Two years have passed since the beginning of the historical process called the Arab Awakening. It is observed that throughout the two years behind us, the shift in balances passed beyond the ordinary in the region. Old dictatorships collapsed and a novel historical process began. The ramifications of this process which was initiated in Tunisia and spread via Libya, Egypt and Syria were felt in countries such as Yemen, Jordan and Bahrain as well. It is possible to talk about an era through which bilateral cooperation in Turkey-U.S. relations is accelerated. Hence, we have left behind a two-year process that enabled relations to focus especially on regional and multilateral issues rather than bilateral ones, and therefore further cooperation and coordination was necessitated.
Turkey has pursued a rather compliant and consultative policy with the U.S. to a large extent, throughout the Arab Awakening. Washington in particular received the coordination in diplomatic subjects with considerable appreciation. Even though the priorities, interests and sensitivities of a regional actor like Turkey may have led to some complications concerning Washington’s policies, by and large a compatible framework with parallel tasks was successfully managed by the foreign ministries and FMs of both countries regarding the main track of foreign policy-making.
There is no doubt that Turkey’s confirmation of the deployment of the early-warning radar system in Kürecik in 2011 contributed considerably to such a common will on the part of both sides to cooperate. Turkey confirmed, in a sense, its traditional alliance and granted approval to the deployment of the radar base, amazing even some American decision makers. Behind such an ongoing compromise lies the U.S. and at the outset Obama administration’s consideration regarding Turkey as a Middle Eastern actor.
The U.S. has been refraining from referring to Turkey’s European identity for a while. Likewise, it is no longer attempting pro-Turkey initiatives in the presence of the EU as it did in the past. It stands behind Turkey being perceived as a role model for the Middle Eastern region and emulated as an exemplary system. Washington is not distant to, although it accepts within certain limits, the idea that Turkey is allowed the primary chair of the Sunni Islamic realm. Nevertheless, the borderlines of such a mission of leadership and becoming a regional arbiter on the part of Turkey never extends beyond a range that firmly excludes rising tensions with Israel and the questioning of the close ties between Washington and Israel. We have witnessed an overt situation in favor of such a conception, thanks to the dialogue which took place between Obama and Erdogan during the operation carried out by Israel in Gaza.
Turkey surely wishes to see a more equitable and inclusive Middle East which is open to dialogue. In this respect, Turkey has strict reservations and serious objections regarding the dispute over Palestine and Israeli policies in the region. Ankara has a pro-active approach and it is observed through a wide array of political instances, such as the Fatah-Hamas engagement and Egypt’s reorientation with broader Arab politics together with the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise to power. Ankara was also compelled to lower the level of relations which were greatly intensified with Iran, Iraq, Syria and Hezbollah. There is no doubt that Turkey’s stance pushed Ankara and Washington to converge further. As a matter of fact, the U.S. administration today believes that it can no longer resolve regional issues by itself after the experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. Washington is withdrawing into itself step by step as its energy dependency on the region diminishes. Therefore it seems as though the U.S. has decided to adopt a novel policy line in maintaining its relations with the region from now on. This situation indicates that a new era has begun with regard to the re-evaluation of regional dynamics and the future of Turkey-U.S. relations.
It is possible to foresee that the U.S. support behind Israel, with no strings attached, will be maintained. There is no single clue indicating how this situation may change in the short run. Turkey gained significant elbowroom within the limits of the policy redlines drawn by the U.S. concerning Israel’s security. However, new problems emerge thereof. Ankara has lost its military deterrence to some extent because of the developments concerning the Syrian crisis. Such an unappealing situation was partially fixed, due to Turkey’s solidarity with the NATO alliance. At the same time, even though the Assad administration will probably collapse and Turkey’s role in the realization of such a scenario cannot be underestimated, a more nuanced perception regarding Turkey in the eyes of the Middle Eastern public has gained dominance when compared to the situation during the pre-Arab Awakening period. There emerged a perception within some circles that apprehends Turkey as a pro-Sunni political entity, and Turkey is perceived as taking sides more rigidly than two years before. In an era when sectarian disintegration is the trend and political polarization throughout the region revolves inevitably around such sectarian lines, one should cautiously analyze how these two phenomena will influence Ankara’s political space for maneuvering in the Middle East.
The most important subject for the United States at this stage is Egypt. When it was understood that Egypt would maintain its security agreement with Israel in the new era under Ikhwan rule, it was accurately considered as a significant diplomatic success on the part of the United States. It also clearly demonstrated the pragmatism of Morsi and his associates from another perspective. Second, Washington is closely monitoring the rising instability in Syria to prevent chaos originating from Syria and chemical weapons being utilized against Israel by any means. A third priority for the U.S. comes to the fore with the instance of the deployment of Patriot missiles, which have a rather symbolic value, in Turkey as a sign of solidarity within the alliance and also to avoid Ankara feeling isolated. Finally, from a wider perspective toward regional developments, the fact that Tehran was obliged to come to the table again with the West successfully and clearly demonstrates that harsh sanctions implemented by the West and pioneered by the U.S. against it yielded positive results.
Ultimately, we observe that the external factor in Turkey-U.S. relations has gained much more prominence. The U.S. used to give voice to subjects such as press freedom, democratization and human rights in Turkey. But today as we see it, the U.S. has adopted a political approach more inclined toward cooperation with Turkey in the Middle East and throughout some other diplomatic fields while keeping silent regarding former such issues of concern. It is also true that this new approach which has become predominant in Turkey-U.S. relations has not yet been fairly comprehended in Turkey. Nonetheless, the sustainability of Turkey-U.S. relations based on mutual interests does not rely solely upon cooperation in the field of foreign policy. The success to be attained in bilateral relations will be possible only through a transition toward a comprehensive and primary model for building essentially strong ties. For this reason, not only through tepid foreign policy preferences but also through sincere discussions over values and principles will it be possible for both sides to conduct a sustainable and coordinated progress. A simplified state of affairs may seem feasible and pragmatic within the current context, but it may not end up with desired results in the long run.
*This piece was initially published in Turkish on January 2013 in Analist Journal.