Biden pushes leadership role for Turkey’s Islamist leaders

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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On Friday Vice President Joe Biden offered Turkey’s Islamist government a leading role in the Middle East, despite its recent crackdown on dissidents, expansion of Islamic culture and education, and regional conflicts with Greece and Israel.

“We’re looking for Turkish leadership in the rest of that entire region,” Biden declared at a fundraiser attended by roughly 200 people from the Turkish and Azerbaijani communities, according to a White House pool report.

“It’s a model as to how you can have an Islamic population, an Islamic state and a democracy, something the rest of the region is groping to figure out how to do,” he told the audience, who paid up to $2,500 each to attend the fundraiser.

Since last June Turkey’s Islamist government, led by Recep Erdogan, “has restricted freedom of expression, association, and assembly with laws that allow authorities to jail its critics for many months or years while they stand trial for alleged terrorism offenses on the basis of flimsy evidence,” according to a January report by the left-wing group Human Rights Watch.

The Turkish government’s Islamist policies also clash with Biden’s progressive policies, and with American culture and laws in general.

For example, on April 18 Biden touted the Violence Against Women Act and slammed GOP proposals to upgrade the law.

However, in Turkey, “violence in the home is endemic, and police and courts regularly fail to protect women who have applied for protection orders under the Family Protection Law [and] reports of spouses and family members killing women rose in 2011,” Human Rights Watch reported. (RELATED: Full coverage of Joe Biden)

In the United States, Obama’s government has vigorously opposed charter schools and has imposed new regulations requiring religious groups to arrange free birth-control services for their employees.

But in March, Erdogan’s government expanded the role of Islamic religious groups by passing a law allowing government-funded Islamic schools for his nation’s children.

In June 2001, Obama declared that “Israel’s security will always be at the top tier of considerations in terms of how America manages its foreign policy.”

Turkey’s Islamist government, However, has allowed an anti-Israeli flotilla to sail from Turkish ports for the terrorist-controlled Gaza enclave. Islamists on one ship attacked Israeli boarders, leading to the death of eight Islamists, and much criticism of Israel.

Nonetheless, Obama has frequently states his strong support for Erdogan. “I just want to say how much I appreciate the opportunity to once again meet with my friend and colleague, Prime Minister Erdogan. … [He is] an outstanding partner and an outstanding friend on a wide range of issues,” Obama said at a March 25 meeting in Korea called to combat the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

To maintain good relations with Turkey, Obama also refused on April 24 to label Turkey’s murder of 1.5 Armenians during World War I as genocide. Armenians are a Christian minority in Turkey.

In 2008, Obama promised Armenian-American groups that he would would label those murders as genocide. But American-Armenians have little political clout, partly because they don’t live in swing states and don’t contribute much to political campaigns.

Biden said the U.S. would expand its cooperation with Turkey’s Islamic government, partly because the region’s Arab Spring revolutions have boosted the role and power of Islamist groups that aim to impose traditional Islamic laws and beliefs on people in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco and other countries in the region.

For example, after the 2011 uprising in Egypt — which Obama tacitly supported by urging Egypt’s rule to resign — Egypt’s population has elected a supermajority of Islamists of the country’s parliament.

“No one knows whether that spring will turn to winter tomorrow [and] nobody knows exactly how that’s going to go,” the president said. “But with the strong leadership of Turkey we are reassured, there’s nothing we do that we don’t coordinate.”

Turkey’s ability to moderate the Islamist revolution is limited because Islamists in Egypt and nearby countries distrust Turkey’s government. They fear Turkey will seek a dominant role in the region, as it once had when its Ottoman Empire governed the region from the 1300s until 1923.

Still, Biden and Obama are backing Turkey.

“Turkey is such an incredible model,” Biden told his fundraiser audience Friday.

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