Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Obama's Turkey Visit - A Good First Step

I have an analysis of Barack Obama’s visit to Turkey and the challenges that await the U.S.-Turkey relationship up on the World Politics Review website.

From my piece:
President Barack Obama ended his recent European tour in Turkey with perhaps his most challenging mission: to repair and reinvigorate the frayed U.S.-Turkish strategic alliance. He left the country with what appears to be a solid new foundation on which to do so, but significant challenges remain ahead….

….The visit, though, is clearly only a start. The two countries' relationship -- a pragmatic alliance born out of mutual needs and threats faced during the Cold War -- has been struggling to find new meaning since the fall of the Soviet Union. "It's a work in progress," says Bulent Aliriza, director of the Turkey Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank based in Washington. "It's a good thing that the president is coming so early in his term, because it underlines Turkey's abiding importance in American foreign policy," he says. But Aliriza adds, "There isn't yet a thought-through blueprint for the U.S.-Turkish relationship."

Indeed, many of the mutual concerns that bring the two countries together -- how to deal with Iran's nuclear ambitions, for instance, or the status of the Kurdish administration in Northern Iraq -- could also drive the two allies apart should they fail to agree on a unified approach.

And while Obama's visit was designed to emphasize that Turkey is part of Europe, an increasingly assertive Ankara has at times fallen outside of the Western consensus on certain issues. Erdogan's exceedingly harsh criticism of Israel during the recent Gaza operation and his support for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir are two recent examples.

Another challenge for the U.S. could be how to deal with the irascible Erdogan, who is popular at home but highly unpredictable abroad. Recent appearances at international events, such as in Davos or the recent NATO summit in Strasbourg, have seen Erdogan display a kind of bullying brinksmanship, which may ultimately distance Turkey from Europe, and thus from the trans-Atlantic alliance.

For U.S.-Turkey relations to truly enter a new "golden era" requires good chemistry and not the alchemy of wishful thinking. This means clearly defining areas of mutual interest, and creating durable mechanisms both for working together on those interests and for resolving any disagreements that might arise. In that sense, Obama's visit to Turkey is an important first step in what is an overdue, but necessary, process.
You can read the full analysis here.

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