The combined weight and importance of Turkey’s political, military, economic and geo-strategic circumstances in the consideration of American national security interests require the most serious attention, and one must assume that fact escapes nobody’s attention in Washington. By way of illustration, Turkey is the only Islamic country that is both a member of NATO and a candidate for accession to the EU; it fields more than twice as many active-duty military personnel than does France, the UK or Italy; its potential role as a conduit for oil coming from various directions is clear; and its neighbors, by sea and/or land, include Russia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Cyprus and Greece.
Surely that abbreviated description puts Turkey in a class with Russia, China, India, Pakistan and the EU/Germany/France with respect to key political entities always prominent on our horizons and in morning briefings. Full treatment would require a book and more expertise and experience than is readily available. Deserving brief mention here, however, are recent developments in two areas requiring only attention to the daily press: Turkey’s role in the Middle East; and a shift in the prospects for eventual Turkish membership in the EU.
Given Turkey’s attributes as outlined above, it would be well-nigh impossible for it not to play a prominent part in cascading events in its neighborhood. It is no surprise, then, that the major outside actor in the ongoing conflict within Syria is its neighbor to the north. The massive intake of refugees from Syrian President Assad’s murderous forces has both saved countless lives and earned the respect and gratitude of Western powers still in the throes of making decisions about whether and how and when to intervene. (Turkish policy vis-à-vis Syria, humane and charitable though it may be, is surely motivated in large part by the growing national and religious enmity between Turkey and Iran, Assad’s principal outside champion.)
Still concerning the Middle East, Turkey’s growing animosity toward Israel ever since the 2009 Israeli killing at sea of nine Turks on their way to delivering non-military supplies to Gaza, and Israel’s stubborn refusal to apologize, has taken an ugly – if unintended – turn. (One cannot but recall Turkey’s unrelenting refusal to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide by its proper name.) Last Thursday, February 27, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was quoted as telling a UN meeting in Vienna the following: “Just as with Zionism, anti-semitism and fascism, it has now become necessary to view Islamophobia as a crime against humanity.” Secretary of State John Kerry and others were swift to criticize Erdogan’s remark, clearly to protest the inclusion of Zionism in the list of evils. Whether Erdogan himself or just his speech writer failed to understand the meaning of Zionism, roughly, the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Israel, and that condemning Zionism was itself anti-semitic has not been revealed.
As concerns the EU and Turkish prospects, ever since both French and German leaders made it clear that membership was not in the cards, the Turkish leaders themselves have hardened and public opinion polls show little enthusiasm. Now, two recent developments have served to keep the proverbial foot in the door. About to leave Berlin for a visit to Ankara, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, admitting her skepticism, nevertheless spoke of resuming stalled negotiations between Turkey and the EU. At the same time, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was giving the same message to his Turkish counterpart. Many years of talks lie ahead, several critical issues must be resolved, and Turkey must relent on some of the most difficult for Ankara, e.g., getting out of Cyprus and signing and ratifying the UN Law of the Sea Treaty. But, the door is open once more, and US national security interests would be served by an eventual resolution of differences between key friends and allies.
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