Sunday, March 7, 2010

Is Turkey leaving the West?
In early October, Turkey disinvited Israel from Anatolian Eagle, an annual Turkish air force exercise that it had held with Israel, NATO, and the United States since the mid-1990s. It marked the first time Turkey's governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) let its increasingly anti-Western rhetoric spill into its foreign policy strategy, and the move may suggest that Turkey's continued cooperation with the West is far from guaranteed.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's prime minister and the leader of the AKP, justified the decision by calling Israel a "persecutor." But only a day after it dismissed Israel, Turkey invited Syria -- a known abuser of human rights -- to joint military exercises and announced the creation of a Strategic Cooperation Council with the Syrian regime. A mountain is moving in Turkish foreign policy, and the foundation of Turkey's 60-year-old military and political cooperation with the West may be eroding...

As the cancelled military exercises with Israel show, the AKP's moralistic foreign policy is not without inherent hypocrisies. An earlier example came last January, when, a day after Erdogan harangued Israeli President Shimon Peres, as well as Jews and Israelis, at the World Economic Forum for knowing "well how to kill people," Turkey hosted the Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Taha in Ankara. This is a dangerous position because it suggests -- especially to the generation coming of age under the AKP -- that Islamist regimes alone have the right to attack their own people or even other states. In September, Erdogan defended Iran's nuclear program, arguing that the problem in the Middle East is Israel's nuclear arsenal.

The transformation of Turkish identity under the AKP has potentially massive ramifications. Guided by an Islamist worldview, it will become more and more impossible for Turkey to support Western foreign policy, even when doing so is in its national interest. Turkish-Israeli ties -- long a model for how a Muslim country can pursue a rational, cooperative relationship with the Jewish state -- will continue to unravel. Such a development will be greeted only with approval by the Turkish public, further bolstering the AKP's popularity. Thus, the party will be able to kill two birds with one stone: distancing the country from its former ally and shoring up its own power base.

I'll have more to say on this later.
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