The Arab World’s Open Door: Turkey and the U.S.’s Foreign Policy Today

With the revolutions in the Arab World lately shifting politics in an undetermined direction, it is with cautious optimism that the United States should view the unexpected addition of Turkey’s potentially powerful influence in the Arab world and beyond. Ultimately, no one can guess how far Turkey’s ambition will take it, or what new ties may be formed or broken in the distant future. Since there are always conflicting interest between world powers, it is possible that once Turkey has succeeded in gaining an international audience, Turkish officials might begin to think of the U.S. as a threat rather than a valuable ally. However, while Turkey still benefits from the power held by the United States, Turkey being a Westernized country with influence in the Middle East will work as a bridge between the U.S. and the Middle East.

Turkey’s system of government is a Westernized secular democracy, which will most likely increase understanding and common priorities between Turkey and the U.S. On his ‘Arab Spring’ tour, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly called for rising ‘Arab Spring’ countries to adopt a secular state not that different from that of the United States, and nearly identical to Turkey’s. As Erdogan said, “On the subject of secularism, this is not secularism in the Anglo-Saxon or Western sense; a person is not secular, the state is secular… A Muslim can govern a secular state in a successful way.” Since, as Erdogan pointed out, the Western and Middle Eastern definitions of secularism are somewhat different, the most convenient part of Turkey’s government is that it is a perfect bridge between Western and Middle Eastern principles. In the past, one of many significant differences between Middle Eastern and Western governments has been the difference in attitude about religion’s role in government. It is a possibility that with Turkey to bridge these religious differences, these regions may be more open to cooperating with one another.

Other connections between Turkey and the United States are the common goals the two countries share, a significant one being the concern both countries express over the checking of Iran. With Iran in a prime position for gaining a monopoly over Middle Eastern oil sources, there is growing concern about the economic difficulties hegemonic control of oil would bring about. The United States has always had concerns about economic influence being gained by a potentially powerful country; control being gained by another Middle Eastern country would be a sad and disastrous event for Turkey, a country presently rising in influence. In order to decrease chances of this happening, the U.S. is attempting to check the potential threat of Iran, and in the past has attempted the same with Iraq, which led to the war we experienced in 2003. In addition, according to Sinan Ülgen, Turkey and Iran are already in competition over influence in the Middle East. “Turkish authorities”, Mr. Ülgen says, “like to argue that the spread of Turkish influence is essentially there to prevent the further spread of Iranian influence.” Issues such as that of Iran’s potential threat will no doubt be solved, and then no longer be a source of ties between Turkey and the United States. However, for now Iran’s power is a genuine and immediate issue that requires cooperation on the parts of both countries.

On a much broader level, it is in the interests of both Turkey and the U.S. to play nice with each other, at least for now. On the topic of Turkey’s growing influence, Mr. Ülgen said, “Turkey’s priority for its foreign policy is to transform the country into a pivotal state with a growing regional footprint, which over time will also help Turkey to establish better relations with its partners in the West.” Now, Turkey’s regional footprint has grown large enough for the rest of the world to be watching Turkey’s growing presence in the Middle East, and Turkey will be beginning its next step: relations with the West, in which ties to the U.S. will be extremely helpful. But this relationship should go both ways. Although getting past differences such as the issue of Israel may be challenging, if Turkey and the U.S. succeed in a friendly partnership, the United States should reap rewards nearly as significant as Turkey’s. During the present economic crisis, the worth of the dollar and the euro have both been going down. However, Turkey’s economy has been steadily on the rise. This makes Turkey look like an appealing addition to the European Union, which Turkey has attempted to join in the past. It also makes Turkey an even more influential country in its region and in the world, and a more coveted ally for the United States. With the benefits of an alliance at this point in time outweighing the risks, it seems inevitable that a friendship with Turkey will emerge in the near future.

Similarities in government, common goals such as checking Iran, and the broader advantages of ties between Turkey and the United States point towards Turkey opening doors towards increasing beneficial relations in the Middle East.

Jade Tara Epstein
Age 13, Grade 8
Packer Collegiate Institute
Silver Key

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