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Is Turkey Ready?

The successor to the great Ottoman Empire has long sought to regain its role as a regional power in both southeastern Europe and the Middle East. Prime Minister Recep Erdogan has worked strategically to improve Turkey's relations with the powers of Europe, the Arab nations, the United States, and Israel. It wants to be powerful once more. However, trying to play such a balancing act may prove to be fatal to its "zero problems with neighbors" policy-- in the past few years, all of Erdogan's maneuvering has been challenged. Hopes of Turkish acceptance into the European Union have been all-but-vanquished. Kurdish separatists are causing problems on the Turkey-Iraq border, which has prompted Turkish invasions into Northern Iraq, complicating relations with both that country and the United States. Relations between Israel and Turkey are now at one of their lowest points in years. As Iran continues to pursue the atom bomb, Turkey has accepted part of NATO's missile shield, roughening relations there. And the nations of Syria and Turkey are practically involved in a war against each other as the former regime massacres thousands of its citizens in reaction to the Arab Spring.

With Europe paralyzed by its own crises, the United States weary of wars in the Middle East, and Israel settings its guns on Iran, the issue of Syria rests in Turkey's court. If they are to be a resurgent power, handling Bashar al-Assad is going to be their first major test, with the Iranian nuclear program following close behind it. Now is the time for Turkey to either prove it can shine or accept that it is not quite ready to claim being a great power just yet.
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Discussions - 6 Comments

How, exactly, has Prime Minister Erdogan worked to improve relations with Israel and then, in the same essay, there's a line for "Relations between Israel and Turkey are now at one of their lowest points in years."

From everything I've read, Erdogan has been moving Turkey in a decidedly Islamist direction for years. Why, exactly, is the author giving him such deference in this post?

I'm not an Erdogan supporter and quite firmly place him in the Islamist category (see my post from August titled "The Ottoman Republic").

Erdogan did work to improve relations with Israel early on in his term. He visited Israel to talk economic relations and worked to ease tensions between Israel and Syria, and then Shimon Peres visited Turkey in 2007 and addressed their parliament. Relations began to sour in 2008 and turned hostile last year after the Gaza flotilla incident. I believe this coincided with Erdogan's appointment of Abdullah Gul to the presidency, solidifying the Islamist trend of his government and tilting it in a generally more pro-Islamist, anti-Israeli form.

As the article linked to in the post above references, this souring of relations between Turkey and Israel--a geopolitical blunder on Turkey's part--has weakened the leverage that Turkey can use on Syria. It will also, as the article says, make American support for Turkey against Syria harder to achieve given our own politics. This means that Turkey is essentially going to have to handle Syria itself, and will prove either, as I said, that they are ready for the world stage or that Erdogan's policies, both foreign and domestic, have been folly that have hindered his nation's progress.

Turkey seems unlikely to ever be a great power... but I wouldn't count them out of the Euro (I agree that short-term future prospects are weakened.)

Turkey has a lot of pull with Syria and Israel, and seems to be well respected and a leader in the Arab league.

Turkey seems unlikely to handle Syria itself...but will get together with the Arab league and at least put considerable diplomatic and economic pressure upon Syria.

On the other hand the Turkish Economy has been growing really fast...

It seems unreasonable to think that Turkey has been moving in an islamicist direction. ROB neglects the extent to which Turkey has addopted european laws, treaties and regulations mainly for the sake of facilitating commerce. see GAFTA and the EU- Turkey Customs Union.

Turkey can continue working within the Arab League and negotiating with the EU, and with an economy growing at a 9% clip, will certainly threaten to surpass most of the other European Nations in the mediteranian.

So on a relative basis its star is rising.

It's true that Turkey has been drifting towards Islamism for a couple of decades now, but they still are our best hope for a balance of power in that region. Of all the major ethnic groups in the region (Turk, Persian and Arab), Turkish identity is the least dependent on Islam (mostly thanks to Ataturk). I suppose it's also true that many Iraqis are more "modern" as well. It's something we should encourage, although I'm not sure how to do it.

Oh, they certainly are the most Western of the Muslim world. However, the rise of Erdogan and his allies have really started to change things. Historically, whenever Islamists would be gaining too much power, the secular Turkish military would overthrow that government in an attempt to restore Ataturk's legacy. Now, that could very well be the cause of the Islamist push-back---military coups and heavily-pushed secularism could be responsible for emboldening the Islamists. The military has been defanged and its leaders removed under Erdogan and Gul, who have also worked to diminish its popularity among the citizenry. It is no longer the protector of secular values; it is seen as a threat.

Don't get me wrong; Turkey is the most cosmopolitan and modern nation in the Muslim world, with probably the greatest respect for rule of law and human rights. There is still hope that Erdogan's allies may push too hard in one direction and the citizens will demand their rights be respected, but I see no evidence of this brewing just yet. In the cities, yes, but--as in Iran--Erdogan's party feeds off of the much larger populations spread across the rural and uneducated communities, who embrace this bitter Islamism. While I would certainly like to see Turkey lift itself up and take a seat at the world stage as a great power, if it is under Erdogan's leadership I would much rather prefer that they flopped.

Perhaps, no real knowledge of details here. I think success for a nation that might be called "Islamicist" could be a good thing. There are a billion muslims world wide, dedicated in some sense to living under sharia law, and to hold Turkey up as an example of a plausible "Muslim" state seems fine by me. I think the trend towards securalism has run its course. If folks are going to be religious and demand laws that respect the religious prefferences that they hold as a community, then democracy itself is going to accomodate that. Even in the United States we have zonning laws that work to regionally prohibit pornography and sunday alcohol sales. Of course the amount of pornography and alcohol readily available even in Iraq and Kuwait, is large. Islam is the religion that legalizes all of human behavior and provides strict standards for everything. You will obviously have pockets of securalism, and places like Dubai, which is essentially the Las Vegas of the Middle East, and so long as the internet is kept relatively free, and there is a privacy that the government does not infringe upon "Islamicism" will only flourish if it is consented to or makes up a strongly held conviction and way of life. Erdogan can't push too hard, and it was the excess of the push by the secular military that made possible the loss of support by the people. So there is every reason to hope that Erdogan rules sensibly and does not push too hard...but also that the "rights" which citizens might demand in Turkey are essentially those which are compatible both with Islam, the EU treaties(economically), and the protection of property.

Turkey's greatness may lie in resolving the Mediteranian Crisis of Faith, that plagues both Islam, Catholicism and the vestiges of Athens. The rise of Turkey above the PIGS(all historically Catholic or Orthodox) would signal more than the fall of Constantinople again, it would be the fall of Rome. But it is a (story of Job like) fight for the economic presige of the dominant religious orders. The PIGS have become weak, their Gods are dead to them and the people without virtue: and who knows what all can be woven with a telling of history?

Turkey's regional power is thus simply to stand as the primary force of mediteranian rebirth. A main truth in Islam is that wealth is a blessing that comes from virtue, living in accordance to the will of Allah. The demise of the PIGS and the 9% growth rate of the Turkey economy can take on a religious significance that the evolving constitution of sharia law can encode as virtue.

Provided that Sharia law might be the best example of a living constitution(laws created by wise men, and only as good as the wisdom of the cleric).

That is if you are Muslim or even Eastern Orthodox and Turkish, the rise of Turkey is the outward expression of your nation's virtue vis a vis the competing mediterranian religions, and provided one is theist a handy cosmological type argument for distinguishing the nature of God from Blasphemous conceptions and derivatives. That is the Crisis of Islam was its dark ages, yet at the end of the day it requires wealth or outward presige(multiple wives?) to accertain that sharia is in fact best practice or in accord with the true will of Allah.

Note for example that Cowgirl often times makes this cosmological argument vis a vis the "demise" of California, for the proposition that "Liberalism" is a mental illness. I don't find it very persuasive...but I think it has more persuasive power in Turkey, given its historical and geographical theological roots.

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