On Turkish-American Relations

July 24, 2018

In conventional wisdom, continuity was a prominent feature of sound foreign policy. This did not mean that adjustments, seeking new political/economic opportunities, innovative approaches to conflict resolution were only to be resisted. Nonetheless, a country’s remaining on a steady course was perceived by friends, allies and adversaries as a measure of reliability. Unpredictability was never an asset. President Trump does not appear to agree.

In eighteen months, his administration has upended US foreign policy. Under President Obama this policy was steady. There were cases, however, one may now say also with the benefit of hindsight, where he could have acted differently. He was strongly criticized by many for not reinforcing his redline in Syria, yet those critics failed to articulate what would be accomplished by limited strikes against regime targets. The lesson, therefore, was that redlines must be given utmost consideration before being drawn and preferably avoided altogether. Joining the Sarkozy-Cameron led military intervention in Libya was a mistake and President Obama himself has admitted that launching the strikes without adequate preparation for the “day after” was wrong. Could he do more to end the Yemen conflict? He probably could but was inhibited by the “traditional imperative” to avoid any serious deterioration in relations with Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies.

During his visit to Turkey in April 2009 he stated the following before Turkish Grand National Assembly:

“This morning I had the great privilege of visiting the tomb of your extraordinary founder of your republic. And I was deeply impressed by this beautiful memorial to a man who did so much to shape the course of history. But it is also clear that the greatest monument to Ataturk’s life is not something that can be cast in stone and marble. His greatest legacy is Turkey’s strong, vibrant, secular democracy, and that is the work this assembly carries on today…”

Was giving so much credit to Turkey’s “vibrant, secular democracy” a mistake? Not really, because that was essentially an expression of West’s everlasting expectation from Ankara. It was a note of optimism, a genuine word of encouragement. Does he regret today being so generous with his words of praise? He probably does.

Every country has its own particular conditions and a particular course towards attaining its national objectives whatever those may be. However, despite the recent discussion on its “decline”, democracy remains the indisputable international criterion for strong and engaging global/regional status. And, its twin pillars are transparency and accountability.

Turkish democracy has experienced many ups and downs in the past. Notwithstanding the recent regime change supported by popular vote, Turks need to bear in mind that returning to the democratic path at some point, hopefully sooner than later, remains their only option to move up to a higher league.

As for today’s principal tasks, these are uniting a polarized country on a constructive national agenda, dealing with economic decline and trying hard, very hard to repair Turkey’s foreign relations.

Turkish-American bilateral agenda which is a long list of problems merits special attention in this respect. Because, this list is likely to grow even longer with additions such as the complications in the delivery of F-35 aircraft and Iran sanctions. So far, the two sides have not been able to make tangible progress on any issue. Perhaps they should consider launching a new effort by eliminating minor irritants.



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