Obama’s Turkey Policy: Bringing Credibility to “Strategic Partnership”

March 26, 2009


In American foreign policy the urgent often trumps the important. Burdened with global responsibilities, high-level American policy-makers are almost always engaged in either “crisis management” or “damage control.” This is perhaps why Turkey rarely and thankfully almost never makes it to the top of first priority items. As former ambassador to Turkey, Morton Abramowitz recently wrote: “Turkey poses no security threat to the United States compared to the situation in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Russia in and around the Caucasus. Turkey is not a key player like the European Union, Japan and China in dealing with the international financial debacle. It’s not an energy exporter like Saudi Arabia. It does not harbor terrorists who want to strike the United States, and it is not a proliferation risk like Pakistan and North Korea. In short, Turkey does not make headlines in The New York Times or on CNN.”

The downside of not being problematic is not being on the agenda. In fact, American policy-makers think of Turkey only when they need support with something urgent, or in the context of a regional crisis. In that sense, there is simply no clear-cut and well-thought-out American strategy to deal with Turkey. Under such circumstances, Turkey’s potential role often comes as an “afterthought.” Washington’s Turkey policy is a “derivative” of other more pressing regional problems and priorities. And “typically, when we need something from Ankara, we need it right now” points out Mark Parris, another former ambassador to Turkey. Add to this the fact that Turkey often falls between the cracks in the European versus Middle East bureaucratic division of the State Department and the Pentagon. The result is a crucial ally of the United States that is consistently neglected.