Friday, December 4, 2009

"What Obama Should Say to Erdogan"

Hugh Pope, the International Crisis Group's Turkey analyst -- who just returned from a two-month fellowship at the Transatlantic Academy in Washington -- has a new paper out ahead of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Monday visit to the White House. The paper, published by the Transatlantic Academy, takes a close look at two areas in which Washington has an interest in pushing Ankara along, its normalization process with Armenia and its European Union membership process, and also helpfully unpackages the debate over Turkey's perceived eastward "drift."

From Pope's paper:
On 7 December, U.S. President Barack Obama receives the Prime Minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. At a time of growing mutual suspicions, a face-to-face meeting will be of great importance between two men renowned for their straight-to-the-point frankness. There is arguably no other country in the world with so many areas of common interest with the United States, and yet Turkey both rashly overrates itself and is little understood and underrated in Washington.

A steadying hand should be the two leaders’ first order of business. Just as a surprising number of Turks expend their energy analyzing Washington’s supposedly nefarious plots to split up their country, a growing number of Americans interested in Turkey are just as busy analyzing Ankara’s latest supposed conspiracies against transatlantic and U.S. interests: is it abandoning the West in favour of a neo-Ottoman dominion in the East? Is it loosening its half-century-old security anchor in NATO? Where is Erdogan’s rough-tongued criticism of Israel leading? Is the innovating prime minister’s feud with the Kemalist establishment turning him into a dictator? Do grandiose Turkish stands alongside authoritarian anti-Western regimes in the Middle East make Turkey “Islamist”? And is Turkey turning away from its U.S.-backed ambition of membership of the European Union?

The answer to all this is short: none of the above. In fact, Obama and U.S. officials can start out with grateful recognition to the Turkish chief executive for the many areas in which the Turkish policy is closely aligned with the United States. Praise is deserved for Ankara’s role in what progress has been made in Iraq, itself largely due to an about-turn in U.S. attitudes to cooperating with Turkey in 2007. Turkey has been strongly supportive in Afghanistan and might to more; it is also helpful behind the scenes in Pakistan. The U.S. could go so far as to recognize that Turkey’s goals and achievements in the region -- freer travel between itself and several states, increasing intra-regional trade, joint Cabinet meetings, and projects to knit regional infrastructure together – offer a promising path towards greater stability, security, prosperity and better governance in a traumatized Middle East. Despite its exaggerated self-image as a critical regional dynamo – in fact, Turkey is better compared to a large car with an underpowered engine – its new track record compares positively to the West’s controversial actions in the Middle East in past decades.

The U.S. and Turkey should resist what will be a temptation on both sides to spend the short time they have on their differences over Iran, Sudan or Israel/Palestine. For sure, the U.S. side needs to impress diplomatically on Prime Minister Erdogan how much his populist rhetoric in support of anti-Western bugbears is damaging Turkey’s position with its key partners and pro-Turkey constituencies in Washington and Brussels. And the U.S. should listen for any new message Erdogan might be bringing from his recent visits to Iran and Syria, and hear out his likely argument that punitive sanctions against Iran’s nuclear ambitions will do little but consolidate yet another authoritarian Middle Eastern regime. But lengthy argument over these deeply-entrenched issues will prove a red herring and has little chance of changing either side, given that the two countries’ approaches to the region are dictated by fundamentally different domestic political imperatives.

Instead, acknowledging that the Middle East is only one of several areas of overlapping U.S. interests with Turkey, Obama and the U.S. team should focus on two matters that will really test Turkey’s intentions, need urgent attention, and, in the long term, have the most game-changing potential in the region.
You can read the full paper here.

1 comment:

Arya Wiradana said...

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