The Importance of Being Turkey

The United States must work more with Turkey across the entire Middle East

A while back I penned a piece highlighting the growing importance of Turkey both within the Middle East and for the United States. The country has the unique position of being both a NATO member with a strong democratic government as well as a popular regional leader that has fostered close ties with nearly all states in the Middle East, namely Iran, Iraq and Syria. Consequently, Turkey is an ideal partner for the United States in the region. My early point specifically referenced the role Turkey can play in Syria, where the United States has no way to influence the protest movement, but as Matt Duss et al. point out, Turkey should be a strategic partner for the United States throughout the entire region:

The rebellions in North Africa and the Middle East have only increased Turkey’s strategic relevance for the international community. And the fact that many states in the region see international politics mainly through the prisms of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the nuclear armament of Iran further enhances the country’s standing given the recurring populist attacks against Israel by members of the Erdogan government. By becoming a regional actor, Turkey enters the realm of realpolitik and the world of double standards, even though the often moralizing official rhetoric may say otherwise. Turkey’s hesitancy to turn on Syrian President Bashir al-Assad and his bloody crackdown on democracy protestors is just one of a growing number of dilemmas Turkey will face pitting its strategic interests and political values against one another.

In the long run, this development may open up more opportunities for pragmatic cooperation with the United States. Policymakers in both countries often say that in 90 percent of the cases U.S. and Turkish strategic interests overlap, but in reality the two governments look at the world from quite different angles.

One thought that I had while reading the article is the various policy differences that Turkey and the United States have are significant. The article discusses how the ties between Iran and Turkey can be positively used by the United States in order to decrease tension and to potentially reach an agreement. However, Turkey has taken a strong stance on the Palestinian/Israeli issue that contradicts American actions (if not the American policy). Likewise, while Washington was supporting NATO’s intervention in Libya, Turkey was unquestionably against foreign intervention (though still calling for Qaddafi’s departure). Personally, it seems logical for the United States to forge stronger ties with Turkey, though the two countries will need to bridge some important differences.

Definitely read the entire piece. The authors go further into detail about the growing economic power of Turkey, the Turkish role in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the relationship between Turkey and Iran as well as the Balkans.

Photo from WN

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