How did the US hurt Turkish democracy?
Turkey’s aspirations of being a regional leader and playing a global role require a deepening of its relations with the United States, a country that is still the only global power with entrenched interests in the Middle East on both strategic and economic levels.
Mostly due to its failure in the Middle East process, Washington’s approval ratings among Arabs has nosedived and it has lost all the points it gained following Barack Obama assumption of the presidency. Therefore, a partnership with Turkey, whose Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is cashing in on a strong popularity on the Arab street, appears to be an opportunity too great for Washington to pass by as well.
The Arab Spring not only helped the U.S. and Turkey grow closer, but also helped diplomats on both sides comprehend the local factors that affect each other’s lives and interests.
For instance, while a year ago Turkey’s Iran policy was chastised in Washington, after the Arab Spring began, U.S. officials slowly began mentioning some of the Turkish points, such as Turkey’s historic ties with Iran.
If, indeed, Bashar al-Assad follows the path of other disgraced dictators, as widely expected, Turkey’s strategic position in terms of shaping a post-Assad Syria will be even more significant.
Turkey is also looking to increase its influence in Iraq after the withdrawal of U.S. troops in order to be able to counter Iran’s potential influence. Gregory Meeks, a ranking Democratic member of the House Subcommittee on Europe, said: “Iraq now has to open up itself to the West, increase its trade to stand on its own feet. There is only the Turkish model for Iraq, the Iran model means isolation.”
Turkey, following a series of political and economic reforms, has in many ways transitioned into a less restrictive society in recent years in the quest for full EU membership.
Nevertheless, there are significant indicators that Turkey is still a “mixed bag” in terms of progress in relation to many of the freedom issues. Turkey’s ranking with regard to freedom of press has been consistently dropping during Justice and Development Party (AKP) rule. Turkey now has more journalists in prison than any other country in the world.
Hundreds of other suspects in the Ergenekon investigations have been in the justice system for years without getting any result.
Experts argue that long jail periods, without sufficient evidence, are a huge obstacle for justice. Without question, this climate leads to an atmosphere in which a significant portion of the society is afraid to speak against, criticize, or oppose the ruling party. European Union bodies have asked Turkey to take steps to resolve these problems but compared to past years, the EU has little leverage.
Washington, on the other hand, recently appears less willing to criticize the AKP government for these shortcomings since its relations with Ankara have flourished. This current “honeymoon” of relations between Turkey and the U.S. in many ways reminds us of the Cold War years, when Turkey’s strategic importance in terms of countering the Soviet threat overrode all the U.S.’ other concerns, such as deficits in its democracy, rule of law and freedoms.
According to Washington’s calculations, the AKP appears to be the only alternative for the moment. In this new Arab Spring paradigm, the U.S. will continue to seek close relations with its Turkish ally in order to stay more relevant to the tremendous changing dynamics in the region.
Unless the Turkish opposition gets its act together and proves itself a formidable alternative domestically, as well as in its foreign vision, it would be a surprise if Washington starts paying more attention to the problems Turkish democracy is currently facing.
Granted, it is not Washington who can repair all the ills of Turkish democracy, but Turkey needs all the foreign help it can get for it to become a liberal democracy.