MARGARET WARNER: Tom Friedman's latest trip took him to Turkey and to Poland, two countries that took distinctively different positions in the war and occupation of Iraq. Poland has been a staunch U.S. ally in both, Turkey, a much more ambivalent one. And, welcome back, Tom.
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Good to be here
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Tell us about Turkey. Here's a country, it has a government run by a party with Islamist roots at least, it didn't help in the war in Iraq, yet, they've still been hit by deadly suicide bombings. What's the political climate there?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: It was amazing that… suicide bombing, while it was a huge event at the time, one of the things that struck me being in Turkey Margaret, was they've had, there's so much terrorism there that people - I don't want to say they shrugged it off - they didn't, this terrible event, hitting the British bank, and the British consulate and two synagogues - but at the same time they take a more European, this kind of thing happens and let's move on. Now, the big question, although the Turks were asking themselves - because these were Turks who did this, so that was very troubling for them - Turks which they think had links with al-Qaida, but, nevertheless, Turks who did this, and this was part of the al-Qaida/Islamist agenda. Why Turkey? It's modern, it's western looking, trying to get into the EU, democratic, it's got 30,000 Jews who are treated with dignity and respect, not a model that Osama bin Laden is trying to promote.
MARGARET WARNER: So do you think the bombings are going to have any impact?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Well, it was interesting, you know. I happened to be there on the day that they re-dedicated the street outside of the Beth Israel Synagogue, one of the two synagogues that were blown up last November, and it was a remarkable event, really. The chief rabbi of Turkey was there I believe, a leading Mufti Islamic religious leader of Ankara, of Istanbul, was there, and the local mayor, and they did an event together with the Islamic leader and the rabbi holding hands, and people, the street was full of people throwing carnations at them.
Now, what was right about this picture? Well, you see a couple of things. You see, one, what happens when you have separation between church and state and the mosque and state in the case of Turkey, a Muslim country. And where politicians are democratically elected - and the star of the show - it was not the Mufti - not the rabbi -- it was the local mayor, the local mayor is democratically elected, he doesn't need to kowtow to any religious leaders for his legitimacy. In fact, he's using this event to maybe get a leg up in the next election, you know, so that's what was really right about this picture, but, you know, you saw the two spiritual leaders there holding hands. What was also interesting, the father of one of the suicide bombers said after the event, I want to kiss the hand of the rabbi and apologize for what my son did, very different from the post suicide bombings we've seen in other parts of the Middle East, and so that's about democracy, I think.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, what's the state of the U.S.-Turkey relationship, because there were so many tensions leading up to the war?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Well, there's nothing like a billion dollars or so of aid to say let bygones be bygones -
MARGARET WARNER: Among friends.
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Right, exactly. But, you know, the Turkish parliament in the end did vote to send 10,000 troops to Iraq. The Iraqis said thanks but no thanks, after centuries of Ottoman occupation -- brings back some bad memories, and so the Turks kind of got the best of both worlds. They offered to send troops, they didn't have to send them. We're resuming aid, but Turkey is a good loyal ally, and I think it's an important attribute, asset for us and Europe in the region.
I went one morning, Margaret - I stayed at the Four Seasons Hotel, which is a great hotel. It's an old prison that they've converted into a hotel. It's right next to the Topkapi Palace, great palace of the sultans right on the Bosphorus, and there is no better place to think about civilization than standing at the junction of Asia and Europe, and I think we are looking at a - right now - being in Turkey - and that is there are two big seminal events going on right now in our lifetime that will determine, I think go a long way to determining whether we have a clash of civilizations or within civilizations. One event is whether Turkey gets into the European Union. Next December, the EU has to decide whether this Muslim country, the only one in Europe, is going to be in the EU. Second, it's - the American project in Iraq to build a decent, forward looking Iraq. If those two go the right way, if Turkey gets in the EU and Iraq turns out okay, we will have two bridges, I think, between East and West. If they don't go okay, we will have two walls between East and West, so this a really important hinge moment…We have a lot at stake in Turkey getting into the EU, and I hope it happens.
MARGARET WARNER: What did the Turks feel, the Turks you talked to, about the U.S.-led occupation - now that they're not part of it?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Turks are concerned about one thing basically, about two things in terms of Iraq. One is the Iraqi economy, which is a huge source of oil and trading for Turkey- and they've been hit badly by the war and the downturn of the Iraqi economy. The other thing they're even more obsessed about is whether Iraq will hold together or whether it will break apart and there will be a Kurdish mini state in the North, which could be an attraction for Turkish Kurds and a kind of irritant to the public there - my message to my Turkish friends and interlocutors when I was there was calm down a little bit. They remind me a little bit of China and Taiwan - and anything the Kurds do is - I told you they were going to break away, don't you see, I told you they were going to break away. You've got to say calm down and say we didn't come into Iraq to divide the country - it may happen, okay, but that's really their main focus.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Then you went on to Poland and there it's been an unusually strong U.S. ally. Did you find really - now that some Poles are taking - Polish soldiers are taking casualties in Iraq, did you find that same pro-American feeling?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Well, the most shocking thing about Poland is - we talked about it so much over the past few years - I've really been traveling around the Middle East, I mean, where American Ambassadors go around in armored cars basically and our embassies look like maximum security prisons. And then you go to Warsaw, and they actually like Americans there - they actually come up and tell you that they like you- don't tell anybody, they like George Bush - they actually tell you that, so not only do 50 percent plus Americans like George Bush, probably 80 percent of Poles do and they like him for the same reason they liked Bill Clinton, they liked Ronald Reagan, because they think we stand for freedom. For them, America equals freedom, and it shows you like when you stand for the right things, guess what, people hear that and get that. You know, you ask Saudis - or a lot of residents of Arab countries, the oil states where we've kind of supported the status quo, what Americans stand for, and the word "freedom" doesn't come up first; it does for Poles. What we stand for really matters, you really see it there, and that certainly helps the fact that Poland is situated between Germany and Russia. Nothing will get your attention more than that and wanting to have a big uncle over the horizon like the United States of America -but nevertheless, people there are ultimately pro-American, and going there is like going to a sauna. You get all your anti-American bruises worked out. People are really nice and they're really open. And that's the good news. But, as you said, Margaret, they've got 2,200 troops, Polish troops, fighting alongside us in Iraq, or working alongside us now in Iraq. Seventy-five percent of Poles are against this - not for anti-American reasons - they say (a) what are we doing there, (b) when are we getting out of it- they're not comfortable with this - therefore, if that goes bad, that could affect U.S./Poland relations.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, they - Poland really took on France and Germany in coming over to the U.S. side in the war with Iraq, and they've also done the same now over this EU constitution. How significant is that?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: That is big. I mean, we suddenly have two friends in the EU now; which is two special friends, Great Britain and Poland. The EU is deciding what their constitution is going to be. Poland wants a fair share of the vote, a fair share of the say - Germany and France don't want to give them now as much as they think they're entitled to and they think we're young, we're single, we're ready to mingle. We're not going to take the crumbs here - we're here, get used to it and by the way, we like the United States, get used to that too. And I think Poland is to French anti-Americanism what penicillin is to an infection. They're going to be a force within the EU, another one that's really going to be - I don't want to say representing the United States but will be sympathetic to the transatlantic relationship. Why is that? What are the Poles concerned about? They want America in Europe, Margaret. Why do they want America in Europe, because they don't want the European countries, each going back to their own armies, their own defenses. They want us as the balance-
MARGARET WARNER: Poland always got trampled.
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Exactly. They got trampled between all these big elephants. They want us there. And that's going to be very important in the long run.
MARGARET WARNER: But Don Rumsfeld said famously earlier this year, he talked about the old Europe and by implication that the new Europe were the ones who were our friends, but do the U.S. diplomats you talk to and the smart NATO diplomats, do they think that Poland can really substitute for France and Germany as an ally?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Look, it doesn't have the economic clout of a France at all - it's a fraction of France's economy, let alone Germany's economy. At the end of the day it doesn't have the diplomatic weight that the former huge European powers have, but, you know, there's 40 million Poles from the young population that are coming on strong, but here's going to be another challenge for the United States. As those young people grow up in the EU, they're going to start getting EU newspapers and, you know, getting caught up in the kind of EU attitude toward the United States a little bit. How much is not clear, but, you know, one thing I heard when I was there that was a little disturbing is that so much of our public diplomacy money, which we used in Eastern Europe and the Stans- the former Soviet republics after the Cold War-- all that money is now moving to the Arab and Muslim world. And we ought to be careful; we've got to pay attention. There's a new generation of old Europe that's now going to grow up in a new EU, and if we don't take them seriously, we could lose that generation as well to the kind of trendy, post modernism of Europe in which America is not a well thought of.
MARGARET WARNER: Tom, thanks again.
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Thank you.
MARGARET WARNER: Happy travels.
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Thank you.