Adam Bennett McConnel

E-Mail :
Phone : 0216-483-9294
Title : Visiting Instructor
Education :

History PhD, Sabancı University, 2014

History MA, Sabancı University, 2008

TEFL/TESOL Post-BA, Western Washington University, 1999

World Literature BA, Fairhaven College/Western Washington University, 1997

Areas of Interest : 20th Century Turkish Republican History
20th Century Turkish-US Relations
Publications :
SU Öncesi Yayınları:

Incirlik AFB: The USA's Military Base Policy and Turkey

Book Review: İncirlik Üssü:  ABD’nin Üs Politikası ve Türkiye  (Incirlik AFB: The USA's Military Base Policy and Turkey) By Selin M. Bölme, Istanbul:  İletişim Yayınları, 2012, 430 pages, ISBN-13: 978-975-05-0994-0      

Turkish-American relations is a field in which, because of the dearth of academic, book-length studies available, essentially any addition is greatly welcomed.  Selin M. Bölme’s study İncirlik Üssü:  ABD’nin Üs Politikası ve Türkiye (İncirlik AFB:  The USA’s Military Base Policy and Turkey) is an especially happy development because of its originality and focus on a topic that receives attention only when the Turkish domestic political conjuncture involves İncirlik Air Force Base (AFB) and the United States (U.S.) military power situated therein.  When İncirlik AFB becomes a topic of discussion, all domestic political pundits feel free to discuss the topic, but few of those commentators have any particular expertise or knowledge about İncirlik AFB.  Part of the reason for that circumstance is the simple fact that academic studies on İncirlik AFB are virtually non-existent, as evidenced by a scan of the references Bölme cites in her text.  Of all the secondary sources listed by Bölme, only one mentions İncirlik AFB specifically in the title.  Consequently, Bölme’s study is a welcome entry on an important and interesting subject.

Adam McConnel teaches Turkish history at Sabancı University in İstanbul.  He holds an MA and PhD in History from the same university.  His research interests are in 20th Century Turkish-American relations and 20th Century Turkish history.  He has lived in İstanbul since 1999. 

Bölme’s İncirlik Üssü is also a strong addition to the literature on post-WWII Turkish-American relations, and is, on several counts, the best single book that a Turkish academician has produced on the subject.  The author performed extensive research in several archives and many of the documents presented in the text are utilized for the first time in a scholarly work on Turkey-U.S. relations.  The footnote citations and Works Cited section also maintain international standards for academic scholarship.

Bölme’s text, unfortunately, does suffer from a problem that has long plagued Turkish scholarship on relations with the U.S., i.e. an excessive focus on politics.  The results of this emphasis are weaknesses in historiography and explanation.  To begin with, the first nearly 150 pages of the study are devoted to various aspects of general political theory concerning military bases, and then specifically the American approach to military bases.  This emphasis on theory is unnecessary in a published academic text of this sort. 

After the theoretical sections, the author devotes more than fifty pages to the WWII and post-WWII developments that led to Turkey’s NATO accession and the establishment of İncirlik AFB.  Bölme cites a great number of archival documents while explaining the process.  On the other hand, for a subject with a literature as extensive as that on the early Cold War, Bölme cites almost none of the major secondary texts on the subject, which leaves her narrative open to factual errors as well as weak in terms of explanatory power.  For example, on pages 159-160, Bölme states that the establishment of U.S. policy against proposed Soviet bases in the Turkish straits dates from August 1946.  If Bölme had referred to Melvyn Leffler’s A Preponderance of Power, though, she would have noted that U.S. policy opposing Soviet bases in the Turkish straits was formulated in July 1945.[1]  Bölme also attributes that change to President Truman’s being convinced by a State-War-Navy Memorandum to actively oppose Soviet expansionist aims; in fact, Truman had already switched to a more aggressive attitude after the December 1945 Moscow Conference, memorably declaring, “I’m tired [of] babying the Soviets.”[2]

Beyond the issue of historical data is the fact that Bölme’s focus on politics deprives the text of an essential element, which is explaining in a comprehensive manner the context in which Turkey and the U.S. cemented a military and political alliance, won Turkey entrance to NATO, and made the decision to build İncirlik AFB.  As an illustration, focusing on İncirlik AFB would fit neatly into Melvyn Leffler’s Grand Strategy policy framework,[3] which focuses on power and the need for bases abroad to exert that power overseas.  Bölme, however, does not formulate such a framework for her discussion and, instead, provides a narrowly political narrative for the occurrences she describes.  This concentration on politics leaves the reader unable to understand the sources of key developments.  For instance, exactly how or when U.S. public opinion became supportive of a more active role in Europe, or how the Truman administration convinced Congress to provide aid to Turkey and Greece in March 1947, or for the Marshall Plan, remains unexamined.  Bölme briefly mentions these issues on pp. 160, 162-163, but does not explain them.  After the initial explanation of the post-war events that led to İncirlik AFB’s foundation and Turkish NATO accession, the remainder of the text provides a largely event- and politics-based account of the past 50 years of events relevant to the base, supported by copious amounts of archival documents and few secondary sources.  When the text reaches more recent history the author turns to newspaper articles, books written by journalists, and some secondary sources.

Bölme utilizes some excellent and important primary source materials, but without stronger foundation in the secondary source material, the discussion of İncirlik AFB in the early Cold War era depends mostly on Foreign Records of the United States documents and U.S. National Archives and Records Administration’s Records Groups 59 and 531, and presents little secondary literature context for the reader.  Thus, the reader does not obtain a more comprehensive understanding of İncirlik AFB’s place in the U.S.’s overall policy-making, or in the historical juncture, from Bölme’s discussion.      

Most likely, the reason for the weakness elaborated in the previous paragraph again stems from politics, but in this case the author’s politics.  Bölme’s text displays hints of the continuing influence that ideology, especially the economic determinism (Leninism) sourced in William Appleman Williams via Türkkaya Ataöv,[4] stills holds in much Turkish scholarly work on Turkish-American relations.  In her conclusion, Bölme explains the overall understanding of İncirlik AFB that her text has related to the reader.  The interesting aspect of this explanation is the prominence that the author gives to economic factors:  “… aynı zamanda Amerikan askeri gücünün gölgesini hissettirerek kapitalist ekonominin sağlıklı bir şekilde işlemesinde etkili olmuşlardır.”[5]  This conclusion was anticipated by the book’s introduction, in which the author asserts that İncirlik AFB was a vehicle through which the U.S. could pressure Turkey into making economic, military, and domestic and foreign policy decisions of which the U.S. approved; in this respect, according to the author, Turkey and İncirlik AFB were one aspect of the U.S.’s project to control and shape the world in order to preserve its own interests. 

That perspective, however, could have been derived directly from Lenin, and reflects the same perception of U.S. foreign policy first articulated by Williams, and then transferred to the Turkish context by Ataöv.  In fact, the second chapter of Ataöv’s Amerika, NATO, ve Türkiye is essentially a broad summary of the second, third, and fourth chapters of Williams’s The Tragedy of American Diplomacy.[6]  Bölme apparently cites Ataöv’s book only once,[7] but the economic interpretation of U.S. hegemony and need for overseas bases is strongly informed by an intellectual stance that, in regard to the issues of NATO and İncirlik AFB, goes back to Ataöv.  Even the edition of Ataöv’s book that Bölme cites is interesting:  Amerika, NATO, ve Türkiye was first published in 1969, but Bölme cites a 2006 reissue of the book by İleri Yayınları, a Kemalist-left publishing house in İstanbul.[8]  The ideology behind this publishing house, as well as those who consider themselves Kemalist-leftists, is similar to Ataöv’s.

Consequently, Selin Bölme’s study on İncirlik AFB contains engaging research on a topic that deserves much more attention.  The original research completed for the work, as well as the high quality of the writing and scholarship make Bölme’s book one of the best yet written by a Turkish scholar on any topic related to Turkish-American relations.  Despite the fact that the book focuses mostly on politics and evidences a regrettable ideological predisposition, I recommend the book to any reader interested in exploring Turkey-U.S. issues in a more detailed and academic manner.


[1]Melvyn P. Leffler, A Preponderance of Power: National Security, the Truman Administration, and the Cold            War, (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1992), p. 78.  The Leffler text that Bölme does utilize is “Strategy, Diplomacy, and the Cold War: The United States, Turkey, and NATO, 1945-1952” The Journal of American History, Vol. 71, No. 4. (March 1985), pp. 807-825.

[2] Bölme, op. cit., p. 159.  For Truman quote, see:  Robert L. Messer, The End of an Alliance:  James F. Byrnes, Roosevelt, Truman, and the Origins of the Cold War (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1982), pp. 156-166.  Messer concludes that Truman probably did not actually say those words to Secretary Byrnes, but he did write them down.

[3] See:  Leffler, “Strategy, Diplomacy, and the Cold War: The United States, Turkey, and NATO, 1945-1952,” pp. 811-816.  

[4] Türkkaya Ataöv, Amerika, NATO, ve Türkiye, (Aydınlık Yayınları: Ankara, 1969); William Appleman Williams, The Tragedy of American Diplomacy, (New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1972).  Williams’s book, originally published in 1959, was the founding text of U.S. Cold War revisionism.  See also below, Note 6.

[5] Bölme p. 403:  “…  at the same time, imposing the long shadow of American military strength was effective in ensuring the capitalist economy’s continued healthy functioning” (author’s translation).

[6] See: pp. 9-19 in Ataöv and pp. 58-161 in Williams.

[7] The citation on p. 236 is an “op. cit.,” but the previous reference is not apparent.