Is Turkey Still America’s Best Ally in the Middle East?


(Photo Credit: White House Photostream)
Joshua Walker has a good piece at Foreign Policy that takes a broad view of U.S.-Turkey relations and arrives at largely positive conclusions about the long-term prospects for the alliance.
Walker is part of a team of scholars at the German Marshall Fund‘s Transatlantic Academy who recently wrote “Getting To Zero: Turkey, Its Neighbors, And The West,” a comprehensive examination of Turkey’s rapidly expanding role in regional and global politics. (The title alludes to Turkey’s so-called “Zero Problems with Neighbors” foreign policy.)
Walker’s article can be interpreted as a response to the flurry of Beltway criticism aimed at Turkey in recent weeks given its opposition to the United States’ push for sanctions against Iran and its blusterous response to the Flotilla incident.
Walker concludes that

Turkish policies can complement the United States’ if framed within a broader and longer-term perspective of the transatlantic alliance that shares common goals and values even if the short-term means differ. What is needed now is not an emotional and reactional appraisal of Turkish rhetoric but one that recognizes that contributions to American and European goals may come in a new, and perhaps unfamiliar, guise that requires more, not less engagement.
Encouraging Ankara’s newfound assertiveness and diplomatic initiatives, rather than demonizing it for tactical differences, will ensure that Turkey remains a constructive transatlantic partner and committed U.S. ally in the long run. The fact is that Turkey is a rising power on the international scene as a G-20 founding member, with a European seat on the UN Security Council, and head of the Organization of Islamic Conference in one of the most critical geographies in the world. Turkey has arrived and is not going anywhere, regardless of Washington’s rhetoric about “Who lost Turkey?” Or “Where is Turkey going?” Therefore, despite all of its bluster and rhetoric, Turkey remains America’s most crucial ally in region.

I agree with Walker’s analysis and would add an additional point.
Of the two crises, Turkey’s behavior on the Iran issue has drawn the ire of official Washington more than its response to the Flotilla incident. This is somewhat ironic given that Turkey’s diplomatic engagement with Tehran was supported by Washington. The United States has more to gain from Turkey if it is trusted in Tehran and can serve as an interlocutor and the disagreements between Ankara and Washington on Iran’s nuclear program relate to means rather than ends.
On the other hand, no matter what one thinks of Israel’s blockade of Gaza, Turkey’s over-the-top response to the Flotilla incident is indicative of a worrying anti-Israel populism that is unhealthy for Turkey and may permanently jeopardize Ankara’s capacity to serve as a mediator between Israel and its enemies with real strategic consequences for both Turkey and the United States.
— Ben Katcher


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