US-Turkey Relations: Arab Spring and the Search for Model Partnership

US-Turkey Relations: Arab Spring and the Search for Model Partnership

The Arab uprisings in early 2011 provided the US and Turkey with an opportunity and a necessity to discover new forms of cooperation and policy coordination due to the urgency for action on the ground.

US-Turkey relations in 2011 were in stark contrast to the “troubled” year of 2010. Policy debates in 2010 focused on the political and diplomatic fallout from the Mavi Marmara incident and Turkey’s “No” vote against the UN Security Council resolution on Iran. Policymakers in Washington called into question Turkey’s foreign policy direction and the intentions of its leadership. Extrication of the Turkish-Israeli relationship from the USTurkey relationship represented a structural change. As the two sides were seeking ways to adjust to the new reality, the historic transformations sweeping the Middle East in 2011 created a new dynamic in the bilateral relationship. Creation of a special personal rapport between President Obama and Prime Minister Erdoğan was critical for the leadership on both sides to recognize once again that their countries’ relationship needed strengthening. Notwithstanding the differences on a variety of issues, the move toward forging a “model partnership” has begun.

One of the most significant turning points in Turkish-American relations took place as a result of the “frank” conversation between Obama and Erdoğan during the Toronto G-20 Summit in June 2010. Although early reports of the meeting suggested that it was a rather frigid encounter, relations between the two countries and communication between the two leaders improved dramatically in its aftermath. While the grumbling in Washington continued and policymakers were reconsidering and possibly reformulating their approach toward Turkey, the onset of the Arab Spring changed the dynamics in a big way. The momentous events in the Middle East led to increased appreciation on both sides for the need to better coordinate their regional foreign policies and collaborate more closely, especially in international forums. In the meantime, for many in Washington, Turkey emerged as a “model” for the democratizing movements in the Middle East. Turkey’s consistent endorsement of the peoples’ movements was an assurance to US policymakers that Turkey shared their interest in achieving and maintaining a stable Middle East, especially in the aftermath of the US withdrawal from Iraq. 

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