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.