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U.S.-Turkish Relations: Modesty and Revitalization

U.S.-Turkish Relations: Modesty and Revitalization

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This policy brief encourages a strengthening of U.S.-Turkish relations.
This policy brief encourages a strengthening of U.S.-Turkish relations.

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Published by: German Marshall Fund of the United States on Dec 15, 2011
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01/29/2013

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Analysis
U.S.-Turkish Relations:Modesty and Revitalization
by Joshua W. Walker 
December 15, 2011
 
Offices
Analysis
W
ashington
, DC
B
erlin
 
P
aris
 
B
russels
 B
elgraDe
 
 
a
nkara
 
B
uCharest
W
arsaW
 
Summary:
Given the historicchallenges and opportunitiesfacing both the United States andTurkey, now is the time to buildon the incredible momentumin the U.S.-Turkish alliance tostructurally harness Ankara’simpressive rise and Washington’sappreciation of a critical ally. But there are still misunderstandingsand mixed feelings in the West
when listening to the condent
new Turkish attitude and rhetoric.Ironically, Washington has itself partially to blame for Turkish
leader’s pride and self-con
-dence, continually misreading  the mood in Ankara. Washingtonshould stop looking at Turkishforeign policy merely in terms
of alignment or drift on specic
 tactical issues and focus insteadon the long-term vision that thesedemocratic allies share.
urkey has received widespreadattention in 2011, as has the dramaticimprovement in its relations with theUnited States. Te volatility o U.S.-urkish relations, which was demon-strated by the low o 2010 with theMavi Marmara and UN Iran sanctionincidents ollowed by the high o 2011, is a sign o weak institutionaland structural alliance maintenance,not a proactive strategy on the part o Ankara and Washington. Given thehistoric challenges and opportuni-ties acing both the United States andurkey, now is the time to build on theincredible momentum in the U.S.-urkish alliance to structurally harnessAnkara’s impressive rise and Washing-ton’s appreciation o a critical ally.Beyond Ankaras notoriously activediplomacy, most o the attention andchanges in 2011 have had more todo with external actors such as theArab Awakening and the euro zonecrisis than anything else. urkey hasemerged in the 21st century strongerthan it has ever been in its modernhistory, going rom a peripheral playerto Europe’s most dynamic actor andeconomy. While analysts are stillarguing over a common ramework orthe phenomena sweeping the Medi-terranean, commentators across theboard have acknowledged that urkey has been the unambiguous winner o the Arab Spring and European Fall.Analysts in this series and elsewherehave argued about the “new” urkishoreign policy, describing it as a “thirdwave” o Ankara seeking strategic reas-surance by realignment with the West
1
 or being “strategically autonomous”rather than seeking deterrence orreassurance rom any one traditionalally as in its past.
2
Regardless o thedebates, one common denominatorpermeates all the analysis o Ankara’soreign policy, which is a reection o its political leaders: urkey is brim-ming with a sel-condence that isunique to the modern republic.In the midst o historic developmentssweeping the Middle East in the springo 2011, Prime Minister Recep ayyipErdoğan, who has won three successiveelectoral victories, stood beore theurkish parliament to encourage the“Arab uprisings” in an area he reerredto as “our neighborhood” repeatedly ashe made the case or urkey’s regional
1
Ian Lesser http://www.gmfus.org/cs/publications/pub-lication_view?publication.id=1972
2
Saban Kardas http://www.gmfus.org/cs/publications/publication_view?publication.id=2015
 
Analysis
2
 
Analysis
leadership in ormer Ottoman domains.
3
“Which country were they inspired by?” Erdoğan rhetorically asked at thetime. He promptly answered his own question: “urkey, o course, with its advanced democracy, mix o secularism,ree elections, and economic dynamism.
4
Indeed, urkey, with its combination o economic prag-matism and so power appeal as a Muslim-majority secular democracy, has ared much better than a depressedand divided United States and Europe in global aairs inrecent years. Shedding its ormer policies o disengage-ment in its neighborhood, Ankara has become an activeparticipant in all o its regions over the last decade and,given its close geographic proximities to the “hotspots” o 2011, has become a central player. As a result, urkey, andErdoğan himsel, have been transormed into a regional andnow global leader in a way not seen since the days o theOttoman Empire.Yet, there is a subtext emerging in Western capitals aboutAnkaras moment in the international spotlight and its rise.Te rerain that has been quietly circulating about urkey’sleadership is that they are rapidly crossing the line o sel-condence. Te argument goes that while urkey’s abilitiesand capabilities have increased and are certainly unique andnonnegligible, they are also not overwhelming or indispens-able. It seems that modesty goes a long way in internationalrelations, particularly in an alliance as complicated as theU.S.-urkish one.Te personal chemistry developed between U.S. PresidentBarak Obama and Prime Minister Erdoğan has not beenshared uniormly by the Washington establishment. As aresult, there are still misunderstandings and mixed eelingswhen listening to the condent new urkish attitude andrhetoric. Tese eelings suddenly ound public expressionin the orm o U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s imprompturesponse at the start o his remarks at this months GlobalEntrepreneurship Summit in Istanbul. In response to yetanother bullish address rom the unlikeliest o sources,the mild-mannered cautious deputy prime minister o urkey Ali Babacan, Biden reminded his hosts that the
3
Ofcial translation from the Turkish foreign ministry. Available at: http://www.mfa.gov.
 tr/press-statement-by-h_e_-recep-tayyip-Erdogan_-the-prime-minister-of-the-republic-of- turkey-on-libya_-3-may-2011.en.mfa
4
Ofcial translation from the Turkish foreign ministry. Available at: http://www.mfa.gov.
 tr/speech-delievered-by-h_e_-prime-minister-recep-tayyip-erdogan-on-libya-_ankara_-7-april-2011_.en.mfa
U.S. economy is “three times as large as the next-largesteconomy and larger than the next our combined.
5
Despitenishing with a more positive tone and having by all-accounts a very successul visit, Biden’s pointed remarks area telling indication o growing rustration in Washingtonabout the tone being taken in Ankara. At the same time, theselection o Biden, who is well-known in urkey or his less-than-sympathetic views on issues cherished by Ankara, asthe United States’ messenger on a series o issues, includingunconditionally ratiying its Western-backed normaliza-tion agreements with Armenia “in the months ahead” alsostruck an awkward tone.Media accounts o Biden’s visit reminded urks o how, back in 1999 as part o an ofcial visit by Prime Minister Ecevitto Washington, then-Senator Biden lectured the urkishdelegation saying, “You need the United States whereas theU.S. doesn’t need you. I know you are seeking loans. Solvethe Cyprus Issue, do what is being demanded o you andwe will help you. Otherwise you won’t get anywhere.
6
Teirony today is how quickly roles and times have changed.While Washington whispers about urkish arrogance,Ankara whispers about the United States’ decline. In act,it’s not too ar-etched to imagine a urkish leader sayingsomething similar in the near uture to Americans on theAghanistan, Iraq, or Palestine issues. Given the promi-nence o urkey and its leaders today, being sensitive to themessenger is as important as the message itsel or the newurkey.Vice President Biden may be a singular case, but he iscertainly not alone in being rustrated when listening tourkey these days. Anatolian hospitality and modesty havebeen major assets to the AKP. urkey has every right to beproud and sel-condent o the strides it has made in thelast decade, but striking the right tone counts or a lot ininternational politics. As Erdoğan himsel reminded hisAKP and the international community aer his amousDavos incident, Ankara’s policies today should dier romthe “monşers” (translated and taken rom the French toimply arrogant or pretentious leaders) o the past. Remem-bering this lesson in a new context is equally importantgiven that oen in politics, pride comes beore the all.
5
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/04/world/europe/biden-parries-turkish-ofcials-
economic-boast.html?_r=1&ref=world
6
“Densize Azar” http://webarsiv.hurriyet.com.tr/1999/10/01/hurriyet.asp

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