Magazine article The American Prospect

Independence Day: Turkey, a Longtime U.S. Ally, Now Pursues Its Own Path. Guess Why

Magazine article The American Prospect

Independence Day: Turkey, a Longtime U.S. Ally, Now Pursues Its Own Path. Guess Why

Article excerpt


OVER THE PAST HALF-CENTURY, the United States has had few more faithful allies than Turkey. Beginning with the legendary bravery that Turkish soldiers showed while fighting alongside Americans during the Korean War, and extending through Turkey's long membership in NATO and its unfailingly pro-Western stance during the Cold War, the alliance has remained strong despite a host of challenges.

Both sides are eager to maintain the relationship, but the policies of the Bush administration are making that steadily more difficult. Turkey is more self-confident than it once was, and increasingly willing to reject policies set in Washington if they seem inimical to Turkish interests. In particular, Turkey is pursuing its own path with regard to Iran and Syria; and the reason Turkey is moving gingerly away from its longtime ally is no surprise.

"This is an unintended consequence of the Iraq war," said Sahin Alpay, a professor of political science at Bahcesehir University in Istanbul. "America has contributed to Turkey running away from America. Ankara still wants good relations with Washington, but on its own terms. That's a new situation."

Turkish-American relations reached a high point in 1999, when Bill Clinton made a highly successful visit to Turkey, and Turks cheered the United States for defending Muslims in Bosnia. Today, many ordinary Turks feel an intense and visceral dislike for George W. Bush, largely because they hold him responsible for casting Iraq into a pit of violence in which tens of thousands of Muslim civilians have been killed.

"The war angered every significant political group in Turkey, from Islamists to leftists to nationalists," Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, wrote in a recent paper. "Even many secular-minded and formerly proWestern Turks now oppose much of Washington's Middle East policy."

Shortly before the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, the Turkish parliament turned down an American request for permission to launch part of the invasion from Turkey. That action led Paul Wolfowitz, then the undersecretary of defense, to lament that the Turkish military "did not play the strong leadership role ... that we would have expected." Many Turks took that remark as a call by Wolfowitz for Turkish generals to resume the suffocating control over the country that they had maintained for decades, or even to stage a military coup, and they were outraged. Their anger intensified when Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld suggested that Turkey was partly responsible for the strength of the insurgency in Iraq, since "if we had been able to get the 4th Infantry Division in from the north through Turkey, more of the Iraqi Saddam Hussein Baathist regime would have been captured or killed."

Widespread popular anger over the Iraq War, fueled by comments like these, has allowed the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to chart a new and more independent foreign policy. Turks cheer when he takes steps that seem to conflict with American policies.

ONE OF THE MOST STRIKING DIFFERences that has emerged between Washington and Ankara is the way they approach Iran and Syria. The disdain that Turkish leaders feel for the Iranian and Syrian regimes nearly matches that of the Bush administration. Turks, however, believe the United States is dealing with this challenge in precisely the wrong way.

The Bush administration's policy toward Iran and Syria is to have no policy. Its leading figures, including Bush himself, want only to isolate these two countries. They hector, threaten, accuse, and demand, but steadfastly refuse to engage or negotiate. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has gone so far as to declare publicly that the United States will refuse to join European countries trying to strike a deal with Iran, once bluntly asserting that "there is no U. …

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