Over the past two years, the worldwide political scene has witnessed major challenges of political transitions in different territories that led to radical changes for countries. During this period Ankara and Washington relations have hit a rough patch on the road. Recent tensions in Syria, even creates more political issues in between these two key players. So what shall we expect next, especially giving the fact that a general election is approaching in the states. How will USA-Turkey relations be re-shaped after the U.S elections? Should Washington-Ankara reconsider their downgrading relations from more realistic perspective to deal with the challenges of the 21st century?
Michael Werz is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, a Washington based think tank, where his work as member of the National Security team focuses on the nexus of climate change, migration, and security and emerging democracies, especially Turkey, Mexico, and Brazil. He has been a senior transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund where his work focused on transatlantic foreign policy and the European Union.
With no doubt, after the elections, the way the U.S. will engage in the Middle East will have a significant impact on Ankara-Washington relations. Recently, the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan affirmed during interview in Istanbul with CNN's Christiane Amanpour, regarding crisis in Syria said: “Right now, there are certain things being expected from the United States. The United States had not yet catered to those expectations”. Does Syrian problem threaten to divide U.S and Turkey?
This is unlikely given the very close coordination between the United States and Turkey when it comes to Syria. I am not sure to which expectations the Prime Minister is referring and who has voiced those expectations. The United States is deeply involved in many activities short of military support. Syria is Turkey’s neighbor and previously the Turkish government insisted that its close relationship with Bashar al-Assad would allow it to exercise influence. In May of last year, the Prime Minister called Assad “a good friend of mine” on a well-known public television program in the United States. Erdogan went on to say that it was too early to call for Assad’s withdrawal.
For those reasons, Turkey has an important lead role when it comes to Western and NATO policies vis-à-vis Syria. At the same time, the country has to make sure it provides for the Syrian refugees. The numbers are high but they don’t overwhelm the capacities of and economic powerhouse of Turkey’s size. Just as a reminder: Jordan is hosting many more refugees than Turkey with considerably fewer resources and Germany took care of over 380,000 Bosnian refugees during the Balkan war.
Many argue that there will be a negative impact in Turkey-U.S relations if Romney is elected as the new president. How would you describe the effect of Romney's presidency on Turkish-American relations?
Under a President Romney U.S.-Turkish relations would in all likelihood see a great deal of continuity—even given the positions he has staked out and the rhetoric he employed during the electoral campaign. However, Romney’s unconditional identification with very conservative elements within Israel will make it difficult to facilitate the overdue and necessary steps to bring Turkey and Israel closer together.
Governor Romney’s confrontational posture toward Russia could cause additional problems, given Turkey’s growing economic ties with Moscow. Turkish policymakers simply can’t afford to view Russia, a close neighbor and large trading (particularly energy) partner, through a simplistic ideological lens defining Russia as a “number one geopolitical foe”—as did Mitt Romney.
Iran is probably the area where there is most potential for an acrimonious split between Turkey and the United States. Governor Romney has effectively indicated that he thinks negotiations with Iran are pointless, even if he hasn’t really said what he would do differently. His rhetoric has implied that he might use force, even if the Republican candidate has never actually come out and said so. These differing views have the potential to generate friction between the United States and Turkey.
During a discussion titled “The Future of the U.S.-Turkey Relationship” hosted by the Center for American Progress (CAP) you mentioned that Turkey’s complicated process of democratization presents two challenges for relations with the U.S. and NATO What are these two challenges?
In that discussion I was referring to recurring misperceptions in U.S. and European conversations about Turkey—and the need to better understand the internal dynamics of the country. For one, some commentators still insist that recent processes of modernization, the introduction of religion into public life, first more and now less freedom of expression have one root cause: the AK Party and its Prime Minister. This is only part of the truth, and it is important to understand that the tremendous dynamic that developed in Turkey after the end of the Cold War, especially the economic reforms in the early 1990s have freed up a tremendous amount of arrested development in the center and the east of the country.
These changes also provided the possibility to people for the first time to participate politically in a way they could not participate before. So, I would argue that the AK Party is also a result of tremendous social transformations within Turkey rather than the root cause. This dynamic is often misunderstood in the United States and Europe.
The second point I tried to make was the need to look at Turkey’s economic expansion and foreign policy as interconnected and not be misled by over-interpretations of regional ambitions or a neo-Ottoman revival. Much of the country’s new foreign policy has been driven by economic interests of new players in Central and Eastern Anatolia, a region where over 20 cities produce more than a billion euros worth of exports. In this entirely new environment of emerging middle classes, businessmen are looking for new markets and pressed towards the Levant, toward Africa and Central Asia.
There is currently a strong public perception in Turkey that during the last couple of years, there has been significant corruption within justice system and human rights abuses despite strides toward democracy. This opinion claims that there is some sort of U.S interest behind this development. How would you describe this?
Well, let me put it this way: If there was a world championship in conspiracy theories, Turkish society would be a title contender. To insinuate that the current problems with regard to the juicier and, maybe even more concerning, substantial problems when it comes to freedom of expression and press freedom can somehow blamed on the United States, is outside the realm of reason.
Turkish society and politics is entirely capable of creating those problems on their own—and given Turkey’s recent increase in press and religious freedom, pluralism and modernization, they are perfectly capable of solving these issues. This is important, because it is in Turkey’s interest, that this important country establishes pluralistic and liberal institutions, recognizes the strength of its diversity and becomes a pillar of regional stability in the future.
A special thank you to Dr Michael Werz for this interview.
To go further
On Nouvelle Europe
- Dossier on the American elections and transatlantic implications
- The AKP in Turkey: Islamic or Conservative?, submitted by Lucie Drechselova on Thursday 31 March 2011
- Turkey: AKP’s Hidden Agenda or a Different Vision of Secularism?, submitted by Lucie Drechselova on Thursday 7 April 2011
- Turkish-American Relations: Past, Present, and Future Aydın, Mustafa (der. Çağrı Erhan’la), Turkish-American Relations: Past, Present, and Future, Londra, Routledge, 2004
On the internet
Photo source: Wikimedia Commons