Turkey’s Changing Internal and International Dynamics: From “Where” to “What”

Prime Minister Erdogan’s December 7th White House meeting with President Obama re-emphasized theimportance of Turkey to both the United States and its Western allies.

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Prime Minister Erdogan’s December 7th White House meeting with President Obama re-emphasized the importance of Turkey to both the United States and its Western allies. A variety of foreign policy issues such as Afghanistan, Iran, and Israel-Palestine were discussed with the emphasis placed on how much American and Turkish interests converge and potential areas of cooperation. However despite these positive developments and successful visit of the Prime Minister there still appears to be room for further improvement. Failure to appreciate the domestic challenges and issues occurring in Turkey has caused many Western actors—the European Union (EU) as a bloc and as individual countries, and in particular with the U.S.—to send the wrong messages that fail to fully account for recent domestic political realities.

Turkey’s struggle on the domestic scene with the remnants of the Cold War in its state apparatus and new attempts to solve the Kurdish problem, along with changing regional dynamics and a constructive foreign policy attitude must be taken into serious account by the US administration. Unfortunately, there has been a tendency for the U.S. to be reactive rather than proactive despite the dynamic nature of the internal and international changes being witnessed from Turkey. A critical account of US policy toward Turkey vis-a-vis Turkey’s transformation would give a better idea about the fatal misperception towards “where Turkey stands” versus “what Turkey has become” and pitfalls in Western policy formulation towards Turkey.


A common Western perception—shared by Turkish policy-makers and scholars derived from the US Cold War strategy of relying on Turkey’s military prowess against the communist threat—is that, located in an invaluable geostrategic location, with great military strength, a secular political system, a Muslim population, and a commitment to fighting terrorism, Turkey can promote stability in one of the most unstable regions of the world.1 Gunter Verheugen, formerly the EU enlargement commissioner, offered a critical observation regarding Turkey’s changing strategic importance for the Western world: “before 9/11, the fundamental question was ‘where’ Turkey was located; after that date, the question turned into ‘what’ Turkey was in terms of her identity.“2 This common perception, though, is in fact a fatal misperception. This premium placed on Turkey’s role as a ‘model’ of secular Muslim representative democracy is based on a gross misunderstanding of the rules of the political game in Ankara, in Turkish society, and in the region. In reality, the promotion of Turkey as a stable model for the region must stem from the quality of its own political principles, and from its own stability— not merely from its military strength, its ‘successful’ balance of religion with secularism, or its geo-strategic location. None of these properties, together or alone, has been able to create stability within Turkey in the last two decades. On the contrary, the politics and mindsets that have driven contemporary Turkish politics have failed to produce non-violent resolution of conflicts. Instead of promoting development, access to a broad spectrum of human rights, uncorrupt and accountable public administrat

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