With The Middle East In Crisis, U.S. and Turkey Must Deepen Alliance
From Syria to Iran, regional stability depends on Washington and Ankara's continued cooperation.
As I prepare to visit Washington next week, I disagree with the perception that United States and its Middle Eastern allies are growing apart. The truth is, in Turkey’s case, our two countries have long been close allies and will remain partners going forward. In today’s ever more complex and fluid international environment — with Syria in crisis and much of the Middle East in flux — the U.S.-Turkish relationship remains vital for a sustainable regional and global order.
The partnership between the United States and Turkey is value-based, founded upon universal principles of fundamental rights and democratic norms. Turkey promotes these values in its neighborhood and encourages its Western partners to uphold them as well. Alignment with the West during times of crisis, such as the Arab Spring, is testament to how deeply such shared values are embedded in the genesis of our foreign policy. On that ground, the United States and Turkey do not have the luxury of remaining aloof or apart from each other; our joint work has proven indispensable to regional security and stability. As a result, we have diversified our cooperation with the United States in areas ranging from counter-terrorism and non-proliferation to defense cooperation, energy security, know-how transfer, and more.
Turkey’s leading role in transatlantic institutions is the primary pillar of its foreign policy. As the euro crisis gives way to recovery and consolidation, we believe that Turkey can play a more constructive role in shaping the future of Europe. Recently, the EU membership process has been reenergized by the opening of a negotiation chapter, among other things, and there are signs of progress towards liberalizing the visa regime for the Turkish citizens travelling to the EU. NATO, meanwhile, stands as the cornerstone of Turkish security policy and our security cooperation — from the Balkans to Central Asia — continues to form a bulwark against instability in the broader region. Yet, nothing would anchor Turkey in the Western world more than our future association with the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership — an initiative that would be greatly enriched by Turkey’s participation.
In the Middle East and North Africa, both Turkey and the United States face an increasingly chaotic geopolitical environment. The tensions we are witnessing in this region — which is overwhelmingly identified with human suffering, political and sectarian conflicts, and threats to global order — initially grew out of popular uprisings for dignity, legitimacy, and prosperity. As a result, they should also be viewed as the birth pangs of an inescapable normalization. The people on the streets have set in motion a powerful transformative process. Any return to the old regional order is now inconceivable, and those who have tried to resist change will find themselves on the wrong side of history.
The future of the region will not be determined by strongmen with dictatorial illusions, but by legitimate and visionary leaders. United by a common belief in peoples’ right to a decent life, Ankara and Washington share the very same objectives when it comes to engaging with the Middle East. We have both sided with the new collective consciousness in the region — one that prioritizes good governance in its struggle against authoritarianism.
As a keen supporter of President Barack Obama’s multilateral approach to diplomacy, Turkey has also welcomed his recent engagement with Iran. The possibility of a diplomatic settlement of the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program raises hopes for peace and stability in the region. Turkey has been among the few to actively pursue such a course and will continue to advocate this crucial initiative. The resuscitation of the peace process in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict may also help restore the regional order’s legitimacy and sustainability.
In Syria, progress toward the elimination of Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons is a step in the right direction, but there is still more to be done. Turkey will continue to extend its full support to the Syrian people until a political transition is achieved and the rule of cruel despotism comes to an end. We will not become casualties of the ongoing psychological war that in vain tries to identify the Syrian people’s legitimate resistance with the dark forces of terrorism.
Despite our many and early warnings about the radicalization of the Syrian opposition, the international community has so far failed to deliver a just and decisive settlement. Yet, even counting the attempts of extremist groups to step into the political void, there is no greater threat to Syria and its people than Assad and his anachronistic rule. Let us not forget that it was the cruel despotism of this regime that triggered the current conflict in the first place.
As the political transformation gets underway in our neighborhood, the main challenge in years ahead will be to establish a sustainable regional order. Turkey and the United States have worked closely together at critical junctures in the past. In the years following the end of the Cold War, we both contributed to the stabilization of regional hotspots, such as Bosnia-Herzegovina, Somalia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon. Today, we share the new collective consciousness urging good governance and democratic accountability in our part of the world. This awareness should form the basis of a strong U.S.-Turkish partnership as we work to deal with the urgent challenges in this era of global transformation.