What Happens If Turkey Leaves the West

A writer in Foreign Affairs Magazine thinks Turkey is turning toward the Muslim Middle East

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Standing at the proverbial meeting point between the Eastern and Western worlds, Turkey's identity has been the cause of continual debate. For centuries, it led the Ottoman Empire as a major Eastern power. Following the Empire's dismemberment after World War One, it gradually aligned with the West over the course of the 20th century, joining NATO and even lobbying to become a member of the European Union.

In Foreign Affairs, Soner Cagaptay argues that Turkey is joining the East again. Cagaptay, who directs the Turkish arm of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, writes frequently on Turkish politics. He cites public opinion and the leadership of the AKP, Turkey's ruling political party. If he's right, what would a Turkish alignment with the East mean for Turkey, the region, and American interests? Here are Cagaptay's predictions:

  • Realigned Middle East  "A mountain is moving in Turkish foreign policy, and the foundation of Turkey's 60-year-old military and political cooperation with the West may be eroding," writes Cagaptay, who calls Israel "a state Turkey viewed as a democratic ally in a volatile region." But now Turkey views the Middle East through "a politicized take on religion, namely Islamism." This, he says, is causing Turkey to break with Israel and ally with Syria instead. Turkey "has promoted solidarity with Islamist, anti-Western regimes (Qatar and Sudan, for example) while dismissing secular, pro-Western Muslim governments (Egypt, Jordan, and Tunisia)." Cagaptay also notes that Turkey is closer now to Iran. "In September, [Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdogan defended Iran's nuclear program, arguing that the problem in the Middle East is Israel's nuclear arsenal."
  • An Islamic, Anti-Western Turkey  Cagaptay surveys Turkish public opinion. "After seven years of the AKP's Islamist rhetoric, public opinion has shifted to embrace the idea of a politically united 'Muslim world.' According to independent polling in Turkey, the number of people identifying themselves as Muslim increased by ten percent between 2002 and 2007; in addition, almost half of those surveyed describe themselves as Islamist." "Guided by an Islamist worldview, it will become more and more impossible for Turkey to support Western foreign policy, even when doing so is in its national interest." Cagaptay thinks Turkey will renege on its efforts to join the European Union. "Last year, about one-third of the population wanted their country to join the EU, down sharply from more than 80 percent in 2002, when the AKP took power," he writes, blaming anti-Western rhetoric by the political leadership.
  • America's Lost Ally  Turkey, Cagaptay warns, could seek to block American efforts in the region, especially with regards to Iran and Israel. Turkey "will oppose these policies through harsh rhetoric and opt out of any close cooperation," he writes. Initially a major ally for the United States in the region, especially in the early days of the war in Iraq, the loss of the Turkish ally would reverberate throughout American Middle East policy.

But Cagaptay has his critics. Today's Zaman, Turkey's preeminent English-language newspaper, has accused Soner Cagaptay (who also writes for Newsweek) of distorting Turkish politics.

  • What If Foreign Affairs Is Wrong?  Mehmet Kalyoncut at Today's Zaman blasts Cagaptay: "Today, the readers of Newsweek should be open-minded enough not to readily subscribe to Çağaptay's apparently baseless and conflicting arguments, and hence take a deeper look into the various Turkish media to gain a better understanding [...] given Çağaptay's increasingly biased and less scholarly writings, the more he writes, the less credible he will become." The paper lambastes:
However, the real problem is that despite his apparent distance from scholarly objectivity, Çağaptay is in a position to significantly influence US public and official opinion on Turkey. He is frequently given opportunities to publish articles and opinion pieces in well-known newspapers and magazines. (His latest article in The Washington Post titled "Turkey's turn from the West" and the above-mentioned article in Newsweek are the latest examples.) The lack of objectivity and scholarship in these published pieces raises questions about the editorial objectivity of the newspapers, journals and magazines in which these pieces are published. He is frequently asked to testify before the US Senate and House foreign relations committees. He seems to be directing the so-called Turkish research program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Probably the gravest of all, at the Foreign Service Institute in Arlington, Virginia, Çağaptay is reportedly training the US diplomats and ranking military officers to be stationed in Turkey. One wonders with what kind of intellectual background about Turkey and Turkish society the US diplomats are starting their duties in their respective posts in Turkey and how this intellectual background is affecting their attitude toward the country's people.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.