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Committed to Change, or Changing Commitments?

Committed to Change, or Changing Commitments?

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Originally published in November 2008. One of the major tests of the Obama administration in its relations with Turkey may very well be whether it will treat Turkish democracy as a fundamental good or an expendable one.
Originally published in November 2008. One of the major tests of the Obama administration in its relations with Turkey may very well be whether it will treat Turkish democracy as a fundamental good or an expendable one.

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Published by: German Marshall Fund of the United States on Sep 23, 2010
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09/23/2010

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Analysis
ISTANBUL — Two weeks prior to theU.S. presidential election, the Octobersurvey o Metropoll ound that nearly 39 percent o Turks wanted BarackObama to be the next U.S. presidentand only 14.1 percent wanted JohnMcCain. O those surveyed, 45 percentwere either not interested or thought itdid not matter who was elected the nextU.S. president.On the eve o election night, as talkshows on the U.S. elections prolieratedacross television channels in Turkey, ittranspired that many members o thepunditry had a high discomort levelwith an Obama presidency. Particularly,ormer diplomatic corps representa-tives openly displayed their displeasurewith such a choice in ear that such amove could jeopardize bilateral rela-tions. As Amberin Zaman explained in“Turkey and the United States UnderBarack Obama: Yes They Can,” indeedthe only reason or such animosity wasthe president-elect’s open support ora genocide resolution. U.S. Senator andnow Vice President-Elect Joe Biden’srecord on Cyprus and the Armeniangenocide resolution, as well as hisKurdophile views (his partiality or ahighly autonomous i not independentKurdistan in Iraq) was also duly noted.Such a degree o insularity or sel-centeredness cannot be very healthy or a country that wishes to play andwill be asked to play an important rolein regional aairs during the Obamapresidency. On the one hand, Turkey and Turks rom all walks o lie desireto be taken seriously, take pride in theircountry’s recent perormance as a me-diator in regional conlicts, and supporta more activist oreign policy. On theother hand, there is very little toler-ance or acts or policies on the part o Turkey’s allies and riends that may notentirely satisy Turks’ expectations. Thisintolerance is particularly accentuatedon the issue o the Armenian genocideresolution and the ight against theseparatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) when it comes to the UnitedStates.Many Turks shared the world’s enthusi-asm or the election results but this didnot stop others rom questioning eitherthe authenticity o the president-elect’s
Committed to Change, or ChangingCommitments?
Turkish-American relations under a new U.S. president 
by Soli Ozel*
*
Soli Ozel teaches at Istanbul Bilgi University’s Department of International Relations and Political Science and is a columnist for theTurkish daily
Sabah
. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the GermanMarshall Fund of the United States (GMF).
 
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Offices
Summary: Geopolitical realitiesseem to have once more elevatedTurkey’s importance in Americanforeign policy decisions. In the past,Turkey’s strategic importance andAmerica’s reliance on it had aninverse relationship to the deepen-ing of Turkish democracy.Today, the stability of Turkey neces-sitates that the country maintain itsdemocratic orientation and that allits political actors commit them-selves to this goal. One of the major tests of the Obama administrationin its relations with Turkey may verywell be whether it will treat Turkishdemocracy as a fundamental goodor an expendable one.
 
image and views, or to doubt that he would make a dierence.Some welcomed the change that the Obama administrationpromised to bring in both the domestic and oreign policieso the United States. They welcomed the possibility o a morecooperative approach to world politics on the part o the newU.S. administration. They also believed that the symbolismo the election or American democracy would help re-kindlethe drive or democracy throughout the world that had beendiscredited under the Bush administration. In short, theirlogic was that a development that would be good or the worldcould not be bad or Turkey.Those who rejoiced in the presidential victory o BarackObama expect him to hold Turkey to higher standards onhuman rights, democracy, and rule o law. Precisely or thissame reason, others are uncomortable and would havepreerred a Republican administration that would just pay lip service to such issues and shape its relations with Turkey on the basis o strategic and security concerns. Such a U.S.administration would have little to say about the ongoinghardening o the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government’s policy vis-a-vis the Kurds, and itsblatant disregard or reedom o expression and o the press.It would not raise the lag on rising police brutality andtorture, and would not put undue pressure on the govern-ment to revitalize the moribund EU accession process.No matter which way the Obama administration goes, thereis no doubt that a new page will be turned in Turkish-American relations. These relations went through aturbulent period under U.S. President George W. Bush andhave only begun to recuperate ollowing the November 5,2007 meeting between President Bush and Turkish PrimeMinister Recep Tayyip Erdo
ğ
an. The U.S. president’sdecision to provide the Turkish Armed Forces with action-able intelligence about the PKK went a long way in bothimproving the American image in the country and in re-establishing trust between institutions.I argued in an earlier analysis piece that both the govern-ment and the armed orces were ready and willing toimprove relations. On the American side there is recogni-tion that Turkey’s cooperation will be necessary or almostall the thorny issues that the new U.S. administration willtackle, rom Iraq to Aghanistan to the Caucasus. The twosides have a clear common interest in coordinating eortsor energy security and or stabilizing the Caucasus.With such a loaded agenda, the United States and Turkey willneed to understand one another’s motives, concerns, and per-spectives clearly. Redeining the common interests o Turkey and the United States—a task that was due immediately aterthe end o the Cold War but was not undertaken—is a neces-sary step. In the wake o the Iraq war and the many ailures o the Bush administration in its policies toward the Middle East,Turkey cannot be expected to put America’s global interestsover its own regional interests.Over the course o the past decade, Turkey’s policy towardthe region has taken a new direction in relecting politicalimagination or the region. Favoring diplomatic engage-ment, egalitarian relations, and regional initiatives, this latestpolitical approach began to take shape at the end o the 1990sbut ound its ull maniestation under the AKP govern-ment. Turkey’s much-appreciated mediation between Syriaand Israel, the opening to Armenia, and the desire to play aconstructive role between Iran and the United States all stemrom this approach.Based on the president-elect’s preerences or diplomacy over conrontation, there should be plenty o room or thetwo allies to cooperate. Indeed, in Iraq when troopwithdrawal begins, Turkey will be asked to be o assistance.In Aghanistan, i a negotiated truce is reached that willinclude the Taliban, Turkey’s historical ties with that country and with Pakistan or that matter might come in handy orthe arduous process o nation-building that is the only guarantor o peace and stability in the long-run.However, it is also imperative that in this new period the
2
Analysis
“Those who rejoiced in thepresidential victory of BarackObama expect him to hold Turkey to higher standards on humanrights, democracy, and rule of law.”

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