Thursday 29 September 2011 - 07:52

Turkey-US strategic rivalry in Middle East

By Ali Asghar Pahlavan
Story Code : 102394
Turkey-US strategic rivalry in Middle East
In the Cold War era, tension escalated between the US and former Soviet Union in reaction to the spread of communism in the region as rivalry reached its climax between the two super powers.

The then American President Harry S. Truman introduced his doctrine in 1947 known as 'Truman Doctrine,' which has until today preserved the security and cooperation of the two states. According to the doctrine, the US supports Greece and Turkey with economic and military aid to prevent their falling into the Soviet sphere.

But this cooperation interrupted after the US intervention in Iraq in 2003. The politicians and journalists debate on the fact that “there are currently changes in relations of the two countries” known as an “outlook toward the East” policy being taken by Ankara in recent years.

Some journalists believe the role of Islam in politics has been impressive in Turkey and Turks are now intending to expand their relations with the Middle Eastern states, particularly Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Palestine. At the same time, the United States considers adopting this foreign policy by the Turks as a turnabout, which keeps Turkey away from being admitted by the EU. What is obvious is that the current relations of the Unites States and Turkey have been cooling down.

Turnabout of Turkish foreign policy

After the lapse of several decades, once again, Turkey turned into one of the major players in the volatile political arena of the Middle East. The establishment of close relations with regional countries such as Iran and Iraq as well as the expansion of close relations with Palestine and gradual distancing from the Israeli regime and the expansion of ties with the regional Arab countries, all indicate that we are witnessing an important turnabout in Ankara's foreign policy towards the Middle East and the world of Islam.

Domestic Factors:

After the victory of Justice and Development Party in this year's parliamentary election, the pro-Western intellectuals was replaced with a pro-Islamic one, which had national and Islamic tendency, rather than a positive tendency towards the West. These groups of intellectuals tend to revive the past Ottoman Empire (1517-1917), a policy which is arising from the perspectives of the current Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

The Justice and Development Party led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan is the best example of this group who could combine democracy, nationalism and Islam together.
These changes, which depict the current Turkish political force and the new authorities' ideology, redefine the new political action and reaction in the region and at international levels and the Turkish politicians are determined to revive their past major role that Turkey had once played.

International Factors:

The US raid against Iraq had a major repercussion in Turkey's foreign policy turnabout towards the East and reshaped Ankara's Middle Eastern policy. The collapse of Saddam Hussein regime and the occupation of Iraq by the alien forces, however, infuriated the Turks from the two perspectives.

The first approach was the fear of insecurity, the expansion of radical and fundamentalist tendencies, and setting the stage for the terrorists to infiltrate in Turkey's soil.

The second one was the possibility of disintegrating Iraq. As such, Ankara was very fearful about new challenges and Washington moved forward without considering Turks' security concerns, a move which negatively affected Turkish top policymakers.

Strategic importance of Turkey for US

Turkey is of great importance in the US foreign policy. The strategic significance of Ankara for Washington is to the extent that any destabilization in Turkey is believed to be transferred to other countries of Mideast region. This comes while Turkey should have full control over Bosporus and Dardanelles straits to transfer energy to the West.

The US administration is willing to introduce Turkey as a model for Islamic nations for achieving its objectives in fighting terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism in the region. One of the main factors in the past was the ever-increasing relations between Washington and Ankara to ward off the influence of communism. However, with the crumbling of former Soviet Union, these concerns faded away gradually. The officials of both countries were hopeful to restore policy stabilization in the region with diplomatic interaction and multilateralism.

The United States has always hailed Turkey as its strategic ally in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian problem, Iran's peaceful nuclear issue, the fight against terrorism, the expansion of economic cooperation in the region and other major issues of significance importance. But the new developments in Turkey and the new policies adopted by the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan have forced the US to revise its policies towards this country.

Strategic rivalry between US and Turkey

The relations between the US and Turkey, which until recently was considered as a US ally, have changed due to several factors:

1. The Foreign Affairs Committee of the US House of Representatives endorsed a resolution regarding the Armenian genocide on April 24, 1915 by Ottoman Empire on March 4, 2010. The committee passed similar endorsements in 2000, 2005 and 2007 respectively, but none could reach the US House floor. This move created tension in US-Turkish relations.
2. Turkey's establishment of cordial relationship with Iran.
3. Turkey's distancing from Israel and getting closer to the Palestinians and Islamic world.

For the first time in the history of new Turkey since 1922, Turkey sided with the Palestinians and called for the removing of Israeli sanctions, which it considered as a “symbol of state sponsored terrorism,” against Gaza. The closeness of Turkey with Iran and Palestinians worried the US authorities. It is feared that the expansion of Turkey's Middle East policy may endanger the Turkish-US relations and pave the way for further deepening of Islamization in Turkish foreign policy.

Also, Iran after Russia is the main supplier of energy to Turkey. Therefore, it is natural that Turkey would expand its relations with regional countries, though this policy may be in open contravention with the US interests.

Future outlook of the events

Today the political situation of the Middle East has undergone new developments and the foreign diplomacy of Turkey has focused on this volatile region. Accordingly, Turkish politicians have established new relations with Iran and Iraq. The main factors in the expansion of Turkish relations are the people of the region. Perhaps, one of the prime concerns which have created tension between the US and Turkey is the issues related to Tehran. Moreover, the changes in the two countries' long-run policies show that Ankara has to curtail its dependence on Washington's security issues and turn to regional issues.

According to new Turkish policy, Ankara has also reduced its relations with Tel Aviv compared with that in 1990. All these changes are in full contrast with the US policies in the Middle East.

All these policies are orchestrated by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, the architect of new policies in Turkey and a figure who plays a key role in this regard. The changes made in the relations of the two countries after Cold War and the non-confidence of EU to Turkey along with the new economic opportunities drew the attention of Davutoglu towards the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia and Caucuses in his new initiative diplomacy.

Due to the fact that the US is determined to safeguard its interests in the Middle East and it needs the cooperation of regional countries particularly Turkey in this juncture, Turkey has adopted an independence policy and disregarded the concerns of the Americans. Lack of cooperation between Turkey and the United States in preserving security of the region has made the US to suffer the most from this strategic rivalry.