Second Obama term: Turkey has to both have a vision and be cautious

Second Obama term: Turkey has to both have a vision and be cautious

U.S. President Barack Obama swore in on Jan. 22 with his hand on two bibles, one of which belonged to civil rights leader Martin Luther King and President Abraham Lincoln, who ended slavery. In this way, the second Obama term has officially started. How will Turkish-American relations develop in this term? What should Turkey do? 

I spoke to the Director for Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution, Martin Indyk, a reference name for U.S. foreign policy. As always, he made an enlightening comment: “Correct, America’s main focus is shifting toward the Pacific and South Asia. American-Chinese relations will be very important. In this context, Europe will also be important, however, this does not necessarily mean that the U.S. will be passive in the Middle East. Today and in the coming years, the Middle East will maintain its importance. During the second Obama term, the administration may adopt an active policy in this region and in its problem spots (meaning Syria, Iraq, Iran, Israel-Palestine). Turkey will continue being important. Turkish-American relations will be close and significant.” 

I think Indyk is being proved right with every passing day. John Kerry has become the new Secretary of State in the new Cabinet. His first foreign trip will be to Turkey in February. The agenda is known: first Syria, Iraq, Iran, and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s (PKK) laying down of arms. A former Republican, Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel has been selected by Obama for the position of Secretary of Defense. 

John Kerry and Chuck Hagel. One is a Democrat, the other is a Republican. However, they have one very important aspect in common: both of them, based on America’s interests and security, believe in strong military power. However, in foreign policy they believe the carrot is as important as the stick, although they do not oppose war categorically. They both opposed the war in Iraq which created a huge human tragedy in 2003, not from the very beginning, but rather when they realized that the war was having negative consequences for America. The selection of Kerry and Hagel shows us that the U.S. will be active in the Middle East in 2013 and after, in a close relationship with Turkey. Tough power and “the stick” will be on the table. 

In Obama’s second term, we will see an interesting Turkish-American relationship. The Obama administration will support Turkey, but this support will also contain risks. On the issue of PKK disarmament, the message that John Kerry will bring will be one of support. The Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government will receive strong support from the United States for PKK’s disarmament, as the disarmament of the PKK is also in the interests of the U.S. However, as long as the issues of Syria, Iraq, Iran and Israel-Palestine are on the table, then it looks inevitable that there will be opposition, even tension, as much as common points. 

Turkey has to act cautiously and base its actions on a vision. In this respect, the European Union anchor is once more very important. In Turkish-American relations, there is “security, power, self interest, and hard power,” as well as the possibility of using the stick. The U.S. may sometimes put the issue of democracy in the background. 

What keeps Turkey on the democratic and reform path is the EU anchor. Revitalized Turkey-EU relations will keep Turkey on its feet in its relationship with the U.S. A Turkey that acts alone and has a weak EU anchor might drift to riskiness and indefiniteness. 

Fuat Keyman is a columnist for daily Milliyet in which this piece appeared on Jan. 23. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.