Turkish Dilemma

By James Traub | 16 June 2010

My son wants to study a non-European language that’s going to matter in the future. He has been contemplating Arabic or Hindi. But after the last few weeks, I’m thinking — Turkish. All of a sudden, everyone wants to know about Turkey — and it turns out almost no one does. There’s no real mystery in that: Americans tend to benignly neglect other countries until they become a problem. And until just the other day, Turkey was a fun tourist destination; now it’s a problem.




Turkey has thrust itself into the American national consciousness by working with Brazil to broker a nuclear deal with Iran, which the United States viewed as unhelpful, at best; by voting (along with Brazil) against Security Council sanctions imposed on Iran; and by assailing Israel in the aftermath of the deadly attack on the Gaza-bound flotilla. Senior Obama administration officials have begun to worry that the West has “lost” Turkey; Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently fretted that Turkey is “moving eastward” and blamed the European Union for blocking Turkey’s aspiration for membership. The Wall Street Journal editorial page goes a step or three further and accuses Ankara of throwing in its lot with the fundamentalists and the Israel-haters.


Turkey didn’t set out to be a problem. Over the course of the last decade, the country’s diplomats seem to have taken a leaf from China, whose doctrine of “peaceful rise” dictated harmonious relations along its borders and a relatively low profile in global diplomacy. Turkey’s policy of “zero problems toward neighbors” smoothed away conflict with Middle Eastern partners, including both Israel and Iran. Through a series of bilateral agreements, Turkey has established a visa-free zone, and it hopes to establish a free trade zone in much of the area once occupied by the Ottoman Empire — without, as a Turkish diplomat pointed out to me, seeking to re-create Ottoman hegemony.


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Excerpt reproduced with permission from Foreign Policy, www.foreignpolicy.com. Copyright 2009 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive LLC. Read the full article at [http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/06/15/turkish_dilemma 

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