Turkey Steps Out of the Cold....
By ROGER COHEN
ANKARA — Davutogluism is a mouthful. It’s not going to make Fox News any time soon. But if I could escort Sarah Palin, Tea Partiers and a few bigoted anti-Muslim Europeans to a single country illustrating how the world has changed, it would be the home of the D-word, Turkey.
Ahmet Davutoglu, who birthed a foreign policy doctrine and has been Turkey’s foreign minister since May 2009, has irked a lot of Americans. He’s seen as the man behind Turkey’s “turning East,” as Iran’s friend, as Israel’s foe, as a fickle NATO ally wary of a proposed new missile shield, and as the wily architect of Turkey’s new darling status with Arab states. The Obama administration has said it is “disappointed” in Turkey’s no vote on Iran sanctions last June; Congress is not pleased, holding up an ambassadorial appointment and huffing over arms sales.
Nostalgia is running high in Washington for the pliant Turkey of Cold-War days. Davutoglu is having none of it. “We don’t want to be a frontier country like in the Cold War,” he told me. “We don’t want problems with any neighbor” — and that, of course, would include Iran.
Zero problems with neighbors lay at the core of Davutoglu’s influential book “Strategic Depth,” published in 2001. Annual trade with Russia has since soared to $40 billion. Syrian-Turkish relations have never been better. Turkey’s commercial sway over northern Iraq is overwhelming. It has signed a free trade agreement with Jordan. And now Turkey says it aims — United Nations sanctions notwithstanding — to triple trade with Iran over the next five years.
All this makes the anemic West edgy: The policy has produced 7 percent growth this year. There’s also something deeper at work: The idea of economic interdependence as a basis for regional peace and stability sounds awfully familiar. Wasn’t that the genius of the European Union idea?
Which prompts another question: Can it only work for Westerners? I don’t think so. And, having shortsightedly kept Turkey out of the European Union, the West is scarcely qualified to complain. As British Prime Minister David Cameron, Turkey’s strongest European supporter, said recently, “It is just wrong to say that Turkey can guard the camp but not be allowed to sit in the tent.”
Wrong indeed, and stupid, but that’s where Turkey is, with at least a foot outside the Western tent, and increasingly proud of what it has achieved in a transformed world. Nations have increasing options. They don’t depend as much on the United States. Congress can rail about that and it won’t change a thing. Turkish foreign policy, Davutoglu said, “is based on a realistic, rational analysis of the strategic picture.” Yep.
So it gets prickly over U.S. guidance. When I asked Davutoglu about the visit last week of Stuart Levey, a senior Treasury department official, to Ankara to talk about Iran sanctions, he bristled: “We don’t need any advice,” he told me. “We are a responsible country of the U.N. system and a member of the U.N. Security Council. We voted no. That is our decision. We have no need to be told by anyone, we will implement the U.N. Security Council resolution. But as for unilateral resolutions — American or European — we will look at our own national interest. Is it wrong to have strong economic relations with neighbors?”
I think Turkey’s immediate recognition of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad following his violent electoral putsch of June 2009 was the low point of Davutogluism. But I also think Turkey has Iran policy about right. Isolation comforts the hard-liners. Sanctions won’t turn Iran. A Turkish-Brazilian swap deal for Iran’s low-enriched uranium, reached last May, was a means “to open the way for diplomatic negotiations.”
Davutoglu was adamant: “Of course we were coordinating with the Americans at every stage. Nobody from Washington can say Turkey acted on its own. Our purpose was to ease the tension and to contain the Iranian nuclear program.”
Turkey can be the West’s conduit to the Muslim world if Washington can bury its pique. The new Turkey won’t abandon NATO or its American alliance: If NATO wants to talk to the Taliban, or the West to Iran, it can help.
But when Turkish-Israeli relations implode, rumblings on Capitol Hill get furious. That Turkey’s Iran diplomacy coincided with Israel’s killing of eight Turkish and one U.S. citizen on a Turkish-led Gaza-bound flotilla was a fluke. Still, it has left bitter feelings.
“Turkey expects solidarity from the United States because its citizens were killed in international waters,” Davutoglu said. “This is an issue of national pride.” He added, referring to Israel, “Yes, we expect an apology because we think friends can apologize to one another.”
Far from U.S. solidarity, Turkey got U.S. hostility. One congressman wrote to President Obama demanding that he “condemn Turkey’s reaction to the incident.” That last sentence cries out for an exclamation mark. It reflects the Turkey-equals-Iran-lover-and-Israel-hater surge in Congress.
That’s the kind of cheap jingoistic nonsense that boxes in Obama’s Mideast policy and condemns it to tired failure. It’s time for Davutogluism to roll off more American tongues.