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AHI Noon Forum “Collision Course: The Troubled U.S. Relationship with Turkey”
November 26, 2007—No. 79 (202) 785-8430

AHI Noon Forum “Collision Course: The Troubled U.S. Relationship with Turkey”

By Ted Galen Carpenter, Vice President for Defense and Foreign Policy Studies, CATO Institute

WASHINGTON, DC—On November 13, 2007, AHI hosted a Noon Forum on “Collision Course: The Troubled U.S. Relationship with Turkey” presented by Ted Galen Carpenter, Vice President for Defense and Foreign Policy Studies, CATO Institute.

AHI President Gene Rossides commented, “Dr. Ted Galen Carpenter is one of our nation’s leading defense and foreign policy analysts. His remarks are extremely important regarding U.S. relations with Turkey. Dr. Carpenter lays out clearly and cogently the reasons why the ‘conventional wisdom in American foreign policy circles regarding Turkey’ is in error. He lists four assumptions of the ‘conventional wisdom’ and then demonstrates that each of them is ‘partially false or totally false.’ His remarks should be required reading in the State and Defense Departments, the National Security Council and the Congress. The AHI will distribute these remarks to each Representative, Senator, the President and Executive Branch officials.”

Dr. Carpenter’s remarks and bio follow:

“Collision Course: The Troubled U.S. Relationship with Turkey"

Ted Galen Carpenter, Vice President for Defense and Foreign Policy Studies, CATO Institute

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Thank you very much, Nick, for that extremely kind introduction. It is always a pleasure to be at the Hellenic House. Today I am talking about the U.S. relationship with Turkey. For many, many decades Washington has regarded Turkey as a keystone ally. Part of this is based on the theory advanced by that prescient scholar and official, Paul Wolfowitz, who developed the idea of keystone powers. A dozen or so powers in the international system who are absolutely critical to regional stability and to the foreign policy success of the United States.

And the corollary to the keystone power thesis is that the United States has to be very very careful to placate those countries, to keep them happy and to avoid doing anything that might undermine our so-called friends. We’ve seen that, as Nick suggested, most recently with the Armenian Genocide Resolution. If that had involved a country other than a keystone power, I suspect you would not have seen the kind of lobbying effort that you had from the administration and its political allies.

The conventional wisdom in American foreign policy circles regarding Turkey asserts a number of propositions:

First, that Turkey has been a loyal ally of the United States since the earliest days of the Cold War and remains a loyal ally.

Second, that Turkey is a force for stability in the Middle East and Central Asia in addition to its role within NATO and European affairs.

Third, that Turkey is basically a Western secular country.

Fourth, Turkey is a good candidate that should be admitted to the European Union in the near future.

I’m going to argue that every one of those assumptions is either partially false or totally false.

Let’s take them one at a time. First, is Turkey a loyal ally of the United States? Well if that was ever true, it’s not true any longer. It is certainly not true with regard to the Iraq mission in 2003. Let’s remember that Ankara refused to allow U.S. troops to invade Iraq from positions in Turkey. It also refused to allow the Incirlik Air Base to be used for bombing strikes against Iraq. Now those two actions made a second front impossible and that made the U.S. military task more difficult than it had to be. Now I’m not necessarily condemning Turkey for this. After all, Turkey is at least a quasi democratic country and the elected government at that time faced overwhelming public sentiment opposed to the U.S. invasion—by most polls in the area of 90 to 95 percent. I think any government that purports to be democratic has to take that into account. It would have been extraordinarily difficult for Ankara to have supported the United States in that case. But the fact was the U.S. could not count on Turkey as an ally in that instance.

Recent evidence is that Washington and Ankara are not on the same page regarding some other issues. For instance, the United States has been pressuring the Putin government in Russia regarding its steady drift toward authoritarianism. Meanwhile, Turkey is cozying up to the Putin regime, indeed, establishing the closest Turkish-Russian relationship in modern times. Again, some rather curious conduct for a loyal American ally.

Beyond those kinds of specific policy differences, public opinion surveys show that the U.S. is overwhelmingly unpopular in Turkey. Some recent polls show that the percentage of Turks having a favorable view of the United States is at a dismal 9 percent. To show just how bad the U.S. standing is, consider that 13 percent of people in the Palestinian territories have a favorable view of the United States. The U.S. is more unpopular with Turks than it is with the Palestinians. Now, when people in the policy community react to that, they say it is because of the Iraq war. The Iraq war is so unpopular in Turkey, therefore, Turkish opinion has turned against the United States. Well, that’s true in part, it certainly is a major factor. But I would point out that even before the Iraq war began the favorable view of the United States in Turkey was at a rather meager 47 percent. Not exactly a great level for a longtime ally of the United States.

Second, is Turkey a force for stability in the Middle East? I don’t think that has ever been true. You have fairly obvious things like the invasion of Cyprus in 1974, which has been documented by Gene Rossides and others. Turkey certainly was not a force for stability on that occasion and in the years since, as it has continued its illegal occupation. More recently, within the past decade we have had repeated threats from Ankara against Syria over border disputes between those two countries. We have the ongoing claims to Greek territory in the Aegean and the provocative overflights by Turkish planes. We have the economic blockade of Armenia and the continuing strategy of historical denial that the government and population of Turkey practices. I think it is particularly disheartening that Turkey has adopted more or less the Japanese model with regard to historical atrocities, to evade and excuse, instead of the German model of being very forthright and admitting that a horrible atrocity was committed and that the regime at that time was responsible for it.

Again, all of those actions suggest to me that Turkey is more an aggressively revisionist power than a stabilizing, status quo power. Turkey certainly has not been a stabilizing force regarding Iraq. We have, as we have seen very recently, periodic threats to launch new military operations in northern Iraq to go after the PKK rebels even if such actions would destabilize the one area of Iraq that has done reasonable well under the U.S. occupation. And its not just threats to northern Iraq over the PKK. Let’s remember that Ankara has issued repeated threats to mount a full-scale invasion of Iraqi Kurdistan if the northern regional government is given control of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk. Again, not exactly cooperative stabilizing behavior.

Third, is Turkey a Westernized, secular country? If anything the trend appears to be in the opposite direction under the guidance of the governing Justice and Development Party. And in recent years there have been some especially ugly trends. For instance, there are the comments of Robert Pollock, who was at the time the senior editorial page writer at the Wall Street Journal, following a trip to Turkey in mid 2005. I am quoting now from Pollock,

“I found a poisonous atmosphere-one in which just about every politician and media outlet (secular and religious) preaches an extreme combination of America- and Jew- hatred that voluntarily goes much further than anything found in most of the Arab world’s state-controlled press.”

Indeed the Islamist newspaper Yeni Sabak, the favorite paper of the Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, routinely prints stories accusing the U.S. of the most outrageous war crimes in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Just one example of a story that is absolutely typical is the allegation that U.S. forces raped women and children and left their bodies in the streets to be eaten by dogs. Utterly preposterous, yet this is kind of routine fare in the newspaper that the Prime Minister reads religiously.

The secular newspapers in Turkey unfortunately have become nearly as extreme, which is a very disheartening trend. Turkish media in general have called on citizens to support Hezbollah and express solidarity with Syria in order to neutralize U.S. pressure against Damascus. And let’s remember only a few years ago, Syria was considered an adversary of Turkey. Again, it suggests just how far out of line that Turkey and the United States are with regard to policy issues.

Fourth, is Turkey a good candidate that should be admitted to the EU in the near future?

Turkey shows signs of becoming an increasingly bizarre and intolerant cauldron of populist nationalism. It’s difficult to reconcile that Turkey with a worthy candidate for admission to the European Union. And that doesn’t even take into account Ankara’s continuing unwillingness to end its illegal occupation of Cyprus. To be very polite about it, Turkey’s bid to join the E.U. is decidedly premature.

There are also some worrisome clouds on the horizon. One is Ankara’s growing cooperation with Iran. And this has not received a lot of press here in the United States. But there have been numerous discussions between the Turkish and Iranian militaries and between Turkish and Iranian foreign policy officials about coordinating efforts to crush Kurdish insurgents in the respective countries. And again, both countries, both capitals are quite hostile to U.S. policy in Iraq.

Another sign of the growing cooperation between Ankara and Tehran is that Turkey is increasingly reluctant, indeed almost as much so as Russia and China, to impose strong economic sanctions against Iran to dissuade that country from building nuclear weapons. That would seem somewhat surprising since one would think that Turkey would not want a nuclear-armed state on its borders, which is what is likely to happen if Iran’s program goes forward. And yet Ankara seems to be playing footsy with the current regime in Tehran even on the nuclear issue.

A second worrisome cloud on the horizon is the possibility of nuclear proliferation regarding Turkey itself. Let’s remember that Turkey received, in all appearances at least, fairly extensive technical assistance from the network headed by Pakistani scientist A. Q. Khan. We don’t know how extensive because of course the friendly U.S. ally, Pakistan, has not allowed American intelligence officials to interview A. Q. Khan.

Sentiment within both the general public and the political elite in Turkey seems to be growing in favor of Turkey emulating Iran and developing its own nuclear program. By the way, that is a pattern that we are seeing throughout the Middle East; it’s not just Turkey. We’ve had Egypt openly saying that it feels it needs to develop (of course an entirely peaceful) nuclear program for power generation.

It goes without saying that any attempt by Turkey to develop nuclear weapons would be profoundly destabilizing for the entire Middle East. That is one of those clouds on the horizon we had better watch very very carefully.

The bottom line is that there is little evidence that Turkey is a constructive partner of the United States either in the Middle East or in Europe. Indeed, with regard to the Middle East, Ankara seems to be causing some rather serious trouble. Most troubling is the trend in Turkish opinion, strongly anti-U.S. sentiment combined with elements of anti-Semitism and political extremism. That is a very troubling brew. With allies like Turkey, I’m not sure that America needs any adversaries.

Thank you very much.

Ted Galen Carpenter’s Bio:

Ted Galen Carpenter is vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute. He is the author of seven and the editor of ten books on international affairs, including America's Coming War with China: A Collision Course over Taiwan, The Korean Conundrum: America's Troubled Relations with North and South Korea, Bad Neighbor Policy: Washington's Futile War on Drugs in Latin America, The Captive Press: Foreign Policy Crises and the First Amendment, Beyond NATO: Staying Out of Europe's Wars, and A Search for Enemies: America's Alliances after the Cold War. Carpenter is contributing editor to the National Interest and serves on the editorial boards ofMediterranean Quarterly and the Journal of Strategic Studies, and is the author of more than 350 articles and policy studies. His articles have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Financial Times, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, the National Interest, World Policy Journal, and many other publications. He is a frequent guest on radio and television programs in the United States, Latin America, Europe, East Asia, and other regions. Carpenter received his Ph.D. in U.S. diplomatic history from the University of Texas.

Please find a photograph from this event attached.


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