I was four years old and happily stomping ant hills into dust when my 10 year
old neighbor showed me a particularly shiny dime. He held it between his
thumb and forefinger, the sun glinting off it like a diamond. He said it
could be mine if I’d just drop my pants long enough to give him a look. I did
a few negotiations, insisted on holding the dime first, and the deal was done.
Later that day, on errands with my mother, my eight year old sister spotted
the dime in my hand. "I know where you got that, " she said. "He offered it
to me first but I wouldn’t take it." I bought a popsicle and tried to lord it
over her, but the flavor was as flat as those ant hills.
George Bush reminds me of that boy with his shiny dime, trying to buy dirty
favors from desperate countries who have something he wants.
Nowhere has this been more painful to watch than in Turkey.
Despite a cavalier attitude toward civil liberties and some bad recent
history with the Kurds, Turkey is one of the great democratic miracles of the
20th century thanks to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. In 1923, as the first leader of
the new republic, Attatürk began to pull his people out of the clutches of
the decaying Ottoman empire. He ordered the development of a western-style
alphabet, re-educated the entire population, and mandated that education
-- through college – be free for all, including women.
He did away with Islamic law, endorsed western dress for men and women, and,
in a solidly Muslim country he managed to construct an iron-clad wall of
separation between mosque and state, insisting on a rigidly secular
government which is still embraced today. George Bush and John Ashcroft take
This week the Turkish parliament voted not to allow America’s build-up
for-bucks to begin. These are hardly the baguette-toting wimps of France that
have become the administration’s favorite whipping boys. They are, well,
Turks; vaunted warriors. And they know how desperately their country needs
the shiny $15 billion dime that President Bush holds out to them.
Yet they also had their dignity to consider; something President Bush has all
but abandoned as he bullies and bribes his way to war. Reports of the Bush
administration’s "high-handedness" in the negotiations are said to have
played a part in squelching the already distasteful deal.
It’s a sad day for America when democracy in Turkey appears to be flourishing
just as it falters here at home. It’s even sadder when we have to buy our
allies, publicly compromising their pride instead of attracting them with our
heart and the legitimacy of our cause.
And I’m wondering what will happen when America’s purchased allegiance turns
to loathing, as it almost surely will. Because one thing I learned when I
took that dime fifty years ago was that it’s far better to do it for love
than for money.
Susan Lenfestey (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Minneapolis writer.