Genuine leadership doesn’t seek out headlines – in fact, it sometimes deliberately avoids them in order to get things done. The best example of this comes from a close contender for the Leader of the Free World now that the United States has largely abandoned the role in practical terms.
The leader in question is not Angela Merkel, although she is indeed the most important leader of a democracy today. This comes from the more junior Theresa May, Prime Minister of the UK, who has taken to solving the most important conflict left over from a by-gone era – Cyprus. Stepping into the British role as sometime creator of order she pushed a lot of heft behind the re-started talks which may, just yet, create a bridge between Europe and the Middle East.
The critical point is Turkey, as always, and the relative isolation this critical nation has been saddled with.
It seems to go without saying that stability in the Middle East currently hinges on Turkey. Their position at the frontline between Europe the Moslem world has always been important and has always made their position much more difficult. Today, the nation is wracked by a refugee crisis, constant attack from ISIS, periodic rumblings from separatist Kurds, and the ambitions of President Recep Erdogan. It’s hard to imagine a worse place to pin hopes for “stability” on.
As we have noted before, however, relations with Turkey are absolutely critical in the long run. Given this, why hasn’t Europe been willing to at least help the situation with a warmer relationship, if not fully embrace this nation at the crossroads?
The answer is Cyprus, a ridiculous situation that has no business still being a problem. It’s been ignored by the US for a long time simply because it is easy to ignore. But it is important.
In 1960, Cyprus became independent from the UK. Nothing about the situation was ever stable, given the large Turkish minority on this otherwise Greek island. As an independent nation it hardly had space to flourish, but under the watchful eyes of a fairly large British presence there wasn’t much choice.
In 1974, the then military government of Greece engineered a coup to install a government in favor of unity with Greece. The military government of Turkey became alarmed and invaded Cyprus in order to stop this and protect the Turkish minority. Since they had no rights to do this the action was roundly criticized by the UN and all Western powers. Once Greece backed down and allowed the former government to come back it seemed like things might settle down. But Turkey has never left.
Cyprus remains divided to this day. In 1983 Northern Cyprus, the Turkish part, proclaimed independence – but no one except Turkey recognizes it.
Despite joining the EU in 2004, Cyprus has remained a sore point all around. The situation, started by two military governments long relegated to history, has remained for no particularly good reason. Talks on unification restarted in 2008, but have gone largely nowhere.
This may seem relatively minor, and by all rights it should be. But lingering resentment in Greece has promoted their veto powers over any EU expansion to include Turkey in any way. Turkey, long snubbed in multiple attempts to join or even simply have a special relationship with the EU, has been forced to go its own way.
At the start of 2017 PM May quietly met with President Erdogan to put the talks on a faster track. Her reasoning has never been stated in public but it should be obvious to everyone – Turkey cannot be isolated any longer. If Cyprus is the excuse for excluding the obvious bridge between worlds, Cyprus must be solved. Unity is absolutely critical.
After a good start things have bogged down. Part of the problem is that out of a sense of desperation everyone has insisted that there be one final solution to put this whole mess behind everyone after 43 years. After all, the situation which created it all cannot in any way be recognized today.
A new approach is being put forward by PM May urging whatever progress can be made towards any kind of solution. Like most simmering disagreements it will take slow and careful steps to get everyone walking down the path of peace and unity – not one giant leap. It’s probably the most important thing which can possibly happen today, and if you’re an American there’s a good chance you never hear of it.
PM May is fine with the quiet, as is everyone else. More importantly, this is what leadership looks like – a long view with a defined goal clearly stated for everyone to see. Publicity? Only useful to the extent the vision needs to be shared and developed.