(Photo Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow Steven Cook, writing in Foreign Policy, suggests that the Flotilla incident is the latest evidence that dreams of a “model partnership” between the United States and Turkey are mere fantasy. Cook suggests conceiving of Turkey as something closer to a “strategic competitor” with interests that sometimes converge but often diverge from those of Washington, particularly in the Middle East.
The Obama administration has yet to grapple with the ways the structural changes in the international system have affected U.S.-Turkey relations. All the talk about strategic cooperation, model partnership, and strategic importance cannot mask the fundamental shift at hand. The stark reality is that while Turkey and the United States are not enemies in the Middle East, they are fast becoming competitors. Whereas the United States seeks to remain the predominant power in the region and, as such, wants to maintain a political order that makes it easier for Washington to achieve its goals, Turkey clearly sees things differently. The Turks are willing to bend the regional rules of the game to serve Ankara’s own interests. If the resulting policies serve U.S. goals at the same time, good. If not, so be it…
Given the mythology that surrounds the relationship, the divergence between Washington and Ankara has proved difficult to accept. Once policymakers recognize what is really happening, Washington and Ankara can get on with the job of managing the decline in ties with the least possible damage. Obama’s goal should be to develop relations with Turkey along the same lines the United States has with Brazil or Thailand or Malaysia. Those relations are strong in some areas, but fall short of strategic alliances. “Frenemy” might be too harsh a term for such an arrangment, but surely “model partnership” is a vast overstatement. It’s time to recognize reality.
I agree with much of Cook’s analysis. He is certainly correct that Turkey and the United States are on opposing sides in the Israel-Palestine issue. The United States remains steadfastly committed to Israel, while Turkey under Prime Minister Erdogan has clearly distanced itself from the Jewish state and embraced the Palestinian cause. I also can see how disagreements between Washington and Ankara over Syria are likely to widen in the event of another conflict along Israel’s northern border.
On the other hand, there are areas of significant cooperation including, most significantly, in Iraq. Ankara’s influence there is widely considered constructive.
On Iran, yes there are differences between the Turkish and American positions, particularly in light of the recent uranium fuel-swap agreement. But Turkey can be forgiven for seeking to chart its own path given that U.S. policy toward Iran has failed for decades. I think Turkey is sincere that it does not want Iran to have a nuclear weapon and time will tell whether there is, in fact, less distance between the Turkish and American positions than may appear at the moment.
Cook’s full article can be read here.
— Ben Katcher