Obama Shouldn’t Fret About Turkey’s Choices

The United States urge Turkey to repair its relations with Israel and put more distance between it and Iran.

Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdoğan speaks with American president Barack Obama at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, September 25, 2009
Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan speaks with American president Barack Obama at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, September 25, 2009 (White House/Pete Souza)

The United States have warned Turkey that unless the country change its apparently newfound hostility toward Israel and its cozying up with Iran, it stands little chance of obtaining the American weapons it intends to buy.

Eurasia Review reports that President Barack Obama personally delivered the message to his counterpart in Ankara, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The warning comes at a time when Turkey wants to purchase American drone aircraft in order to attack Kurdish separatist insurgents along the Iraqi border in the southwest. With US combat forces pulling out of Iraq and the Kurdish threat flaring up once again, the Turks have reason to be concerned.

One administration official was quoted as saying that, “The president has said to Erdoğan that some of the actions that Turkey has taken have caused questions to be raised on the Hill,” referring, presumably, to congressional Democrats, “about whether we can have confidence in Turkey as an ally.” Washington, apparently, is upset because Turkey, along with Brazil, negotiated a nuclear fuel exchange agreement with Iran last May and voted against United Nations sanctions on Iran in July.

“When the leaders met later that month at the G20 summit in Toronto, Obama told Erdoğan that the Turks had failed to act as an ally in the UN vote,” writes Eurasia Review. “He also called on Ankara to cool its rhetoric about an Israeli raid that killed nine Turks on a flotilla bearing aid for Gaza.”

The president, ironically, was criticized in his own country for withholding unequivocal support of Israel when it received fierce condemnation internationally for intercepting a small fleet of blockade runners in May. Turkey, among other Middle Eastern states, was quick to blame Israel for resorting to violence. Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, for instance, described Israel’s actions as “piracy” and “a dark stain on the history of humanity” while Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu compared the attack to America’s 9/11.

Turkey’s rhetoric at the time should not necessarily be interpreted as newfound resentment with Israel however. For decades, the country has been one of few in the region to get along with the Jewish state after all. But like many of its neighbors, Turkey worries about Iran and its nuclear ambitions. With Israel already a nuclear state, Turkey, once Tehran announces the weaponization of its nuclear technology, may well justify its rapid search for the same citing Israeli aggression.

But even if Turkey were genuinely upset, it would make little sense for the United States to cancel an arms deal in spite of more than half a century of close, stable relations with what remains, besides Israel, the West’s only true ally in a region that is overwhelmingly anti-American. Close second comes Saudi Arabia which is notorious for funding and exporting terrorism worldwide. Indeed, fifteen of the nineteenth terrorists who hijacked planes on 9/11 were Saudi. That hasn’t stopped the United States from exporting numerous weapon systems to the kingdom though.

Turkey has, in recent years, been pursuing a more independent foreign policy that includes strong trade relations with nearby Egypt, Jordan and Syria, for instance. The country realizes that it can be a regional power and exert influence throughout the Middle East, using its exports and ties with the West as leverage. Europe and the United States shouldn’t regard this is a threat, no matter photo-ops of Erdoğan with Holocaust denying, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

A Turkey that is welcomed back in the Arab world can be an instrument in America’s own Middle East policy. That is, unless Washington keeps blaming the Europeans for keeping Turkey at bay for so long and start demanding from Ankara that it satisfy itself with being NATO’s eastern bulwark and little more. Then, America should expect Turkey to drift even father for it feels confident enough these days to put its own interests before those of the West.


  1. This is a repetition of the Public Relations campaign PM Erdogan’s government has been disseminating.

    In fact, a closer look at Turkeys history for the past 8 years (since Erdogan has been in power) shows a shift in power from the much more secular, Western-oriented, Western part of Turkey, to the poorer, conservative, Islamist, scarf wearing Eastern part of Turkey.

    Turkey is slowly drifting away from its secular, Kemalist, origins; it is in fact undergoing revolutionary change somewhat like Iran had done in 1979 when it installed an Islamic theocracy.

    If the Referendum gets adopted on September 12, Turkey’s constitution will be altered giving the government powers to pack its judicial institutions with Islamists.

    Unlike Iran, which took the course of Hitler’s Putsch, Turkey is taking the course of Hitler’s vowed legal way to power. I hope I’m mistaken, but many secular Turks are worried. Erdogan is calling, for example, for the legalization of scarfs for women at universities. He believes that women and men are not equal; the job of women is to get married, and have 3 children each.

  2. I’ve now read your previous well-written posting which sounds like excellent propaganda for the ruling party of Erdogan Bey who wants to be Turkey’s Caliph under the tutelage of his teacher, Fethullah Gulen, the master of Muslim Taqiyya, spreading Sufi “Love, Tolerance, and Dialogue” out of his modest mansions in Pennsylvania where he works under a “I-140” work permit spreading his “mild” Political Islam. You probably have no idea what I’m talking about – because you have not gone beyond the politics and propaganda of Turkey’s ruling party.

    I believe I understand why you think so. You are most likely unfamiliar with the complex history of Turkey since its founding in 1923. The fact is that the Military has been an institution in Turkey which has kept it Secular (somewhat equivalent to our First Amendment provision that separates the Church from the State). I think you also do not appreciate Turkey’s founding Napoleonic dictator, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. If you want a better sense of the complex revolutionary struggle currently going on in Turkey – with a questionable “conspiratorial attack on Turkey’s secular Military by the Nazi-like “Gestapo” Turkish police controlled by Erdogan’s AKP party with a questionable “Sledgehammer” conspiracy theory, you should begin with the discussions in the Wall Street Journal here:

    “Constitutional Changes Help Turkey”

    Egemen Bağış, Minister for EU Affairs and Chief Negotiator, Republic of Turkey, Ankara, Turkey

    Link: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703846604575447640901404802.html#articleTabs%3Dcomments

  3. ludvikus its not as simple as you make out your buying too much right wing propaganda for exmple the three kids comment is something western governemnts are encouraging erdogan was talking about the fact that unlike europe Turkey has a young population 26 years old on average due to high birthrates in decades gone by however as Turkey has developed birthrates have dropped to below three children per women and will in 2 decades reach European levels meaning an age crisis which for Turkey which relies on a strong well armed miltary and young population to maintain security is a problem more so then it is for europe the 3 children per women comment was first introduced by kenan evren during the 1980 military coup Kemalist nationalism believes in conservative values just without religion which they dont have time for unlike the akp

  4. Serkturk! I’m the guy who thinks the situation is complex (not simple). I agree that the Kemalists/Secularists are more conservative. But you cannot deny that Erdogan is an Islamist sexist who does believe that the primary role of an adult woman is to be a mother. His solution to the Kurdish problem was revealed by a joke – Turkish men should marry Kurdish women. Although the proposed Referendum to amend the Constitution of Turkey looks progressive – and Europe encouraged it – in practice it would give Erdogan’s ruling AKP party the power to appoint jurists to that Secular Conservative judiciary (both judges and prosecutors) so that he, Erdogan, could further dismember the Secularism of the Turkish state. Although in someways Erdogan may be a liberal – his hidden agenda is to bring on a version of Political Islam into the Turkish state.

    In summary, Erdogan seeks, under the color of constitution reform, to give his Islamist party complete control of all the organs of the state. No one, it seems, is paying much attention to the issue of Checks and Balances in the Turkish Constitution; Turkey’s Constitution is in trouble because it lacks sufficient Separation of Powers, and Division of Powers, the way our American Constitution is structured. So even if Erdogan is more “liberal” than his secular opponent, his purpose is “democratize” Turkey’s Constitution – this simply means the Tyranny of the Majority; the majority of the population lives in the East, outside of the large urban secular centers; this majority sees no need to preserve secularism in such public institutions as Turkey’s schools, colleges, and universities; so Erdogan wants to appeal to his “populist” agenda of granting women the “right” to disguise the hair or faces with scarf or chadors; that’s not a joke – women all over the Islamic world are brainwashed by their religious parents that “modesty” is “freedom” for women. But reality is the opposite: the beatification of a woman’s hair and face is common to all cultures from ancient times – women should not be forced by religious brainwashing, condoned by the state, to cover their hair and faces, under the religious theory of preachers that Muhammad had it revealed to him by God that this is required of them.

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