Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, right, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, center, and Iranian Vice-President Parviz Davoudi, left. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
Two Muslim nations in the Middle East have a long history of struggle for democracy. One, of course, is Turkey. Now the world's most democratic Muslim country, it offers vivid proof that Islam and freedom can thrive side by side. It has for decades been a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and closely tied to the United States. Today, even while loosening its traditional enforcement of militant secularism, it is embarking on the most ambitious diplomatic project in its history, seeking to project power by resolving regional conflicts through dialogue and compromise.
To spend Christmas in Baghdad is not a dream of many travelers, but it was what The New York Times assigned me to do in 1998. American bombs were raining down on the Iraqi capital that season, as they did periodically during the 1990s. Each morning I visited the places that had been bombed the night before.
One day I was trudging through the rubble of a large building that, until a few hours earlier, had been the Ministry of Labor. As I wandered around the site, a piece of twisted metal caught my eye. I picked it up, and found it remarkably heavy and smooth. Soon I realized that this was not debris from the destroyed building, but a fragment of one of the American cruise missiles that had hit it during the night.
Managua, Nicaragua -- Within hours after the left-wing indigenous leader Evo Morales was elected president of Bolivia last December, another outspoken critic of American power in the hemisphere, Daniel Ortega, sent him a message of “revolutionary jubilation.” As the head of Nicaragua's Sandinista government in the 1980s, Ortega led his country in a war against CIA-sponsored insurgents. Now, sensing the wind of the resurgent Latin American left at his back, he is running for president again.
Ankara -- Over the past half-century, the United States has had few more faithful allies than Turkey. Beginning with the legendary bravery that Turkish soldiers showed while fighting alongside Americans during the Korean War, and extending through Turkey's long membership in NATO and its unfailingly pro-Western stance during the Cold War, the alliance has remained strong despite a host of challenges.
Not everyone was shocked by the revelations of the ways American soldiers have abused Iraqi prisoners. Those who have studied techniques that American interrogators taught and used in Vietnam, Latin America, and elsewhere during past decades felt only a grim sense of recognition.
"We are living an illusion if we think these practices are unique," said Robert White, a former U.S. ambassador to Paraguay and El Salvador. "What is unique is the graphic pictorial evidence that drives it home. But that the United States has been complicit with torture in Vietnam and Latin America, there can be no doubt. It may be sinking into the public consciousness for the first time, but expressions of shock from people whose business is foreign policy are quite hypocritical."