After eight years of George W. Bush, there is a general consensus on the need for the Obama administration to revamp America’s image in the world and repair our damaged alliances. In a new report from the Center for American Progress, we suggest that an important place to begin is Turkey -– a neglected ally that has a key leadership role in its part of the world.
Our strategic relationship with Turkey has been a critical component of American national security policy since the beginning of the Cold War. There are few, if any, security challenges that the United States and Turkey don’t have in common. Not only has Turkey been a member of NATO since 1952, but it is our only ally who enjoys strong relations with all of the major powers in the Middle East. In essence, Turkey is a hub between Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Mediterranean, with its central location making it a valuable connector between each of these regions. In addition to serving as a mediator in delicate international negotiations, including those between Israel and Syria, Turkey serves as a transit point for oil and natural gas flowing from East to West.
The Bush administration’s tragic decision to launch a preventive war in Iraq in 2003 — over vocal Turkish objections — has been one of many issues to eat away at U.S.-Turkish relations in recent years. Recent polling found that only 12 percent of Turks have a positive opinion of the United States –- dangerously low by any standard. Public opinion in a democratic state like Turkey can constrain a country’s leaders and their choices. While U.S.-Turkey relations have seen a slight upturn with the U.S. increasing its cooperation in fighting the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) — the terrorist organization that is Turkey’s most immediate threat — the relationship is still nowhere close to where the U.S. needs it to be.
The Obama administration has a tremendous opportunity next year to revive the U.S.-Turkish strategic partnership and update it to reflect new challenges in the Middle East, Europe, Russia, and the Caucasus. It will take more effort than we’ve exerted in recent years, and require a new recognition of Turkey as an independent actor with interests and policies that may not always comport with those of the U.S. But bringing Turkey closer to the West, including a redoubling of efforts to convince our European Union allies to bring Turkey into the EU sooner rather than later, is worth the effort. It will pay dividends in the years to come.