Clinton's Turkey visit should be one of many
ISTANBUL -- When U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Istanbul over the weekend for the fourth meeting of the Libya Contact Group and bilateral meetings with her hosts, she would have sensed the confidence of a new regional power. Turkey today boasts one of the fastest-growing economies in the world and perhaps the most dynamic foreign policy in the Middle East. Its recent elections in the midst of the “Arab Spring” only heightened its self-confidence as a global player. And as a G-20 founding member, NATO ally, European Union aspirant, and head of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Ankara has transformed itself into a more autonomous actor, seeking greater regional and global influence just as Washington has been trying to draw closer and promote its ally as a success story. Clinton’s engagements reflected this new reality. While reaffirming close cooperation with her Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoglu, on the recognition of the Libyan transitional authority, she reportedly pushed for greater Turkish support for opposition groups in Syria. She expressed the United States’ condolences to Turkey, which had recently suffered its worst terrorist attack in three years, a message that coincided with CIA Director David Petraeus’ first official visit to Ankara. And, in a joint news conference with Davutoglu, she proclaimed Turkey’s role as a regional role model, while issuing warnings about domestic polarization, media freedoms, and minority rights: “Turkish democracy is a model because of where you came from and where you are. That doesn’t mean you don’t have work to do.” She reinforced that message through her well-publicized audience with the Greek Ecumenical Patriarch, during which she expressed the full support of the United States for the reopening of the Halki Seminary after four decades of enforced closure by the state. Clinton’s praise for the opposition Republican People’s Party – for refusing to take the oath of parliament following the arrest of two of their elected members - also received considerable domestic attention. Despite the overtures made on this trip, the complexity and dynamism of the U.S.-Turkish partnership means the United States must continue to tend the relationship. Changes both within and around Turkey have necessitated a more reactive foreign policy than what President Barack Obama encountered on his visit two years ago. The “Arab Spring” has already recalibrated Turkey’s ambitions and forced its leadership to rethink the priority it accords democracy in its foreign policy. No longer able to simply criticize Washington for doublespeak, Ankara now finds itself in the same boat as its transatlantic partners in trying to coordinate strategy on the basis of events on the ground they have little control over. For the transatlantic community, Turkey’s newfound swagger makes it both a more valuable asset and a more uncertain partner. Although there are real causes for concern, as Clinton highlighted, it is clear that Turkey continues to offer the United States numerous opportunities for strategic cooperation and thus remains a critical partner that must be actively and continually engaged. Turkey’s policies and its regional role can complement Washington’s objectives with its shared goals and values. And while turbulence in U.S.-Turkish relations is to be expected in the short-term, the nations’ long-term interests will still converge more than they diverge. As Clinton’s visit demonstrated, the Turks are accommodating hosts and place a premium on high-level visits. As the Obama administration navigates the intricacies of transatlantic and Middle East relations over the coming year, Ankara should be on its routemap. Joshua Walker is a Transatlantic Fellow at the German Marshall Fund. Photo from US Mission Geneva.
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