The Anatolian Tiger How the West Is Losing Turkey
A frustrated Ankara is turning away from the West and looking east toward Hamas and Iran. For decades, the Turkish people served as a strong ally of the Jewish state and pursued membership in the European Union as chief foreign policy goal. Now, Turkey is economically strong, enjoys considerable regional power and can call its own shots. Will this be the end of Ataturk's legacy?
At the summit of the European Union in Copenhagen in December 2002, then German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and French President Jacques Chirac were sitting in a room with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a newcomer in Europe.
The German and the Frenchman had bad news for the man, who had just achieved a historic election victory at home. The Turkish prime minister was expecting to be given a concrete date, 15 years after Turkey submitted its first formal application, for negotiations over his country's accession to the EU to begin. This was the leverage Erdogan hoped he could use to turn his country around. But, said Schröder, the EU wasn't ready to begin those negotiations yet, and Erdogan would simply have to wait a little longer.
Erdogan sat up in his chair and said: "Hop hop!"
Chirac didn't understand the Turkish phrase, which translates into a combination of "wait a minute" and "you must be out of your mind." But he had served as mayor of Paris long enough to recognize immediately that this man had a very short fuse and didn't take disappointment well. European statesmen, he lectured his Turkish counterpart, had their differences. But they also had established ways of discussing these differences. Erdogan said nothing. It was not a good beginning.
Turning the Tables in Ankara
Now, seven years later, Erdogan has indeed turned Turkey around. He has embarrassed everyone who once treated him as a religious simpleton. He has forced Turkey's all-powerful military against a wall, demoralized the republican establishment and transformed his country on the Bosporus, once known for its coups and crises, into an Anatolian tiger. While neighboring Greece struggles with national bankruptcy, the Turkish economy is expected to grow by more than 5 percent this year.
At the same time, the country is growing into a role that modern Turkey has never played: that of a loud and arrogant regional power that is triggering international uproar as it jettisons a fundamental principal of its foreign policy.
It is a historic change of course. "The Turks have always gone in only one direction," Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish republic, said, "toward the West." But now, after seven years under Erdogan, Turkey is shifting its direction toward the East.
An Alliance Shattered
The most obvious indicator of this shift is its relationship with Israel. As long ago as the 1940s, Turkey was a refuge for Europe's persecuted Jews, and in 1949 it was the first primarily Islamic country to recognize the Jewish state. It is an alliance of convenience and values that the secular elites of both countries have supported and that has been in place for almost 60 years.
But that alliance came apart two weeks ago, after months of mutual provocations and the bloody incident over a flotilla off the Israeli coast. Erdogan accused Israel of "state terrorism," withdrew his ambassador and even went so far as to claim that the world "now perceives the swastika and the Star of David together." "Today is a turning point in history," he said in a speech in parliament, referring to relations with Israel. "Nothing will be same again."
The turnaround is also reflected in the relationship with Iran, a country Ankara has eyed with suspicion since the 1979 Islamic revolution. A sign that has been posted at the Turkish-Iranian border since 1979 reads: "Turkey is a secular state." It is a statement of Turkey's opposition to the theocracy in neighboring Iran.
Last Wednesday, however, the Turkish ambassador raised his hand in the United Nations Security Council and voted against the package of sanctions with which Washington, London, Paris and Berlin -- and even Moscow and Beijing -- hope to stop Iran's controversial nuclear program.
The West is shocked. A country that covered the southeastern flank of NATO for 60 years, and that stood by the side of the United States and Europe, with the second-largest army in the alliance -- from the Korean War to Afghanistan -- is suddenly a friend of the mullahs? The State Department in Washington calls it a "disappointment," while some in Israel, the United States and Germany are already predicting a new "axis of evil."
Who is to blame for Turkey's political shift? Erdogan? Israel? The Europeans? Who lost Turkey?
- Part 1: How the West Is Losing Turkey
- Part 2: 'Pushed By Some in Europe'