Erdogan’s NATO Tantrum?

Yigal Schleifer gives a rundown of Turkey’s opposition to Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s candidacy for NATO secretary general. Essentially, because Rasmussen refused to condemn the publication of the Mohamed caricatures way back when, Turkey is considering vetoing his appointment (NATO operates under consensus rules). T(here’s also the question of a Danish news outlet that allegedly serves as a PKK mouthpiece, but that doesn’t support the point I’m about to make, so I’ll downplay that part.)

Turkey’s argument is based on the image problems Rasmussen’s “involvement” in the incident will create in the Muslim world. I would argue that this again highlights the ways in which NATO’s political viability diminishes when it strays outside of Europe. Turkey’s argument only holds water so long as NATO has strategic ambitions in the Middle East, Persian Gulf and South Asia. If the alliance were busy keeping an eye out for wayward Russian tanks, the fact that its secretary general once stood up for freedom of the press at the expense of Muslim public opinion would be a non-issue. And Turkey would have less reason to play the role of Muslim intermediary/watchdog.

Seriously, though, do you think there’s a point at which the diplomatic fallout of the Mohamed caricatures — which have now officially jumped the shark — would make outlawing their publication justifiable on exclusively utilitarian grounds? And do you think there might be a point where it’s simply wiser to keep Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan away from sensitive diplomatic summits? For someone eager to play the role of mediator for the world’s thorniest problems, the guy’s something of a wild card.