conservative democrat AK Party to raise atheist generations? This may be your business and objective but not ours. We will raise a generation that is conservative and democratic and embraces the values and historical principles of its nation.”
In other words, Erdoğan’s goal is to indoctrinate a generation into accepting his Islamist interpretations of the role of religion in politics. True, Erdoğan still embraces the rhetoric of democracy but, then again, so did Muammar Qaddafi, Bashar al-Assad, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. His record on democracy leaves much to be desired, as his evisceration of free expression in Turkey demonstrates.
Turkey was a model precisely because it developed a liberal, democratic system that was not anti-religion, but which sought to constrain the blurring of religion and politics. Erdoğan has turned that model on its head. The Obama administration—and, frankly, the Bush administration before it—are guilty of tremendous diplomatic malpractice for refusing to recognize the reality behind Erdoğan’s rhetoric.