Nicholas Danforth & Aaron Stein
Published by the Foreign Policy Research Institute, February 1, 2023, Copyright©2023.
Over the course of the past decade, Turkey has transformed from a crucial U.S. partner to a growing challenge for U.S. policymakers. This coincides with a growing sense in both Ankara and the region that Turkey is no longer a status quo power, but rather seeks to revise the regional order in keeping with its own interests. This book explores the historic and contemporary dynamics behind Turkey’s changing foreign policy. Building on academic research and extensive interviews, it seeks to understand how ideology, interests and emerging global dynamics have come together to reshape Turkey’s relations with Washington and with its immediate neighbors. The result is a timely and comprehensive look at one of America’s most pressing foreign policy challenges, complete with a set of actionable recommendations for policymakers tasked with tackling it.
For the past century, Turkey’s foreign policy has been driven by the need to preserve the achievements of the Lausanne Treaty in the face of often serious threats from major powers. As a result, Turkey was a predominantly status quo country, and its relations with neighboring states were largely shaped by its place in broader geopolitical struggles. With the end of the Cold War, however, and the subsequent growth of Turkey’s economic, military and diplomatic strength, this has changed. Turkish foreign policy has begun to focus on reshaping the regional order in accordance with its growing desire for influence. Going forward, the nature of Ankara’s efforts, and the response they provoke from Turkey’s neighbors, will be an increasingly crucial factor in determining Turkey’s relations with the United States and Europe. Turkey’s new dynamics will remain a source of tension under any future Turkish government, but they need not, if managed well by all sides, lead to a lasting rift between Turkey and the West. The more deeply embroiled Turkey becomes in disputes with key US allies from Western Europe to the Persian Gulf, the more difficult it will be for Washington and Ankara to have a cooperative, mutually beneficial relationship. And the more Turkey views itself as a revisionist power, the more it will come into conflict with America’s allies. As a result, it is more important than ever for US policymakers to understand the historic trajectory of Turkey’s place in its region.
Turkey emerged from the collapse of the Ottoman Empire as a status quo power, an orientation that it maintained for the better part of the last hundred years. Though the new country had been shorn of its former territories in Southeastern Europe and the Middle East, it had also forcefully defeated foreign efforts to occupy the territory of Anatolia itself. For modern Turkey’s founders, the success in avoiding complete colonization far outweighed the failure to preserve the full geographic scope of the Ottoman Empire. As a result, they forged a pragmatic foreign policy tradition that prioritized preserving their achievement: a Turkish state sovereign and secure within its current borders. This goal remained constant over a long and turbulent 20th century, even as its implications changed, and allowed for Ankara to be flexible about which countries to work with to maximize its self-declared interests. In the inter-war period, when threats came largely from powerful European empires like France, Italy, and Britain, the defense of Turkish sovereignty called for a policy of neutrality and non-alignment.1 In the immediate aftermath of World War II, however, Turkey’s geopolitical position changed dramatically. Suddenly, the Soviet Union emerged as the most direct and dangerous threat to Turkey’s territorial integrity.2 In this new strategic context, seeking the support of the United States and NATO became the only feasible way to preserve the imperiled status quo, equip the country’s armed forces, and ultimately defend its borders. The result was a strong and mutually beneficial alliance with the United States and much of Europe.
The success of this alliance, however, sometimes obscured the complex, constantly evolving and often paradoxical relationship between Turkey’s status quo orientation and its historicallygrounded relationships with regional states. The circumstances surrounding the collapse of the Ottoman Empire created a bitter legacy, giving almost all of Turkey’s neighbors both emotional and practical reasons to feel hostility towards it. With other countries that shared a commitment to the status quo, however, Ankara had equally good reason to overcome this animosity. For countries that found themselves on the wrong side of Turkey’s geopolitical alignment, by contrast, these resentments and unresolved problems were consistently exacerbated.
The history of Turkey’s regional relationships can be read through the ever-shifting dynamics of power politics and unsettled history. In the case of Greece, for example, Ankara and Athens began an ambitious rapprochement in the 1930s when they both felt their security was threatened by Italian irredentism in the Eastern Mediterranean. When this shared threat was supplanted by the Soviet Union, the two countries were brought into an even closer alignment under the NATO umbrella. Soon though, the growing rebellion against British rule on Cyprus rendered the status quo unsustainable, leaving Athens and Ankara with radically divergent views on what should come next. Only in this context were a number of longstanding questions re-opened, such as maritime borders and the status of historic minorities in both countries. Crucially, even as tensions over Cyprus worsened, both sides still had Washington to help remind them of their shared security interests. Throughout the Cold War, the United States was in a position to manage Turkish-
Greek tensions in order to pre-empt the risk of an intra-NATO war between two allies that would benefit the Soviets. In other words, by acting as a forceful advocate for the status quo, Washington helped ensure that both Greece and Turkey maintained their shared commitment to it.
With the end of the Cold War and the rise of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party, Turkey embraced not just a new foreign policy but a new foreign policy orientation. Ankara is no longer interested in maintaining the status quo—it now wants to transform it. Just as Turkey’s status quo orientation led to different policies as circumstances change, Turkey’s new anti-status quo orientation has also led Erdoğan’s government to pursue different strategies. But to make sense of these shifts, and the reaction they have provoked in the region, it is crucial to appreciate that, no less than in the previous century, Turkey’s neighbors have responded in light of their history but also, more importantly, their own orientation toward the regional status quo.
Chapter 1: Defending Lausanne
The 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which established Turkey’s modern borders, has long held pride of place in accounts of the country’s history. Often called the “title deed” of the Turkish republic, Lausanne even had its own national holiday, Lausanne Day, celebrated on July 24. In traditional nationalist history, the treaty was the diplomatic culmination of Turkey’s War of Independence, and the formal ratification of the sovereignty that Turkey won on the battlefield. Where Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was the hero of the war, Ismet Inönü, who negotiated the treaty, became “the Hero of Lausanne.”
While the veneration of Lausanne could be exaggerated, it both reflected and reinforced an appreciation for the political independence and territorial borders that Turkey had established following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I. After several centuries in which European powers had consistently chipped away at Ottoman territory, culminating in the attempted colonization of Istanbul and Anatolia, Turkey’s new leadership had good reason to be proud of their accomplishment. Most had begun their careers as military officers who feared the destruction of their state. Then, with the 1920 Treaty of Sevres, they had seen these fears briefly realized. In this light, it was not without some justification that they referred to the country’s independence struggle as the “War of Salvation.”
Of course, Turkish leaders still worked to adjust some of the terms of the post-war settlement to their advantage. During the 1920s and 1930s, they sought to incorporate the territories of Mosul and Hatay. With the 1936 signing of the Montreux Convention, they also re-established control of the Bosporus and Dardanelles, which had been demilitarized after the war. Yet even in modifying the southern border and rewriting the regime governing the straights, Ankara consistently presented its actions as fulfilling the Lausanne settlement rather than revising it. Where some members of the republic’s political and military elite still nursed dreams of retaking further territories—in the Balkans, the Aegean, or the Middle East—their leaders consistently rejected these ambitions. As a result, the Lausanne Treaty came to embody the new Turkish republic’s understanding of its foreign policy: a commitment to preserving hard-won sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of continuing threats.
The Interwar Period
In 1926, Turkey would concede its claim to the Ottoman province of Mosul while in 1939 it would eventually succeed in annexing the smaller Sanjak of Alexandretta (now Hatay) on the Mediterranean coast. In both contests, Ankara was forced to weigh its interests in territorial acquisition—Mosul, of course, had oil, Hatay a strategically important port—with its desire to maintain smooth relations with Britain and France and with the international community at large. In the case of Mosul, Ankara provided semi-covert support for pro-Turkish guerillas in the territory as a way of maintaining pressure on the British prior the League of Nation’s arbitration in 1925.3 But when the League ruled in Britain’s favor, awarding Mosul to Iraq while providing Turkey with a percentage of its oil revenues, Ankara accepted the outcome and abandoned any irredentist aspirations toward the territory.4
Similarly, in the case of Alexandretta, Ankara’s ultimately successful territorial ambitions were tempered by a pragmatic assessment of Turkey’s broader geopolitical position in relation to France. Alexandretta was less important than Mosul (although it reportedly carried a personal significance for Ataturk, who had been in command of the Ottoman forces there at the end of World War I). As a result, Ankara did not press the issue during the 1920s and early 1930s, conserving its diplomatic and political energy for the more pressing matter of building a new state. But in the late 1930s, with Syria potentially moving toward independence and France desperate for international support in the facing of a rising Germany, Atatürk seized the opportunity. Again applying pressure by arming and infiltrating nationalist guerillas into the territory, Ankara also engaged in some calculated saber-rattling with its military forces at the border.5 At the same time, it made its commitment to a mutual friendship treaty, which France sought to shore up its position in the Mediterranean in a coming war, contingent on a favorable resolution of the Alexandretta issue. In 1939, Turkey’s careful use of both carrots and sticks paid off. France, eager to curry Turkish favor and avoid a fight essentially ceded the province to Turkey, and Alexandretta became the new province of Hatay.
Beyond these immediate issues, Turkish policy in the Middle East remained a delicate balancing act with the imperial powers ruling or threatening the region. In 1925, for example, a widespread uprising challenged French rule in mandate Syria. While some of the revolt’s leaders sought out Turkish support, Ankara declined to get involved. Yet while Ankara would not challenge French and British rule in the region, it still sought to work with the region’s other semi- independent states to prevent new imperial threats. Turkey’s one formal diplomatic commitment in the Middle East during this period was a 1937 treaty with Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran called the Saadabad Pact. After the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, and amidst fears of Italian designs on Anatolia, it was partly intended as “a signal to the rest of the world that the four independent Middle Eastern states would oppose any attempts by one of the European powers to pick them off individually.”6
Turkey’s interwar balancing act was profoundly pragmatic, but it also resonated with the ambivalent attitudes of Turkish statesmen at the time.Turkey’s new leaders emerged from World War I feeling bitterly betrayed that some Arabs had cooperated with the United Kingdom in revolting against Ottoman rule. But they also maintained a sincere sympathy for the Arabs who fell under European rule. In the case of the Syrian revolt, for example, many of the leading participants were former Ottoman army officers who had served loyally till the war’s end.7 In fact, the tension between these two attitudes would only fully emerge after World War II, when Arab states moved toward independence in a radically transformed strategic environment.
With Soviet forces occupying Eastern Europe and Joseph Stalin proposing modifications to the country’s northeastern border, Turkey in 1945 found itself facing a far more dramatic threat than Italian imperial ambitions. In these circumstances, securing Western support against the Soviet Union became Turkey’s over-riding foreign policy concern, and Turkey’s involvement in the Middle East, as a result, became a facet of a broader anti-Soviet struggle.
In the early years of the Cold War, both Washington and Ankara agreed that Turkey could play an important role in helping to organize the defense of the Middle East (both the formerly Ottoman Arab world and Iran) against Soviet penetration.8 Yet this effort put both countries in an untenable position, forced to balance the competing demands of the British and French, whose continued military dominance in the region was seen as crucial to its defense, and those of Arab nationalists, who saw European imperialism, and in time Israel, as a far greater threat than the Soviet Union.
The story of Turkey’s involvement in the Middle East during the 1950s follows the failure of a number of mutual defense pacts to overcome these differences in the name of common defense.9 Initially, in the immediate aftermath of World War II, when the Turkish government under Ismet Inönü initially sought Western support against the Soviet Union, Ankara presented its capacity to take the lead in organizing the defense of the Middle East as a key benefit for the US and Britain. Yet in the subsequent debate over Turkey’s NATO accession, it became clear that London wanted to make Turkey’s support for a British-led Middle East defense plan a pre-requisite, and perhaps alternative, to full Turkish membership in the emerging Western alliance. Correctly sensing that NATO would be the main focus of US diplomatic and military commitments in the region, however, Turkey pushed for membership, and to this end made its support for any such planning dependent on first securing admission.10
After this effort proved successful, in 1952, Turkey, now under the leadership of the enthusiastically pro-American and anti-Soviet government of Adnan Menderes, became an active supporter of bolstering Western defense efforts in the Middle East. This initially took the form of a proposed Middle East Defense Organization under British leadership and focused on the Arab world. Yet with Syrian anger over the loss of Hatay still raw, British-Egyptian tensions mounting and other Arab states still primarily focused on Israel, the Middle East Defense Organization proved a non-starter. Two years later, however, Turkey, with US and British support, renewed these efforts through a more modest but ultimately successful effort leading to the 1955 Baghdad Pact. Focusing on the countries that appeared most amenable to cooperation (while holding out hope that others might join later), the Baghdad Pact brought together Turkey, Britain, and Iraq with Pakistan and Iran, two other “northern tier” states that, on account of their location, felt the Soviet threat more directly than other Arab states farther south.
In the following years, Menderes’s eagerness to respond aggressively to perceived Soviet threats in the Arab world repeatedly went beyond what his Western partners were comfortable with. After coups in Syria and Iraq threatened to bring more pro-Soviet governments to power in 1957 and 1958, for example, Menderes pushed for direct intervention to restore the status quo, but was dissuaded from taking action by Washington and London, both of which shared his concerns but worried armed intervention would be counter-productive.11 After Iraq’s 1958 coup, Baghdad withdrew from its eponymous pact, which was then reformed as Central Treaty Organization, or CENTO. Under this new guise, it lasted until 1979, when another political upheaval in Iran led to its final disillusion.
In short, from the late 1950s on, the broad contours of Turkey’s Cold War policy toward the Middle East remained consistent. Iraq and Syria, Turkey’s two Arab neighbors, fell, to varying degrees into the rival camp, ensuring an extended period of frosty relations but no direct conflict. As Cyprus became increasingly central in the 1960s and 1970s, Turkish policymakers, somewhat taken aback that so many Arab states seemed to be siding with Greece, sought to patch up their relations with the Middle East (downgrading relations with Israel in the process). Yet this soft thaw, also motivated by the rise in oil prices during the 1970s, did little to change the regional alignments. Indeed, with the re-emergence of Turkey’s Kurdish conflict in the 1980s, the interaction of Turkey’s internal politics with its strained regional relationships set the stage for these alignments to persist even after the Cold War concluded.
Ideological and Historical Roots of Turkey’s Cold War Policy
In the context of the Cold War, where Soviet imperialism had replaced British imperialism as Ankara’s prime concern, Turkey ultimately closed ranks behind the United States and its NATO allies.12 But this was not always a natural outgrowth of Turkey’s historical or ideological sympathies. The possibility of a British general, for example, commanding Arab, American, and Turkish troops in battle against the Soviets met with stiff resistance. The Arabs would never agree to it, Turkish diplomats said, nor would the Turkish people. George Wadsworth, the US ambassador in Ankara, drew up a handwritten memo in 1951 outlining why Turks “disliked” the British. British behavior in World War I was “not forgotten,” he wrote, while Turks believed the British “still have imperialist ambitions in the Middle East” and think of Turkey and others as “colonials.”13 Similarly, throughout this period, US diplomats took Turkey’s support for Palestine for granted. Turkey’s foreign minister at the time later told the US ambassador that Israel’s creation had been a “mistake.” And in 1948, the embassy thought rumors that Turkish military officers might be resigning to go fight as volunteers with the Arabs were plausible enough to report back to Washington.
Tellingly, American and Turkish diplomats all eagerly discussed Turkey’s role as a “bridge between East and West.” But there were differences in the way each invoked the cliché.14 When Anglo-Arab tensions emerged, such as in the years before the 1956 Suez crisis, the United States (which had its own anti-imperial tradition) and Turkey both, to some extent, found themselves caught in the middle, eager to smooth things over and focus on the Soviets again. Turkish diplomats felt they could bridge the gap by pushing the United States toward accommodating Arab concerns, whereas the United States hoped Ankara would instead help Arabs see the regrettable necessity of cooperating with the United Kingdom. From the US perspective, Turkey sometimes seemed to be building its bridge from the wrong side, as when Ankara failed in trying to convince Washington to accommodate Mohammad Mossedegh during the early stages of the Anglo-Persian oil dispute.
Ironically, amidst all these disagreements, Turkey tried to simultaneously capitalize on its Ottoman past as evidence of its cultural, religious, and historic bond with the Arab world but also as proof that it, no less than France and Britain, had relevant experience successfully managing the Middle East.15 Thus, in negotiations over Middle East defense, Ankara forcefully insisted that it participate alongside Paris and London, engaging the region’s leaders from the position of a NATO ally and Western power. Yet at the same time, in bilateral relations with Middle Eastern leaders Ankara was eager to play up their shared history. This included efforts to capitalize on a narrative of joint anti-imperial struggle, for example, when the Ottomans and Libyans fought together against Italy, as well as more personal examples of shared culture and history, particularly when dealing with regional leaders who had lived or studied in Istanbul themselves.
Ultimately, political dynamics triumphed over shared history. Indeed, history was to some extent rewritten to match the new political dynamics. As Syria, Egypt, and Iraq appeared to cast their lot with the Soviet Union against the West, Turkey’s stab in the back narrative took on a new prominence, with the Soviet Union replacing Britain as the sponsor of Arab treachery. The sometimesconsiderable sympathy that existed between World War I comrades took a back seat to Cold War rivalry. And yet as circumstances pushed Turkey to slowly improve its relations with the Arab world after the 1950s, Ankara sought to again recalibrate, however slightly, the balance between support for the Western alliance and respect for Arab nationalism.16 Whether by recognizing the Palestinian Liberation Organization in 1976 or intensifying engagement with the Organization of the Islamic Conference in the early 1980s, Turkish policymakers took a series of steps reflecting the belief that they had erred too far in the direction of uncritical support for their NATO allies at the outset of the Cold War. It would, however, take some time before the impact of these policies could make themselves felt amongst a host of more pressing geopolitical and domestic concerns.
Enter the 1990s
While the end of the Cold War seemed to offer the promise of peace for many in the West, it brought Turkey little respite. After four decades on the front lines against the Soviet Union and a decade of military tutelage and counter-insurgency, Turkey entered the 1990s with a continuing sense of paranoia and besiegement undercutting the optimism of the era. Amidst politicians’ fitful attempts to capitalize on the country’s growing economy, emerge from the shadow of the 1980 coup, and end the country’s Kurdish conflict, the military establishment continued to see the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) as the country’s over-riding national security challenge. In the absence of the Soviet Union, this threat came to dominate Turkish foreign policy in the Middle East. At the same time, the end of the Cold War gave Turkey’s military and political leadership alike a renewed interest in demonstrating the continued value of the Western alliance as well as Turkey’s role in it. Especially as the war against the PKK generated ongoing criticism among many in the West, close cooperation with the US military, in the Middle East and Balkans, served as a way to secure Turkey’s relationship with Washington.
During the 1980s, Turkey’s transition to a market economy under Prime Minister Turgut Özal accelerated an effort to improve trade ties with the Middle East that began as a response to the 1970s oil crisis. By 1985, Turkey’s exports to the Middle East had reached $3 billion a year and Turkish construction firms had secured $15.5 billion worth of contracts.17 Yet at the same time, Turkey’s intensifying conflict with the PKK emerged as a dominant factor in Turkey’s regional policy. Ankara’s already strained relations with Syria were not improved when Damascus welcomed left-wing activists fleeing Turkey after the 1980 coup, and only worsened when the Assad regime began actively supporting the PKK. With PKK guerillas training alongside Hezbollah and Palestinian Liberation Organization fighters in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, the conflict also served as a driving force behind Turkey’s increasingly close relationship with Israel during the decade.18 Meanwhile, the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war also created changing economic incentives and security threats further east along Turkey’s border. For Ankara, a policy of firm neutrality in the conflict facilitated profitable trade relations with both increasingly isolated belligerents. And as Iran and Iraq tried to mobilize their rival’s Kurdish population against it, both countries had, as a result, a shared interest with Turkey in containing Kurdish separatism within their own borders.
This was the backdrop when, quickly following on the end of the Cold War, Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait triggered a new conflict that would reshape Western interests and local dynamics in the region. In retrospect, the first Gulf war and its aftermath revealed both the potential for new strategic divergence between the United States and Turkey in the aftermath of the Cold War, as well as Turkey’s capacity to overcome it so long as it prioritized maintaining strong ties to the United States.19 In the lead-up to the war, Özal promoted an active Turkish role, even suggesting that Turkish forces could attack Iraq from the north. Özal appeared to believe that active cooperation in the Middle East could help secure Ankara’s relationship with Washington, just as Inönü and Menderes had envisioned in very different circumstances at the Cold War’s outset. Yet set against Özal’s eagerness to cooperate were Turkish concerns over the Kurdish issue. These not only limited Ankara’s participation in the initial conflict but created a potential impasse after the war, when Baghdad’s crackdown on a Kurdish uprising sent hundreds of thousands of refugees streaming over the border into Turkey. In response, Ankara ultimately supported the creation of a no-fly zone in northern Iraq that allowed refugees to return but, in doing so, facilitated the creation of a quasi-independent Kurdish political entity. This was by no means an ideal outcome from Turkey’s perspective, but it was seen as being the most pragmatic response compatible with maintaining Turkey’s international relationships.
Throughout much of the 1990s, however, the impact of the Kurdish issue on Turkey’s regional policies as often as not complemented US interests in the region. Along with the economic cost of Iraqsanctions on Turkey, US support for what emerged into the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) caused tension with Ankara. But as long as both Washington and the KRG leadership turned a blind eye to Turkish military operations against the PKK in northern Iraq, these tensions never created a major bilateral issue. Similarly, Western human rights concerns over Turkey’s conduct of its domestic counter-insurgency campaign against the PKK continued to dog the US-Turkish relationship during this period. Yet ironically this helped contribute to Turkey’s growing relationship with Israel, a country which Ankara hoped would have fewer qualms about providing both military and diplomatic support for its counterterror efforts. Additionally, Syria’s ongoing support for the PKK, most notably its willingness to host PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan in Damascus, provided a common enemy to further bring Turkey and Israel together. And in this case Washington was eager to support Turkey’s efforts. Indeed, the end of the decade saw Turkey effectively leverage its relationships with both Israel and the United States to achieve an unprecedented success in its fight against the PKK. By convincingly threatening a military attack on Syria—a threat made possible, in turn, by Israel’s implicit support—Ankara eventually forced Damascus to expel Öcalan in 1999. Then, with US and Israeli covert assistance, Turkish special forces succeeded in capturing Öcalan in Kenya, dealing a major blow to the PKK.20 Ironically, the joint effort that led to Öcalan’s arrest represented a high point in the US-Turkish relationship, but also indirectly made possible some of the policies that would cause tension between the two countries in the coming decade.
Getting to Zero: 2002 to 2010
On the eve of the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) rise to power in 2002, Turkey seemed poised to achieve a degree of security and prosperity that had consistently eluded it over the past decade, if not half century. Initially, many observers hoped that an economically dynamic and culturally confident Turcongkey, at peace with its Kurdish population and firmly under civilian rule, might simultaneously succeed in improving ties with once-hostile regional neighbors while simultaneously taking its place within the European Union. And yet the political pathologies that had hindered the country’s progress remained very much alive. Amidst renewed instability in the Middle East and ongoing fears over the Turkey’s territorial integrity, as well as the country’s deep political divisions and intensified anti-Western attitudes, the possibility of a radical transformation in Turkish foreign policy was never realized. Indeed, it now appears that if a transformation occurs it will be a dramatic break in Turkey’s ties with the West rather than a dramatic improvement in its ties to the Middle East.
If Ahmet Davutoğlu, as foreign policy advisor and later foreign minister, was central to the formation of Turkey’s foreign policy under the AKP, his rhetoric was even more central to the way the way this policy was understood.21 Between the vaguely profound sounding “strategic depth” and the awkwardly direct “zero problems with neighbors,” Davutoğlu’s various doctrines came to define what others called “neo-Ottomanism”—a historically informed attempt to increase Turkey’s geopolitical influence by improving diplomatic and economic relations with and between its largely Muslim neighbors.22 In retrospect, Davutoğlu’s ambitions have often appeared naïve and grandiose, but at the time they were widely applauded as a welcome alternative to what had come before. In the 1990s, the role of the past in Turkish foreign policy had been described in terms of the “Sevres Syndrome,” a nationalist paranoia inspired by the proposed post-World War I imperial carve up of Anatolia. Against this backdrop, a degree of romanticism seemed a healthy replacement for historically-fueled rivalries with neighbors like Greece and Armenia.23 And indeed, when the AKP in its first years in power moved to mend relations with these two countries, not to mention supporting a UN peace plan for Cyprus, Davutoğlu’s foreign policy won considerable support in the West.
More controversial, however, were Turkey’s moves in the Middle East, in particular its efforts to improve relations with the antiWestern governments of Syria and Iran. These steps initially drew some criticism in Washington, and raised concerns about the Islamist character of Davutoğlu’s foreign policy vision.24 Yet there were certainly sound pragmatic reasons for Turkey to seek out better ties with both of these governments. Iran provided Turkey with much needed natural gas and Syria offered a potentially lucrative market for Turkey’s growing export-oriented economy. The rapprochement with Syria, moreover, had been made possible by Turkey’s success in forcing Damascus to end support for the PKK, while Iran, on account of its own domestic politics, had also become more cooperative in working with Turkey against the threat of Kurdish separatism. Moreover, from a traditional Islamist perspective, neither Iran, on account of its Shiism, nor the Assad regime, on account of its distinctly violent history with the Muslim Brotherhood, represented an ideal partner.
At the same time, if the motivations for improving Turkey’s ties with new Middle Eastern partners were not purely Islamist, the manner in which Ankara went about it was nonetheless indicative of the problems to come. As often as not, for Erdoğan in particular, the discomfort his visits to Tehran and Damascus created in the West seemed to be a benefit. Asked about the AKP’s handlings of relations with Syria in 2005, for example, former President Suleiman Demirel offered a telling assessment, endorsing the substance of the rapprochement but not the manner in which it was done: “No one asked Turkey to become Syria’s enemy on behalf of America. But Turkey could have avoided acts that blatantly disturbed the US … Relations with both the US and with Syria could have been managed without creating problems.”25
During this period, Davutoğlu, at least, realized that Turkey could best expand its role in the region as a power on good terms with all parties if those parties, in turn, were on good terms with each other. In serving as a mediator between Syria and Israel, for example, or trying to negotiate a deal to end Iran’s nuclear program, Davutoğlu was not only trying to enhance Turkey’s prestige but also create the conditions in which a “zero-problems” policy would be possible. And yet when existing regional rifts proved insurmountable and these efforts failed, the AKP’s response gave voice to a distinctly anti-Western anger that contrasted with previous governments’ willingness to prioritize strong relations with the West. In the case of Israel, for example, the breakdown of Syrian-Israeli negotiations in 2009 as a result of Operation Cast Lead was quickly followed by Erdoğan’s infamous “one minute” moment, followed in turn by the Mavi Marmara flotilla. Similarly, in the case of Iran, Davutoğlu’s eagerness to find a formula that would end Western sanctions was, if somewhat rash in execution, entirely in keeping with a pragmatic understanding of Turkish interests. Yet when that effort failed, the AKP did not ultimately close ranks behind its NATO partners but instead went along with a massive and corrupt effort to help Iran subvert the sanctions regime.26
For all the challenges Davutoğlu’s foreign policy ambitions faced from the outset, it could still be described as largely successful up until 2010. The AKP’s efforts to make peace with Armenia, or on Cyprus, or between Israel and Syria may have all failed, but Turkey was nonetheless more secure in its neighborhood than it had arguably been at any point in the previous century. Turkish companies were expanding their business from the Balkans to the Persian Gulf and from Iraqi Kurdistan to North Africa. If some of Turkey’s new relationships were met with displeasure in Washington, others, such as Ankara’s rapprochement with Erbil and Athens, were seen as dramatic evidence of Turkey’s progress in overcoming its historical and nationalist liabilities. American policymakers continued to see Turkey as a valuable partner in the Middle East, as did many European champions of Turkey’s EU accession. Yet much of this progress was soon to flounder amidst the contradictions introduced by the Arab Spring.
The Arab Spring Turns Sour: 2010-2015
Ironically, when the AKP first came to power, those critics who worried about the party’s Islamist foreign policy focused on the prospect of Turkey “turning East.” The fear was that the AKP would shift27 Turkey’s orientation from West to East28, with new allies like Iran and Syria replacing America and Europe. What happened instead was that Turkey turned against the West without necessarily having anywhere else to turn. Today, as Turkey threatens29 the US military in northern Syria, relations with Tehran and Damascus, not to mention Moscow, remain tense. Strained ties with Washington, in other words, have not resulted from, or been accompanied by, improved relations between Turkey and any of its Eastern neighbors. If anything, it was the failure of Turkey’s sequential turns East, both before and after the Arab Spring, that set the stage for its current rift with the West.
When the so-called Arab Spring began30, it forced a recalibration of Turkish policy by disrupting Turkey’s profitable relationships with a number of regional strongmen. Ankara initially opposed31 the NATO intervention in Libya in 2011, where Turkish businesses had $15 billion dollars’ worth of outstanding contracts. And after protests broke out in Syria, Davutoğlu first went to Damascus32, where he encouraged Assad to pursue a more moderate path. Quickly, though, with uprisings gaining momentum across the region, Ankara concluded that they were likely to succeed and that supporting them could be a source of expanded regional influence.
As a result, in the early years of the Arab Spring the United States and Turkey were, broadly speaking, on the same side. If Ankara was considerably more enthusiastic33 about the Islamist character of these popular uprisings, there was nonetheless a shared hope in Washington and Ankara that in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Syria some form of self-government would replace autocracy. When these hopes were dashed, however, the differences between American and Turkish goals came to the fore.
In 2013, for example, when the Egyptian military ousted an elected Muslim Brotherhood government, Washington took it in stride34. Whatever reservations the Obama administration may have had, it was prepared to work with Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, to this end even maintaining the official fiction35 that he had not come to power in a coup. Erdoğan, by contrast, stood by the Brotherhood, adopting the movement’s Rabia symbol as his own36 while relations with Sisi soured. Whether principled, obstinate, or a mix of the two, Erdoğan’s approach put him at odds not only with Washington but also Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, setting the stage for Turkey’s isolation in the region.
At the same time, setbacks in Syria’s civil war were also exacerbating the same fissures. While both Washington and Ankara supported the anti-Assad opposition, they differed considerably in the lengths they were prepared to go in that support. Turkey became frustrated37 after coming to expect, rightly or wrongly, that the United States would intervene directly in the summer of 2013. US policymakers, for their part, became alarmed at Turkey’s willingness to back the most radical elements of the opposition, with Turkish support for al-Nusra—an arm of al-Qaeda —becoming a festering wound in the bilateral relationship.
These tensions ultimately grew into the strategic rift38 tearing the United States and Turkey apart today. In 2014, the Islamic State emerged as Washington’s primary concern in Syria, pushing the goal of toppling Assad further into the background. For Erdoğan, by contrast, the focus was still Assad (and, increasingly, the Kurdish nationalist movement). As a result, when the United States proposed a series of joint operations narrowly targeting the Islamic State in northern Syria, Turkey countered with more sweeping proposals, arguing that a lasting solution to the threat posed by the Islamic State required regime change in Damascus.
The consequences of this impasse quickly became clear. Like its predecessor, the Trump administration embraced39 a Syrian Kurdish force called the People’s Protection Units (YPG) as its preferred partner against the Islamic State. Ankara, by contrast, following four decades of conflict with Kurdish separatists, identified the YPG—an arm of the PKK—as its primary security threat. As a result, Erdoğan reoriented Turkey’s Syria policy toward countering the YPG, leaving the United States and Turkey engaged in a dangerous game of chicken in northern Syria. Erdoğan, for his part, demanded that US soldiers evacuate the YPG-held territory of Manbij in anticipation of a Turkish attack. American officials, in turn, refused, saying that the special operation forces there “will be able to defend themselves.” 40
And yet while Syria drove the United States and Turkey apart, it has also stubbornly prevented improved relations with other regional powers. Since 2014, Erdoğan has repeatedly signaled41 his willingness, however grudging, to accept Assad’s victory. But despite pictures of Erdoğan, Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani smiling together at Sochi, a negotiated settlement remains out of reach. Neither Russia nor Iran—both of whom Turkish politicians sometimes touted as potential replacements for the United States— seemed terribly eager to accommodate Turkish interests. In early 2018, a de-escalation agreement covering the territory of Idlib broke down42, pitting Turkey and its proxies and the regime and its backers.
Meanwhile, with Syria dominating Turkish foreign policy, many other Middle Eastern states remained skeptical of Turkish influence in the region. Turkish policymakers once used “Neo-Ottomanism” as a positive term43 for their attempt to capitalize on historic and religious ties with the Muslim world. Now, it appears more often in the rhetoric of Middle Eastern writers and politicians condemning what they see as Turkish imperial interference44. In a 2017 spat between Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, the Emirati Foreign Minister accused the Ottomans of plundering sacred relics from Medina during World War I. Erdoğan, in response, accused the Arabs of betrayal for siding with the British against their Ottoman co-religionists. Egypt for its part renamed a street in Cairo named after Ottoman sultan Yavuz Selim and Saudi prince Mohammed bin Salman accused Erdoğan of trying to rebuild an “Ottoman caliphate.” More substantially, Turkey’s support for Qatar, as well as Islamist factions in Libya45, inflamed tensions with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates. In Iraq, by turn, Ankara improved its strained relations with Baghdad by firmly opposing a Kurdish bid for independence46 in the fall of 2017.
In short, with the collapse of the Arab Spring, Turkey became isolated in the Middle East, at odds with all the major local and external players in the region. This in part reflected the tumultuous changes in the region, including a number of rapid re-orientations that would have made a pragmatic policy difficult to follow for any government. And yet Turkey’s isolation was also the product of a number of politically or ideologically driven choices. The reemergence of the Kurdish conflict reflects, in part, Erdoğan’s own political needs, coupled with the prevalence of nationalist sentiment among key segments of the Turkish military and voting population. Similarly, the intensity and commitment with which Ankara backed Islamist actors in Egypt and Syria had a clear ideological component as well.
Anti-Westernism, too, must be understood as a force in and of itself. Indeed, what makes the current situation alarming is that antiWestern hostility, which extends far beyond Erdoğan’s base, now appears to be driving policy independent of pragmatic or specifically Islamist concerns. Erdoğan, for example, decided to court47 US sanctions by purchasing S-400 air defense missiles from Moscow48. His decision was motivated in part by a genuine belief that he needed them for self-protection following a 2016 coup attempt that he, like a majority of his citizens, believes was orchestrated by the United States.49 By comparison, if Ankara’s anger over US support for the YPG makes much more sense, it has nonetheless been dangerously inflamed by a climate of rampant nationalism.50
Chapter 2: Turkish Revisionism Today and the Threat to US Interests
The AKP’s rise to power in Turkey coincided with significant changes to global security. The end of the Cold War led to debates amongst Turkish national security elites about Ankara’s place in a unipolar world, absent a peer competitor to the United States. From the outset of the founding of the Turkish republic, Turkish elites viewed regional states as the main threat to the country’s security. Specifically, for the entirety of the Cold War, Ankara viewed the Soviet Union as its main threat. This concern dated back Russian irredentist claims to Kars, Ardahan, and Artvin, and Jospeh Stalin’s efforts to control the Turkish straits. The American decision to include Turkey in the NATO alliance was not without controversy in Washington, but by 1952 the United States had extended its security umbrella to Ankara. As part of this move, Turkey eagerly took advantage of American military assistance, hosted a slew of intelligence and military assets at military facilities across the country, and eagerly agreed to host US nuclear weapons in 1959. The collapse of the Soviet Union left Turkey without a regional peer capable of threatening the country’s borders.
The rise of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party in the 1980s, however, meant that Ankara now faced an internal, ethnic nationalist separative movement that many in the capital feared could divide the country in two.51 The PKK enjoyed safe-have in Syria up until Ankara’s threatened invasion in 1998. The Turkish pressure eventually led Syrian leader Hafez al Assad to kick Abdullah Öcalan out of the country, which then led to the PKK leader’s eventual capture in Kenya. The United States assisted Turkey, as Öcalan hopped from one European capital to the next, and was critical for his eventual apprehension.52 In retrospect, this close cooperation on the PKK threat was the high-point in US-Turkish, post-Cold War security relations. In the half decade that followed, the two countries would diverge over how they conceptualized the threats posed by non-state actors. The 1991 invasion in Iraq upended Turkish security. Özal was eager to work with the United States, but Turkish elite concern that the war could empower Iraqi Kurdish nationalists proved prophetic. The end of Gulf War led to the creation of two American and British enforced no-fly-zones. The northern no-fly-zone extended across the entirety of the Iraqi Kurdistan, allowing for the Iraqi Kurds to form an autonomous governing structure, protected by the United States.
The American decision to protect the Iraqi Kurds in 1991 was not intended to create a proto-Kurdish state, but the outcome of the use of force turned out to be a net negative for Turkish national security. The American relationship with the Iraqi Kurds is complicated and, for much of the Cold War, a relatively minor point of contention with the Soviet Union for influence in the Middle East.53 Yet this relationship represented the first warning signs that the United States and Turkey had divergent interests in the Middle East. For much of the 1990s, this divergence was of little consequence for the two countries. The United States had little to lose from providing support to Turkey in its war against the PKK. This support included intelligence sharing and political and military support for Ankara. Washington declared the PKK a terrorist group in 1997 and would later provide intelligence assistance to Turkey to support airstrikes in Iraq.
The al-Qaeda attacks on September 11 set in motion a series of changes that would exacerbate the divergences in Turkish and American regional policy. The American decision to expand its war from Afghanistan to Iraq challenged the US-Turkish relationship and forced uncomfortable shifts in Turkey’s regional policies. The management of the American war was left to Erdoğan and the recently elected Justice and Development Party. The AKP came to power on a platform of deepening Turkish democracy, strengthening Ankara’s relationship with Brussels, and joining the European Union. This project had widespread support in Turkey, even if Turkish elites and society viewed the party’s overt and incontrovertible links to Turkish Islamists as unwelcome and a threat to Turkish secularism.
The evolution of the AKP from pro-European and relatively liberal party to an authoritarian vehicle for Erdoğan to retain absolute control over Turkish policymaking has led to remarkable shifts in the country’s foreign policy.This evolution began with the American invasion of Iraq, a war that Ankara did not support and the party’s leadership tried to stop. However, in a nod to the party’s deference to the country’s historical deference to the United States, Erdoğan’s criticism was restrained. This deference would not last and, by 2019, the Turkish leader was willing to order his troops into Syria, in close proximity to US forces and with no coordination. As Erdoğan and the AKP settled into power, the country’s foreign policy began to reflect the party’s Islamist past, and in response to regional upheavals Turkey found itself supporting political Islamist groups the national elites viewed as critical to advancing Turkish interests.
The War on Terror: America’s Use of Power in the Middle East
Turkey’s relationships with its traditional Western allies has crumbled over the past decade, with grievances and animosity now dominating any bilateral or multilateral meeting Ankara now attends with Brussels or Washington. This deterioration in ties stems from a stark divergence in how each side views broader security challenges and, when faced with crisis, chooses to respond. Turkey’s actions have also inspired animosity in the Arab world, leading states to bandwagon against Ankara, and at times joining with Eastern Mediterranean states to project power to signal to Turkey that irredentist action will not be tolerated. The stalemate has not precluded times of rapprochement and reset, but the broader Middle East and Mediterranean regions now view Turkey as a threat—and this hostility about Turkey’s broader foreign policy is shared in many western capitals. Ankara, too, has its share of irritation with its traditional allies, underscoring how tensions now plague what has always been a tension-filled relationship between Turkey and its allies, but without much hope that these tensions can be put aside in favor of a common enemy or set of shared interests.
The Turkish-American relationship was founded on a shared interest in containing Soviet military power. The United States and Turkey reached agreement on the use of Incirlik Force Base shortly after Ankara joined NATO. The Turkish position on Cyprus, however, was the first concrete example of divergent interests over niche, nationalist issues important to Ankara and how they impacted broader American concerns about global security. The Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974 was a decade in the making. Ankara had sought to invade the island in 1964, but President Lyndon Johnson warned that any Turkish action would lead to sanctions on American-origin military equipment Ankara was completely dependent on.
The United States was legitimately concerned about the Soviet reaction and took seriously Russian threats to escalate the situation on the island. From Ankara’s perspective, the ethnic violence on the island and the nationalist ambitions to reunite the island with Greece fueled deep concerns for the Turkish minority. In 1974, those concerns boiled over, and Turkish leaders ignored warnings from both the United States and the Soviet Union about an invasion and landed troops on Cyprus, moving quickly west across the island, and taking control over approximately half of its territory. In response to the invasion, the US Congress imposed an arms embargo on Turkey, which went against the wishes of the Nixon administration. The embargo was not complete and Ankara was able to source spare parts from European sources, but it nevertheless still had a deleterious effect on Turkish operational readiness.
The American decision spurred Turkish investment in its own defense industry and pushed the country to embrace a nationalist model of domestic replacement for Western defense equipment. This policy began with the terms of rapprochement with the United States. In 1980, after the arms embargo was lifted, Turkey and the United States agreed to a new bilateral defense agreement. This agreement, which Ankara insisted be called a Defense Economic Cooperation Agreement, in reference to demands that the United States increase the use of offsets in future military sales and help to build-up private industry. The arrangement reset US-Turkish relationship, but still anchored ties to a shared security concerns.54
The United States has had access to bases in Turkey since 1952. The Defense Economic Cooperation Agreement, however, formalized a new arrangement, wherein bases in Turkey would be under Turkish command, and reiterated that for non-NATO military missions, the Turkish parliament has to approve any use of Turkish bases. Ankara has historically shied away from supporting non-NATO American military operations in the Middle East.55 The Özal government’s policy in 1990 was an exception and was very controversial in Turkey and emerged from the government’s decision to remain neutral during the Iran-Iraq war.56 In response to Özal’s push to allow the United States to fly from Incirlik Air Force and have access to other Turkish bases, three of Turkey’s most senior military officers resigned.57 After the war, the American presence in Turkey shifted from one of offensive combat operations to the continued enforcement of a no-fly-zone over northern Iraq. The American decision to protect the Kurdish areas of Iraq, at first, had Turkish support because it created a safe haven for refugees that had fled to Turkey to return to home. However, as the Kurds began to establish a quasi-independent proto-state within Iraq, Ankara’s views hardened and concerns about potential Kurdish nationalist spill over into Turkey grew.
The 1990s was a particularly bloody decade in the now forty-year- old Kurdish-led insurgency inside Turkey. The PKK emerged, for Ankara, as the country’s primary threat and many in Ankara viewed American actions in the Middle East as a primary factor in helping to sustain the insurgency. Ankara’s support for non-NATO operations in the Middle East diminished and Ankara was unwilling to sanction US action in Iraq during Operation Desert Fox in 1998.58 In contrast, Ankara supported the collective NATO response after the al-Qaeda-planned attacks on September 11, 2001. The Turkish government supported NATO’s triggering of Article 5, which obligates each member of the alliance to assist in the defense of the others, and opened airbases and airspace to America overflight, and deployed troops to Afghanistan after the overthrow of the Taliban.59 This response differed considerably from the Turkish handling of the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 and, again, following American requests to use Turkish territory to support the war against Islamic State.
The Justice and Development Party is rooted in Turkey’s political Islamist movement.The party broke away from Necmettin Erbakan’s Welfare Party following the Turkish military’s intervention in Turkish politics in 1997. The military’s threat to launch a coup led to the resignation of Turkey’s coalition government, which included the center-right True Path Party and the Islamist Welfare Party. The military’s intervention forced the government to resign, leading to the appointment of a new governing coalition, and a crackdown on Turkish Islamists. The post-modern coup had a considerable impact on the evolution of the Turkish Islamist movement, as well as on the outlook of its most popular leader, Erdoğan. In 1999, just two years after the 1997 coup, Erdoğan was imprisoned after reciting an Islamist poem, amidst increased concerns inside Turkey about the growing potency of the political Islam. The AKP emerged from this tumultuous period, with Erdoğan and a small cadre of younger Welfare Party elites breaking away from Erbakan and softening the party’s platform and signaling that the main focus of the party’s foreign policy will be on hastening Turkey’s accession to the European Union.60
Turkish Islamists focused much of their political efforts on domestic services and improving life for the country’s lower classes. Erbakan’s foreign policy platform was of secondary concern, but tended to revolve around the need for greater intra-Muslim solidarity, the creation of Muslim-majority institutions similar to those in Europe, and extreme suspicion—and outright hostility—towards the West and its role in global affairs. The AKP, in contrast, at first sought to distance itself from these types of ideas, and instead linked its domestic messaging to its foreign policy. This approach made the case that Turkish democratization and liberalization would increase freedoms for all Turkish citizens, including Turkish women that wore the headscarf and religiously conservative members of society that had typically been oppressed by the secular state. This focus on democratization, in turn, could help Turkey more closely integrate with Europe and improve its global standing with the Western democracies. As the United States began its preparation to invade Iraq in 2003, then Prime Minister Abdullah Gül—who soon vacated the position for Erdoğan—sought to ameliorate American concerns about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, and thereby prevent the invasion. The Bush administration was intent on invading Iraq from the south and opening a second front from the north. This war plan required parliamentary permission to stage US forces on Turkish territory for air, ground, and naval forces needed to sustain the second front of the war. Ankara was hesitant to support the war from the outset, but did acquiesce to US intelligence agencies entering Iraqi Kurdistan from Turkish territory.61 The American-Turkish-Kurdish dynamics during this period before the invasion were fraught and Ankara used many of the same tactics that it did during the American enforcement of the northern no-fly-zone to hamper these initial activities in Iraq.62 For the overt war request, the AKP was left to balance between its own, internal factions that were hostile to the United States, a cross-partisan consensus in Turkey that Ankara’s security situation deteriorated considerably after the Gulf War, and that the Turkish economy would suffer from the war’s fall out (just as it did during the 1991 Gulf War).
The United States sought to offset these Turkish concerns with the promise of a $26 billion aid package, comprised of $20 billion in loan guarantees and $6 billion in direct grants. Ankara, in turn, demanded $32 billion in aid, just one month before the invasion began.63 The Turkish public was adamantly opposed to the war, with opinion polls showing that 80 percent of the country opposed Ankara’s involvement in the conflict.64 The AKP chose to hide behind the parliament, leaving the fate of the US demand to Bülent Arınç, the then speaker of the parliament, and core member of this initial iteration of the party. The AKP did not whip its members for the vote and, as a result, the vote fell three shy of passage (with 19 abstentions). The vote against the invasion made perfect sense for Turkish interests. However, it completely upended American war plans and forced American Special Forces, based temporarily in Romania, to fly a dangerous flight path to insert US forces at airbases in Iraqi Kurdistan. The flight, dubbed Operation Ugly Baby, required flying for an extended period of time over Iraq, exposing the crews to ground fire. One aircraft was badly damaged and had to divert to Turkey, while the others landed at pre-prepared airstrips in northern Iraq.65 These initial cadre of Special Forces would later lead the fight against a numerically superior force of Iraqi troops, in coordination with different factions of the Kurdish Peshmerga.
“Turkey really screwed up all of the logistical planning,” according to a US Special Forces member interviewed by an author, “and the guys who were going in wanted to make it right after leaving in 1996.”66 Nevertheless, the American invasion proceeded, prompting Turkey to make its own calculations about how to hedge against is broader concerns about Kurdish nationalism. Three weeks after the parliament rejected the US request to use Turkish territory for strikes in Iraq, it voted to approve American overflight of Turkey. During that same vote, the Turkish parliament also voted to allow cross-border Turkish military operations and signaled that the military would be used to establish a buffer zone in northern Iraq, as a hedge against expected refugee flows and to wall off PKK infiltration routes into southeastern Turkey.67 Ankara demanded that the United States limit its materiel and weapons support for the Peshmerga and ensure that the Kurds did not occupy Mosul and Kirkuk. After the invasion ended and the American occupation began, Ankara did offer to deploy troops to Anbar.68 However, both the Kurdish and Shia factions within Iraq objected to any Turkish deployments and the proposal was deemed a “non-starter.”
Ankara did, however, almost immediately begin to use military force in Iraq following the invasion. In the Kurdistan Region, the Turkish military threatened a large-scale invasion to build out a buffer against the PKK and to protect the Turkmen minority based in Tel Afar. As one soldier recounts, “there was one event where the Turks threatened to cross the border en masse and they had all these tanks poised on the border. It was classic Turkish theater with an armored division on the border and claiming instances of Turkmen cleansing and saying ‘fix it or we are going across the border.’”69 While Ankara threatened large-scale action, its initial forays into Iraq were limited to special forces. As James Dobbins writes, “US military forces came across ‘Turkish flying roadblocks inside Iraq aimed at interdicting PKK movements,’ and received reports that ‘Turkish [Special Forces] have worn US Army uniforms when ambushing PKK units, apparently to try to provoke PKK attacks on Coalition Forces.’”70 For Ankara, the use of military coercion served two purposes. First, it put pressure on the United States to take its concerns about the Kurds seriously. Second, and perhaps more importantly, the Turkish military was able to increase its presence in Iraqi Kurdistan. This allowed for Turkish security forces to take preventive measures against any PKK infiltration from certain places inside Iraq.
The Turkish government’s presence in Iraq also led to bilateral problems, linked to divergences over how to manage the PKK issue after the US invasion. In July 2003, for example, the US Army detained and placed hoods over the heads of Turkish soldiers at a Turkish facility in the Iraqi Kurdish city of Sulaimaniya. The details of the arrest remain murky, with Kurdish officials claiming that the Turkish team was tasked with assassinating the Kurdish governor of Kirkuk, Abdulrahman Mustafa.71 But, for Turkey, the images of hooded soldiers in US custody stirred a nationalist backlash. Months earlier, the US military had intercepted a Turkish arms shipment, purportedly en route to allied Sunni Turkmen groups in Kirkuk. The two sides remained at odds for three more years over the “green line” separating Arab Iraq from the Kurdish region in the north and the extent of Kurdish control, before the United States appointed a special envoy for countering PKK, Joseph W. Ralston, a retired Air Force general.72
The United States and Turkey never did resolve the asymmetry of interests over the PKK during the occupation. Ankara demanded that the United States treat the PKK as a threat on par with al-Qaeda in Iraq, the insurgent group that would later morph into the Islamic State, and which was destabilizing Iraq with its attacks on Shia and coalition forces. The United States, in contrast, believed that the PKK was a terrorist group, but argued that a Turkish intervention would further destabilizing Iraq. This critical divergence would later haunt the United States and Turkey in 2014, after Islamic State rampaged through Iraq and took over eastern Syria.
The AKP Finds it Footing: The Roots of Modern Turkish Foreign Policy
The AKP’s Iraq policy is a microcosm for how it approached the region under the AKP government. The AKP’s initial reaction to the invasion was to try and facilitate a regional approach to prevent the conflict. In the aftermath of the invasion, Ankara turned towards a hard security focused approach, built around coercing the United States to do more to combat the PKK and deploying forces to pressure the group militarily.
However, understanding this political evolution also requires a deeper look into the thinking of Ahmet Davutoğlu. Davutoğlu’s work represents an effort to graft traditional realist concepts of geopolitics to Turkey’s own evolution as a state following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the emergence of non-Muslim powers dominating the Middle Eastern region. At its core, Davutoğlu’s theory on foreign policy is rooted in the belief that the Eurasian landmass, and the areas that surround it, are of crucial importance to global geopolitics. As such, Turkey, which sits at the center of this vital piece of land, is deemed to have a unique opportunity to expand its influence and create strategic depth. In doing so, it is held, it can establish itself as a global power and thereby play a significant role in creating new global institutions that are more in keeping with the world’s different “‘civilizations’ or ‘cultures.””73 Davutoğlu argued that post-Ottoman instability in the Middle East stemmed from the import of European nationalism and self-determination. This import of a foreign weltanschauung is asynchronous with the region’s religious history, which had previously revolved around the adoption of religious law as a means to govern society and to derive governing legitimacy.74 This arrangement, Davutoğlu argued, naturally placed Turkey at the center of a large land mass spanning from the Balkans to Central Asia. This policy, dubbed strategic depth in Turkey, suggested that Ankara could expand its influence abroad by focusing on Muslim-majority neighbors that have historic ties to Istanbul—the former seat of the Ottoman caliph.75
Turkey’s divergence from the Middle East, Davutoğlu argued, stemmed from false, European-origin nationalism that led to the break up the Ottoman Empire following World War I. This same nationalism, he implies, also impacted Turkish politics and permeated throughout the nationalist and secular oriented political parties and the military that dominated Turkish politics for decades. This argument was also tinged with an overt criticism of the United States. Davutoğlu believed that the United States perpetuated regional instability because of its role as a regional guarantor of the region’s Gulf Arab states. This role, he maintained, was premised on a pact that elevated the threat, during the Cold War, of the Soviet Union and global communism and, post-1991, of Islamism and terrorism. The region’s leadership, therefore, used fear and security concerns to retain its vital relationship with Washington, which in turn excused the repressive tactics used to suppress dissent back home. This dissent, often times, expressed itself through political Islamist parties, which created an obvious overlap in how the AKP and its predecessor parties viewed their own internal struggle in Turkey to retain political power.
Davutoğlu’s ideas have had a clear impact on AKP foreign policy. These key themes gave Erdoğan and those that remain in the party a key set of ideas that Ankara now uses to frame its regional interests. During the mid-2000s, the first manifestation of Ankara’s updated Middle East policy played out in Iraq. The American invasion of Iraq upended the Iraqi central government, which Ankara had depended on to keep pressure on the Iraqi Kurds to ensure that the state did not break up. This relationship with Baghdad was also dependent on Turkey’s relationship with Washington, which enforced a “no-fly and no-radiate” zone over the Kurdish areas. Turkey’s support for this policy allowed for Ankara to have a seat at the table and observe US operations so as to ensure that the Iraqi Kurds would not unilaterally break away from the Iraqi state. Davutoğlu had a different approach to the Kurdish issue. The AKP had considerable electoral success in Turkey’s Kurdish-majority southeast and could compete with the country’s largest and most popular Kurdish political party, which has overt links to the PKK. For this reason, AKP sought to appeal to religiously pious Kurds and downplay the nationalist aspect of each bloc’s politics, in favor of a shared religious identity, and a broader commitment to greater democratic freedom.
The AKP was wary of the American occupation in Iraq. The security apparatus constantly badgered the United States to do more to fight the PKK, which exploited the loss of central government control to expand its reach in northern Iraq and across the border into Turkey. Ankara also opposed the 2005 Iraqi constitution. Davutoğlu argued that Turkey governed Iraq for 400 years and that specific mention of “different sects and ethnicities” risked “creating another Yugoslavia in the Middle East.”76 Despite the official aversion to sectarianism, Ankara established significant inroads with elements of Iraq’s Sunnimajority political establishment. In 2005, the AKP hosted Tariq Al Hashimi, the leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party—the Iraqi branch of the Muslim Brotherhood—at a major conference in Istanbul to convince the Sunni bloc to vote in favor of the constitution at the upcoming referendum.77
Turkey’s flirtation with the Muslim Brotherhood foreshadowed its future foreign policy in the Middle East. However, there was a very practical and interest-based reason to support a Sunni-majority party to counterbalance the Kurdish bloc in Mosul. This policy was initially unsuccessful. The Sunni boycott of the 2005 Iraqi election allowed for the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) to gain political control over Nineveh Province.
Ankara’s response to the jousting for control of Mosul would shape a series of subsequent policy choices that directly impacted local perspectives about the Turkish role in Iraq—and the region, more broadly. The AKP did make an effort to cultivate close ties with dominant Shia political actors in Baghdad, hosting Muqtada al Sadr at the Cankaya Presidential Palace in Ankara in 2009.78 However, Turkey began to, in practice, move away from its historic support for a strong centralized government. Faced with continuing hostility, the AKP drifted towards the KDP and the Iraqqiya, Sunni-majority political bloc.
This change in policy would haunt Turkey after the rise of Islamic State. The economic incentives to support the KDP were manifest. Ankara allowed for two small energy firms to work from Turkey to drill for oil in Iraqi Kurdistan and suggested that it would independently export this oil “when it has become convinced that the situation in Arab Iraq has become so unstable that it threatens its strategic interests,” according to the International Crisis Group.79 In parallel, Iraqqiya won ninety-one out of 325 seats in Iraq’s Council of Representatives, compared to the eighty-nine won by the then Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki’s State of Law coalition. The more numerous Iraqqiya, however, did not have a logical political partner for form a coalition, all but ensuring the government would remain dominated by Maliki and his close confidantes. In the wake of Maliki’s government formation, Ankara began to facilitate independent oil exports. The KRG began to export crude oil to Turkey by truck in 2012, before the two sides finished construction of an independent oil pipeline from Iraqi Kurdistan to the Turkish port of Ceyhan in 2014.
On the political side, the Iraqqiya coalition collapsed and Ankara chose to back Omar and Atheel Nujaifi. Omar was a national politician leading a parliamentary bloc. His brother, Atheel, was the governor of Ninewah and controlled Mosul. The partnership, however, was soon marred by the Nujaifi brothers’ calls to establish a “Sunni” autonomous region, similar to the KRG, and complete with its own security forces. This call had little support, but the Nujaifi connection to Ankara—combined with the Turkish selling of Kurdish oil independent of the central government gave credence— to narrative that the AKP was keen on breaking up the Iraqi state for its own interests. The Nujaifis’ proposal had little credibility inside Iraq, but the two men were in positions of power and continued to advocate for a radical altering of the government’s structure.
As centralized control began to break down in Sunni-majority areas in Iraq in 2012, the rise of the Islamic State proved problematic for regional perceptions of Turkey. The rejuvenated Sunni Insurgency began in December 2012, following the arrest of the Iraqi Finance Minister Rafia al-Isawi, a native of the former extremist stronghold of Anbar. The arrest prompted a series of protests in the Sunnimajority cities of Ramadi and Fallujah. Maliki handled these protests poorly, alternating between handing out piecemeal concessions and authorizing violence. The protesters were sub-divided into two groups, with one linked to Iraq’s mainstream Sunni clerical establishment and politicians within the broader Sunni political movement and a second, more sinister, group tied to the Jaysh Rijal al-Taraqa al-Naqshbandia, a neo-Ba’athist insurgent group that would later ally with Islamic State. The calls, at least at the outset of these protests, for more devolved, Sunni-specific federal powers reinforced central government skepticism about the nature of the insurgency. It also reinforced the political ambitions of Turkey’s two chief allies in Iraq.
As the security situation throughout Iraq continued to deteriorate, politicians began to preen for the cameras. In one absurd moment, Atheel al Nujaifi was filmed on a street patrol with a handful of guys, who would later flee the city with Atheel for Erbil. “I remember watching that clip,” a journalist based in Erbil explained, “and thinking to myself, what the hell is about to happen here.”80 Ankara refused to evacuate its consulate in Mosul, despite receiving warnings that Islamic State was poised to attack the city’s outer neighborhoods. The group, according to Reuters, hoped to take control of a few neighborhoods for a few hours, before they would retreat under fire.81 They did not expect the city to fall. The security forces in the city, at least on paper, outnumbered Islamic State, with a series of brigades deployed in the city.
The Islamic State’s rise was the bookend to the American War on Terror and prompted intervention in Iraq and Syria. The Turkish border became the main hub for the Islamic State to recruit foreign fighters and receive materiel from abroad. The TurkishAmerican disconnect, that had begun following the 1991 Gulf War and continued during the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, remained unresolved. And, with the war against the Islamic State, the disconnect got worse. The United States chose to go to war in Syria with a PKK-linked militia, the YPG, after it became clear that forces Ankara had cultivated were not up to the task to fight Islamic State throughout Syria. This decision nearly severed relations. Ankara, however, was viewed in Washington and the region as a key enabler of the group the United States and much of the region was working to defeat. The suspicions about Turkey, at least in the Arab world, were linked back to its support for political Islamists in the region, its support for politicians that pushed for the break up of the Iraqi state along ethnic lines, and its hindrance of US war efforts. On three occasions between 2016 and 2019, Ankara invaded Syrian territory. These invasions, while tethered to broader counterterrorism goals, seriously threatened the US-led campaign.
The end of the war against the Islamic State in Syria eased this pressure on Ankara, but it would be a serious change in Turkish policy, prompted in part by the collapse of the local economy, to challenge regional perceptions of the AKP’s foreign policy. Ankara, as has often been the case, used Israel as a means to try and signal its intentions to recalibrate its half-decade pursuit of irredentist foreign policy decisions.
Israel and Palestine
Turkey’s history with Israel is complicated and relations are tethered to core national security interests. The AKP’s now two-decade old handling of relations with Jerusalem have been fraught and marred by frequent diplomatic disputes and periods of sustained animosity that has seen both sides accuse the other of supporting terrorist groups. The two sides have mended relations in recent years, following Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s electoral loss in June 2021.82
Prime Minister Erdoğan and much of the AKP argued that the United States and Israel presided over an “axis” in the Middle East. As one current AKP member of parliament has argued, the IsraeliAmerican axis is the “Camp David order,” which he defined as the West’s unwavering support for the Arab leaders who have dominated Middle Eastern affairs for the last three decades. According to Taha Ozhan, “This status quo positioned Israel at the center of regional relations, and in subsequent years has enabled regional dictators to rule with an iron fist.” 83 The AKP, therefore, viewed the Palestine issue through their own understanding of regional democracy, self interest, and broader relations with the region’s most dominant external power—the United States. For Davutoğlu and the AKP, the resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict would have three direct positive impacts for Turkey in the region: First, Ankara genuinely views Palestinian self-determination as a national priority and is eager to help facilitate Israeli recognition of Palestinian independence. Second, the current status quo, in turn, is indicative of the broader issues the current Turkish leadership is seeking to overturn. These issues are the perceived Western backing for authoritarian regimes and irredentist nationalist identities that oppress conservative Muslim actors. Third, the Turkish leadership views these changes as necessary to hasten Turkey’s own rise as an international power, and broader transition to a multi-polar world where the United States— and the West—is no longer the dominant actor.
The 2006 Palestinian elections were a watershed moment for the AKP’s foreign policy and has framed how Ankara has handled relations with Israel ever since. In 2005, the United States in particular pushed the Palestinian Authority, led by Fatah, to organize parliamentary elections, which were held in the following January. The resulting electoral victory by Hamas—which gained a clear majority—came as a surprise to the Bush administration, prompting it to threaten to withhold aid to the Palestinian Authority unless Hamas renounced its anti-Israel positions. The standoff opened the door for Ankara to shift its own narrative on the Israel-Palestine issue, and to wrap it support for Hamas as a broader support for regional democracy. Ankara’s policy also included continued outreach to Israel, and in particular support for Israeli-Syrian peace talks.
The AKP viewed Israeli-Syrian normalization as an obtainable goal and sought to facilitate an end to this aspect of the decades old ArabIsraeli conflict. While Ankara did not specifically tie its support for Palestine to its mediation efforts, the two goals were interlinked.
The AKP elite viewed the securitization of the Middle East as the systemic driver of regional instability. In 2012, Davutoğlu criticized the Western response to the Hamas electoral victory, arguing that the refusal to engage with Hamas helped to fuel tensions and contributed to the intra-Palestinian violence that led to the de-facto partition of the West Bank and Gaza. Turkish policy bent towards Hamas, thereafter, but its official position was to push Hamas to renounce violence, push the parties to agree to a two-state solution, and to solve political differences through negotiations.84
Thus, if Ankara were to facilitate an end to two festering conflicts involving Israel, it would benefit the Middle East, and thereby benefit Turkish equities along its border in Syria and further afield in the Levant. Israeli politics are fickle, but Erdoğan had sought to maintain close ties with former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The two men, however, had a falling out over the 2008 HamasIsrael war, which Jerusalem dubbed Operation Cast Lead. Despite the growing tensions between Israel and Hamas—and Ankara’s treatment of Hamas as the de-facto government of Palestine— Ankara and Jerusalem retained a functional relationship. The Turkish government, at this time, felt that its diplomatic efforts had led Israel and Syria to the precipice of signing a peace agreement. However, as elections approached in Israel—and Syrian intransigence on key issues remained—Ankara believed that any breakthrough would take a few months to resolve. Olmert had visited Ankara and met with Erdoğan in December 2008, where the two men reportedly signaled support for peace. Yet, after returning to Israel, the campaign in Gaza began. Erdoğan viewed the operation as a slight and, in response, progress on the Israeli-Syrian peace process was permanently frozen. To this day, there is no consensus on how close Ankara was to actually winning agreement from Damascus, but at the time, Erdoğan viewed the Israeli actions as a slap in the face of all his efforts.
The tensions led to two incidents that, along with the election of Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel, derailed Israeli-Turkish ties for well over a decade. The downturn began with conflict in Gaza, which manifested itself at a joint event between Erdoğan and Israeli President Shimon Peres. During a moderated panel, Erdoğan famously asked for “one minute” to rebut Peres’ defense of Israeli military actions in Gaza and suggested the Israeli government was an expert in killing children on beaches. In the aftermath of Cast Lead, the Turkish government adopted a harsher policy, although it sought to work through like-minded surrogates to punish Tel Aviv. In 2010, an Islamist aid group (the IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation, or simply IHH) organized a flotilla of aid ships to sail from Turkey to Gaza to break Israel’s naval blockade. Officially, the Turkish government disavowed the flotilla, but claimed that they lacked the legal mechanisms to stop the ships from sailing.85 The Israeli government, however, chose to interdict the ship, and during a raid at sea near Gaza killed nine Turks onboard. The raid took place in international waters, prompting outrage around the world, and sparking protests in Turkey. The fallout poisoned Turkish-Israeli relations, leading to the removal of ambassadors from each capital, the severing of defense ties, and Ankara becoming more overt in its hosting of Hamas representatives in Turkey. The United States has long sought to mediate a solution to the tensions between Israel and Turkey, with President Barack Obama overseeing a phone call where Prime Minister Netanyahu apologized to Erdoğan in 2010. The phone call eased the tension, but did not resolve the underlying issues that chilled relations. Still, this allowed for Ankara and Jerusalem to compartmentalize relations, focus on trade relations, but also create space to disagree over Gaza without it leading to a rupture in ties.86
The rapprochement also stemmed from broader factors, linked to Turkish challenges after the 2011 Arab uprisings, the collapse of the Turkish economy later in the decade, and broader concerns about an emergent tripartite partnership between Israel, Greece, and Cyprus (with support from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia). Looking back at the collapse of relations, Ankara’s turn to a quasi-government linked entity—IHH—to use as a carve out to asymmetrically pressure an adversarial nation. Ankara repeated this model in Syria, where IHH provided aid to opposition fighters Ankara gave safe haven to inside its borders, and again in its handling of migrants fleeing the civil war for Turkey to transit on to Europe. For years, Ankara simply allowed these migratory networks to exist, as part of a broader effort to pressure Europe and to gain leverage with Brussels in negotiations. Turkey followed a similar model with opposition, Arabic-language media based in Istanbul and beaming channels to the Middle East via satellite.
Political Islam and the Arab Spring: Ankara’s Revisionist Rhetoric
The wave of anti-regime, democratically-focused protests in the Middle East after 2010 appeared to affirm many of the thoughts former Prime Minister Davutoğlu had about the region’s political future. The AKP elite also viewed the uprising as an opportunity to reshape the regional order in ways that were advantageous to Turkish national security and economic interests. Ankara’s subsequent support for the Muslim Brotherhood, and in particular, Mohammed Morsi in Egypt, placed Turkey at odds with the status quo powers in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi. Ankara increasingly found common cause with Qatar, the small natural gas rich country in the Persian Gulf. The two countries shared similar points of view about the role of political Islam and had natural, geopolitical synergies that drove the two together. Turkey is a large country with considerable military resources, but often times needs foreign support to prop up its economy. Qatar is a rich country, but with no military capacity to speak of. The Qatari leadership has long viewed Saudi Arabia as a threat and has sought to use external powers to guarantee its security.
The Turkish-Qatari defense agreement was signed in 2014, amidst regional tensions over the role Ankara and Doha were playing in supporting Islamist movements in Egypt, Libya, and Syria.87 The defense agreement essentially obligated Turkey to help defend Doha from attack by Saudi Arabia, while giving Ankara financial assistance at a time that its economy was struggling. The defense relationship solidified an airtight political relationship, fortified during the aftermath of the Arab revolts. Both Ankara and Doha worked closely to support various Muslim Brotherhood related groups. The Turkish-Qatari support for Mohamed Morsi in Egypt prompted a counter bloc, led by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. The two sides jostled for influence in Libya and within the broader anti-Assad opposition in Syria.
The July 2013 coup that toppled Morsi deepened the fissures between the two blocs. The bloody coup led to Morsi’s minister of defense, Abdel Fattah al Sisi, to take control and crack down on the Brotherhood. This included the arrest of Morsi and his eventual death during a sham trial.88 The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia provided significant financial support for Sisi following the coup,89 whereas Turkey and Qatar refused to acknowledge Sisi as legitimate and sought to isolate Egypt on the world stage.90 Erdoğan also reacted to the violent events on Rabaa square, where Egyptian security forces killed 900 peaceful protesters, and imprisoned hundreds of others. Erdoğan used a four finger Rabia sign to recall this event, turning the symbol into a populist electoral theme to galvanize his supporters at political rallies, and as a potent political symbol for Morsi and the Brotherhood movement.91
The intra-Arab disagreements exploded in June 2017, when Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates orchestrated a diplomatic and economic blockade of Qatar.92 As part of the blockade, Saudi Arabia demanded that Turkey remove its troops from the country.93 During the crisis, there was concern that Saudi Arabia would invade its small neighbor to topple the regime, which Ankara would have been obligated to defend. This outcome never came to fruition. The tensions deepened further in October 2018, when the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered and his body dismembered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman ordered the killing, according to a CIA intelligence assessment.94 The Turkish government had the same assessment and through a series of coordinated leaks sought to increase pressure, presumably so that the Saudi King Salman would take action to sideline the young prince. The Turkish policy, therefore, was a de facto attempt to overthrow an Arab ruler that Ankara was at loggerheads with over political Islam and the postArab revolt regional order. This effort at regime change did not work and, in retaliation for this policy, Saudi Arabia imposed a complete embargo of Turkish products.95
The tit-for-tat continued up until May 2022. The tensions came amid a deleterious economic downturn in Turkey. The downturn stemmed almost solely from Erdoğan’s economic mismanagement and his absurd insistence that the best tool to tame inflation is to lower interest rates.96 The accepted tool to tackle high inflation is to raise interest rates, but any such action in Turkey would lead to decline in economic growth and increase borrowing costs for Erdoğan-linked firms, thereby undermining core pillars of AKP electoral power. Thus, for reasons ranging from Erdoğan personal piety to authoritarianism, the Turkish leader has an incentive to keep borrowing costs low and to artificially stimulate the economy, even at the cost of rampant inflation. The Turkish Central Bank which has been completely defanged in the twenty-plus years of Erdoğan rule, are then left to try and craft policy within the acceptable bounds Erdoğan demands. On the financial side, this led his sonin-law, former Finance Minister Berat Albayrak, to use Turkey’s small amount of dollar reserves to try and stabilize the lira during a currency crisis in 2021.97 Albayrak’s own economic mismanagement and his unpopularity led him to resign, but the tools that he used to stabilize the lira remain the preferred policy in Ankara. As a result, Turkey has spent down its currency reserves, and has to borrow domestically to maintain a positive number of dollars.
This currency crisis prompted Turkish leaders to arrange for a series of dollar infusions in a currency swap arrangement. Ankara turned, first, to Qatar. Later, as the situation grew more dire, and outreach to Washington was met with skepticism, Turkey had to consider other dollar rich countries. This led Ankara back to the Gulf and the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Ankara’s need for dollars, then, prompted a reassessment of its regional policies, built in opposition to Abu Dhabi and Riyadh.98 In early 2022, Turkey reached agreement with the United Arab Emirates for a small currency swap (matching agreements made with Qatar, South Korea, and China) and an end to the total Saudi embargo of Turkish goods. A Turkish about face came in 2022, amidst domestic, pro-government fanfare about a reset in Ankara’s regional policies.99 The reality, however, is that Ankara’s dire economic situation undermined Turkish policy and enabled regional adversaries—and eager global powers—to “buy off” Turkey and ensure at least a few years of benign relations. Ankara’s relationship with China, for example, is one where minimal Chinese investment in Turkey and a concurrent currency swap has ensured Ankara will not make a fuss about the genocide of Turkic Uyghurs in Xinjiang. The UAE and Saudi Arabia bought a similarity pliant Turkey and shunted thorny issues to the side. Ankara has carried this reset to Israel, which has been open to Ankara’s outreach.
However, in all of these cases, the public commentary lauding a return to functional bilateral relations does not match the deep, internal skepticism about Turkish revanchism in the region. The wave of regional resets has not led to a deep feelings of gratitude for Erdoğan, but is instead a reflection of the perceived need to manage Turkey and its frequent outbursts. In this sense, Turkey’s regional antagonists are buying Turkish foreign policy on the cheap, and essentially winning concessions from a hostile actor in exchange for relatively small amounts of money. For Ankara, the reset has helped to frame a weak Turkey’s management of a self-induced economic crisis as part of a coherent, regional strategy, and has sought to convince the public that the net sum of Turkey’s irredentist policy produced real meaningful changes.
In reality, the challenges Ankara has posed to the regional order in the Middle East and the Mediterranean for at least the past decade has led sates hostile to Turkey to bandwagon together. The reasons for the anti-Turkey bandwagon will be discussed in the next chapter. However, the anti-Turkey action taken by the UAE and Saudi Arabia, in concert with Israel, Greece, and Cyprus have not prevented individual efforts to improve relations with Turkey. The strength of this bandwagon bloc should not be underestimated, despite Turkey’s general effort to end its regional isolation. The region remains deeply suspicious of Erdoğan and the broader trends in Turkish foreign policy. The issue is, perhaps, most acute for EU members Greece and Cyprus, which have sought assistance from France and the United States for external protection from further Turkish provocations. Ankara’s irredentism tanked relations with the United States, much of the West, and isolated Turkey in the Middle East (with the exception of Qatar). Turkey’s economic weakness did spur changes in how it approached the cash-rich Arab states, but the resentment in Egypt and Israel continues, as does hostility and fear in Athens and Nicosia.
Turkey’s relationship with the United States, which began to fracture over starkly different regional security concerns in Iraq in 2003 and then Syria in 2012, has reached a nadir. The two countries remain formal allies, but the relationship is now mired in a series of normalized meetings designed to air grievances, where the prospect for some large compromise remains remote. This situation also reflects Turkey’s relationship with the EU, so while Ankara’s economic weakness helped catalyze changes to its relations with the Arab world and Israel, the same cannot also be said for Turkey’s traditional allies in the West.
Chapter 3: Regional Repercussions
The events of the past decade have profoundly shaped and reshaped regional attitudes toward Turkey. Beyond day-to-day developments in bilateral relations between Turkey and its neighbors, the impact of these attitudes will continue to determine how Turkey’s role in the region evolves. Specifically, fears that have been triggered or reinforced by Turkish policies during this period risk taking on a life of their own, curtailing prospects for rapprochement and realignment under Erdoğan or any future Turkish government.
As Turkey’s 2021 rapprochement campaign revealed, current divisions need not become the defining feature of regional geopolitics over the coming decade. Yet this remains a real risk. For Washington, the challenge will lie in effectively managing regional concerns so that they do not deepen into irreversible fault lines that ensure Turkey’s permanent alienation in the region. This involves recognizing and addressing them without taking steps that will ultimately consolidate them.
In order to understand what an effective balancing act will require, this chapter surveys perceptions of Turkish foreign policy in selected regional states. Drawing on conversations with officials and opinion leaders in these countries, it seeks to offer insight into how current views have developed, and how they might evolve in the coming years.
Needless to say, Greek perceptions of Turkish foreign policy have always differed considerably from perceptions in the United States. Connoisseurs of neo-Ottomanism quickly noticed a striking difference in the way the term was used to criticize to Turkish foreign policy in Athens and Washington.100 Among many US critics, neo-Ottomanism referred to aggressive, Islamist policies Turkey adopted when it ceased being a stalwart, dependable NATO ally under Erdoğan’s leadership. In Greek discourse, by contrast, it often seemed to be just another way to refer to the aggressive nationalist policies that the Turkish republic had supposedly followed ever since it stopped being Ottoman. From one perspective, Turkey’s traditional Kemalist foreign policy had always foresworn irredentism and aggression in pursuit of peace at home and peace in the world. From the other perspective, Turkey’s 1974 invasion of Cyprus made a mockery of these claims.
Longstanding Greek fears about Turkish regional ambitions have sometimes led to a backhanded gratitude for Erdoğan’s leadership. This viewpoint takes for granted Turkey’s desire to undermine Greek interests, whether in a nakedly irredentist matter or simply in pursuit of more modest maritime and economic interests. In either case, Erdoğan’s Islamist inclinations, anti-Western posturing, and aggressive rhetoric have been a net benefit for Athens, because they have alienated Turkey’s NATO allies and alarmed regional actors like Israel and Egypt. As a result, Erdoğan has left Turkey more isolated and made it more difficult for Ankara to pursue its traditional, that is anti-Greek, interests. The natural corollary to this view is that Greece might ultimately face a greater long-term threat if a new government comes to power in Ankara that proves willing to abandon Erdoğan’s Islamist causes in order to restore relations with Israel and Egypt while also returning, prodigal son style, to the warm embrace of the Western alliance. By ending Turkey’s isolation and capitalizing on the enthusiasm of Western leaders to see Turkey’s traditional foreign policy restored, Ankara would gain significant leverage that it could then use to pressure Athens into concessions.
This view is not necessarily at odds with more widespread concerns about how Erdoğan’s policies and rhetoric have inflamed nationalist demands and irredentist ambitions across the Turkish political spectrum in ways that will be difficult for any future government to tame. Indeed, recent years have seen an escalation in subtly or not so subtly irredentist language from Turkish officials and progovernment papers.101 Maps claiming portions of neighboring countries have appeared with greater frequency on Turkish television, and even been shared by AKP parliamentarians. In a 2020 interview, Turkey’s vice president described the feelings of anguish and injustice aroused in Turkish citizens at seeing Greek islands only miles from their shores. Newspapers have described the ease with which neighboring islands could be seized, while the Turkish foreign ministry has suggested that Greece’s failure to demilitarize them could call their sovereignty into question.
Against this backdrop, Erdoğan’s official endorsement of the Mavi Vatan maritime claims, formalized in Turkey’s 2019 memorandum of understanding with Libya, have appeared in a particularly aggressive light. While some pro-Ankara analysts have tried to present this agreement as an opening bid in a broader bargaining strategy, the official nature of the claim, coupled with the widespread support it received among diverse sectors of Turkish society, raises concerns that it will be difficult for this or any future Turkish government to walk it back.102 If nothing else, popularity of the Mavi Vatan map in itself has helped shift Turkish public opinion about what a just maritime delimitation would be in ways that will complicate any future attempts at a negotiated settlement.
Taken together, Turkish rhetoric and policies have created a more pronounced threat perception in Athens than is often appreciated in either Ankara or Washington. For example, while Turkey’s 2020 refugee policy or its overflight of Greek islands are often viewed from Washington as unhelpful or even provocative moves, some Greek observers have presented them both as part of a concerted and systematic effort to test Greek defenses. Indeed, while European observers were highly critical of Turkey’s effort to manufacture a refugee crisis at the Greek border in early 2020, they failed to appreciate the degree to which some in Greece saw it in quasimilitary terms as a direct assault on Greek sovereignty. The result is a situation where many people in Western capitals still see a direct military confrontation between Greece and Turkey as unrealistic whereas many in Athens have come to see it as unlikely but possible.
These trends have both fed and exacerbated existing doubts about the degree of support Greece would receive from its Western allies in the case of a more serious crisis with Turkey. The fear, as summarized by one Greek analyst, is that if Ankara deliberately provoked a crisis, or perhaps even attacked, NATO would express concern and urge deconfliction, while Germany would blame Greece for not being more accommodating and offer to host negotiations. Whether these fears are justified or not, they provide the necessary context to understand developments such as Athens’ defense agreement with France and its ongoing efforts to cultivate Washington. Not surprisingly, where Turkish commentators presented these moves, in particularly with France, as provocations in themselves, Greek commentators saw them as insurance against Turkish aggression. More telling, even those in Greece who also worried about the potential of such steps to antagonize Ankara still ultimately supported them as regrettable but necessary defensive steps.
In this light, a number of Greek observers have also stressed the importance of remaining pragmatic while trying to address the security threat posed by Turkey. Greece, they emphasize, remains the smaller power and remains dependent on the support of its NATO and EU partners in case of a conflict. This, in turn, requires that Greece resist giving in to nationalist rhetoric, avoid provocative actions and, more broadly, conduct its relations with Turkey so that Athens does not appear to be in the position of the aggressor. This also requires Greece to keep channels of dialogue open across the Aegean, and preserve hope for a negotiated solution to its bilateral problems no matter how difficult this appears.
Successive Greek governments have also operated from the position that Greece will ultimately remain more secure so long as Turkey maintains its Western orientation and its membership in key institutions like NATO. This approach was reflected in Athens’ 1999 shift toward supporting Turkey’s EU accession, and is something that continues to be emphasized by Greek officials. Thus while there are constant concerns that Turkey’s strategic importance to the West results in Western states being too sympathetic to Turkey on key issues, the assumption remains that Turkey’s integration in Western defense architecture ultimately constrains Turkish aggression and gives the West crucial leverage over Ankara if only it would use it.
This has led to a multi-track strategy of trying to strengthen ties with Washington and push Washington to take a firmer line with Turkey, but also maintaining ongoing engagement with Ankara. In his May 2020 visit to Washington, for example, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis pointed out to the press that he had met with Erdoğan four times.103 He was not in Washington, he insisted, simply to seek US support against Turkey. Rather if he had issues with Turkey he would take them up with Erdoğan in person. Yet in a subsequent speech to Congress, he also made a thinly veiled case against further US military aid to Turkey.104 Taken together, these statements reflect a hope that Western support will create the conditions in which Greece can engage with Turkey on more equal footing, and Ankara will be compelled to engage constructively in response.
As the triangular relationship linking the US, Greece, and Turkey continues to evolve, Washington will likely continue its slow pivot toward Greece. Washington will remain hesitant to irreversibly alienate Turkey, and the executive branch, if not Congress, will remain scrupulously proper in its rhetorical neutrality toward America’s two NATO allies. Despite this, though, US policy could well shift toward something that resembles a soft containment of Turkey, reinforced by stronger Congressional action. However, there is not a guarantee that this shift will prompt a more accommodating stance from Ankara, particularly in its relations with Athens. Thus, going forward, Washington will almost certainly remain one step behind what Greece wants. Athens will continue its efforts to consolidate ties in order to secure greater support, while also remaining suspicious that Washington is still being too accommodating of Turkey.
Dynamics in the Republic of Cyprus resemble those in Greece in certain key regards, although with key differences reflecting the unique circumstances on the island. Like Athens, Nicosia has made a concerted effort over the past decade to improve ties with Washington, as well as US partners in the region. In some ways, this pivot has been even more dramatic.105 If a certain non-aligned impulse was always present in Greek policy discourse, Cyprus was historically more firmly in the non-aligned camp. It maintained ties with the Soviet Union throughout the Cold War and was not a NATO member. Indeed, at one point it was Cyprus that created concerns by purchasing a Russian air defense system. More recently, Washington remained critical of the Cypriot government for its role in facilitating Russian money-laundering and its willingness to host ships from the Russian fleet. Yet if Cyprus forges ahead with concerted steps to address both of these issues in the aftermath of the invasion of Ukraine, it will represent a significant reorientation toward Washington.
Cyprus’s shift has gone hand in hand with a shift in US policy. Following the failure of the Crans-Montana talks in 2017, Washington appears to have rethought it its approach to Cyprus. Instead of prioritizing the re-unification of the island as part of a broader strategy for minimizing destabilizing intra-alliance tension between Turkey and Greece, policymakers instead focused on strengthening relations with the Republic of Cyprus. From Washington’s perspective, if a resolution to the island’s division was unlikely in the near future, it made sense to secure more concrete benefits from closer cooperation with the one recognized government on it.
The fact that the stance of the Greek Cypriot leadership was largely seen as the main factor in the collapse of the 2017 negotiations has led to concerns that Washington’s policy shift is rewarding Nicosia for its obstinacy. However, Turkey’s response to the impasse has inevitably made this criticism harder to sustain. Ankara has now doubled down on its support for a “two state solution” in Cyprus. In 2020, Ankara manipulated the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus presidential election to secure the victory over the pro-Erdoğan Ersin Tatar over Mustafa Akinci, an outspoken critic and supporter of reunification. More recently, Erdoğan and Tatar jointly re-opened the abandoned Greek Cypriot city of Varosha, which was widely expected to be returned to the Greek side as part of a confidence building measure or eventual settlement. Thus there is good reason to fear that the current dynamics will only strengthen both sides’ resistance to reunification and deepen the island’s division.
In the meantime, Cyprus, like Greece, has rapidly improved ties with US partners and allies in the region who share its concerns about Turkey. Though these relationships first came together under the rubric of the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum, they have evolved considerably. Cyprus’s partnership with Israel is now embedded in the US-backed 3+1 format, while its ties with Egypt have developed on a bilateral basis as well. The Abraham Accords have also contributed to an environment in which these relationships have facilitated closer Greek and Cypriot ties to the Gulf as well.
As a result, while many discussions of Cyprus’s regional policy have been in relation to the economically implausible East Med Gas pipeline, this has now become secondary to a broader and deeper set of relationships. Even after the US formally withdrew its support for the pipeline project, Cypriot officials remain more optimistic about the potential of the pipeline than others. And yet they are quick to point out that this is not the centerpiece of the new regional order they have helped create.
Starting in 2022, Turkey made a concerted effort to repair its relations with Israel, seemingly with the aim of wooing Jerusalem away from its nascent alliance with Greece and Cyprus. As part of this effort, the Turkish government formally promoted the possibility of an Israel-Turkey gas pipeline as an alternative to the East Med route, while, less plausibly, some even suggested that a Turkish-Israeli maritime delimitation agreement could enable Israel to expand its exclusive economic zone at Cyprus’s expense. In response to this outreach, Cypriot officials have emphasized that they do not feel their relationship with Israel is threatened. They insist that they have no objection to reinvigorated Israeli-Turkish ties, and are confident that Israel will not take any steps to improve relations with Turkey that would come at the expense of existing ties with Nicosia. A gas pipeline from Israel to Turkey, for example, would realistically have to run through Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone, and it is difficult to imagine how this could be concluded while Ankara still refuses to recognize the Cypriot government.
Yet, as in Athens, this confidence belies a certain lingering concern about how quickly Turkey’s former allies could pivot back to their earlier relationships with Ankara if circumstances change. There is a certain resonance between Greek concerns and Turkish confidence in this regard. Bullish commentators in Ankara continue to insist that Washington and other Western capitals will ultimately come to appreciate the strategic importance of Turkey and recalibrate their current policies to secure Turkish cooperation on Ankara’s terms. If their confidence currently seems misplaced when viewed from Washington, it fits well with an abiding cynicism about Western intentions that can be heard in Nicosia. Similarly, one Cypriot official noted that Israeli policymaking circles still entertained a certain “romanticism” regarding Ankara, and continued to hold out hope that the two countries could one day return to the good old days of their 1990’s era partnership.
For Cyprus, of course, the long-term course of its relations with Turkey will also be determined by the resolution or non-resolution of the island’s division. There now appears to be a comfortable complacency about the status quo in the Republic of Cyprus and
Washington. In both 2004 and 2017, the Greek Cypriot leadership appears to have concluded that the drawbacks of a settlement outweighed the risks of continued division, and opted to hold out for a better deal at some point in the future. The unrecognized Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, meanwhile, remains stuck in legal limbo, denied the opportunity to develop ties with the outside world and dependent on Turkey. The risk is that following the failure of two peace processes in as many decades, Ankara will double down on efforts to disrupt the status quo. Turkey has already sought to forcibly prevent the Republic of Cyprus from exploiting its maritime energy resources, folding these efforts into its confrontation with Greece over exclusive economic zones. Re-opening Varosha represented another step to shift the status quo in Turkey’s favor. If Ankara continues down this route, it risks rendering the divisions on the island permanent and creating further obstacles to any future efforts to reconcile Turkey with its erstwhile allies in the West. While it seems like a remote possibility, several informed observers in Northern Cyprus speculated that Erdoğan might even move to formally annex the territory ahead of his next election.
Some in Northern Cyprus who hope to avoid both the island’s permanent division and its eventual incorporation into Cyprus have expressed hope that Europe’s newfound push for energy security after the invasion of Ukraine can create the necessary pressure for a political solution. Specifically, this would entail Western powers recognizing that the East Med gas route is infeasible and that the alternate Israel-Turkey route was only possible with a solution to the Cyprus problem. They would then use their leverage on both Turkey and Cyprus to make a solution happen, aided by the fact that all parties could profit in concrete financial terms from the outcome. And yet these hopes appear to hinge on an overly optimistic reading of both Western leverage and desire to use it. To date, Washington appears to be applying all its leverage with both Cyprus and Turkey to pressure them, with varying degrees of success, to sever ties with Moscow.
While Cypriot leaders hoped that the invasion of Ukraine will enhance the appeal of the East Med pipeline and Turkish leaders hoped it will increase the appeal of the Israel-Turkey route, it ultimately seems unlikely to unlock either one. This means that Cyprus will likely continue to cooperate with Israel and Egypt to export its natural gas through Egypt’s LNG terminal, or perhaps eventually build an additional one in Cyprus. If the Cypriot government’s response to the invasion brings it closer to Washington by reducing concerns over Russian influence, this is likely to have a bigger impact than changing energy politics. For example, by clamping down on illicit Russian money and ending Russian port visits, Nicosia recently meet the criteria under current Congressional legislation to begin buying weapons from the United States. One way or another, the status quo on the island is likely to confront new challenges.
It is a tribute to how effectively Erdoğan has alienated Israel that despite some very real nostalgia there, he still cannot overcome the suspicion he faces in order to fully restore relations. In response to Ankara’s outreach, Jerusalem appears eager to see what concrete benefits it can obtain, minimizing challenges from Turkey and restoring a degree of normalcy to the relationship. But Israeli policymakers have been hesitant to take any steps that require putting lasting faith in the Turkish government, or alienating new partners in the Eastern Mediterranean or the Gulf.
From Israel’s perspective, the broader threat perception from Turkey has increased substantially over the past decade while the benefits of Turkey as an ally have diminished with the Abraham Accords. While Israeli observers do not perceive this threat in the same immediate terms as their colleagues in Greece, Cyprus, or even Egypt, they have nonetheless concluded that the expansion of Turkish influence in the region will, on balance, undermine Israel’s security. Likewise, they remain convinced that there are significant benefits that better relations with Turkey could bring, particularly in terms of economic and counter-terror cooperation. But with Israel expanding its relationships in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Arab world, these now appear more like perks than necessities.
To the extent some Israeli commentators perceive a direct threat from Turkey, it is associated with the specific enthusiasm that Erdoğan has displayed for playing a role in the Palestinian issue. By hosting Hamas members in Turkey and amplifying the Turkish presence on the ground in East Jerusalem, Erdoğan has tried to give concrete form to his desire for leadership in the Islamic world and his rhetoric about liberating the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. Inevitably, Erdoğan’s impulses and efforts on such a sensitive issue are bound to generate a strong and negative reaction, and yet there is some debate over just how much of an impact these efforts have. On one side, some analysts have claimed that Erdoğan’s support for Hamas has led directly to the death of Israeli citizens. Other analysts, however, have dismissed the ability of Hamas members living in Turkey to contribute in any meaningful way to the group’s violent activities, and suggested this concern was largely fearmongering on the part of Israeli nationalist media. Similarly, Turkish activities in East Jerusalem have received mixed reviews. Some assessments suggest that they are part of plan for eventually asserting some sort of physical sovereignty in the city. Others argue that Erdoğan can only achieve so much by renovating buildings and sending Turkish tourists to wave flags and deface Armenian signs. While no one believes Erdoğan is playing a constructive role in this delicate situation, the most cynical perspective is that he has also come to function as something of a convenient scapegoat, providing an explanation for Palestinian anger that would likely exist without any foreign instigator.
Yet however one assesses the concrete impact of Erdoğan’s moves, they have certainly contributed to the deep trust deficit that will remain an obstacle to rebuilding a more functional Turkish-Israeli relationship. It is telling that in trying to articulate the benefits of rebuilding ties to a Turkish audience, Israeli officials once stressed the possibility that Turkey could serve as an interlocutor between Israel and the Palestinians, serving essentially as their sponsor but in a constructive way. Whether this plan was ever realistic or desirable, it is now difficult to imagine. Both Egypt and Qatar have succeeded in filling this role more effectively, enjoying both more trust in Jerusalem and more influence over the relevant Palestinian actors. Trust is also an abstract but inescapable challenge to reviving plans for an Israel-Turkey gas pipeline. Even if the other economic and geopolitical challenges could be solved, Israeli officials would still have to be willing to put their faith in Erdoğan’s government. His policies to date have made it more difficult to argue Israel could do with confidence.
Another complicating factor is that Turkey’s enthusiasm for restoring ties with Israel often seems to be premised on an exaggerated, not to say conspiratorial, assessment of the benefits this can secure them in Washington. Turkey certainly enjoyed the support of pro-Israel lobbying groups when relations were at their height in the 1990s, and there are certainly some in Washington who would be more favorably disposed to Ankara if Jerusalem was. But even if Israel threw its full weight behind improving Turkey’s standing in Washington, it would be hard pressed to do much in the face of Ankara’s concerted efforts to undermine it. Further complicating this is the fact that Israel’s improved relations with Greece and Cyprus have been reflected in greater cooperation between the pro-Israel and Hellenic lobbies in Washington. While much of this cooperation remains behind the scenes, and some pro-Israel groups remain hesitant to be seen as lobbying directly against Turkey, this new configuration will continue to complicate Turkey’s hope to leverage a moderate rebound in relations with Israel for greater sympathy with the US government.
Despite all this, the potential for Israel and Turkey to return to a functional relationship in the post-Erdoğan future remains high. Erdoğan’s sympathy for the Palestinian cause, and general antiIsraeli sentiment, is prevalent across the Turkish political spectrum. But Erdoğan’s particular activism on the subject, and his eagerness to position it as part of a broader Islamist cause, is unlikely to be shared by future governments. While nurturing private hostility and suspicion, future coalitions will likely be eager to put relations back on a proper footing. If the level of trust that existed in the 1990s is unlikely to re-emerge, new leadership in Turkey could undoubtedly begin slowly rebuilding some measure of it. At the same time, relations will to some extent remain indexed to the status of the Palestinian issue. Any government in Turkey that is dependent on public support will be attuned to domestic sensitivities. As a result, escalating violence or further moves to annex the West Bank would place limits on how far Ankara can go, at least publicly, in embracing Israel.
Turkey’s attempts at rapprochement with Egypt have been met with a distinct lack of enthusiasm on Egypt’s side. Following reports of initial intelligence contacts in the fall of 2020, officials from Turkey and Egypt met in May 2021. Neither side appeared particularly positive about the outcome. Two days of meetings focused on bilateral and regional issues resulted in a statement that characterized the discussions as “frank and in depth.”106 Both sides agreed on the “need to achieve peace and security in the Eastern Mediterranean region” while promising to “evaluate the outcome of this round of consultations and agree on the next steps.”
The most tangible sign of Erdoğan’s commitment to the process came when, in advance of the meeting, Muslim Brotherhood TV stations based in Turkey reported that they had been instructed by the Turkish government to tone down their criticism of the Sisi regime. An anonymous source at El-Sharq TV told a reporter from Al-Monitor, “Until noon on March 19, we have been preparing for programs with the same editorial policy and same issues we had been working on. There was no problem at all—until 6 p.m. that day.”107 He said that in response to requests from a “high level Turkish party” their station “announced the postponement of the programs that were scheduled for that day, including the show of Egyptian actor-turned-TV presenter Hisham Abdullah, whose program was canceled just 40 minutes before going live.” The director of the Watan TV channel confirmed reports of government pressure, but also tried to play them down: “They only asked us to reduce the number of political programs and broadcast more diverse social programs. [The Turkish authorities] said their request was because of a current understanding between the two Egyptian and Turkish sides, and we completely understand this.” Egypt’s information minister described Turkey’s moves as “a good sign to create a suitable atmosphere to discuss disputed cases between the two countries.”108 But they still fell short of Egypt’s expectations, which include the extradition of several Muslim Brotherhood members involved in the 2015 killing of Egypt’s chief prosecutor.
Developments in Libya both facilitated and were facilitated by lowered Turkish-Egyptian tensions. In Libya itself, a number of actors proved willing to seize on the stalemate that emerged in the summer of 2020 to pursue reconciliation. On both sides of the country’s frontlines, the UN led political process appeared to offer concrete benefits, including renewed access to oil profits and a chance to minimize the growing influence of outside powers. Once local participants in the conflict had decided to participate in the formation of a new government, their foreign backers risked being marginalized if they rejected the process completely. Moreover, the interplay of interests in the current unity government has been complex enough and the eventual outcome of the process as a whole uncertain enough that both Ankara and its rivals could envision a scenario in which they emerge as the winner.
Indeed, the details and implementation of Libya’s political reconciliation were carefully calibrated to protect the interests of both local factions and their foreign backers. When Abdulhamid Dabaiba was elected to be head of the new unity government on March 15 this represented a significant victory for Turkey, with which he has close ties. As importantly for Ankara, the negotiations that created the transitional government stipulated that it could not modify the country’s existing international agreements, meaning that the status of the Turkey-Libya Memorandum of Understanding would remain technically unchanged. At the same time, while Khalifa Haftar and his forces are now nominally under the authority of the country’s Presidential Council, the ratification of this provision has been left vague, facilitating an intentional ambiguity beneficial to Haftar’s backers. Finally, despite a great deal of discussion about the need to withdraw all foreign troops from the country, both Turkey and Russia have largely maintained their mercenary forces.
Observers in Egypt appear divided on whether the steps Erdoğan has taken so far against the Muslim Brotherhood and in Libya will be enough to generate a substantial response from Cairo. On the Muslim Brotherhood, some suggest that simply limiting their ability to conduct critical broadcasts and encouraging the movement to relocate will satisfy Sisi’s basic demands. Others maintain that Cairo is still hoping to press Erdoğan for more concessions, and feels that it has the time and leverage to do so. On Libya, several Egyptian observers stressed that Turkey did not fully appreciate the depth of Egyptian security concerns. Egypt, they suggested, hoped to see a full withdrawal of Turkish troops from the country, a step which Ankara still seems highly unlikely to take. As indicative of this impasse, one person with knowledge of the negotiations noted that the Turkish foreign ministry delegation which attended the 2020 talks claimed it did not have the authority to discuss the Libya file, as it was under the purview of Turkish intelligence.
Yet observers on the Egyptian side also offered several reasons to think normalization, if not full rapprochement, between the two countries would be possible. First, they discussed Turkey in terms that fit well with Ankara’s own self-image: a strong and serious country capable of causing a lot of problems for rivals if it wanted to. From this perspective, they suggested that Cairo would benefit from improving relations to the point where Turkey was not an active adversary. Several Egyptian observers also stressed that the breakdown of relations had been driven by Erdoğan. While Erdoğan had called Sisi a dictator, for example, they noted that Sisi had never directly questioned Erdoğan’s legitimacy. In a similar vein, Cairo had consciously declined to respond to Erdoğan’s attacks by taking steps such as recognizing the Armenian genocide that could be interpreted as directed at Turkey itself. As a result, they argued that if Sisi and Erdoğan were to meet, this rapprochement would ultimately represent a concession from Erdoğan, not Sisi.
Turkey’s relationship with Iraq has stabilized in recent years, following the fracturing of the political movements that Ankara had once supported, and Ankara’s efforts to narrow down its ambitions in the country. The Turkish offensive against the PKK frames the relations with both Baghdad and Erbil, and Ankara has managed to win tacit support for its military operations. Yet, despite this tacit agreement, tensions often flare up when Turkish air strikes kill civilians, or the strikes are so visible that Iraqi citizens demand answers from their government as to why they are allowing Ankara to wage its shadow war with near impunity.
For politicians in Baghdad, Turkey is a large neighbor that it has no choice but to engage with. The same is true for the ruling Barzani family in Erbil, which has sought to use tight trade ties with Ankara to perpetuate its rule, and to economically support the Kurdistan region. The main fissure in this trilateral relationship is Ankara’s role in Iraq’s oil policy, and the Erdoğan government’s willingness to facilitate the independent export petroleum pumped in the Kurdistan region. Ankara’s partnership with the Barzani family, and its associated political party, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), deepened in the mid-2000s. This partnership was driven by Turkey’s efforts to hedge against Shia governance in Iraq, and to cultivate a reliable partner to crack down on the PKK. The Kurdistan government and Iraq’s federal government have long-differed over how to interpret the 2005 Iraqi constitution. According to the International Monetary Fund:
According to Baghdad, the federal government has the exclusive right to develop and export oil and sign contracts covering the Iraqi territory and the KRG is not allowed to adopt unilateral and permanent measures over the management of oil and gas fields. Erbil’s interpretation, however, is that it also is entitled to enter into contracts and export oil independently of Baghdad.109
For Ankara, the status of Kirkuk weighed heavily on its Iraq policy. In the years that followed the American invasion, Turkey sought to ensure that Kirkuk remained a part of federal Iraq, so as to deny the Iraqi Kurds control over the region’s oil reserves. In this part of Iraq, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the political party tied to the Talabani family, is the dominant actor. The PUK has friendlier ties with the PKK and its offshoots then the KDP, which is overtly hostile to the group. In the earlier part of this decade, Ankara’s view was that if either the KDP or the PUK gained control over oil, either party could use the revenue to underpin an independent Kurdish state.110 By 2007, Ankara’s policy had shifted, and Turkey sought to take advantage the infighting inside Iraq to bolster the KDP, make money from the oil trade, and to win security-related concession from the Barzani family. The sale of Iraqi oil requires that the revenue collected be deposited in the centrally controlled Development Fund, which then disperses 17 percent of the revenue to the Kurdistan region, while keeping 83 percent for the rest of Iraq.111
Ankara’s eventual embrace of Kurdish oil exports stemmed, in part, from the actions of the American oil and gas giant Exxon. In late 2012, Exxon negotiated directly with the KRG for the purchase of six blocks. This move bypassed the Iraqi central government and de facto endorsed the Kurdish interpretation of Iraqi law. Following this agreement, Ankara established the Turkish Energy Company (TEC), which purchased 20 percent equity in the project. To facilitate payment for this oil, Ankara proposed that any oil shipped via Turkey would be to collect monies in a Turkish controlled escrow account.112 This arrangement would have, in theory, allowed for the KRG to access oil revenue without it being allocated from the Iraqi central government. For years, Baghdad and Erbil have disagreed over the allocation of Erbil’s 17 percent of oil revenues.
The oil disagreement reinforced broader perceptions about Turkey in Iraq. Ankara’s support for the Nujaifi brothers and elements of Iraq’s Sunni political movement that had called for an ethnic enclave, based on the Kurdish model. Thus, for Iraq’s governing plurality, Ankara had emerged as an irritating foreign agent, supportive of the de facto break up of the state. This feeling about Turkey was exacerbated during the war against the Islamic State. The Turkish government was adamantly opposed to the American-led war effort because of the reliance on the Syrian Kurds. Turkey emerged as the main transit point for foreign fighters, indirectly supporting the group, even as the Iraqi state battled it from street to street.
In the wake of the war against the Islamic State, Ankara has had success in recalibrating its relationship with Baghdad. Turkey stood resolutely against the Kurdish effort to declare autonomy, which ended in disaster for the Iraqi Kurds.113 The Iraqi military, with supporting from Iran, marched on Kirkuk and took back oil-rich territory that the Kurds had gained control over following the war against the Islamic State. The area remains contested114, but the issue has become a less acute irritant in the bilateral relationship, despite continued disagreement between the Iraqi Kurds and the central government over the oil law and the export of oil pumped in the Kurdish-controlled region.115 Ankara has managed to silo its relationship with Baghdad, shunting the oil disagreement to the side, and focusing on the counter-terrorism aspect of the relationship. However, during times of tension, Iraqi militias with links to Iran have attacked Kurdish oil infrastructure and a Turkish base near the city of Mosul with crude rockets.116
Ankara’s regional rapprochement has proven most successful with the Gulf monarchies of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Both of these countries proved happy to deal with Erdoğan on remarkably transactional terms. Aided by their ability to offer concrete financial support to his beleaguered regime, they appear to have seized on an opportunity to secure foreign policy concessions on the cheap. Yet what this success amounts to has been highly contested, even within Turkey’s tightly constrained domestic political sphere.
When Mohammed bin Salman visited Ankara in June 2022, two images captured the contested nature of the occasion.117 The first, released by Turkish government media, showed Erdoğan posing formally with the de facto Saudi leader. The second, preferred by proSaudi outlets, showed bin Salman grinning enthusiastically next to a downcast Erdoğan. (Turkish sources subsequently claimed Erdoğan was “not fully ready for the picture.”) While clearly representing some clever public relations for the Saudi side, this second image of the meeting reflected a perspective that gained widespread currency. Like their Egyptian counterparts, Saudi analysts were eager to portray the visit itself as a concession from Ankara. The Turkish opposition also sought to depict the visit as proof of Erdoğan’s failure to defend Turkish prestige on the global stage.
Indeed, lending credence to the view that the visit represented a defeat for Erdoğan was the fact that it followed closely on the heels of Ankara’s decision to transfer the trial, in abstentia, of Jamal Kashoggi’s accused murderers to a Saudi court. In 2018, Ankara launched an initially-promising campaign to hold bin Salman accountable for the killing in the Saudi consulate. While many observers suggested Erdoğan’s outrage was slightly hypocritical on account of his own penchant for jailing dissidents, the blatant and brutal nature of the crime clearly generated real outrage, compounded by the fact that it seemed to be an assault on Turkish sovereignty as well. Erdoğan played his cards carefully, trying to bring other international actors on board and stopping short of formally accusing bin Salman himself. Yet as time passed it became increasingly clear that the world’s outrage was not going to be matched by meaningful action, and Ankara became isolated in its campaign for accountability. Notably, on the eve of bin Salman’s visit to Turkey, President Joe Biden was preparing for a visit to Saudi Arabia, which appeared to mark a decisive end to Ankara’s search for support.
Speculation also swirled over what exactly Turkey had received in return for dropping the Kashoggi case. With the Turkish economy reeling and Erdoğan, who remains deeply resistant to seeking help from Western financial institutions, facing reelection, many assumed he was looking for financial support from Riyadh. And yet in the initial aftermath of the visit, there was little evidence that Saudi Arabia was prepared to open up its coffers to help Erdoğan’s reelection bid, even to an extent far less than Turkey would require. Beyond this, Turkish media raised the eternal hope of selling drones to Riyadh, although again the possibility remained distinctly abstract. Against the backdrop of deepening ties, diplomatic as well as military, between Saudi Arabia and Greece, Ankara also sought to try to peel Riyadh away from Athens. Bin Salman initially suggested that he would visit Greece on his way to Turkey, although he subsequently abandoned this plan. In the aftermath of the visit there does not appear to have been any major change in the tempo of Saudi-Greek ties.
To date, Turkey’s rapprochement with Saudi Arabia has proved even less significant than its much-hyped rapprochement with the Untied Aram Emirates. Between the summer of 2021 and the winter of 2022, diplomatic developments between the Ankara and Abu Dhabi moved quickly. In August, Tahnoun bin Zayed al Nahyan— the crown prince’s brother and national security advisor, made an unannounced visit to Ankara to meet with Erdoğan. Several weeks later, Erdoğan spoke by phone with the crown prince himself, and the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority expressed its interest in substantial investments in Turkey. Then, in November, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed arrived in Ankara. Erdoğan subsequently announced that the visit “went really well” and took place in a “family-like” atmosphere. He announced that “the agreement we signed is a step to begin a new era in Turkey and UAE relations. God willing, I will make a return visit to the UAE in February.” Amidst the signing of a host of bilateral agreements spanning everything from ports to petrochemicals, the United Arab Emirates announced it was prepared to invest $10 billion in Turkey. Turkish officials also reported that they were seeking a $5 billion swap agreement to boost the Central Bank’s foreign currency reserves in the face of a rapidly weakening lira. Many people also speculated that the United Arab Emirates would extradite mob boss turned Erdoğan critic Sedat Peker, who moved to Dubai after fleeing Turkey. And yet even with the United Arab Emirates, rapprochement did not live up to Turkish hopes. Over the ensuing year, the promised Emirati investment did not materialize. Peker remained silent for a number of months, then re-emerged in dramatic fashion posting a secretlytaped pornographic video of an AKP linked media figure with two other men.
At the same time, Erdoğan’s efforts may have proved useful when taken on more modest terms. If nothing else, Ankara’s efforts at regional outreach have checked the downward spiral that seemed set to unite all of Turkey’s neighbors in a hostile alliance against it. Preventing the intensification of this dynamic, even if it involved making concessions on a number of fronts, may well enable Erdoğan to live to fight another day. Yet this in itself is unlikely to radically shift the geopolitical dynamics in the region. Barring other seismic changes, suspicions appear too well-entrenched to be overcome during the course of a few high-profile visits. Even if Erdoğan eventually comes in from the cold, relations with his estranged neighbors are still more likely to heat up than get warm.
Chapter 4: US Response and Recommendations
Erdoğan has access to a lot of large airplanes. In May 2017, Erdoğan and his entourage were flying from Beijing to Washington for a meeting with President Donald Trump. For policymakers in Washington, the meeting was intended to reassure Erdoğan that the American support for the Syrian Kurds was “temporary and tactical,” and that Ankara was the United States’ true ally in NATO. For Ankara, the meeting was framed much differently: Erdoğan, the pro-AKP press argued, was pursuing Turkey’s new foreign policy, and seeking to work with all world powers to advance Turkish interests in a multi-polar world. The divergence in framing underscores how the United States and Turkey each have different views about the future of international politics and each country’s role in the world. For Washington, the 2017 visit was designed to charm the Turkish leader, while at the same time explain why the United States was pushing ahead with a war plan in Syria that Ankara vehemently opposed and promised to resist. For Ankara, the visit was intended to reinforce Erdoğan’s emergence as a global leader, enmeshed with the large powers, and committed to expanding Turkey’s role in the world.
The meeting was, at the end of the trip, overshadowed by a fight that Erdoğan’s security detail started with a small number of protestors outside the Turkish ambassador to the United States’ residence in Washington’s diplomatic neighborhood. The fight reinforced the image of Turkey’s authoritarian turn in Congress, the co-equal branch of government that has considerable influence on elements of the US-Turkish relationship. The Turkish government has since initiated a series of interlinked policies designed to expand its military influence in its near abroad, while giving less consideration to how these policy choices will impact relations with the United States. Erdoğan and his narrow group of advisors view Turkey as an ascendant power operating with altruistic intentions to shape its near abroad to enhance Turkish interests. In Syria, Ankara argues, American policy was predictive of calamity and that the catastrophe was magnified by the West choosing not to acquiesce to Erdoğan’s vision for opposition governance and western military intervention. In Iraq, Ankara touts its “predictions” about the future of the country in 2003 and 2005, and blames Washington for the sectarian strife that has beset the country. In the Eastern Mediterranean, Ankara’s policies toward maritime boundaries are consistent with the preAKP government’s resistance to UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and Greece’s territorial claims on islands near the Turkish coast. However, Ankara’s irredentism has grown following the discovery of hydrocarbons in Cypriot territorial waters and the rejection of the Annan plan in 2004.
The Turkish government has also succumbed to paranoia about and hostility to the West, which has allowed for Turkish partisans to elevate long-standing ideas about how Ankara should distance itself from the United States and Europe and carve out an independent foreign policy. Ankara’s decision-making, however, remain puzzling for many observers, who refuse to grapple with how Turkish foreign policy has changed over the past decade. The debate about Turkish foreign policy is prone to hyperbole and extreme polarization between analysts that advocate abandoning US foreign policy interests in Syria in favor of closer ties with Erdoğan and others that advocate for a complete break in relations. The reality, of course, is more nuanced. However, on the Turkish side, Ankara’s decision-making process treats the United States as a de facto hostile power, and therefore seeks to pursue policies that balance Turkish interests in retaining favorable ties with NATO and deep-seated concerns that Washington is committed to toppling the Erdoğan government.
The AKP has not always been overtly hostile to the United States. In the early years of Erdoğan’s rule, he was deferential to the United States, largely because the bureaucracy was predisposed to cooperate and weigh heavily American opinions when making decisions about Turkish foreign policy. As Erdoğan consolidated his control over the Turkish government, particularly following the failed July 2016 coup attempt, the AKP has little incentive to cooperate closely with the United States. These events roughly coincided with the severe break in US-Turkish relations, following Washington’s highly contingent decision to support the Syrian Kurds in the war against Islamic State.
The downturn in US-Turkish relations does not have a single cause. It is, instead, a culmination of a series of factors that have contributed to an erosion of trust. In Washington, the erosion began in 2003, after Ankara refused to allow the United States to invade Iraq from its territory. This tension continued, coming up again when the United States struggled to gain access to Turkish bases for the war against Islamic State. The root cause of this dysfunction, of course, is that as the Middle East became the main focal point of American security policy, Ankara simply had divergent interests than its historic ally. For Ankara, the invasion of Iraq upended Turkish security concerns. The turmoil in Iraq has had a negative impact on Turkish security and undermined elements of its economy. Ankara believes that this turmoil, ultimately, led to the creation of Islamic State—and that, as an outcome, Washington then partnered with the PKK to combat ISIS. Thus, to repair relations, Ankara argues, Washington must first acknowledge its security concerns, make amends, and then throw its weight behind Turkey’s vision for the region.
The problem, of course, is that as the AKP solidified its power, Erdoğan and his allies have adopted an irredentist vision for the broader region. The Arab uprisings empowered Turkish Islamists, committed to the idea that change would oust the West from the region, and lead to a broader expansion of Turkish interests. However, the backlash against the Islamists and the push-back from countries like Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, decreased regional enthusiasm for a more pronounced Turkish role. Instead, Ankara and Doha quarreled with Abu Dhabi and Riyadh, which then spilled over into a series of proxy fights ranging from Iraq to Libya. In response, Turkey’s image began to shift, and Ankara began to meddle relentlessly in regional politics. As part of this, Turkey’s role as a large, relatively benevolent power has shifted. Ankara is now viewed by its adversaries and partners are erratic, and prone to radical swings in its foreign policy.
This change in perception has led regional states to hedge against Turkey, with each taking different approaches. For weaker countries like Iraq, the options to manage Ankara are limited. However, at the margins, Iranian-allied groups have resorted to non-state actor attacks against Turkish facilities and interests. After years of animosity, oil rich states in the Gulf have seized on Turkish economic weakness to use selective dollar investments to buy “turmoil-free” periods in their bilateral relations. In the Eastern Mediterranean, however, tensions have spiked. This is because, rather than buy-off Erdoğan with petro-dollars, or use non-state actors to ratchet up the pressure when needed, Athens has sought to bandwagon with more powerful actors. This bandwagoning has led to deeper ties with the United States, precisely at the time when Turkish relations with Washington have cratered. The outcome is that Greece is now receiving more favorable treatment when purchasing weapons, which perpetuates Turkish anxiety about falling behind their historic rivals’ military modernization. The result has been more provocative Turkish signaling, which has only led to an intensification of Greece’s response. Athens, truly believing that it is under threat, has been more inclined to bandwagon, and to purchase more weapons from Washington. The result has been a classic arms race, wherein each side is seeking to gain advantage over the other.
Turkish foreign policy will continue to vex Washington for the foreseeable future, but with measured policies and conscientious alliance management policymakers can minimize the disruption that Ankara causes to broader US interests in the region. To do this, we offer three recommendations:
Don’t reflexively seek to improve relations with Turkey or make engagement with Ankara a goal for its own sake. Rather, identify where Turkey fits in the scheme of US regional interests and prioritize securing the specific forms of cooperation that advance broader American goals. To date, the Biden administration has done this effectively, and likely secured the best possible results.
Work with Washington’s regional partners to help them push back against Turkey’s provocative behavior while also minimizing, to the extent possible, the deepening of mutual hostility. This will require a delicate balancing act, but one that will be facilitated by the existing preferences of Washington’s partners. Countries in the region have already demonstrated a desire to work together to counter the threat that they perceive from Turkey’s revisionist policies, while also seizing opportunities to de-escalate tensions when Ankara is amenable. By supporting both of these impulses, Washington can help contain the short-term threat posed by Turkish revisionism while maintaining the prospect of returning to a more cooperative relationship with Ankara in the future.
Ultimately, achieving these goals would benefit from Washington developing a more proactive vision for the regional order it hopes to achieve, as well as Turkey’s place in it. Following the collapse of several previous iterations, policymakers need a positive but realistic vision for a regional architecture that can accommodate the conflicting interests of all its partners in Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East.
1. Don’t reflexively seek to improve relations with Turkey or make engagement with Ankara a goal for its own sake
Washington has often sought cooperation with Turkey as a goal in and of itself, presenting opportunities to work with Ankara as a chance to improve bilateral relations. Yet approached in these terms, such efforts have often proved counter-productive. They provide fuel to those in Ankara who exaggerate the extent to which America needs Turkey and they offer Ankara leverage which it has consistently sought to use in pursuit of its own interests. Moreover, the proposals often fail to deliver on their promise, particularly when the two countries’ broader agendas do not overlap.
Most recently, as the Biden administration was preparing to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan there were hopes that Ankara could leverage its relations with the Taliban to manage the Kabul airport in America’s absence. The proposal was presented as securing practical benefits, but also as an olive branch to Turkey, demonstrating the potential for constructive engagement between two estranged allies. But it quickly foundered. The Taliban proved hostile to the idea of having Turkish forces stay in the country while
Turkey was (understandably) wary of the risks that doing so would entail. Moreover, Turkish officials seized on Washington’s interest in cooperation to renew their request to resolve the S-400 crisis on Turkey’s terms by waiving US sanctions. Qatar soon emerged as a more suitable intermediary with the Taliban, playing the role envisioned for Ankara more effectively and with fewer problematic demands.
Among other experiences, this failed initiative seems to have confirmed the Biden administration’s commitment to a strategy it has had considerable success with: playing it cool. From the outset, the president has made a point of keeping his distance from Erdoğan, engaging with him only to the extent it appears necessary to advance other more pressing interests. In this vein, Biden has resisted Erdoğan’s requests for high profile bilateral meetings. He delayed calling him for four months after his inauguration and has limited their personal interactions to brief conversations in multilateral forums. On sensitive issues like the S-400s, he has not reached out to Ankara in search of a solution, but has simply left the ball in Erdoğan’s court while continuing to enforce the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.
Perhaps the highest stakes example of this approach came in response to Turkey’s threats to block Sweden and Finland’s application for NATO membership. Rather than rushing to engage with Ankara over the impasse or setting Washington up as an intermediary, the administration worked quietly behind the scenes. Ankara was left to deal directly with Stockholm and Helsinki alongside NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. Only at the last minute did
Washington step in. Biden ultimately met with Erdoğan to secure a compromise at the June 2022 NATO summit, offering him an ambiguous degree of support in trying to secure Congressional approval of Turkey’s bid to buy and upgrade F-16 aircraft.
Advocates of greater engagement with Ankara have long touted the many ways Turkey is advancing US interests, whether by selling drones to Ukraine, mediating between Ukraine and Russia, or confronting Russia on battlefields ranging from Libya to Syria to Nagorno-Karabagh. And yet Biden’s policy over the past two years has revealed an important fact about these efforts: Ankara does them to advance its own interests, and will continue to do them even without engagement from Washington. Indeed, progovernment policymakers in Ankara have repeatedly emphasized this facet of Turkey’s new independent foreign policy. From the Sahel to the Caucasus, Turkey has picked battles that it believes it will benefit from, and, likewise, it has negotiated with Moscow on these fronts when it thinks it will benefit as well. In response to the invasion of Ukraine, Ankara has profited from selling drones and from refusing to participate in Western sanctions on Moscow. To the extent Turkey’s interests have coincided with Washington, it is championing them of its own accord and does not need additional inducement to do so.
With this in mind, Washington should seek to cooperate with Ankara where it perceives a direct benefit from doing so, not in search of elusive bilateral benefits. When interests do align, for example in counter-terrorism or providing military aid to Ukraine, working with Turkey to make existing Turkish efforts more effective can have payoffs. Meanwhile, Washington should reserve its blandishments for circumstances like Nordic NATO accession where cooperation is needed to secure bigger interests in short order.
2. Work with Washington’s regional partners to help them push back against Turkey’s provocative behavior while also minimizing, to the extent possible, the deepening of mutual hostility.
Much as Turkey has pursued its own interests of its own accord, Washington’s regional partners have pursued their own efforts to cooperate against Turkish provocations while also assuaging tensions where possible. The challenge for Washington is to support both facets of this approach as constructively as possible.
Striking the right balance will require different steps for different countries.
Washington should continue current efforts to improve ties with Athens, and take advantage of the concrete benefits this provides in regard to basing access. As ties with Turkey have deteriorated, Washington’s relationship with Greece has helped make Washington less dependent on Turkey. Having expanded air and naval facilities is valuable in this regard, while developing port facilities in Alexandropoulos makes Washington less reliant on transit through the Bosporus. Decreasing Turkish leverage can ultimately help ease tensions in the US-Turkish relationship by reducing future points of disagreement.
Turkey has interpreted these steps as evidence of a hostile alignment against Turkey, and suggested that they have made Greece less willing to negotiate in good faith on bilateral issues. Unfortunately, the assumption of hostility will be hard to defuse, even were Washington to dramatically curtail military cooperation with Greece. This suspicion is deeply embedded in Turkish political thinking and fueled by a number of other factors. While Washington should do its best to reassure Ankara and provide transparency about its basing in Greece, the risk of further alienating Turkey should not prevent deepening the relationship.
Similarly, given the aggressive stance Ankara has taken through measures like the Libya Memorandum of Understanding, there is little likelihood of both sides reaching an agreement on any of their outstanding issues through good faith negotiations at present. Were such an opportunity to occur in the future, Washington should certainly use all leverage at its disposal to take advantage of it. But even if US-Greek relations continue to develop on their current trajectory, there is little reason to think that it will pose an obstacle to Washington playing this role. The balance of power in the region will continue to favor Turkey and the United States will continue to have an interest in maintaining its ties with Ankara, meaning Washington is unlikely to ever throw its lot entirely in with Greece.
Until then, the most pressing challenge for the United States is to avoid the small but real risk of a direct confrontation between Turkish and Greek forces. Despite the mistrust from Ankara,
Washington still remains the necessary mediator in defusing any future crises. By demonstrating solidarity with Athens, the United States and the European Union can help minimize the risk of Turkey directly provoking a confrontation while simultaneously gaining greater leverage and credibility to urge restraint from Greece if a confrontation does occur.
Washington will also face a considerable challenge preventing the political impasse on the island of Cyprus from deepening, but it will require a different approach. Here, the risk is that if the United States throws its support unconditionally behind the Republic of Cyprus, it will ultimately render a solution to the island’s division impossible, creating serious long term challenges to stability in the Eastern Mediterranean. Rather than embrace the status quo, Washington should promote confidence building measures that ease the isolation of northern Cyprus and help check Ankara’s tightening grip on the territory.
In their response to both the Annan Plan and the Crans-Montana negotiations, Greek Cypriot leaders revealed their belief that maintaining the division of the island in its current form was preferable to the political risks of reuniting it in a bizonal, bicommunal federation. Moreover, many hoped that the continued isolation of the north would ultimately enable them to eventually achieve reunification on better terms. US support for the Republic of Cyprus has the potential to confirm this belief even as developments on the island move in the opposite direction. In this context, modest efforts to engage with the northern Cypriot administration represent not a concession to Turkey but a necessary step to change these dynamics and maintain the prospect of a future agreement.
While many aspects of northern Cypriot isolation reflect EU regulations and legal concerns that are beyond the scope of American policy, Washington has a number of options for increasing contact with officials on the north that it should be prepared to deploy in order to pressure both sides to negotiate at least modest confidence building measures. In addition to supporting moves that would ease travel across the Green Line, Washington should push for the Greek side to facilitate Turkish Cypriot exports, and for the Turkish side to freeze any further steps to change the status of Varosha. Modulating the degree and profile of US contact with Turkish Cypriot officials can serve as an incentive and disincentive for both sides in pursuit of these efforts.
At the same time, Washington should work with the European Union to make it clear that any actions on Ankara’s part to unilaterally change the status of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, most dramatically in the case of annexation, will be met with a firm and coordinated response. Until the conditions on the island and in Ankara are conducive to a resolution, the United States should do everything in its power to make sure they do not worsen.
The alternative is a situation where the island’s division becomes permanent and serves as an ongoing and insurmountable obstacle to Greek-Turkish, American-Turkish, and European-Turkish relations well into the future. The United States and the European Union, not to mention Greece and the Republic of Cyprus, will never recognize the annexation or independence of the north. But if Ankara concludes unification is impossible, and the north remains in political and economic limbo, even future pro-Western governments will be tempted to take more aggressive unilateral steps to alter the status quo.
Israel and the Arab World
More broadly, Washington should promote closer relations among its regional partners, while working to resolve the issues that will leave them permanently at odds with Ankara.
In the case of Egypt, this means supporting a peaceful resolution of Libya’s civil war. While the United States and the European Union have limited leverage in this conflict, and ample interest in supporting a resolution for other reasons, any steps they can take to forge a peaceful settlement will pay dividends in stabilizing the region. With both Ankara and Cairo positively inclined toward a political settlement, Western powers should take an active role in supporting the complex negotiations between rival Libyan factions. The focus should be on securing a workable power sharing agreement among Libyan actors on the ground, recognizing that this will likely require abandoning Cairo’s hopes for a complete withdrawal of Turkish forces, as well as Ankara’s hopes for an official ratification of the 2021 Turkish-Libyan agreement.
Recognizing that a quick peace settlement in Libya may not be in the cards, Washington should continue to quietly support Turkish-Egyptian rapprochement alongside improved relations between Egypt and Greece and Cyprus. These two goals do not have to be mutually irreconcilable. Cairo and Ankara are unlikely to ever move beyond a cold peace so long as Erdoğan and Sisi are in power, but they can still take steps to normalize their relations. In the meantime, Israeli-Cypriot-Egyptian cooperation remains the best option for exporting Eastern Mediterranean gas to Europe, and all three countries should be encouraged to pursue the most economically and politically feasible means for doing so.
Israel, for its part, has already shown a willingness to both court and balance Turkey. Washington has taken an active role in supporting Jerusalem’s improved ties with Athens and Nicosia and should continue these efforts. It can also, as it has in the past, support Israeli-Turkish rapprochement, while recognizing the limits of this process. Even if a new government comes to power in Turkey it will take a long time for the trust that marked the previous TurkishIsraeli relationship to be repaired, even if certain constructive forms of intelligence and security cooperation can be restored. Finally, all sides should acknowledge that as long as Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank remains violent and unresolved, relations with Turkey will remain tempestuous.
3. Develop a more proactive vision for the regional order it hopes to achieve, as well as Turkey’s place in it.
As the history of the past century makes clear, any successful policy for managing US-Turkish relations and Turkey’s relations with its neighbors must ultimately take into account the deepening divergence of geopolitical perspectives between Washington and its partners on one hand and Turkey on the other.
Throughout the Cold War, the US-Turkish alliance was solidified by a shared threat perception focused on the Soviet Union and a corresponding commitment to stopping the spread of potential Soviet influence in the Middle East. This helped overcome strategic disagreements where they did occur, and also helped consolidate Turkey’s relations with other pro-Western status quo states in the region (while also, of course, antagonizing a number of other countries). During the 1990s and early 2000s, a shared commitment to preserving stability in the broader region, demonstrated by Turkish deployments to the Balkans and Afghanistan, helped anchor the alliance following the collapse of the Soviet Union. When the AKP first sought to exploit the greater opportunities for engagement presented to Turkey in the post-Cold War Balkans and Middle East, these efforts largely corresponded with American and EU ambitions. In an era of liberal optimism, Turkey initially appeared as an actor that could promote economic and political integration in fractured and unstable region. Amidst enthusiasm about Turkey’s EU accession, many expected Ankara could help spread Western values and institutions eastward, with benefits for Turkey and the West. Even at the outset of the Arab Spring, when Turkey adopted a more explicitly Islamism approach to its foreign policy, this still appeared complementary with the spread of democracy and free markets throughout the region.
In the last five to ten years, however, Turkish and American visions have become increasingly irreconcilable. Where many Turkish policymakers once saw their aspirations for greater regional influence and prestige as being broadly compatible with maintaining strong ties with the West, they now see these as being in conflict, and believe the West is committed to thwarting their ambitions. This suspicion has also infected Turkey’s approach toward America’s partners in the region.
It is unlikely that Washington and Ankara will ever again share the same alignment in geopolitical visions they did during the Cold War. And they will likely continue to work at cross purposes so long as the current regime remains in power in Ankara. Eventually, though, there may be an opportunity to try to better align US and Turkish interests in way that also helps reconcile Turkey’s regional ambitions with those of its neighbors. The unification of Cyprus would greatly facilitate this, both by removing an enduring obstacle to improved Turkish-Greek ties but also by opening the way for Turkey to participate in the emerging Eastern Mediterranean energy infrastructure. In Syria, either the fall of the Assad regime, or, much more likely, its regional reintegration, would potentially help demilitarize Turkish foreign policy and leave it better able to cooperate with many of its Middle Eastern neighbors. The emergence of democratic governments in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, however unlikely that looks at the moment, would also dramatically improve these countries relations with Turkey. In the long term, the recovery of the Turkish economy will also help the country again pursue a prominent regional role based on mutually-beneficial trade rather than military adventurism.
In the meantime, US policymakers should be clear-eyed about their differences with Turkey, supporting partners in pushing back against Turkish provocations while supporting efforts to manage the resulting tensions.
NICHOLAS DANFORTH & AARON STEIN
Published by the Foreign Policy Research Institute, copyright©2023 Foreign Policy Research Institute, www.fpri.org
1 For the traditional account, see William Hale, Turkish Foreign Policy Since 1774 (New York: Routledge, 2013). More recently, Amit Bein has complicated this narrative but still upheld its key points in Kemalist Turkey and the Middle East: International Relations in the Interwar Period (London: Cambridge University Press, 2017).
2 Similarly, George McGhee’s The US-Turkish-NATO Middle East Connection: How the Truman Doctrine Contained the Soviets in the Middle East (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990), offers a comprehensive overview of this subject, while Onur İşci’s Turkey and the Soviet Union during WWII: Diplomacy, Discord and International Relations (London: I. B. Tauris, 2019) questions the chronology while further emphasizing the importance of Turkey’s evolving threat perception.
3 Sarah Shields, “Mosul, the Ottoman Legacy, and the League of Nations,” International Journal of Contemporary Iraqi Studies 3 (2009): 217-230.
4 “Question of the Frontier Between Turkey and Iraq,” League of Nations, C. 400. M. 147. 1925. VII. League of Nations enthusiasts can find the full text of the body’s 1925 report on the Mosul Dispute online at: https://t.co/ZUNf7OEnR5
5 Sarah Shields, Fezzes in the River: Identity Politics and European Diplomacy in the Middle East on the Eve of World War II (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011). On Atatürk’s guerilla campaign in Hatay see also Tayfur Sökmen, Hatay’ın Kurtuluşu İçin Harcanan Çabalar (Yeni Gün Haber Ajansı, 1999).
6 William Hale, Turkish Foreign Policy Since 1774 (New York: Routledge, 2013).
7 Michael Provence, The Last Ottoman Generation and the Making of the Modern Middle East (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017).
8 George McGhee, George C. McGhee, The US-Turkish-NATO Middle East Connection: How the Truman Doctrine Contained the Soviets in the Middle East (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 1990).
9 Philip Robins, Turkey and the Middle East (London: Pinter Publishers, 1991).
10 Ekavi Athanassopoulou, Turkey, Anglo-American Security Interests 1945-1952: The First Enlargement of NATO (London: Frank Cass, 1999).
11 Onur İşçi and Barın Kayaoğlu, « Turkey and America: 1957 All Over Again? » National Interest, April 10, 2014.
12 Nicholas Danforth, The Remaking of Republican Turkey: Memory and Modernity since the Fall of the Ottoman Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 2021).
13 Danforth, Ibid.
14 Danforth, Ibid
15 Danforth, Ibid.
16 Hale, Turkish Foreign Policy Since 1774
17 Hale, Ibid.
18 Ofra Bengio, The Turkish-Israeli Relationship Changing Ties of Middle Eastern Outsiders (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004).
19 William Hale, Turkey, the US and Iraq (London: Saqi, 2007).
20 Tim Weiner, “US Helped Turkey Find and Capture Kurd Rebel,” New York Times, February 20, 1999.
21 Aaron Stein, Turkey’s New Foreign Policy: Davutoğlu, the AKP and the Pursuit of Regional Order (New York: Routledge, 2015).
22 Nora Fisher-Onar, “Neo Ottomanism, Historical Legacies, and Turkish Foreign Policy,” Center for Economic and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM), Discussion Paper Series, March 2009.
23 At an appearance in Washington in 2009, for example, Davutoğlu was asked a hostile question about Turkey’s violation of Greek airspace. He responded by saying that the question was not whether the Aegean should be a Greek sea or a Turkish sea, but how it could become a sea of peace. As empty as the answer was, it succeeded in giving the impression that Turkey had transcended the retrograde Balkan nationalism in which the questioner, like previous generations of Turkish diplomats, was stuck.
24 Ironically, within Turkey, many of the AKP’s most outspoken secular opponents were convinced that Washington was supporting the party as part of a neoconservative/Zionist “Greater Middle East Project” that sought to use Turkey as a moderate Muslim model to remake the region.
25 Süleyman Demirel and Nigar Göksel, “Turkey and Democratization in the Middle East,” Turkish Policy Quarterly 4, No. 2 (Summer 2005).
26 Eric Lipton, “US Indicts Turkish Bank on Charges of Evading Iran Sanctions,” New York Times, October 15, 2019
27 Soner Cagaptay, “Secularism and Foreign Policy in Turkey”, Washington Institute for Near-East Policy, Policy Focus #67, April 2007.
28 Dan Bilefsky. “Turkey and Europe: Why Strained Friendship is Fraying,” New York Times, November 8, 2006.
29 Chantal Da Silva, “Turkey will crush US ‘Terror Army’ in Northern Syria, President Erdoğan Vows,” Newsweek, January 15, 2018.
30 Henri Barkey, “Erdoğan’s Foreign Policy is in Ruins,” Foreign Policy, February 4, 2016.
31 Ayla Yackley, “Turkey Opposes Any NATO Operation in Libya,” Reuters, March 14, 2011.
32 “Syria Unrest: Turkey presses Assad to end crackdown,” BBC News, August 9, 2011.
33 Aaron Stein, Turkey’s New Foreign Policy
34 Dan Roberts, “US in bind over Egypt after supporting Morsi but encouraging protestors,” The Guardian, July 8, 2019.
35 Peter Baker, “A Coup? Or Something Else? $1.5 Billion in US Aid is On the Line,” New York Times, July 4, 2013.
36 “Turkey’s AKP adopts Muslim Brotherhood’s ‘Rabia’ sign in its bylaws,” Birgun Daily, May 20, 2017.
37 “Turkish PM: US Elections Hampering Syria Action,” CNN Daily, September 5, 2012.
38 Aaron Stein, “The Washington-Ankara Disconnect,” War on the Rocks, November 4, 2016.
39 Aaron Stein, “When it comes to Syria and the Kurds, Erdoğan will leave Washington empty-handed,” War on the Rocks, May 16, 2017.
40 Corey Dickstein, “Pentagon won’t say if it will move US Troops as Turkish offensive in Syria eyes Manbij,” Stripes, January 25, 2018.
41 Ari Khalidi. “Door not closed on Assad: Erdoğan to Syrian Kurds,” Kurdistan24, November 4, 2017.
42 Menekse Tokyay, “Syria Peace Deal threatened as Turkey and Iran clash in Idlib,” Arab News, February 27, 2018.
43 Omer Taspinar, “Between Kemalism and Neo-Ottomanism,” Carnegie En- dowment for International Peace, 2008.
44 Karim Traboulsi, “Turkey’s ‘Neo-Ottomanism’ buoyed by Raqqa and Mosul push,” The New Arab, October 18, 2016.
45 Svante Cornell, “Engulfed in the Gulf: Erdoğan and the Qatar Crisis,” The Turkey Analyst, June 29, 2017.
46 Joost Hiltermann and Fantappie, Maria. “Twilight of the Kurds,” Foreign Policy, January 16, 2018.
47 Blaise Misztal and Jessica Michek, “Is the US Finally ready to get tough on Turkey?” Bipartisan Policy Center, Feburary 7, 2018.
48 Aaron Stein, “Ankara’s Look East: How Turkey’s warming ties with Russia threaten its place in the transatlantic community,” War on the Rocks, December 27, 2017.
49 Boris Zilberman, “The S-400: Erdoğan’s Failsafe,” Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, November 3, 2017.
50 John Halpin, Michael Werz, Alan Makovsky, and Max Hoffman, “Is Turkey Experiencing a New Nationalism?” American Progress, February 11, 2018.
51 Nick Danforth, « A Short History of Turkish Threats to Invade Syria,” Foreign Policy, July 31, 2015, https://foreignpolicy.com/2015/07/31/a-short-history-ofturkish-threats-to-invade-syria-from-1937-to-1998/.
52 Miron Varouhakis, “Greek Intelligence and the Capture of PKK Leader Abdullah Ocalan in 1999,” Studies in Intelligence 53, no. 1 (March 2009), https:// www.cia.gov/resources/csi/studies-in-intelligence/volume-53-no-1/greek-intelligence-and-the-capture-of-pkk-leader-abdullah-ocalan-in-1999/
53 Douglas Little, “The United States and the Kurds,” Journal of Cold War Studies 12, no. 4 (Fall 2010): 63–98.
54 The Defense Economic Cooperation Agreement — US Interests and Turkish Needs, United States General Accounting Office, May 7, 1982, https://www.gao. gov/assets/id-82-31.pdf.
55 Stacie L. Pettyjohn and Jennifer Kavanagh, Access Granted: Political Challenges to the USUS Overseas Military Presence, 1945–2014 (Santa Monica: Rand, 2016), available at: https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR1339.html.
56 Sam Cohen, “Turkey keeps a cautious, neutral eye on Iran-Iraq war,” Christian Science Monitor, August 31, 1983, https://www.csmonitor.com/1983/0831/083149. html.
57 “Official quits in Turkey over crisis,” The Washington Post, December 3, 1990, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1990/12/04/official-quits-inturkey-over-crisis/b796ccd9-12b6-4012-950f-d04c0c279dd5/.
58 Pettyjohn and Kavanagh, Access Granted, 115.
59 Douglas Frantz, “Turkey to Send Forces to Afghanistan,” The New York Times, November 1, 2001, https://www.nytimes.com/2001/11/01/international/turkey-to-send-forces-to-afghanistan.html.
60 Jenny B. White, Islamist Mobilization in Turkey: A Study in Vernacular Politics (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2002).
61 Sam Faddis, The CIA War in Kurdistan: The Untold Story of the Northern Front in the Iraq War (Philadelphia: Casemate, 2020).
62 Jon R. Andersen, “Supplies languish in Turkish port,” Stars and Stripes, March 3, 2003, https://www.stripes.com/news/supplies-languish-in-turkish-port-1.2525.
63 Dexter Filkins and Eric Schmitt, “Turkey Demands $32 Billion US Aid Package if It Is to Take Part in a War on Iraq,” The New York Times, February 19, 2003, https://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/19/world/threats-responses-bargainingturkey-demands-32-billion-us-aid-package-if-it-take.html.
64 Richard Boudreaux and Amberin Zaman, “Turkey Rejects US Troop Deployment,” The Los Angeles Times, March 2, 2003, https://www.latimes.com/archives/ la-xpm-2003-mar-02-fg-iraq2-story.html.
65 Robert W. Jones Jr., « Getting there is Half the Battle: Operation Ugly Baby,” Office of the Command Historian, ARSOF History, 2005, https://arsof-history. org/articles/v1n1_op_ugly_baby_page_1.html; Andrew L., Mick Mulroy, and Ken Too, « Irregular Warfare: A Case Study in CIA and US Army Special Forces Operations in Northern Iraq, 2002-03,” Middle East Institute, August 12, 2021, https://www.mei.edu/publications/irregular-warfare-case-study-cia-and-us-armyspecial-forces-operations-northern-iraq.
66 Author Interview, US Special Operation Forces Member, June 8, 2017, Washington, D.C.
67 “Turkey opens airspace to USUS,” CNN, March 20, 2003, https://www.cnn. com/2003/WORLD/europe/03/20/sprj.irq.turkey.vote/index.html.
68 James Dobbins, et. al, Occupying Iraq: A History of the Coalition Provincial Authority (Santa Monica: Rand, 2009): 89–92, available at: https://www.rand.org/ content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2009/RAND_MG847.pdf.
69 Author Interview, US Special Operation Forces Member, June 8, 2017, Wash- ington, D.C.
70 Dobbins, et. al, Occupying Iraq, 91.
71 Michael Howard and Suzanne Goldenberg, “US arrest of soldiers infuriates Turkey,” The Guardian, July 7, 2003, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2003/ jul/08/turkey.michaelhoward.
72 Appointment of Special Envoy for Countering the PKK, United States Department of State, August 30, 2006, https://2001-2009.state.gov/p/eur/rls/ rm/71664.htm.
73 Aaron Stein, Turkey’s New Foreign Policy: Davutoglu, the AKP and the Pursuit of Regional Order (London: Routledge, 2015), 2.
76 Interview with Ahmet Davutoglu, “Turkey ’s Top Foreign Policy Aide Worries about False Optimism in Iraq,” Council on Foreign Relations, September 22, 2008, https://www.cfr.org/interview/turkeys-top-foreign-policy-aide-worriesabout-false-optimism-iraq.
77 Burcu Ersekerci, “Turkey Gets USA and Sunnis of Iraq Together,” Journal of Turkish Weekly, December 5, 2005; Ahmet Davutoglu, “Turkey ’s Mediation: Critical Reflections from the Field,” Middle East Policy 20, no. 1, (Spring 2013), 84.
78 “Iraq’s al-Sadr visits Turkey,” Al Jazeera, May 2, 2009, https://www.aljazeera. com/news/2009/5/2/iraqs-al-sadr-visits-turkey.
79 “Iraq and the Kurds: Trouble Along the Trigger Line”, Middle East Report No. 88, International Crisis Group, July 8, 2009.
80 Author Interview, Erbil-based journalist, June 2019.
81 Ned Parker, Isabel Coles, and Raheem Salman, « Special Report: How Mosul fell – An Iraqi general disputes Baghdad’s story,” Reuters, October 14, 2014, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-gharawi-special-report/ special-report-how-mosul-fell-an-iraqi-general-disputes-baghdads-storyidUSKCN0I30Z820141014.
82 Jennifer Heller and Maayan Lubell, “Netanyahu out, Bennett in as Israel marks end of an era,” Reuters, June 13, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/ world/middle-east/israels-knesset-vote-new-government-end-netanyahus-record-reign-2021-06-13/.
83 Taha Ozhan, “The Arab Spring and Turkey: The Camp David Order vs. the New Middle East,” Insight Turkey (Vol. 13, No. 4, Summer 2011), 55–64.
84 Amberin Zaman, “Hamas visits Turkey, prompting criticism,” The Baltimore Sun, February 17, 2016, https://www.baltimoresun.com/news/bs-xpm-2006-0217-0602170322-story.html.
85 Dan Bilefsky and Sebnem Arsu, “Sponsor of Flotilla Tied to Elite of Turkey,” The New York Times, July 15, 2010, https://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/16/world/ middleeast/16turkey.html.
86 “Turkey suspends Israel defence ties over Gaza aid raid,” BBC News, September 6, 2011, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-14800305.
87 Tom Finn, “Turkey to set up Qatar military base to face ‘common enemies’,” Reuters, December 16, 2015, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-qatar-turkey-military/turkey-to-set-up-qatar-military-base-to-face-common-enemies-idUSKBN0TZ17V20151216.
88 Ruth Michaelson, “Mohamed Morsi, ousted president of Egypt, dies in court,” The Guardian, June 17, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jun/17/ mohamed-morsi-dead-ousted-president-egypt-collapses-after-court-session.
89 Patrick Werr, “UAE offers Egypt $3 billion support, Saudis $5 billion,” Reuters, July 9, 2013, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-egypt-protests-loan/uae-offersegypt-3-billion-support-saudis-5-billion-idUSBRE9680H020130709.
90 “Turkey ’s Erdoğan again declares Egypt ’s Sisi ‘ illegitimate’,” Hurriyet Daily News, November 24, 2014, https://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkeys-erdogan-again-declares-egypts-sisi-illegitimate-74730.
91 “Rabia sign now a global sign of saying no to injustice: PM Erdogan,” Anadolu Agency, https://www.aa.com.tr/en/archive/rabia-sign-now-a-global-sign-of-saying-no-to-injustice-pm-erdogan/206982.
92 “Qatar crisis: What you need to know,” BBC News, July 19, 2017, https://www. bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-40173757.
93 Martin Chulov, “Erdoğan rejects Saudi demand to pull Turkish troops out of Qatar,” The Guardian, June 25, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/ jun/25/erdogan-rejects-saudi-demand-to-pull-turkish-troops-out-of-qatar.
94 Shane Harris, Greg Miller, and Josh Dawsey, « CIA concludes Saudi crown prince ordered Jamal Khashoggi’s assassination,” The Washington Post, November 16, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/ cia-concludes-saudi-crown-prince-ordered-jamal-khashoggis-assassination/2018/11/16/98c89fe6-e9b2-11e8-a939-9469f1166f9d_story.html.
95 “Boycott-hit Turkish exports to Saudi Arabia drop 92% in January,” Daily Sabah, February 4, 2021, https://www.dailysabah.com/business/economy/boycotthit-turkish-exports-to-saudi-arabia-drop-92-in-january.
96 Onur Ant, “The Age of Erdoganomics Has Come,” Bloomberg, December 18, 2016, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-12-18/the-age-of-erdoganomics-has-come.
97 Ece Toksabay and Tuvan Gumrukcu, “Turkey’s lira logs worst year in two decades under Erdogan,” Reuters, December 31, 2021, https://www.reuters. com/markets/europe/turkeys-lira-weakens-fifth-day-monetary-policy-worries-2021-12-31/.
98 Onur Ant, “Turkey, UAE Sign FX Swap Deal Worth $5 Billion,” Bloomberg, January 19, 2022, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-01-19/turkeyuae-sign-fx-swap-deal-worth-around-5-billion.
99 Ragip Soylu, “Turkey: Exports to Saudi Arabia increase 25 percent in the first quarter of 2022,” Middle East Eye, April 5, 2022, https://www.middleeasteye.net/ news/turkey-saudi-arabia-exports-increase-first-quarter.
100 Nicholas Danforth, “The Nonsense of Neo-Ottomanism,” War on the Rocks, May 29, 2020.
101 Ryan Gingeras, “Why Erdogan Might Choose War with Greece,” War on the Rocks, October 5, 2022.
102 Nektaria Stamouli, “Greece, Turkey vie for US goods — at the other’s expense,” Politico Europe, June 15, 2022.
103 Conversation with Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis, Georgetown University, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RgPaL4nkSr0
104 Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ address to the Joint Session of the USUS Congress, May 17, 2022 https://primeminister.gr/en/2022/05/17/29339
105 Monteagle Stearns, Entangled Allies: US Policy Toward Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus (New York: Council on Foreign Relations, 1992).
106 “Egypt and Turkey seek to overhaul tense ties with frank talks on Libya,” Reuters, May 6, 2021.
107 “Is Turkey going to crack down Muslim Brotherhood aligned TV in gesture to Egypt?,” Al Monitor, April 2, 2021.
108 Diana Shalhub, “Egypt praises Turkey’s moves towards rapprochement,” Anatolia Agency, March 19, 2021.
109 Aaron Stein, “Erbil over Baghdad: Turkey Explores its Options with the Iraqi Kurds,” Atlantic Council, June 1, 2017.
110 “Iraq: Allaying Turkey ’s Fears over Kurdish Ambitions,” Middle East Report No. 35, International Crisis Group, January 26, 2005, https://d2071andvip0wj. cloudfront.net/35-iraq-allaying- turkey-s-fears-over-kurdish-ambitions.pdf.
111 Ben Van Heuvelen, “ Turkey planning to control Iraqi oil revenue,” Iraq Oil Report, April 2, 2013.
113 Loveday Morris, “How the Kurdish independence referendum backfired spectacularly,” Washington Post, October 20, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/how-the-kurdish-independence-referendum-backfired/2017/10/20/3010c820-b371-11e7-9b93-b97043e57a22_story.html.
114 “Kurdish forces seize some oil wells from Iraqi control, Iraqi company says,” Reuters, May 14, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/kurdishforce-seizes-some-oil-wells-iraqi-govt-control-statement-2022-05-14/.
115 “Iraq’s Kurdistan judicial council defies supreme court over oil law,” Reuters, June 4, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/markets/commodities/iraqs-kurdistan-judicial-council-defies-supreme-court-over-oil-law-2022-06-04/.
116 “Turkish base in Bashiqa targeted in rocket strikes,” Medyanews, April 4, 2002, https://medyanews.net/turkish-base-in-bashiqa-targeted-in-rocket-strikes/; Manuel Fernandez, “Iraqi Kurdistan’s oil industry targeted by pro-Iranian Shia militias,” Atalayar, May 6, 2022, https://atalayar.com/en/content/iraqi-kurdistans-oil-industry-targeted-pro-iranian-shia-militias.
117 Murat Yetkin, “Which photo of the Saudi Prince and Erdoğan depicts the situation the best?” Yetkin Report, June 23, 2022.
Nicholas Danforth is an editor at War on the Rocks and Senior Fellow at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP). He is also the author of The Remaking of Republican Turkey: Memory and Modernity since the Fall of the Ottoman Empire.
Aaron Stein is the Chief Content Officer at Metamorphic Media/War on the Rocks and a Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI). He is also the author of The US War Against ISIS: How America and its Allies Defeated the Caliphate and Turkey’s New Foreign Policy: Davutoglu, the AKP and the Pursuit of Regional Order.
The Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) is a nonpartisan Philadelphia- based think tank dedicated to strengthening U.S. national security and improving American foreign policy. www.fpri.org