Syria to test Turkish-American partnership

Syria to test Turkish-American partnership

“I have been coming to the U.S. since 1981,” said Soli Özel, a Turkish academician who was visiting Washington, D.C. this week with the TÜSIAD delegation, “but never witnessed Turkey-U.S. relations to be as touchy-feely as they are now.”

Head of TÜSIAD Ümit Boyner stayed in Washington for a couple of days to engage with U.S. foreign policy officials and business leaders. During a round table discussion with reporters following a conference on Capitol Hill, she said: “The structure of relations between U.S. and Turkey is changing.” She labeled this “normalization.”

TÜSİAD’s visit to Washington and its deepening ties with the United States Chamber of Commerce (USCC) are signs of this positive climate. Turkey is one of nine foreign markets considered worthy to expand by USCC. Currently, two business groups are preparing a study to identify barriers that weaken trade.

While both countries increasingly focused on boosting economic ties, political conversations at the highest levels accelerated in light of the Arab transition, said Richard Armitage, former deputy secretary of state, during an interview this week.

A series of events in recent years brought us to this point. Özel said it started with the Turkish rejection of the U.S. request to open a northern front at the beginning of the Iraq War. Since then, Turkey has shown many examples of similar critical rejections. “Turkey is not under Uncle Sam’s shadow anymore,” said Ambassador James Holmes, president of the American-Turkish Council (ATC).

Now at the end of the Iraq War, Washington wants to trust its Turkish ally to counter feared Iranian influence in a post-American Iraq. To prove the U.S. commitment of better relations, the U.S. built up its military and intelligence cooperation with Turkey, sometimes through “unusual” practices of arm transfers for fighting with PKK terrorism.

While Turkey’s mercantilist administration is looking for ways to maximize its trade around the world, the Obama administration from its inception heavily advocated and encouraged for an export-based economy as well. It is not hard to see that the U.S. slowly placed its economic interests in the epicenter of its foreign policy.

Lincoln McCurdy, president of the Turkish Coalition of America, a lobbying group which recently purchased office space across from the White House, described the new ties as “more of a partnership, rather than clientele type which it used to be.”

Yet the Arab Spring is the grandest political challenge that forced the two countries to check their policy memos regarding the region. As Gadhafi became a figure in history with a brutal end, both countries now set to deal with the most sensitive episode of the transition: Syria. The dire differences within its opposition, the ruthless regime and regional complications in case of a civil war make it all the more dangerous.

The Arab American Institute’s (AAI) latest polls among 4,000 Arabs in six Arab countries show Turkey’s role in Syria found overwhelmingly positive ratings, while U.S. and Iran’s roles receive crushing disapproval ratings.

“Those who seriously argue for military option, including buffer zone within Syria, should have their heads examined,” said James Zogby, president of AAI, about Sen. McCain’s recent remarks that NATO can be useful now, since the Libyan operation ended. Zogby himself was not very hopeful that the negotiations to the peaceful transition could be accepted by either the regime or the opposition, because the negotiations would ask serious compromises.

 Zogby, looking at poll numbers, called for Turkish-Arab League mediation between the parties of Syria, as the two are regional players that still have leverage over Syria.

 It is for the U.S. to build up the international pressure with its EU allies, going for full sanctions if necessary. Syria promises to be the toughest test for the much bragged about new Turkish-American partnership’s vibrancy.