TWQ: Reexamining the U.S.-Turkish Alliance - Winter 2008
January 1, 2008
The July 22, 2007, Turkish national elections instigated a series of political debates in Turkey about the role of the 60-year-old U.S. alliance and the future orientation of Turkish foreign policy. Does Turkey still need its U.S. alliance in a post–Cold War environment? Particularly after U.S. pressure on Turkey in 2003 to open a northern front in the war in Iraq, which the Turkish parliament rejected, and given how unpopular the United States has become in the Middle East and in Europe, is the alliance still valuable to Ankara today? Coupled with the deteriorating situation in Iraq and the constant threat of the Turkish use of force in northern Iraq, these debates have forced U.S.-Turkish relations onto the international scene. The severity of the estrangement in relations has been consistently downplayed on both sides of the Atlantic, even while external factors such as Turkey's floundering EU membership process and regional differences over how to deal with Iraq have only exacerbated the problems in the alliance. The fallout from the Iraq war has now gone beyond a simple misunderstanding between the United States and Turkey and casts a dark shadow over future relations and the wider regional security structure of the Middle East.
The emergence of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) as a political force in Turkish politics has coincided with this unprecedented estrangement in U.S.-Turkish relations. Although the 2002 elections allowed the AKP to form a single-party government, their legitimacy was disputed. The most recent elections unequivocally erase these doubts and place the AKP at the forefront of Turkish foreign policymaking and alliance relations more specifically. Although the United States and Turkey have had serious policy disagreements in the past, there has always been an overarching strategic vision to keep the alliance intact. Now, with the absence of a common threat from the Soviet Union and with new civilian-military dynamics in Turkey, the future of the U.S.-Turkish alliance needs to be carefully reexamined.
….Although all relationships as complex as the U.S.-Turkish alliance experience natural ebbs and flows, the rupture in strategic vision between these allies has been so egregious that some commentators have placed the blame squarely on the AKP. Given the internal tensions within Turkey surrounding the Islamist roots of the party and the sensitivities of Turkey's secular establishment, the argument goes that the U.S.-Turkish relationship has become the latest victim of domestic Turkish politics.
The March 1, 2003, vote in the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA) to reject the U.S. request to open a northern front against Iraq has come to symbolize the clear divergence of strategic interests between the United States and Turkey, and it has also erroneously been used to demonstrate the anti-American bias of the AKP. Yet, by tracking the ascent of the AKP from the November 2002 elections to the most recent ones, it is clear that, far from being the source of anti-Americanism in Turkey, the AKP represents an ideal partner for the United States in the region.