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Turkey and the United States: What to Expect in Obama’s Second Term

Turkey and the United States: What to Expect in Obama’s Second Term

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This policy brief explains the policy differences between the United States and Turkey.
This policy brief explains the policy differences between the United States and Turkey.

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: German Marshall Fund of the United States on Dec 05, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Recent developmentshave reduced Turkish optimismabout President Obama’s
second term and other difcult
region-wide situations produceimportant dynamics that couldintrude on the alliance betweenthe two countries. Both sideshave different agendas on manyimportant global politics issues,and the present U.S. priority isfocused on short-term tacticsthat are seen to secure vitalinterests. The main potentialproblem between Turkey and theUnited States is in the possibilityof paradigmatic differences onglobal issues.
 Turkey and the United States:What to Expect in Obama’s Second Term
by Gökhan Bacik 
December 5, 2012
Washington, DC
urkey’s public backed Barack Obamain the U.S. presidential elections. Butthe euphoria was short lived. worecent developments have reducedoptimism about President Obama’ssecond term: the military conictbetween Hamas and Israel; and theU.S. rejection o the Palestinian appealor statehood with non-memberstatus in the United Nations. Presi-dent Obama’s attitude on both issuessurprised even the pro-Obama actorsin urkey. In a recent speech, Recepayyip Erdoğan, the urkish primeminister, criticized President Obamaor his indierence to the Palestin-ians’ suerings. Erdoğan, to emphasizehis message, reminded Israel’s actionagainst the urks in the Mavi Marmaraincident. He noted that “I gave adetailed le to President Obama onIsrael’s atrocities, but he ignored it.”
Such issues raise serious questionsabout the uture o urkish-U.S.relations. Along with problems inthe inner mechanism o the urkish-U.S. alliance, other dicult region-wide situations produce importantdynamics that could intrude on thealliance between the two countries.
, November 20, 2012
Deconstructing the Myths
Te dictionary o urkish-U.S. rela-tions is ull o sonorous words suchas alliance and partnership. However,most o them lack an institutionalbasis, or they are simply contingen-cies o conjectural politics. Tereore,despite the rhetoric, actual urkish-U.S. relations play out in a very uzzy basis that is not determined by bindingprinciples. In short, the psyche o urkish-U.S. relations is not a xedconstellation o political archetypes.Rather, it is a unction o domestic andregional developments. So, urkish-U.S. relations produce dazzling oscil-lations o temporary ruptures andharmony. Te only permanent andwell-grounded aspect o the allianceis based on the partnership throughNAO.Te present uneasy nature o urkish-U.S. relations is expected to aect theevolution o bilateral relations duringPresident Obama’s second term. Tereare certain important points thatshould be kept in mind while specu-lating on the uture o the alliance.Firstly, the urkish-U.S. alliance hasno essentials. Instead, it is a brilliantexample o the age o contradictions inworld politics. Despite the persistentstrategic-alliance narrative, both sides
There are also arguments that theArab Spring has much potential toweaken Ankara’s role.
have dierent agendas on many important global politicsissues. A typical alliance delineates the red lines o bilateralrelations on various highly critical issues. Moreover, alli-ances are expected to produce high levels o loyalty, whichalso aect the allied partners’ relations with other states.Secondly, Ankara should realize that the present incum-bent o the Oval Oce is not the Obama o 2008, but theObama o 2012. President Obama was more idealistic in2008. Cases like Iraq and Aghanistan “matured” PresidentObama. Obama now has less condence in institutions suchas such as sophisticated procedures between diplomaticsta. Again due to his experiences with the wars in Iraq andAghanistan, Obama is ully aware that institutional changeis dicult, and requires patience o 
longue durée
.President Obama’s brie irtation with PresidentMohamed Morsi o Egypt is proo o this pragmatism. Sois the U.S. approach to the Syrian opposition. Both conrmthat the United States no longer prioritizes long-termagendas o structural changes. Tis does not mean thatthe United States is no longer interested in grand agendas.Rather, the present U.S. priority is ocused on short-termtactics that are seen to secure vital interests. Given thetumultuous pace o the post-Arab Spring Middle East,adding cooperative actors is the U.S. diplomatic priority.Te United States is becoming a tactical actor.
Ankara’s Partner-Leader Role
President Obama is a kind o medievalist in oreign policy.He likes to weave a web o personal linkages, utilizing hismulticultural heritage as his biggest personal asset. Obamadoes not come across as a man o doctrine in oreign policy.One can rarely abstract an Obama doctrine rom what hedoes in oreign policy. Te
Obama at home,with his strict principles on social security or health, has noequivalent in global politics.While updating its position
the United States,Ankara should ollow a selective path: It should be criticalo the medievalism in Obama’s diplomatic style. Te intenseU.S. diplomacy that personal networking engenders is risky or urkey. Ankara should put pressure on Washington orthe deployment o a more sophisticated institutional mecha-nism, at least on some issues. Ankara’s reaction should besimilar on matters o doctrine. Except to demand a moresystematic paradigm, Ankara should not bar any U.S.doctrine. In all likelihood, the U.S. pragmatism is respon-sive to urkish pragmatism.“Direct calls rom the White House” are now more eectivethan sophisticated diplomacy. Te number o phone callsrom President Obama to various leaders indicates a time o crisis. For instance, President Obama made several calls toPresident Morsi during the most recent crisis in Gaza. Tisstrategy takes account o the act that the Middle East is stillin the era o charismatic leaders, and nations still ollow their leaders. Direct dialogue with the leaders is practical,both as a short cut to a quick solution, and as an appeal tolegitimacy. Including Morsi in the negotiations with Israelis certainly a lucrative tactic. Even i the included leaderails to help, the inclusion is intrinsically valuable or havingbeen part o a negotiation.Obama’s medievalism will certainly end urkey’s monopoly on being the premier U.S. partner in the region. Te UnitedStates will naturally be happy to have many other suchpartners, so it could be U.S. strategy to increase the numbero partner-leaders in the Middle East. Partner-leaders arethose who can be reached directly, and would not reuse tobe part o any U.S.-involved diplomatic procedure.Ankara, under Erdoğans leadership, had successully monopolized the partner-leader model with the UnitedStates during the last ten years. However, there are alsoarguments that the Arab Spring has much potential toweaken Ankara’s role. Te post-Arab Spring Middle Eastholds many potential partner-leaders in various countriessuch as Egypt, unisia, and Libya. Why? Islamists, the new legitimate actors o the game, are in need o legitimacy conrmation, and United States’ approval is the shortestroute to securing it globally. For example, the many callsrom President Obama have given President Morsi greaterlegitimacy. Tere is region-wide potential or a win-wingame between the United States and the Islamists in theMiddle East. Te reaction to this rom Ankara should bea recognition o new competitors like Egypt. In a recent
statement, urkish Minister o Foreign Aairs AhmedDavutoğlu, commenting on Egypt said, “We want a strongEgypt,” denying any competition between urkey andEgypt.
Fault Lines
As observed above, the main potential problem betweenurkey and the United States is in the possibility o para-digmatic dierences on global issues. However, a long list o independent issues should also be examined in this vein.
Israel is still the most important ault-line between Wash-ington and Ankara. Te current heightened tensionbetween Ankara and el Aviv is against the logic o tradi-tional Western diplomacy in the region, and it is costly to allactors. Te ailure to revive good relations between Ankaraand el Aviv is a ailure or the Obama administration.el Aviv seems to be ready to take a step orward, even onethat includes an apology. Te recent Israel-Hamas ceaserepotentially satises urkey’s demand that the Gaza blockadebe lifed. Te text o the ceasere, in the rst article, under-lines that Israel is amenable to “opening the crossings andacilitating the movements o people and transer o goodsand reraining rom restricting residents’ ree movementsand targeting residents in border areas.” Tis simple articlecannot be read as the end o the unair blockade o Gaza.However, it can be the point o departure o urkish-Israelinegotiations. With some additions, this article can trans-orm into a new paradigm that will satisy Ankara.Even so, the main obstacle is not a technical issue o thiskind. Rather, it is that Israel cannot assure itsel that it canhave good relations with Ankara while the Justice andDevelopment Party is in government in urkey. Many 
, November 25, 2012
people in Israel believe that an apology cannot guaranteegood relations with Erdoğan in the long term. But post-poning a solution with urkey requires almost a new national security strategy or Israel. urkey has a 50-yearlegacy in Israel’s history, and it is not clear to Israel how itmight compensate or the long-term absence o its ormerpartner.
“The Maliki Syndrome” 
Te second ault-line is the government o Nouri al-Malikiin Iraq. Te Maliki case gives important clues about similarlong-term possibilities in other countries. When theo-rized in the context o urkish-U.S. relations, the Malikicase displays that both sides can back alternative actors inregional countries. Ankara believes that the U.S. silence onMaliki is a mistake. It is a “mistake” that can be repeated inother countries, even in a post-Assad Syria. Since Obamais not doctrinaire in oreign policy, and his priority is tond cooperative partners, the United States will not hesitateto work with any political leader, be that leader Islamist,secular, Sunni, or Shi’a. Ankara may ace the “Malikisyndrome” in other countries. Yet this is not somethingtotally new. Dierences between Ankara and Washingtonin many previous cases like Libya, unisia, and Lebanon areeasily remembered.
The Kurdish Issue
Te third ault-line is the general status o the Kurdishmovement. It is the United States that should be seen as themain global dynamic agent that promoted the ormationo an autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq. Ankara seemsto have internalized the Kurdish administrative reality inIraq. However, this internalization is a result o ten longyears o tensions. Ankaras consent is mainly the result o the marginalization o the PKK-linked Kurds in areas ledby Massoud Barzani. Had Barzani given any legitimateposition to the PKK-linked Kurds in his autonomous area,Ankara would not have tolerated a Kurdish autonomousregion in Iraq. Ankara’s demand concerning northern Syriawill be similar: urkey will be against any legitimizationo the PKK-linked Kurdish groups, i.e. o the DemocraticUnion Party (PYD). Ankara’s clear demand rom both theUnited States and the any post-Assad Syrian regime willbe very simple: Do not legitimize any PKK-linked politicalgroup.
The failure to revive goodrelations between Ankara andTel Aviv is a failure for the Obamaadministration.

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