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Panelists Affirm Turkey’s Evolving Policies a Threat to Region
February 17, 2012—No. 10 (202) 785-8430

Panelists Affirm Turkey’s Evolving Policies a Threat to Region

AHI Policy Forum Features Keynote Speaker Daniel Pipes

WASHINGTON, DC — The American Hellenic Institute (AHI) hosted the policy forum “The Evolution of Turkey’s Policy in the Eastern Mediterranean: Implications for U.S. Interests” featuring Keynote Speaker Daniel Pipes, president, Middle East Forum and Taube Fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University; and a panel of experts who examined the topic on February 6, 2012 at the Capital Hilton, Washington, DC.

“AHI has long been a critic of Turkish foreign policy in the eastern Mediterranean since its inception in 1974,” said AHI President Nick Larigakis, who provided introductory remarks. “The increasingly bellicose rhetoric and policies of the Turkish government traditionally reserved for Cyprus and Greece are projected toward Israel for various reasons that include its cooperation with Cyprus and U.S. firm Noble Energy to explore oil and gas resources in the region. Moreover, Turkey has worked to undermine UN Security Council efforts to impose strong sanctions on Iran and has cozied up to Hamas. At a time when the United States should be raising very serious concerns about Turkish policies, it seems the U.S. is hesitant to publically question or criticize Turkey’s actions.”

Pipes: Turkey’s NATO Membership Should Be “Suspended” or “Terminated”

In his keynote speech, Pipes demonstrated how Turkey’s ruling AKP government has evolved over three elections to become a truly bellicose party since its initial election to power in 2002. He added that it will be “difficult to credit future elections,” hinting that Turkey’s 2011 election may be its last democratic one.

Pipes believes Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is attempting to undo the Ataturk revolution taking Turkey from a secular nation to Shari‘a Law; from “small Turkey” to neo-empire; and away from Europe. Domestically, Pipes cited the following concerns: the growing anti-American sentiment in Turkish public opinion, the Gulen Movement’s penetration of law enforcement, the government’s favoritism toward a network of Islamic companies, the privileges extended toward Islamic media and the large volume of jailed journalists, and the jailing of top military personnel under the Ergenekon conspiracy. On foreign policy, Pipes recounted how he was impressed by Turkey’s lack of interest in the Middle East and its European direction when he visited in 1992. Now, Pipes points to Turkey’s “zero problems” foreign policy as leading to an increased focus on the Middle East, an intense meddling into Iraqi affairs, hostility toward Israel, ambitions to control Syria, a reversal on Libya, and support for Hamas. The result is Prime Minister Erdogan has become the “Hero of the Arab Street,” according to Pipes. He cited additional emerging threats toward Cyprus and Israel over oil and gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean, a boycott of the EU during the Republic of Cyprus’ Presidency of the European Union Council, Kastelorizo should Greece expand its economic exclusive zone (EEZ), and telling Turks not to integrate into German society. Furthermore, while Turkey touts its current economic condition, Pipes warned that a financial crunch is looming due to unsustainable deficit levels based on massive borrowing by the AKP government. Another danger looming is the Kurdish issue, which is reaching a new crescendo with a more assertive political leadership and more aggressive guerilla attacks. Fifteen to 20 percent of Turkey’s citizens identify themselves as Kurds.

Moreover, Pipes identified several security concerns with respect to United States interests which began March 1, 2003 when Turkey’s parliament turned down the United States’ request to open a northern front against Iraq. He described this act as a “jolt” to the relationship. Additional security concerns Pipes cited include Turkey’s joint military exercises with China and cooperation with Brazil to sideline UN sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program. However, he did identify areas of cooperation with United States interests that include Syria and the position of a radar system focused on Iran.

Pipes concluded that although Iran is the greatest immediate threat to the Middle East, Turkey presents the most dangerous long-term threat because unlike Iran the AKP government is legitimately elected to power and is working through democratic means. He also expressed the opinion that Turkey’s NATO membership should be either suspended or terminated based upon its actions with China, opposition to Libya, and the pressure it has applied on the NATO establishment to place Turkish officials in key positions.

Panel Examines Spectrum of Turkish Policy Implications

The panel of experts featured: Dr. Harry Dinella, former U.S. Army Foreign Area Officer for Greece and AHI Fellow; Professor Van Coufoudakis, rector emeritus, University of Nicosia, Cyprus and former president, Modern Greek Studies Association and AHIF Fellow; Doug Bandow, senior fellow, Cato Institute; and Dr. Raphael Danziger, senior research advisor, Policy & Government Affairs, AIPAC and editor-in-chief emeritus, Near East Report.  James Jatras, principal, Squire Sanders Public Advocacy and former senior foreign policy advisor, Republican leadership of the U.S. Senate, moderated the panel. He also moderated Daniel Pipes’ keynote speech.

Speaking on the topic “Current and Future Turkish Security Issues in the Eastern Mediterranean: How May They Support or Thwart U.S. Interests in the Region?” Dr. Dinella acknowledged concerns exist over Turkey’s recent conduct in the region, including its policy toward Israel. This concern stems back to Turkey’s refusal to allow the United States to deploy the 4th Infantry Division during Operation Iraqi Freedom in March 2003. He believes Turkey’s and the United States’ interests coincide in areas such as Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Syria, and energy development.

Dr. Coufoudakis presented on “Rationalizing Turkey’s Evolving Foreign Policy—Perspectives from Think Tank Reports on Turkish-U.S. Relations.” He commented on the common policy themes often raised by think tank organizations that influence U.S. policy toward Turkey and questioned their objectivity by critiquing the semantics of the reports and pointing out that many reports are supported by the Turkish government or Turkish foundations. Dr. Coufoudakis asserted that think tanks or Turkey’s defenders place blame on the United States or European Union for any divergence from Western interests by Turkey. He cited former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ remarks in June 2010 that blamed the EU for Turkey’s “drift” from the West. “Policy recommendations from think tank reports show a disregard for the rule of law,” he added after presenting examples of the “white-washing of Turkish policies” by think tanks. Dr. Coufoudakis also noted assessments of Turkish-American relations are becoming more critical following the deterioration of Turkish-Israeli relations. “Turkey is not a critical or indispensable ally as critics suggest,” he concluded.

Turkey’s foreign and domestic policy trends were examined by Bandow in his presentation on “New Ottomans on the Rise? Implications for the West.” He affirmed Turkey is repositioning on foreign policy through Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s “zero problems” policy which has actually caused problems with its neighbors. Turkey has demonstrated less interest in Europe, a complex relationship with Iran, and interest to meddle in Iraq’s affairs. Domestically, Turkey is moving in an authoritarian direction as assaults on freedom of expression are on the rise, including 100 journalists in jail and pressure on the media. The AKP government is emboldened by support from a population that is becoming increasingly anti-American and anti-Semitic. Bandow asked rhetorically if Turkey is headed toward an authoritarian democracy especially after a visit to Istanbul revealed that people there felt “nervous.” He concluded the United States needs to be more realistic with Turkey and these foreign and domestic policy trends indicate things will “get worse before they get better.”

Dr. Danziger spoke broadly from the viewpoint of an independent analyst in his presentation on “Israel, Turkey, Greece and Cyprus: The New Geopolitical Reality.” He provided a history of Israel-Turkey relations, and his thoughts on the emerging relationships between Israel, Greece, and Cyprus; and his perspective on where he thinks the United States stands on these relationships. Because of Dr. Danziger’s positions, his remarks were off the record.

A video of the forum is currently available for viewing in our AHI Videos section (click here).

The American Hellenic Institute (AHI) is a non-profit Greek American think-tank and public policy center that works to strengthen relations between the United States and Greece and Cyprus, and within the Greek American community.


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