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The Turkish Alliance

The trend that few have noticed is that these elements are pulling Turkey out of the Western alliance structure and toward the Middle East. The break began in 2003 when the Turks denied the U.S. Fourth Infantry the ability to invade Iraq from the north. ~Matt Continetti

This is a typically misleading way to understand what has been happening in U.S.-Turkish relations over the last seven years. The break began when Washington told Turkey to allow U.S. forces to invade Iraq from their territory, presumed that the approval would be automatically forthcoming, and then reacted with shock and anger when the Turkish government actually pursued its own security interests and reflected the views of its people. Invading Iraq had nothing to do with being part of the “Western alliance structure,” and opposing the invasion and refusing to let the U.S. use Turkish territory to launch the invasion did not represent Turkey’s move away from that structure. Pressuring Turkey to participate in the war it opposed was part of our abuse of that structure to pursue goals unrelated to the alliance with Turkey.

The Turkish alliance has suffered for the same reason that many of our alliances suffered during the Bush years: allied security interests were ignored or dismissed, obedient support of U.S. policies was expected no matter what, and any ally that resisted or preferred to pursue its national interest instead was to be regarded as treacherous. It had never occurred to the Bush administration that the Turks might say no, because it never occurred to them that some of our allies would not act like lackeys.

The larger problem is that Washington sees the alliance with Turkey very differently than Erdogan’s government sees it. If we believe FM Davutoglu, Ankara believes that it can pursue good relations with its regional neighbors without sacrificing good relations with the U.S. and EU. Turkey is pursuing a “zero problems” approach to its neighbors, including Iran and Syria, and the U.S. very much wants there to be a problem that keeps Turkey and Iran apart, namely the nuclear issue. Washington wants Turkey as a front-line state in its confrontation with Iran, and Turkey doesn’t want a confrontation. Of course, the Erdogan government is responsible for what it does, including its demagoguery and provocations, but the U.S. and Israel are making it exceedingly easy for Erdogan to play to the crowd at home and to position himself as the reasonable opponent of our unreasonable policies.

The Tehran nuclear deal was one sign that Washington’s view of the alliance has no connection with reality. Unfortunately, as Turkey has been discovering lately, it is not possible for it to have a “zero problems” policy in the Near East without antagonizing the U.S. and Israel. This is partly because the latter insist on treaing Turkey’s “zero problems” approach as unacceptable. Turkey’s major Western allies effectively insist that Turkey choose them at the expense of their own interests in cultivating good relations with their neighbors. As a result, Turkey continues to develop better relations with Iran and other states in the region and has less and less use for Western allies that mostly ignore its legitimate interests and expect it to follow their lead or remain silent when they embark on controversial policies.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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