Saturday, February 11, 2012

“Evolution of Turkey's policy in the Eastern Mediterranean—Implications for US Interests”

I have received the following details of a very important policy forum held on 6 February 2012 at the Capital Hilton Hotel just a few blocs from the White House, organized by the American Hellenic Institute. The topic of the policy forum was the “Evolution of Turkey's policy in the Eastern Mediterranean—Implications for US Interests”.

The Keynote Speaker was Daniel Pipes, Director of the Middle East Forum and Editor of the Middle East Quarterly. Other speakers included Doug Bandow, currently Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute; Dr. Harry Dinella, former US Army Foreign Officer for Greece; Dr. Raphael Danziger, Senior Research Advisor, Policy and Government Affairs, American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, and Dr. Van Coufoudakis, Dean and Professor Emeritus, Indiana University-Purdue University.

Mr. Pipes opened his remarks by saying that while in the past he had defendedTurkey, changes inTurkey following the AKP's rise to power in 2002, raise a lot of questions about that country, its objectives and policies. Prime Minister Erdogan wants to alter Ataturk's revolution and driveTurkey away from secularism and the West while expanding his country's neo-Ottoman reach.Turkey's 2011 elections may be the last democratic elections there. He spoke of the role of the Gulen movement, the increasing controls over the public service and the police, the growing number of jailed journalists, and the jailing of top military personnel under the so-called Ergenekon conspiracy. Pipes also pointed to the growing anti-American sentiment in Turkish public opinion.Turkey's neo-Ottoman reach now involves interference in Iraqi politics, inIraq's Kurdish areas, policy shifts onSyria, support for Hammas and Hezbollah and hostility towardIsrael. As a result, Erdogan has become the hero of the Arab streets. There are numerous new threats emanating fromTurkey including threats towardsCyprus, the EU,France,Germany, etc. Turkey is exploiting its current economic position. However, a  closer examination ofTurkey's economy shows parallels to the economies ofArgentina andMexico before their collapse. The speaker enumerated examples of Turkey's recent anti-Western behavior including military exercises with China; cooperation between Iranian and Turkish banks to bypass the western sanctions; and cooperation with Brazil over Iran's nuclear material. WhileTurkey poses a long term threat to the region, the problems withIran can be managed with a new regime in Teheran. The speaker pointed to a potential clash betweenIran andTurkey as the two countries compete over leadership in the Islamic world. The speaker concluded by expressing doubts as to whetherTurkey should remain in NATO given its recent anti-western policies.

Mr. Dinella expressed similar concerns overTurkey's recent conduct but concluded with the fact that the US andTurkey still share a lot of common interests in the region. Therefore it is in the interest of both states to strengthen and revive their ties.

Doug Bandow had extensive government service in the area prior to his work at the Cato Institute. He spoke of howTurkey is now repositioning itself in the region and described various disturbing trends inTurkey's policies that Erdogan's AKP is implementing with wide public support. This creates anxiety both within and outsideTurkey aboutTurkey's future and its emerging anti-Americanism and anti-westernism.  Davutoglu's “zero problem” policy has backfired, asTurkey has contributed to new problems in the region. Bandow concluded that we cannot have illusions overTurkey any longer. The negative trends in and aroundTurkey indicate that things will get worse before they get any better.

Van Coufoudakis analyzed howTurkey has been presented in think tank reports and other studies since 1947. A study of the semantics used to describe Turkey's policies and absolve Turkey of responsibility for problems it has created, shows that blame for Turkey's actions is placed on the US, the EU and countries like Greece, Cyprus, France and others. Coufoudakis' presentation was based on studies and reports from known think tanks like the Center for American Progress, the Brookings Institution, the German Marshall Fund, and the International Crisis Group, among others. The speaker questioned how these think tanks can claim that their papers represent “independent strategic thinking” when they are sponsored by the Government of Turkey and Turkish foundations. The cases of the Brookings Institution (the Sabanci lecture series) and the International Crisis Group are classic examples. The speaker concluded that the tone of many of these reports is changing in the aftermath of the flotilla incident in May 2010 and the breakdown in Turkish-Israeli relations.

Because of his position, Raphael Danziger's remarks were off the record.

In the question and answer period the speakers faced interesting questions from members of the audience that included a Turkish journalist, a member of TUSIAD and others. The meeting was well attended and received coverage from the Washington Bureau of a major Hong Kong TV station, indicating East Asia's interest in developments in the Eastern Mediterranean and theMiddle East.

(Notes: 1) AKP is the Party for Justice and Development created under the leadership of R. Ertogan in 2001. 2) TUSIAD is the Turkish Industrialists' and Businessmen's Association created in 1971).

Fanoulla Argyrou is a London based researcher and writer