With the peace in Iraq proving as messy as the war, the Bush administration has spent a year desperately trying to get other countries to send troops for occupation duty.  Brazil, Egypt, and India said no; Japan temporized, before sending in 550 soldiers for “humanitarian” duty.  The kidnapping of one Filipino truck driver caused the Philippines to withdraw 56 soldiers in a  rush.  In August, Thailand began pulling out her small contingent.

Notably, no Muslim nation—outside of minuscule Albania, which sent in forces with no equipment—has sent troops to patrol Iraq.  Pakistan, with jihadists active in its western provinces and multiple assassination attacks on President Pervez Musharraf, said no.  A Saudi initiative went nowhere.  And Turkey, with one of the largest and perhaps the most competent militaries in the region (outside of Israel), is a source of contract trucking services, nothing more.

It is surprising that an administration supposedly full of adults has proved so ineffective in enlisting allied support.  It is bad enough to jump into an unnecessary war; to bungle the peace at every turn, however, is almost criminal.

Last fall, Secretary of State Colin Powell went calling in Turkey.  After much hemming and hawing, and Washington’s approval of $8.5 billion in loans in September 2003, the Erdogan government recommended a dispatch of as many as 10,000 soldiers.  Parliament then said yes, despite strong popular opposition.  Then came difficult negotiations over turning Ankara’s promise into boots on the ground.  In the end, Iraqi opposition derailed the plan.

Alas, along the way, Washington found that it had to pay a high price for Turkish help.  Ankara has a keen sense of Turkish national interests.  That is why it has long treated its Kurds with brutality approaching that used by Saddam Hussein in Iraq.  In fact, after Washington’s victory, Turkey dispatched special forces to the city of Kirkut in U.S.-occupied Iraq to assassinate the Kurdish interim governor.  Turkey denied the plot after Washington captured (and eventually released) 11 Turkish soldiers.

Nonetheless, the Bush administration reportedly promised to suppress the Kurdistan Workers Party, which has long fought for ethnic autonomy.  In Turkey’s view, that means military action, if necessary: Washington would have to enter a guerrilla war that has cost nearly 40,000 lives over the last two decades and reverse its position of backing Kurdish autonomy under Saddam Hussein.

In short, Turkey—no less than, say, France—wanted to  constrain America’s options.  The Turks just weren’t as obvious about doing so.

Moreover, it was not clear that Turkish troops would actually have helped stabilize Iraq.  The U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council objected to the plan, and Kurdish leaders threatened to fight if Turkish soldiers were lodged in the north.  In turn, Ankara threatened to respond sharply to any attacks on its forces, which would further inflame hostility.  (Kurds understandably see little difference between oppressive Turkish and Iraqi rule.)

That Washington did not make sure everyone was in agreement before publicly pushing for the Turkish deployment is evidence of incredible ignorance or incompetence—or both.

The issue also brought into sharp relief the tension surrounding U.S. support for democracy around the world.  The interim Iraqi Governing Council opposed the presence of Turkish troops.  What if the permanent elected government rejects the presence of American forces and bases?

The Bush administration’s rhetoric suggests that it should live with that result.  In practice, however, Washington seems much less enthusiastic about the results of democracy.

In 2002, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz cited Turkey as “a model for the Muslim world’s aspirations for democratic progress and prosperity.”  He went on to add that “What is fundamental is Turkey’s democratic character.”

Yet the United States has not been very happy with the results of Turkish democracy.  Negotiations between America and Turkey over aid in the war against Iraq took on the appearance of haggling over a carpet at Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar.  Turkey demanded lots of cash to let America open a second front against Iraq.  Washington  demanded a discount before saying yes.

Then the unexpected happened.  Turkey’s ruling party split, while the opposition stood firm against Washington’s plans.  In parliament, the measure won a majority of those voting, but not the required absolute majority.

As a proponent of democracy, Washington should have been understanding.  Instead, for a moment, Turkey joined France on America’s least-liked list.  Congress threatened to cut off aid; the Bush administration complained because civilians had made the decision.

Indeed, Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz made the rather astounding assertion that the military did not play “a leadership  role” on the issue.  The fact that the vast majority of the Turkish population opposed the war did not matter.

The problem, in Wolfowitz’s view, was that the military should have said that “it was in Turkey’s interest to support the  United States” in Iraq.  However, members of parliament were hardly unaware of the stakes.  They knew that billions of dollars in ill-disguised bribes hung in the balance.

Wolfowitz stated: “I’m not suggesting that [the military] get involved in politics at all.”  But what else could have been the implication of his remarks for a country where the military has formally overthrown and more often maneuvered to pressure democratically elected governments and dismantle popular political parties?

Turkey’s military has long played a leadership role in that country.  Yet, while the Bush administration wants the military to play a larger role in making Turkish policy, Turkey’s parliament last year approved a measure reducing the military’s control of the National Security Council, which influences most domestic as well as foreign-policy decisions.  The NSC will have a reduced role, and its secretary general will be nominated by the prime minister rather than by the chief of the Turkish General Staff; Ankara recently installed the first civilian in that position.  Moreover, legislators will be able to review the defense budget, once the military’s exclusive prerogative.  Such reforms are necessary if Ankara hopes to join the European Union, but they are also likely to transform Turkish politics.

Washington should step carefully.  Omer Taspinar, a visiting fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, warns, “the current mood in Turkey is still very anti-American.”  Appearing to range itself against the democratization of Turkish life could only worsen Washington’s image.

The Bush administration’s ambivalence toward democracy is evident in its attitude toward other U.S. allies.  For instance, Pakistan’s Musharraf took power in a coup and conducted fixed elections to provide a veneer of respectability.  However, Wolfowitz told the New York Times in 2002, Musharraf has “shown an impressive level of fortitude in facing” down Muslim extremism.  Indeed, “No leader has taken greater risks in the  struggle against terrorism,” Wolfowitz added.  Musharraf’s willingness to ignore popular sentiments was “good for him and his country as well as for us and our country.”

That might be the case.  But obviously Pakistan is a country where the United States does not value genuine democracy, and especially “popular sentiments.”  As a result, “The Pakistanis are doing everything they can” to cooperate against Islamic terrorism, said Wolfowitz.  In fact, that is not obviously true.  Musharraf seems to be playing both sides of the street, although Karachi is certainly more helpful today than it was before September 11.  There is nothing wrong with emphasizing Musharraf’s willingness to cooperate.  It does come at a cost, however, undercutting those democratic values that Wolfowitz and the rest of the Bush administration claim to support.

Does the Bush administration like democracy abroad?  Turkey, Wolfowitz proclaimed in 2002, “changes its leaders at the ballot box.”  That is how a moderate Islamic government came to power and a democratically elected Islamic parliament came to reject America’s request for military aid in the war in Iraq.  This is why the Bush administration’s push for the Turkish military to play “a leadership role” risked damaging a democracy that is supposed to be “a model for the Muslim world.”

Throughout the Middle East, and especially in Iraq, Washington must decide whether it values indigenous democracy or geopolitical support more.  The choice is not easy, but America’s experience with countries ranging from Egypt to Pakistan—and especially Turkey—demonstrates that it is a choice that, unfortunately, must often be made.