Washington, D.C. — As a NATO member and majority-Muslim, secular democracy, Turkey has often been held up as a model partner to the United States and a model for the wider Middle East. As such, the United States has long attached great hopes to cooperation with Turkey in the pursuit of U.S. goals in that embattled region. But today, enthusiasm about the bilateral relationship has largely evaporated as the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party, or AKP, has stifled free speech and cracked down on political opposition.
A paper released today by the Center for American Progress outlines the history of how American enthusiasm for the Turkish model has ebbed and flowed over the last half-century—shaped by the political hopes of policymakers in Washington and used by Turkish leaders to pursue their own goals. The issue brief examines how the current disappointment surrounding Turkey’s democratic failings and refusal to commit wholeheartedly to the coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, is the latest in a series of these cycles. Reckoning with this history, the paper argues that the United States must set aside hopes for strategic engagement with the broader Middle East in cooperation with Turkey and instead focus on fostering Turkey’s democratic institutions.
“Turkey can no longer be considered a model for a Middle East democracy, but the United States has no choice but to engage with Ankara,” said Dov Friedman, the author of the paper. “The United States should stop hoping that Turkey will unlock the Middle East to U.S. foreign policy and start dealing with Turkey’s political complexity; doing so will allow us to advance policy priorities important to both countries.”
The paper points to American focus on the use of Incirlik Air Base and the campaign against ISIS and argues that the United States would do better to focus on Turkey’s domestic political scene—particularly the AKP’s crackdown on the Kurds and its failure to form a coalition government.
Click here to read the paper.
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