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Obama’s Best Friend? The Alarming Evolution of U.S.-Turkish Relations

By: Dr. Ariel Cohen / Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies

Dr. Ariel Cohen penned the 100th report of Begin-Sadat Center’s Middle East Security and Policy Studies. Cohen is a senior research fellow in Russian and Eurasian Studies and International Energy Policy at the Katherine and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Policy at The Heritage Foundation.

Below is the executive summary of the report, which you can access in full here.     

Executive Summary

Over the last decade, shifts in Turkey’s domestic political orientation have led to a fundamental change in Turkey’s perceptions of its foreign policy roles and capabilities. Turkey sees itself first as an independent, regional power and a leader of the Islamic world, and only then a U.S. and NATO ally. This fundamental shift in U.S.-Turkish bilateral relations endangers shared U.S.-Turkish objectives in the Middle East, eastern Mediterranean, the Caucasus, and Iran.

However, the U.S. and its policy-making elite have misunderstood and largely ignored this shift, and appear to fail to understand the implications of Turkey’s geopolitical and internal transformation under the AKP. The U.S. cannot and should not any longer take for granted Ankara’s cooperation in several critical zones of U.S. vital interests.

The U.S. must take several steps while reassessing its Turkey policy. Washington must, among other things, support secularist forces in Turkey; use the rift between Turkey and Iran as a means to strip Tehran of an important partner; encourage Turkey to support less radical elements in Syria; heighten expectations of Turkey as a significant regional ally, and remind it of its obligations to NATO and the U.S.; develop a comprehensive policy regarding the Kurdish question; and increase the diplomatic level of mediation between Turkey and Israel.

A strong and comprehensive policy towards Turkey based on unflinching recognition of its internal change, together with a clearly articulated U.S. policy based on its national interests and values, is long overdue.