Turkish-American Relations in Transition: Taking Stock of Obama’s Legacy

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As the Obama adminstration is coming closer to its end in the United States, it would be worthile to take stock of Turkish-American relations as it has evolved in recent years. When Obama came to presidency in 2009, he paid one of his early visits to Turkey. At that time the expectation on the part of traditional American allies, Turkey being no exception, was that with Obama the unilateral and neoconservative stance in American foeign policy would come to an end and the United States would reenergize its relations with traditional allies in a multilateral fashion and within existing institutional platforms. In the speech he delivered in the Turkish Assembly in the spring of 2009, he praised Turkey’s decades-long westernization/europeanization/modernization efforts and pointed out to Turkey as a successful role model for the developing and modernizing states of the wider Middle East. In the fight against extremist Islamism he underlined Turkey’s potential role to act as an inspirational force for moderate Islamic polities in their efforts to successfully merge traditional Islamic values with liberal democratic values of developed countries.


Turkey’s soft-power oriented European practices in its foreign policy across the Gretaer Middle East on the hand and Turkey’s ongoing internal transformation alongside the EU accession process on the other attracted US admiration. The so-called ‘zero problems with neighbors’ policy that Turkey pursued since 2002 till the early stages of the Arab Spring seems to have also increased Turkey’s strategic and ideational value in American eyes.  


Despite the controversy over Turkey’s joint efforts with Brazil to find a solution to the nuclear problem between Iran and the international community as well as the steep deterioration of Turkey’s relations with Israrel in the wake of the so-called Mavi Marmara incident in 2010, Obama adminstration continued to invest in the Turkish model idea. This became particularly evident in the early stages of the so-called Arab Spring process. In the eyes of the US elites, there existed a consensus that the kind of Islam practiced in Turkey as well as Turkey’s economic and political accomplishments throughout its Republican history, most notably during the reign of the Justice and Development Pary governments, would offer a credible road map to the Middle Eastern societies which had finally begin to oust their repressive authoritarian rulers from power. Rather than looking to Iran as a role or the region descending into further chaos and anarchy, the United States would likely acquiesce in Turkey’s political stewardship of the revolutionary movements engulfing the entire Middle East. If the installation of democratic regimes in these countries were to be seen as the panacea for petrified regional problems and the the United States were now to give more emphasis to democratic transformation of the region in a bottom-up manner, partnering with Turkey would appear to be one of the wisest strategies to pursue.


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