‘Backbone’ foreign policy adjustment with the US
The messages conveyed by Foreign Minister Professor Ahmet Davutoğlu to the Obama administration during his Washington trip earlier this week could be regarded as one of the warmest, strongest initiatives pronounced up to today with regard to comprehending the degree of importance attributed to the United States in Ankara.
No doubt, every government that has come to power in Turkey has emphasized that they esteem the U.S. and their relationships with it. However, the recent messages of Davutoğlu carry tones that recall the closeness that the Democrat Party felt for the U.S. in the 1950s.
The peak of Davutoğlu’s messages were the words delivered at Washington’s prestigious Brookings Institution when he said that strengthening Turkey-U.S. relations had always been the backbone of Turkish foreign policy. It is probably an irony of fate that this warm message came after a period when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accused the West last summer - inter alia the U.S. - of being “spineless.”
As a matter of fact, Davutoğlu sent his message to Washington in an earlier article penned for Foreign Policy magazine in which he wrote that the United States and Turkey did not have the luxury of remaining aloof or apart from each other. This was a strong declaration of intent to open a white page in the relations.
In this article, Davutoğlu also described the partnership between the U.S. and Turkey as being “founded upon universal principles of fundamental rights and democratic norms.” He reiterated this theme in Washington.
Likewise, the West-oriented direction is another dominant theme Davutoğlu emphasized in Washington. However, in the West-facing orbit, Washington’s place is separate. After meeting the U.S. Secretary of State, Davutoğlu’s words that “This model partnership will continue forever” will remain in our minds for a long time. By reminding that “Prime Minister Erdoğan everywhere praises President Obama’s leadership,” Davutoğlu upgraded this warmness to the leadership level.
All of these themes are also the expression of a new adjustment that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government is trying to make in Turkish foreign policy. The government is apparently determined to change the perception that Turkey is experiencing a rupture with the U.S. A Turkey that has a weakened relationship with the U.S. will also weaken the radius of action of its foreign policy.
However, there is another very important dimension of the effort to make up with the U.S.
The government is probably reading the critical declarations coming from Washington after the Gezi protests as a sign of the loosening of support for itself, and so is engaged in an effort to reinforce the American front. Especially in the run-up to two critical elections, preventing the perception that his relationship with U.S. President Obama has been harmed is important regarding Erdoğan’s domestic policy calculations.
Now we come to the most delicate part of the matter. As relations are getting back on track, will the Obama administration abandon the critical attitude it has adopted recently on problem areas such as the freedom of press and the right to free assembly, which indicate the democratic deficits in Turkey?
In this context, it should indeed be noted that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry emphasized, while standing right next to his Turkish guest, the importance of “strengthening the freedoms of the press, expression and assembly.”
However, our question has been answered by his deputy Victoria Nuland, the assistant secretary at the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, in her speech before Davutoğlu set foot in Washington. She spoke on Nov. 13 at the Atlantic Council think tank, and provided an important framework regarding Washington’s stance in the next term: “We obviously stand on the side of those Turks who want more openness, more press freedom, and accountable government. We’ll never be shy about saying that.”
She also added: “I think the beauty of our alliance is that we can be honest when we disagree.”