Turkey may no longer be the friend the United States once knew.
The Washington Post reports that thousands gathered in Istanbul on Saturday, shouting “Damn Israel!” in protest of the clash between Israeli forces and “peace activists” on a Turkish-flagged ship. The protest, together with dangerous shifts in Turkey’s foreign policy and inflammatory rhetoric from its prime minister, lead to questions about the country’s posture toward the West. The Washington Post reports:
The incident occurred as Turkey has been strengthening ties with Muslim governments in the region — becoming more vocally pro-Palestinian and trying to head off new U.N. sanctions on Iran.
That has prompted worried speculation at home and abroad: Is Turkey turning away from the West?
This is not a new concern. In April 2009, President Barack Obama traveled to Turkey and highlighted the country as a Muslim nation that respects democracy and the rule of law, but as The Heritage Foundation’s Ariel Cohen wrote at the time, the president’s remarks may have been an overstatement. Cohen noted that the ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) had a stranglehold on power and “appears to be moving Turkey away from its pro-Western and pro-American orientation to a more Middle Eastern and Islamist one.”
Cohen wrote that Turkey in 2006 became the first NATO member to host the leader of Hamas (a terrorist organization, according to the United States and the EU) and “enthusiastically” hosted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. Turkey also temporarily blocked U.S. warships from delivering humanitarian aid to Georgia, was cool to the U.S. withdrawing forced from Iraq through Turkey, and made moves to strengthen its relationship with Russia.
Then there’s Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has developed close ties with Ahmadinejad and openly attacked Israeli President Shimon Peres, while AKP and other Islamists “sponsored a flood of anti-Israel demonstrations, billboards and anti-Semetic rhetoric.” Erdogan also questioned calls for Iran not to produce nuclear weapons and, together with Brazil, Turkey attempted to derail U.S.-led UN sanctions against Iran. Most recently, it has been reported that Erdogan is “a hero to Palestinians for his vociferous verbal attacks on Israel” and has criticized western nations for not dealing with Hamas.
Turkey’s involvement in the flotilla incident jives with the country’s alarming turn away from the West. The Heritage Foundation’s James Carafano writes:
Turkey not only knowing allowed the confrontation to be organized from Turkish soil, it did everything possible to exploit the incident. The Turkish Foreign Minister declared, “this attack is like 9/11 for Turkey.”
This is the same government that has turned a blind eye to the crushing of independent voices in Iran and has moved to block sanctions intended to deter Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
And as Carafano notes, that provokes the questions “Why are we are losing Turkey?” and “What will happen if Turkey is lost?”:
The consequences of that are pretty not pretty. Phased and adaptive missile defense will be less of both without Turkish cooperation. Iran will be more unbound. Israel will feel more isolated. NATO will be further weakened.
The Washington Post explains Turkey’s turn in foreign policy as rooted in a desire to expand business ties and become a regional player. It underemphasizes, though, the geopolitical and extremist religious roots of Turkey’s massive shift in foreign policy — the neo-Ottoman attempts to recreate a Turkish sphere of influence in the Middle East, and the AKP Muslim Brotherhood’s strategy to build an Islamic state.
Whatever the cause of Turkey’s turn away from the West, it comes at the expense of U.S. interests and reveals weaknesses – if not a failure – in Washington’s Middle East policy.