Fissures are opening up between the U.S. and Turkey. Turkey has enjoyed a special relationship with the U.S. because of its geopolitical position bordering the greater Middle East, a region of great U.S. national security importance. Bilateral relations flourished in the late 1990s, especially after 1997 when the EU declined to accept Turkey as a candidate for membership. Commercial ties increased as did joint energy projects, including a planned major pipeline bringing oil from the Caspian Sea through Turkey to the U.S. and the West. The number of Turkish students being educated in the U.S. soared. Turkey was invited to participate in the 2004 G8 Summit thanks to America’s support.
But despite these positive achievements, Turkish-American relations have deteriorated in recent years. Once Turkey was offered EU candidacy and the AKP was in Ankara, it began to align itself with Europe on issues such as the World Court, the U.S. occupation of Iraq, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Turkey agrees with the European Union, for example that reform and progress in the Middle East cannot happen until there is a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This puts Turkey at odds with the Bush Administration’s policy of de-linking the two issues.
Currently, Ankara and Washington are focusing more on issues that divide them, such as Iraq, than on those that have united them in the past. Negotiations for EU accession will probably move Turkey even closer to Europe, but we argue that this would be an acceptable outcome for the United States. The U.S. has much to gain economically from a stable, prosperous, secular and democratic Turkey that will have a population of 80 million consumers by 2014.
The Iraq war sparked widespread criticism of U.S. policy among Turks and increased the diplomatic gap between Turkey and the U.S. public opinion against both the U.S. and the war helps explain Turkey’s unwillingness to allow U.S. troops to enter Iraq through Eastern Anatolia in March 2003. Negative public opinion, the desire to align itself with Europe, and a conspicuous lapse in effective AKP leadership led to the government’s failure to get enough votes to grant the U.S. request. This blunder, considered so even by members of the AKP cost Turkey considerable financial rewards as well as a promised area of neutrality in northern Iraq.
Despite the downsides of this decision for Turkey, anti-Americanism continues to be widespread among Turkish officials and other opinion makers. “Doesn’t the U.S. know that it is the problem in Iraq, not the solution?” is an oft-heard refrain.
Communications and Public Diplomacy Broken Down.
The U.S. government has made no significant effort to engage Turkish citizens since President Clinton’s visit to Turkey after the 1999 earthquake. Turkish military sources express concern that the U.S. State Department made strategic decisions on Iraq and consulted their Turkish government counterparts rather than consulting them, the military, directly. Business leaders, not privy to U.S.-Turkish talks and therefore misinformed, ask why President
Bush announced that Turkey would be a partner in America’s Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative without consulting with either Turkey or the 40 Arab countries in question. It is not surprising that 72% of Turkish citizens have a negative view of this initiative and two-thirds of the population is pro-Palestinian because they believe that the U.S. and Israel are co-conspirators in the oppression of Muslims across the Middle East.
It is clear that even if Washington supports Turkey’s EU candidacy and eases tensions over the Iraqi Kurds, there will be little improvement in bilateral relations unless the U.S. government improves its public diplomacy.