Dan Burton (R, IN): “If I lived in Turkey and if I were a Turk, I would want to get those terrorists who cross the border to blow up my family, kill my kids.”
When Congressman Dan Burton, (R, IN) was preparing to go to Turkey for the first time 12 years ago, he learned that his wife had been diagnosed with cancer. He canceled the trip and did not have an opportunity to see Turkey again until last May.
He visited Turkey for the first time last May on the Turkish Study Group's trip to Turkey, which was co-sponsored by Turkish Coalition of America, an educational and charitable organization based in Washington, D.C.
Congressman Burton has been a staunch supporter of US-Turkish relations since his first years in Congress. He is currently serving his thirteenth term as a United States Representative from Indiana's Fifth Congressional District.
He is one of the most popular Indian congressmen on Capital Hill. He got 70 percent votes in 5 out of 6 general elections in Indiana. He has been in public service over 40 years and he has become known in some circles as “Indiana Dan” after a humorous movie poster created by campaign staff.
Cemil Ozyurt, Editor-in-Chief of TURKOFAMERICA Magazine, talked to Congressman Dan Burton at his office on Capital Hill.
You are aware of Turkey’s development since the 1980s. What do you think about the changing about in politics and the economy?
I always like the attitude of Turkish governments that was created by Ataturk. It’s a Muslim country and the government supports Muslims mosques, they also allow other religions to conduct their services which I think is a stabilizing, forceful influence in the Middle East. I know what the Quran says, I understand, but Ataturk was a pragmatic politician and realist. He realized that to have stability in the region, in Turkey, it was important to have diversity and the people understand each other even if they do not agree.
Now there has been some concern for the last five-six years because of what’s happening in Iran and it might be a radicalization of Turkey. When I was there, I talked to the leaders, Prime Minister, Chief Deputy Minister, and Defense Minister. What I gather from them and other politicians, was stability even given diversions of opinion. I still think Turkey is going to be a stable country and a great ally. They have been absolutely essential to the US.
The Turkish government has concerns about terrorist activities in Northern Iraq. What if Turkey conducted a military operation in Northern Iraq, how would it affect Turkey-US relations?
I understand that the PKK has got some camps over there. I talked to some military commanders about that when I was in Turkey. Turkish military commanders don’t like the thought that there is a sanctuary for terrorists in Northern Iraq and I am sympathetic to that. I would want to cross the Mexican or Canadian borders and we can go after them. So I understand that.
I also understand that we are creating a stable environment in Iraq. The Kurdish area is very stable. They have been doing well and that’s the one of the real pluses in the Kurdish area up there. I understand Turkey’s responsibility to protect your citizens against terrorists or anybody else. It’s like the Gordian Knot right now.
I would not like to see a problem in Northern Iraq since some stability in over there because I need to see that change but at the same time if I lived in Turkey and if I were a Turk, I would want to get those terrorists who cross the border to blow up my family, kill my kids. I don’t know the exact answer but I know Turkey is our strong ally and we have to keep our relationship very strong.
Do you think this problem is going to be solved soon?
I understand the problem that Turkey faces and I understand what the military and government position is. They don’t want to see instability in Northern Iraq. We need to sit down with the Turkish leadership privately. We need to dig and figure out some accommodation deal with the PKK. I don’t know what it is which would force the PKK out of Northern Iraq.
You met with Turkish officials. Do they think that the U.S. made a strong enough effort against the PKK in Northern Iraq?
No, I don’t think the Turkish military thinks that we are really doing a great deal to stop the PKK because of our support of Northern Iraq stability in the Kurdish area. So I think Turkish people are upset about that. I sensed it when I was there. I think that the popularity of the U.S. and our President have been losing popularity in Turkey.
PKK attacks on a shopping center in Ankara had taken place before we got there. That’s the kind of thing we wouldn’t want and Turkish people don’t want. I can see they are upset with us. That’s why I suggest having that private meeting. Privately our military, leadership and Turkish officials sit and think what can be done to figure some way to stop the PKK. We can’t do this front of CNN or the front page of newspapers. That wouldn’t work. We need to help our Turkish friends. They have been with us all the time. We need to put their needs right after ours.
You have just talked about how the U.S. has been losing its popularity in Turkey. Do you see that the US has been losing its prestige more and more every day? Also do you think the US explained its aim very clearly to the world when it invaded Iraq?
I would hope that internationally our intention was clear why we were doing that. Obviously when we were first going in, people were very happy. Saddam Hussein has gone. People were voting for their constitution and everybody was happy. And then things started in the south because of interference from Iran, Syria and other areas because there were some radicals in Iraq.
They did not want to allow a multiethnic, multi-religious government to survive. At the beginning there was not that much opposition. War is very unpopular. There has never been a President or leader who prolonged a war 4-5 years who was popular. You look back to history. People don’t like war; they don’t want to get more kids killed. Wars are like this now. It’s about that big. It’s almost like the U.S. backed a civil war for one country, now the world is one big communicating entity. We all know within seconds what is going on instantaneously because communications are so instantaneous. Just turn on the TV and then know what is happening in Iraq in seconds. When the U.S. was in the Civil War, people were upset. People were upset because the war was taking so long.
Are you saying that people will understand in the future how the Iraq war was necessary?
I think history is always good to leaders who do the right things. I am not saying that everybody is going to agree with what President Bush did. People fail to look at history. They look at things very small, microcosmic, they don’t look at the big picture. The picture is every war is unpopular a after certain time. The first George Bush was popular when he drove out Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. Everybody was happy because the war was over after 6-7 days.
When you go to country for 4-5 years, people say, what is going on? But this is analogous to what I say; our friendship with Turkey is so valuable. We need to work with the Turkish government and Turkish people as much as possible to try to stop the PKK’s forthcoming projected terrorist attacks. How can governments stop the radicals? We got radicals like Osama bin Ladin and people like him. We are in a different world now than we were before. People walked into a crowd and blow themselves up. We are in a nuclear age. I did a show on three briefcase-sized nuclear weapons. Those weapons could destroy 8 square blocks. Nothing left. Now terrorists blow themselves up in an Ankara shopping center with small weapons. What would you think if they would blow themselves up with briefcase nuclear weapons? Here is what the world is facing and Turkey is facing. Radical people are doing horrible things.
This is what many people are, in the U.S., afraid of. They’ve done it here on 9/11; they’ve done it in England, Spain, and Turkey. We have to convince radicals, the only path to stability in getting what you want, just do it in a rational way. You can’t be blowing up yourselves. It’s important to let them know radicalism cannot be prevailing. If we pull out, what is going to be in Iraq? The radical fundamentalists will turn the country into a haven for terrorists.
You have served since 1967. Over these 40 years, what is the most important thing, the thing you’re most proud of, that you did in Congress?
What great things I may have done or not, I have done for me to do just my job. I proud that I would able to stand up against people who I thought corrupted the government. I was the chief investigator for 5-6 years. They came after me and they tried to destroy me, with my family, politically. I did not fall down and I’m not proud of anything except I don’t back down to anybody, nobody.
What advice can you give to Turkish youth who want to become involved in politics in the U.S.?
Turkish young people are primarily Muslim. If you like it or not all Muslims are suspects. If someone says he is a Muslim, people would think that he is a radical. Muslim people, in general, have to convince others they love this country, they love the system, they love the democracy.
They are not going to start a holy Jihad against the U.S. Before in the US, we were thinking that the Pope could take over the country. Catholics wanted to take over America. It took a long time for people to realize that Catholics are not bad. We finally elected JFK as President.
You are the one of the most popular Indiana congressmen. You got 70 percent of the vote in 5 out of 6 general elections in Indiana. What are your secrets?
First of all, I have a pretty good district. It was designed by the state Republican chairman for himself. Probably 55 percent Republican, but I beat him so I got the district. When I got the district, I started to work hard. Even the Democrats said, we can’t beat him, just let him go. Democrats have been supportive of giving me, of putting a Republican in my district.
They can take Democrats, spread them around, pick up more districts. I think people have liked me. They appreciated what I have done and agree with my positions. But being honest, I got a large part because I did good things in the district.
What is your prediction after Turkey’s general election in July?
We heard rumors that there would be more radicalism in Turkey. I hope that will not happen and I believe that it will not happen. I understand stability and Turkey will continue to be part of the world community.
WHO IS DAN BURTON?
Dan Burton was born on June 21, 1938, in Indianapolis, Indiana. He graduated from Shortridge High School in 1957, and attended Indiana University and the Cincinnati Bible Seminary. He received the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humanities from Capitol University of Integrative Medicine on December 17, 2000. Dan Burton is currently serving his thirteenth term as a US Representative from Indiana's Fifth Congressional District.
When Congressman Burton assumed the Chairmanship of the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform in the 105th Congress, he became the first Hoosier Republican to Chair a full House Committee in more than sixty years. He currently serves as Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere.
Also, he is a Senior Member on the Government Oversight and Reform Committee and a member of the Veterans' Affairs Committee. Before his election to Congress, Mr. Burton held office in the Indiana State Senate (1969-70 and 1981-82), as well as in the Indiana House of Representatives (1967-68 and 1977-80). The Burton family resides in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Reprinted with permission of Turk of America Magazine - www.turkofamerica.com