Converging regional policies

During a visit to the United States that preceded President Barack Obama’s visit to Turkey, Ahmet Davutoglu, chief advisor to Turkey’s prime minister, stated that "Our approach and principles are almost the same, very similar to the US on issues such as the Middle East, Caucasus, Balkans and energy security. Therefore, we hope that there is a golden era ahead in cooperation." That sentiment was based on converging developments in the Turkish and American approach to foreign policy issues, particularly the Middle East. Obama’s subsequent visit to Turkey signaled that this new golden era had indeed begun.

It can be inferred from Hillary Clinton’s remarks during her delegation’s stay in Turkey that the US regards Turkey as an effective negotiator in the region. Turkey’s relationship with Iran, Syria and Hamas is critical to the foreign-policy-through-diplomacy approach of the Obama administration: Turkey can act as a conduit through which America communicates with these countries and actors. Despite outspoken criticism in Washington of Turkey’s open dialogue with America’s enemies, the Obama camp regards Turkey’s relationship with Iran, Syria and Hamas as positive.

Several issues marked the agenda during the Obama visit to Turkey. He addressed the Muslim world, arguing that the gap between the West and the world of Islam is not insurmountable. He extended an olive branch to the Muslim world with a strong declaration that "the United States is not, and never will be, at war with Islam." Obama’s speech in the Turkish Parliament continued with words of friendship and the promise of seeking "broader engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect". His speech was broadcast live on al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya, the two most important Arabic satellite TV channels.

He placed his support for Turkey’s inclusion in the European Union in the same context. In Prague, just before his visit to Turkey, he argued that Turkey’s membership would make the EU a truly multi-cultural entity and help to bridge the gap between Islam and the West. He added in Turkey that the EU would be stronger with its inclusion. In addition, he sent a strong message of rapprochement to Iran from Turkey, implicitly honoring Ankara’s offer to mediate between Tehran and Washington.

He proposed a "model partnership" between Turkey and the US. He wants Turkey to continue to contribute to Syrian-Israeli peace talks. Obama also satisfied Turkish concerns over his involvement in the Armenian genocide issue, noting that if Turkey and Armenia "can move forward and deal with a difficult and tragic history, then I think the entire world should encourage that."

Under the Obama administration, America’s foreign policy vision converges with Turkey’s on democracy, human rights, peace and international legitimacy. This convergence is more about values than considerations of realpolitik. The Obama administration needs regional allies to implement its foreign policy through multilateral diplomacy. The way forward for the US toward positive bilateral relations with Turkey and a more effective engagement with the Muslim world is to firmly establish its foreign policy priorities in alignment with Turkey’s. A review of the Obama delegation’s agenda for his visit to Turkey reveals that the president did indeed present proposals for addressing such Turkish foreign policy problems as normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations, associating this requirement with Turkey’s leading role as a peacemaker in the region.

Obama called for further reform and democratization in Turkey, with strong reference to improvement of minority rights. He made it clear that there will be consistent support for Turkey’s government as long as it moves in the direction he outlined. This should contribute to democratization in Turkey. Ankara’s civilian elite is currently expending a great deal of energy to eliminate the Cold War-style illegal apparatus popularly known as Ergenekon that was deeply rooted within the state. US support for democratization and EU membership will anchor Turkey on this path.

The positive atmosphere of rapprochement that emerged with the Obama presidency will soon overturn the bitter legacy of the Bush era. One can easily foresee a rapid improvement of America’s standing in Turkey and the Middle East. Obama with his new image will narrow the gap between East and West and establish sustainable friendships in the region. Considering the new foreign policy orientation of the US, under Obama Turkey will serve as a short-cut for American policy coordination in the region.

Obama pledged during his election campaign to enter into cooperation with Turkey; his visit proves that he will keep his word. Obama underlined Turkey’s democratic, western, secular and Muslim charters and classified Turkey as an influential western country with multiple identities in the Middle East and its environs. The current Turkish administration promotes a domestic and foreign policy orientation that accommodates cooperation, as demonstrated by Turkey’s recent peace-brokering in the region. It is only a matter of time before we witness the effects that a positive Turkish-American relationship has on the Middle East and the rest of the Muslim world.