Where is the U.S Pushing Turkey?

15 June 2010
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The UN Security Council vote on a new round of sanctions against Iran looks like to remain as a milestone in U.S – Turkey relations. The sanctions were approved with 12 ‘yes’ votes, two ‘no’ votes from Turkey and Brazil, and Lebanon’s abstention. Although Turkish government opposes strengthening sanctions against Iran, the Obama administration did not expect Turkey to vote against the sanctions.

Because Turkey’s ‘no’ vote in the Security Council occurred after the flotilla crisis with Israel, policy circles in Washington has begun to discuss whether the axis shift in Turkish foreign policy is real. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has made the most politically honest remarks. Gates put the blame on Europe and accused some European countries of pushing Turkey eastward and “refusing to give Turkey the kind of organic link to the West that Turkey sought”. Following the UN Security Council vote against Iran, the question is where the Obama administration will push Turkey. Can America build the type of relationship Turkey seeks in Washington?

I think everyone who follows the U.S – Turkey relations will agree that Turkey’s ‘no’ vote last week will alter or expedite the process of alteration of Washington’s attitude towards Ankara, especially towards Erdogan government. Already strained relations between decades-long allies will not be traumatized following the Security Council vote because two countries agree and cooperate successfully and efficiently about several issues. Secretary Gates has already made it clear at NATO meeting by saying “Allies do not always agree… Turkey continues to play a critical part in the alliance… we have a strong military relations”. Having said that, Erdogan administration in Ankara knew the importance of the vote against Iran and could have abstained instead of saying ‘no’. Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton publicly expressed their disappointment after Turkey’s decision opposing the sanctions. We should not expect American leaders to utter their disappointment with aggressive and harsh sentences. But in diplomatic tradition, statements of Gates and Clinton are already clear enough to show American discontent with Turkey’s ‘no’ vote.  It seems that ruling AKP government in Turkey has realized the seriousness of America’s disappointment that a group of high rank government officials came to Washington to lessen the tension. We should hope that leaders of two countries can come up with new political solutions to maintain this strategic alliance which is needed for both.

The U.S – Turkey relations will remain sound but the U.S foreign policy circles will reconsider their stands about Turkey. The U.S cannot damage relations because Turkey is needed in diplomatic efforts. Mrs. Clinton highlighted this point by saying that the countries opposed the sanctions can still aid diplomacy. The real problem, however, is caused by the overall paradigm differences between two allies. AKP government in Turkey was happy when Obama became president because the latter has fostered hopes that threats to international security can be dealt without resorting to military power, which is consistent with AKP’s foreign policy. AKP government’s primary foreign policy objective was to solve all the problems with neighboring countries so that it can develop stronger (particularly economic) relations with them. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is the architect of the current Turkish foreign policy and he sincerely believes that “Economic interdependence is the best way to achieve peace”. For him, economics is the heart of his foreign policy objectives. Many Turks, including AKP government, do not want another war or an armed conflict in the neighborhood because, as Soli Ozel of Bilgi University said, Turkish people do not want to be left holding the bag after the Americans create havoc. American policy makers should understand Turkey’s concerns while talking to their Turkish counterparts because, unlike the 1990s, a politician who is willing to pay the cost of distancing itself too much from Iran cannot win an election.

On the other hand, Turkish government proudly states that the U.S and Turkey are strategic partners. It is sometimes ignored that strategic partners should care about the security of each other. Turkey may not approve the sanctions against Iran but it does not necessarily mean that positioning against the U.S is a wise policy. Foreign policy makers in Ankara should not ignore the fact that Iran’s nuclear project is viewed as a serious threat in the U.S. The attitudes of the two countries towards each other will be more significant in the near future. Although we are not facing a diplomatic crisis between the U.S and Turkey, in the following years there will be more disagreements between the two countries.

The New York Times’s title for its story summarizes the present situation excellently: Turkey goes from pliable ally to thorn for U.S. Washington is more likely to see Turkey as a thorn in the near future especially with regard to crises in the Middle East. Turks want to be consulted by Americans about problems in their neighborhood and to cooperate more in handling conflicts. Moreover, Turkish domestic politics and the public are no longer accepting the Cold War relations. President Obama may believe that his administration should cooperate and consult to regional powers more rather than telling them how to act. He may also know that the decision makers in Washington are so used to the Cold War time foreign relations that they cannot change. The future of the U.S – Turkey relations will be shaped by the process of this change in the U.S attitude towards Turkey. If Stephen Kinzer – who thinks that the U.S is not ready to adopt such a change – then, unfortunately, with regard to the issues in the Middle East, the U.S is likely to have disagreements with Turkey. Turkey acted with Brazil in the UN Security Council vote against Iran and during the nuclear swap deal with Iran. Actually joint efforts of Turkey and Brazil give a clear message to the Obama administration. First, when it comes to giving diplomacy a push and to avoid armed conflicts, the U.S can have powerful partners in Latin American and the Middle East. Second, Turkey is not the only country that wants to have more say in regional and international security affairs and have more collaboration with the U.S rather than following Washington’s unilateral policies.

The U.S Attitude Determines Turkey’s Inclination
Future governments in Ankara will be willing to cooperate with the U.S on several vital issues such as Iraq’s reconstruction and stabilizing Afghanistan. Even in issues related to international security, the U.S can count on Ankara’s support. But any decision that will increase the likelihood of destabilization of Turkey’s neighborhood will not be welcomed in Ankara.

Discussions about inclination of Turkish foreign policy revived following the vote in the UN Security council in Washington. Some policy circles reiterated their long-time stressed argument that Turkey moves eastward and is becoming like a Middle Eastern, anti-western country. Robert Gates rightly said “I personally think that if there is anything to the notion that Turkey is, if you will, moving eastward, it is, in my view, in no small part because it was pushed, and pushed by some in Europe refusing to give Turkey the kind of organic link to the West that Turkey sought." The attitude of the Washington towards Turkey in the near future will determine where Turkey really inclines. The European Union creates several artificial problems to slow down Turkey’s accession talks. The U.S is going to either join the EU to push Turkey eastward and complicate its stand in the world or pull Turkey to itself and strengthen its global stand as a superpower.  

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