Thursday, July 08, 2010

Turkish dislike: The need for a measured response

Guest post by Michael Lieberman

Michael M. Lieberman, a Truman National Security Project fellow, is an associate at Steptoe & Johnson LLP in Washington D.C., where he works on international regulatory and compliance issues. (The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Steptoe & Johnson LLP.)

Ed. note: This is Michael's third post at The Reaction. His first, on how climate change is a real national security threat, is here. His second, on al Qaeda, the Taliban, and the Afghan War, is here. This post below was originally published at The Hill's Congress Blog.


While few individuals could make supporters of Israel miss Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is doing his best. In the wake of the Mavi Marmara raid, Turkey's rhetorical molotovs stopped short of saying Israel should be "wiped off the map." But statements like those Erdogan made earlier this week accusing Israel of "a planned terrorist attack to kill out of nothing but hostility," coming as they do from an ostensible ally, make the words bite all the more. Turkey's active efforts to undermine sanctions efforts against Iran have further fueled the embers. What, then, should the U.S. do?

Some in Congress, including House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.) and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) believe the U.S. should now pass the controversial Armenian genocide resolution, which Turkey vehemently opposes. The neocon right, which sees every new moon as evidence of jihadist ascendance, believes we should tag Turkey as the new leader of the Islamic front in a great civilizational clash. Some on this side have even suggested Turkey no longer deserves full NATO membership. Responses like these, however, are punitive -- not good policy.

Others reject any talk of "punishment," recognizing that Turkey's history with the West has had its historical ebbs and flows, that Turkey remains rooted in NATO and the G20, and that Turkey's domestic politics all but demand its current path. Yet explaining away Turkey's disturbing trajectory does little to help us deal with it.

Then there are those who argue that the rift has a silver lining. According to this logic, Turkey's recent activities should comfort Israel and its allies. "With Turkey as the central interlocutor between the Islamic/Arab world and Israel and the West," they believe, "Iran will increasingly find it harder to carry out its agenda of destabilizing the region and the globe." This view is attractive, yet over-optimistic. Iran relies on harder currency than public opinion to sow discord. Weapons, cash, and training for the likes of Hezbollah, Hamas, and even the Taliban enjoy a more favorable rate of exchange.

Turkey's eclipse of Iran would be a positive development only if it distinguishes itself by constructive behavior. What good will Turkey's enhanced role be if it calls for a one-state solution? Or if it recognizes a unilaterally declared Palestinian state? Or when, as it has already done, it acts to undercut new sanctions against Iran?

It is no gain to have a more influential and powerful Turkey pursuing causes detrimental to Western interests -- indeed, in this way Turkey's credibility in the Muslim world is a double-edged scimitar.

Turkey has not capitalized on its unique position, for example, by positioning itself as an honest broker between Israel and Syria. In fact, Turkey has taken a number of concrete steps to Israel's detriment. It has canceled official defense deals, threatened to sever diplomatic ties, and adopted a policy of denial on military overflights. This last step is yet another boost to Iran, weakening Israel's deterrent against its nuclear plans.

Despite this bleak picture, the U.S. and its NATO allies should not succumb to alarmist claims that Turkey is "lost" or seek to punish it through emotive, futile gestures. Yet Turkey's provocations ought not go unanswered. It is not "punishment" to remind Turkey of the need to act responsibly, and of the consequences if Turkey truly feels its interests lie so contrary to the West's. A proper answer to Turkey's erratic behavior is thus to remind it subtly of the logic of the security partnership underlying that bond.

On this view, the U.S. might consider re-raising the question of the need for NATO tactical nuclear missiles on Turkish territory. This idea is attractive for several reasons. First, the issue long precedes the current debate, and so could not be painted as a vindictive reaction. Second, it goes to the core of Turkey's security concerns, heightening the specter of a nuclear Iran. And third, it dovetails nicely with President Obama's broader nuclear agenda.

While this issue is part of a larger issue regarding U.S. tactical nukes in allied states, raising it could be warning enough. Along the same lines, the U.S. should veto NATO military exercises on Turkish soil so long as Turkey refuses to host Israel. In either case, the U.S. must not play into the hands of the ruling AKP's current tendency towards demagoguery by taking steps that undermine its secular, military-aligned opposition more than they serve notice on the government.*

While the U.S. must find a mature way to signal its displeasure and the repercussions that should follow Turkey's wayward path, it must avoid walking into the trap Israel did by recklessly precipitating the relationship's current predicament. Lest the U.S. convey acquiescence, however, answer it must.

(* Ed. note: The center-right AKP, or Justice and Development Party, is currently Turkey's dominant political party, with a majority of seats in the Grand National Assembly. Both Prime Minister Erdogan and President Abdullah Gül are AKP.)

Labels: , , , , ,

Bookmark and Share


  • Truth be told, I think the folk in Israel have gone crazy, antagonzing their ONLY friend in the Muslim world and kill a bunch of activists in internataional waters...they always use a mailed fist when other methods will surely do...

    By Blogger tom, at 11:34 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home