Image via WikipediaI admit that I am somewhat of a Turkophile, but the recent referendum on constitutional reforms has again demonstrated that Turkey is a key player – if not the key player – for Europe and the West in the Middle East.
For all the puffery of the prior US administration regarding building democracy in the Middle East by invading Iraq and threatening Iran, the foreign policy of Bush studiously ignored the growing democratic movement in Turkey. It is now taking the lead and, given European attitudes of exclusion toward countries and, more recently, ethnic groups, is likely to move forward without Europe or the US.
The first attempts at a renewed democratic movement ended with a whimper in the early 1990’s.
The conclusion was that liberalization and policies of inclusion - of the Kurds, non-Muslims and other ethnic groups – had failed. The trouble with this conclusion is that it is based on the childish assumption that people will support initiatives that improve society rather than voting against their own interests. People are generally inclined to only think of themselves. Just take a look at the return to the disaster of Republican policies in the US which brought that country an acceptance of torture, use of military force as the first resort. an economy geared to reward the wealthy and election of truly dangerously ignorant people who knew how to use fear of change and outright lies to retain power. Turkey has turned the corner on that particular obstacle with the 58% vote in favour of more democracy.
Turkey achieved this European Union sanctioned step-forward by a hitherto impossible alliance between conservative Moslems and liberals, both of whom suffered under what had become a limited democracy imposed by the military and the Kemalists who were stuck in the wrong century. Continuing this progress will not be easy, however, as the PKK terrorists have made very clear with continuing political violence to extent that they, like their Taliban counterparts, opposed participation in the national referendum.
From a foreign policy standpoint, the results for the government will strengthen their resolve to pursue their “peaceful neighbourhood” policy - much to the annoyance of those wishing for an attack on Iran and a continuance of the apartheid policies in Israel. This policy includes economic cooperation with its ancient competitor, Iran. Khodro, an Iranian carmaker, plans to manufacture automobiles in Turkey in a “free zone” to be established on the border between the two countries. This involves some risk as it is clear that Iran continues to pursue policies which, sooner or later, may have adverse consequences of a military nature. But, it expands Turkish influence.
The US/Turkey relationship is more complicated than that of Europe’s with Ankara. Both the US and Turkey foreign policy concerns interact regarding Israel and Iran. Unfortunately, the US Congress, about to be taken over by the most regressive minds of the country, will soon become more hostile and less pragmatic toward Turkey which is the straw-that-stirs the drink in the region. US foreign policy in the region is not reflective of its national interests. However, it would be a gross mistake to think that US policy will be able to influence events without Turkey’s assistance. Israel is no longer enough and, in any event, has managed to hold hostage US foreign policy for too long.
Turkey, on the other hand, cannot overplay its influence as, regardless of the growing economic ties with Iran, the latter remains a significant competitor which can upset any move toward peace in the region. Iran has a significant conventional military capability as well which, though no match for Turkey’s, could make matters worse in the Gulf region and Iraq. Turkey cannot afford to become too estranged from the US in that case.
The European Union, though not any closer to accepting Turkey into its club, will likely forge ahead with developing other forms of cooperation with Turkey. Turkey’s recent referendum which produced extended praise in Brussels will help to develop a closer relationship. This is no doubt on the minds of the AKP in Ankara as it ponders what to do with its soon to be far worse relationship with the US as a result of the Greek and Armenian lobbies as well as the religious far right take-over in the US. This is an opportunity for Brussels for political and economic diplomacy after a summer of disastrous economic problems triggered by the financial melt-down of an irresponsible Greece.
Finally, should it be necessary to point out that the US is far away and its only super-power status is its military reach? Moscow certainly has taken notice of this weakness and has vastly increased its influence in Turkey. Moscow holds the key to the Ngorno-Kharabakh and its recent military treaty with Armenia should, but won’t, wake up the Armenian diaspora in the US which continues to wield political influence far beyond what it should to prevent any sort of agreement among Armenia, Turkey and Azerbaijan. Ankara wants a solution in the NK. The deal it strikes with the Kremlin and Baku in the future will stun the diaspora. Any deal will increase Russian influence in the South Caucuses but will fall into the Turkish foreign policy framework established by the AKP – whether the US likes it or not.
Barring a major outbreak of violence or an attack on Iran by the US (Israel has no hope of doing that alone) Ankara will become the overwhelming “go-to” country in the region.