Thursday, 02 November 2017 19:09

Dealing With Turkey: Taking the Long View

 

Dealing With Turkey: Taking the Long View

By Svante E. Cornell

October 31, 2017

RealClearDefense

 

The U.S.-Turkish relationship has recently become so bad that analysts in both countries now wonder if it is beyond repair. There are good grounds for the worsening of this relationship, not least President Tayyip Erdoḡan’s increasingly blatant anti-Americanism. But going forward, American leaders must not make the mistake of equating Turkey with Erdoḡan. They must devise a policy that maintains a long-term view of Turkey as an American ally.

Relations between the U.S. and Turkey have been deteriorating since at least 2013. Much of the blame goes to the Turkish strongman. Under Tayyip Erdoḡan’s leadership, Turkey developed an increasingly Islamist and authoritarian direction. Erdoḡan’s foreign policy became adventurist, increasingly and at odds with American interests after the Arab uprisings in 2011. To gain influence, his government began supporting Islamist groups ranging from the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood to jihadi groups in Syria. Not staying at that, Erdoḡan developed increasingly anti-American and anti-Semitic rhetoric, often obliquely and sometimes directly blaming some combination of Jews and America for Turkey’s problems.

These tendencies worsened with the July 2016 coup attempt against Erdoḡan. The United States was slow to condemn the coup, which Erdoḡan blames on Pennsylvania-based preacher Fethullah Gülen. There is indeed good reason to think that supporters of Gülen in the Turkish military were implicated in the coup. Erdoḡan’s conspiratorial worldview cannot countenance that a network led from Pennsylvania could operate without guidance from American authorities – or that American prosecutors can hold an Erdoḡan acolyte, Iranian-Turkish businessman Reza Zarrab, without guidance from the “deep state.”

Worse, Erdoḡan appears to think the Trump administration could just hand these individuals over by bureaucratic fiat. Indeed, Erdoḡan seems to think that lashing out against America makes it more likely that he gets his way.

In fact, he has good reason for this. During Barack Obama’s tenure, the U.S. largely tolerated such misbehavior. For eight years, Washington responded with appeasement to Turkish provocations – such as Erdoḡan’s threat to expel the American ambassador, or his repeated accusations that America orchestrated the 2013 protests against him. Summing up the mood in Ankara, a key advisor to President Erdoḡan was once overheard telling his president that “Americans are weak, if we push hard they will back off.” 

However, Erdoḡan miscalculated the changes in Washington since the Trump Administration took over. Apparently, Washington’s patience with such abuse had run out, as had its appetite for appeasement. Going forward, it is tempting to focus on Erdoḡan’s appalling policies, and conclude that Turkey can no longer be a U.S. ally. Calls to kick Turkey out of NATO or leaving the base at Incirlik are growing. However, the question is: would such policies serve U.S. interests or make Turkey a more pliable partner?

Erdoḡan wants to be equated with Turkey, but America should not fall into that trap. Erdoḡan’s rule is increasingly authoritarian precisely because he is no longer able to win elections fair and square. At least half of the population vehemently opposes him. As Erdoḡan insists on controlling all major issues personally, the economy is stagnating. While Erdoḡan appears unassailable, his opponents are sensing weakness.

Erdoḡan’s Justice and Development Party, having been reduced to no purpose except expressing its love for the leader, is in deep disarray. A recent internal poll shows the party at around 35 percent of the vote, a far cry from the 49 percent it received in 2015. This summer, main opposition leader Kemal Kiliçdaroglu attracted widespread support when he walked the 300 miles from Ankara to Istanbul to protest Erdoḡan’s judicial abuses. Meanwhile, a new political movement led by former Interior Minister Meral Ak?ener has broken away from the sclerotic Nationalist Action Party. If it succeeds in adopting a center-right identity, it could threaten Erdoḡan’s core voter base.

The point is that Erdoḡan’s rule is not forever, and Washington should not fall into the trap of equating the country with its leader. American policymakers must focus on the long-term: while responding to Erdoḡan, they must consider policies that could help restore the U.S.-Turkish relationship in the future.

The Trump administration did the right thing by indicating to Erdoḡan that his behavior has consequences. But America needs a coherent strategy in Turkey, including increasing America’s leverage by reducing its dependence on Turkey. This means keeping the U.S. presence at the Incirlik base, but increasing redundancy by boosting cooperation with partners from Jordan to Georgia. Second, American officials must counter Erdoḡan’s anti-American propaganda. Today, a vast majority of Turks are hostile to the U.S. This was not always the case, and need not be in the future if proper public diplomacy efforts are undertaken.

America must also carefully review its Syria policy. In the short term, support for Kurdish forces there may make sense – especially since Erdoḡan’s Turkey has hardly behaved like an ally there. However, in the long term, U.S. support for the fragmented Kurdish groups in Syria and Iraq may backfire. It will alienate not just Erdoḡan’s supporters, but all Turks, who rightly point out that some Syrian Kurds supported by America are under the effective control of anti-Turkish terrorist groups. America will need to balance these interests carefully.

Turkey is not yet lost. American officials must take steps to rekindle respect for the U.S. in Ankara. However, they must also work toward the long-term goal of rebuilding, after Erdoḡan, the U.S.-Turkish alliance.

Svante E. Cornell is Director of the American Foreign Policy Council’s Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and Policy Advisor the Gemunder Center at the Jewish Institute for National Security of America with a focus on Turkey and the Caucasus. He is a co-founder of the Institute for Security and Development Policy in Stockholm.

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    In 2016, the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program launched an initiative on documenting the interrelationship of religion and the secular state in the region. This initiative departed from the fact that little systematic reserch had been undertaken on the subject thus far. While there was and remains much commentary and criticism of religious policy in the region, there was no comprehensive analysis available on the interrelationship of religion and the state in any regional state, let alone the region as a whole. The result of this initiative has been the publication of six Silk Road Papers studying the matter in regional states, with more to come. In addition, work is ongoing on a volume putting the regional situation in the context of the Muslim world as a whole.

     

    Case Studies

    Each study below can be freely downloaded in PDF format.

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    Articles and Analyses

    Svante E. Cornell, "Religion and the State in Central Asia," in Ilan Berman, ed., Wars of Ideas: Theology, Interpretation and Power in the Muslim World, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2021.

    Svante E. Cornell, "Central Asia: Where Did Islamic Radicalization Go?" in Religion, Conflict and Stability in the Former Soviet Union, eds. Katya Migacheva and Bryan Frederick, Arlington, VA: RAND Corporation, 2018.

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  • Resources on the Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict
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    Resources on the Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict

     

    The Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program have a long track record of covering the Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict. This page presents the key resources and most recent analysis. 

    In 2017, Palgrave published the first book-length study of the International Politics of the Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict, edited by Svante Cornell. The book concluded by arguing that if international efforts to resolve the conflict are not stepped up, “the ‘four-day’ war of April 2016 will appear a minor skirmish compared to what is sure to follow”.

    In 2015, CACI & SRSP released the Silk Road Paper  “A Western Strategy for the South Caucasus”, which included a full page of recommendations for the U.S. and EU on the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict. These are reproduced below:

    ------------------

    Develop a substantial and prolonged Western initiative on the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict.

    o This initiative must be led by the United States, in close consultation with its European partners – primarily the EU Commission and External Action Service, and France. Barring some process to reinvigorate the Minsk Process – a doubtful proposition given Western-Russian relations in the foreseeable future – Western leaders must be prepared to bypass that process, utilizing it where appropriate but focusing their initiative on developing direct negotiations between the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders.

    o The U.S. and its European partners must abandon the practice of relying solely on the Minsk Group co-chairs to resolve the Karabakh conflict. These diplomats have contributed greatly to formulating a workable framework agreement. However, strong and sustained U.S. Government leadership from the top level is needed to complement or, failing that, to replace the Minsk Process. In practice, this means the expressed support of the President, involvement of the White House, and leadership manifested in the appointment of a distinguished citizen as Special Envoy for the resolution of the conflict.

    o The EU must take a more clearly defined and substantial role in the process, by integrating to the highest degree possible the French co-chairmanship of the Minsk Group with EU institutions. While Washington will need to take the lead on the political side, it would be natural for the EU to take the lead in organizing an international development program for the currently occupied Azerbaijani provinces and Karabakh itself. That effort, too, would need to be led by a senior EU figure.

    --------------------------------------------

    In 2011, CACI & SRSP helped launch an extensive study of the steps needed for the post-conflict rehabilitation of Azerbaijan's occupied territories, in cooperation with Eldar Ismailov and Nazim Muzaffarli of the Institute for Strategic Studies of the Caucasus. The monograph "Basic Principles for the Rehabilitation of Azerbaijan's Post-Conflict Territories" can be accessed here

     

    More background resources:

    Svante E. Cornell, "Can America Stop a Wider War Between Armenia and Azerbaijan?", The National Interest, October 2020

    Brenda Shaffer and Svante E. Cornell, Occupied Elsewhere: Selective Policies on Occupation, Foundation For Defense of Democracies, January 2020. 

    Brenda Shaffer and Svante E. Cornell, "The U.S. Needs to Declare War on Proxies", Foreign Policy, January 27, 2020

    Svante E. Cornell, “The Raucous Caucasus”, American Interest, May 2017

    Svante E. Cornell, Small Nations and Great Powers: A Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict in the Caucasus, RoutledgeCurzon, 2001.

    Svante E. Cornell, The Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict, Uppsala University, 1999

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    Turkey’s Commitment to Azerbaijan’s Defense Shows the Limits of Ankara’s Tilt to Moscow,” Turkey Analyst, 9/25/20, Turan Suleymanov & Bahruz Babayev

     “Cross-Border Escalation between Armenia and Azerbaijan,” Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 9/25/20, Natalia Konarzewska

    Russia and Turkey: Behind the Armenia-Azerbaijan Clashes?”, Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 8/31/20, Avinoam Idan

    Armenia and the U.S.: Time for New Thinking?”, Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 10/2/19, Eduard Abrahamyan.

    Why Washington Must Re-Engage the CaucasusCentral Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 7/8/19, Stephen Blank

    Azerbaijan’s Defense Industry Reform”, Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 5/7/19, Tamerlan Vahabov.

    Military Procurements on Armenia's and Azerbaijan's Defense Agendas”, Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 3/27/19, Ilgar Gurbanov

    Armenia's New Government Struggles with Domestic and External Opposition,” Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 3/20/19, Armen Grigorian.

    Bolton's Caucasian Tour and Russia's Reaction”, Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 12/17/18, Eduard Abrahamyan.