Any recent concessions, however, are driven primarily by Russian strategic concerns; namely their newfound interest in transit routes that traverse Turkey. The South Stream pipeline is intended as both a counterweight to Nabucco as well to circumvent Ukraine and Belarus, whose long-term reliability is a concern for Russia.  In this vein the Russians have also found it in their interest to collaborate on other pipelines such as the Samsun-Ceyhan pipeline as well as Blue Stream 2 that would ship Russian oil to countries such as Lebanon. Certainly Turkey stands to gain sizeable transit fees from all these investments, but the idea that they reflect a complete revamp of the Russo-Turkish relationship is entirely misplaced. This is noted in Turkey’s explicit attempts to wean themselves off Russian oil, codified in their 2010-2014 strategic energy plan which seeks to increase domestic reserves and diversify supply so a to ensure no single supplier contributes more than 50% of Turkish needs.[50]

Beyond the Russians, the Turks are also straddling a fine line in their relations with the Arabs. The oft-touted advantage that Turkish secularism and its economic and technological advances can be exported to the Arab world can cut both ways. The Kemalist mistrust that erected that firewalled Turkey from the Middle East was predicated on the exact worry that influence can run the other way. Without sufficient care, over time authoritarianism and the ‘cultural swamp’ of Middle Eastern politics and security dynamics can be imported instead, ruining Turkey’s most cherished values.

This aggressive adoption of the Palestinian cause while politically advantageous at home and further afield in the Muslim world is not a riskless strategy either.

Turkey is essentially stealing Iran’s mantle as the primary champion of the Palestinian cause[51] and while the Iranians may presently benefit from a vocal supporter like Turkey, in time the usurping of their influence in Palestine and Iraq is bound to irritate. Simultaneously, Turkish efforts have exposed the impotence of many Arab regimes in delivering on their rhetorical support for Palestinians. Erdogan’s celebrity and the steady advance of progressive Turkish culture into the Arab mainstream threatens to expose the authoritarian unpopularity of many Arab regimes and their legitimacy deficits, all unlikely to have endeared Turkey to ruling Arab elites.

The Turkish swing has also begun to cost its credibility in its cherished role as an unbiased regional interlocutor. Its embrace of Hamas has earned it the mistrust of Fatah factions and Egypt, making its role in Hamas-Fatah talks significantly more challenging.[52] Its previous ability to bring together Syria and Israel for talks are unlikely to be replicated in the near future, given the prevailing Israeli belief that Turkey has swung decisively against its favor. The U.S., too, is viewing Turkey with alarm in the aftermath of its unilateral uranium exchange deal with Iran and public opposition to sanctions and coercive pressure.

Similarly, many Sunni Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia have found themselves being forced to inadvertently compete with Turkey for regional influence. They remain suspicious of Turkish intentions viewing its ‘neo-Ottoman’ rhetoric and growing friendliness with their Shia rivals, Iran and Syria, with considerable trepidation. All this has led critics to charge that Turkey, contrary to popular belief, is not a diplomatic heavyweight in the region, but rather one with too many balls in the air spreading itself thin and heading for a significant loss of credibility. As one Egyptian official put it, “Turkey is a large and clumsy player… They haven’t been well versed in Middle Eastern affairs for a long time… They would like to prove to the West they are an effective player. But I have my doubts about concrete impact”[53]

Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute is undoubtedly correct when he succinctly notes “Turkey in 2010 is not the same Turkey as a decade ago.”[54] It has made vast strides in extending its economic and political weight far beyond its traditional sphere of influence. Yet Turks themselves would do well to remember they remain vulnerable, caught between poles and not yet unbound of their Western shackles. Eastern outreach has real tangible benefits for the United States and Europe with Turkish potential to serve as a European energy corridor erode the Russian monopoly as well as a real bridge in promoting a democratic and technically advanced Islamic model that the Middle East has continually failed to provide. It can also use its economic clout to make inroads into tackling the economic backwardness in the region, while simultaneously enriching itself and becoming an increasingly attractive partner for accession.

Turkey would do well, however, to remember that its attractiveness in the Middle East stems largely from its political and social modernity that owe much to its European partners. It remains a regional military force few will tangle with precisely because of its NATO security blanket and its close American partnership. The U.S. retains strong levers of influence it can utilize with relative ease, given that the US-Turkish relationship is predominantly a “state-to-state relationship,” with relatively small volumes of trade and cultural exchange.[55] These include cutting back on arms sales, ratcheting down support in Brussels, cutting Turkey out of Western-led Middle Eastern peace initiatives and reassessing support for Turkey on contentious positions such as Cyprus and Armenia, all enormously damaging for Turkish ambitions.

In international politics perceptions often guide reality. While Turkey may not seek to alienate the West, its demagoguery of Israel raises concerns. If it truly aspires to regional leadership, it must dispense of the hypocrisy that allows it to criticize Israel but not Hamas, Hezbollah, and other terrorist outfits. It may be its prerogative to criticize the U.S. operation in Fallujah as “genocide,”[56] but then it must too recognize the atrocities so nakedly apparent in the Sudan, Iran, and its own heavy-handedness against its homegrown Kurdish insurgency. Playing to domestic or regional xenophobia in the East is little more than an act of brinksmanship for the West. Balancing is never an easy task, but Turkey would do well to look back occasionally as it marches forward.


[1] Adam Entous, “US concerned at Turkey shift: Gates,” Reuters, June 9, 2010. Available at http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE6581I220100609?type=politicsNews

[2] “SPIEGEL Interview with Turkey’s Prime Minister: “There can be no talk of genocide,” Der Spiegel, March 29, 2010. Available at http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,686131,00.html

[3] “Turkey calls charges turning from West “dirty propaganda” Agence France Presse, June 10, 2010. Available at http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5j4s-_zfUNJstHc_43PycrkglqjzQ

[4] Seda Ciftci, “Reviving Turkey’s Stalled EU Drive” Center for Strategic and International Studies, April 30, 2008.

[5] “Sarkozy gets Italy, Spain on board for “Mediterranean Union,” Deutsche Welle, December 21, 2007. Available at http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,3016610,00.html

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[7] Ioannis Grigoriadis, “The Davutoglu Doctrine and Turkish Foreign Policy,” Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, April 2010.

[8] Oxford Analytica, “Turkish trade shifts from Europe,” Forbes, February 20, 2009. Available at http://www.forbes.com/2009/02/19/turkey-europe-eu-business_oxford_turkey.html

[9] “Turkey: EU Bilateral trade and Trade with the World,” DG Trade, September 22, 2009. Available at

[10] http://www.usak.org.tr/EN/makale.asp?id=1149

[11] Burak Akinci, “Where is Erdogan steering Turkey?” Middle East Online, April 12, 2010. Available at http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=38378

[12]“Turkey turns against Israel,” Wall Street Journal, October 20, 2009. Available at http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703363704574503460584848456.html

[13] “Erdogan rejects reports Turkey drifting from West,” Asbarez, October 29, 2009. Available at http://asbarez.com/72654/erdogan-rejects-reports-that-turkey-drifting-from-west/

[14] Greg Bruno, “Turkey’s Rising Star,” Council on Foreign Relations, October 9, 2008. Available at http://www.cfr.org/publication/17462/turkeys_rising_star.html

[15]Steven A. Cook, “How do you say “frenemy” in Turkish?” Foreign Policy, June 1, 2010. Available at http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/06/01/how_do_you_say_frenemy_in_Turkish

[16] Mensur Akgun, Gokce Percinoglu and Sabiha Senyucel Gundogar, “Perception of Turkey in the Middle East” Tesev Publications, December 2009.

[17] Alexandra Buccianti, “Dubbed Turkish soap operas conquering the Arab world: social liberation or cultural alienation?” Arab Society Media, March 30, 2010. Available at www.arabmediasociety.com/…/20100330130359_Buccianti_-_for_PDF.pdf

[18] Sami Moubayed, “Turkey embraces role as Arab ‘Big Brother,” Asia Times, January 14, 2010. Available at http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/LA14Ak01.html

[19]“Turkey expands economic ties with the East,” Jerusalem Post, June 7, 2010. Available at http://www.jpost.com/MiddleEast/Article.aspx?id=177743

[20] “Iraq-Turkey trade up 50 percent in past year,” Hurriyet, June 12, 2010. Available at http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/n.php?n=iraq-turkey-trade-up-50-percent-in-past-year-2010-04-11

[21] “Turkey-Iraq focus on improving trade ties,” Journal of Turkish Weekly, March 23, 2010. Available at http://www.turkishweekly.net/news/100212/turkey-iraq-focus-on-improving-trade-ties.html

[22] Ariel Farrar- Wellman, “Turkey-Iran Foreign Relations,” Iran Tracker (American Enterprise Institute), May 20, 2010. Available at http://www.irantracker.org/foreign-relations/turkey-iran-foreign-relations

[23] “Turkey and Africa: Ottoman Dreaming,” The Economist, March 25, 2010. Available at http://www.economist.com/node/15772860

[24] Nick Danforth, “How the West lost Turkey,” Foreign Policy, November 25, 2009. Available at http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2009/11/25/how_the_west_lost_turkey

[25] Sami Moubayed, “Turkey embraces role as Arab ‘Big Brother,” Asia Times, January 14, 2010. Available at http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/LA14Ak01.html

[26] Ayla Jean Yackley, “Iraqi Kurdish leader in Turkey for landmark visit,” Reuters, June 2, 2010. Available at http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE6515B820100602

[27] Chris Phillips, “Turkey, Syria’s new best friend” The Guardian, October 1, 2009. Available at http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/oct/01/turkey-syria-friendship

[28] “Saudi Arabia to invest $400bn in Turkey,” Press TV, April 1, 2010. Available at http://www.presstv.ir/detail.aspx?id=122233&sectionid=351020204

[29] Robert Tait, “Iran is out friend, says Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan,” The Guardian, October 26, 2009. Available at http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/oct/26/turkey-iran1

[30] Abdulhamit Bilci, “Iran’s nuke program for humanitarian ends, Erdogan says,” Today’s Zaman, October 28, 2009. Available at http://www.todayszaman.com/tz-web/mobile.do?load=wapDetay&link=191248

[31] David Kenner, “Is Turkey trying to sink or save Iran?” Foreign Policy, April 1, 2010. Available at http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/04/01/is_turkey_trying_to_sink_or_save_iran?page=0,1

[32] Tulin Daloglu, “Turkey takes sides,” Foreign Policy, April 16, 2010. Available at http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/04/16/turkey_takes_sides

[33] Daniel Steinvorth, “Outage in Turkey: Gaza Raid spells end of Turkish-Israeli alliance,” Der Spiegel, June 1, 2010. Available at http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,698115,00.html

[34] Delphine Strauss and Tobias Buck, “Business counts cost of Turkish-Israel spat,” Financial Times, June 10, 2010. Available at http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/32f834ce-74a9-11df-aed7-00144feabdc0.html

[35] Halil M. Karaveli and M.K. Kaya, “Islamist and Nationalist Views on Jews and Israel: Another Convergence of Perceptions?” Turkey Analyst, November 9, 2009.

[36] “Erdogan says Lieberman threatened Gaza with nukes,” YNet News, October 26, 2009. Available at http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3795365,00.html

[37]“The Turkish Temptation,” Wall Street Journal, October 30, 2009. Available at http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703363704574503460584848456.html

[38]Marc Champion, “Erdogan calls Israel ‘threat’ to peace,” Wall Street Journal, April 8, 2010. Available at http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303591204575169980169518418.html

[39] James Joyner, “Turkey’s Erdogan storms out of Davos,” Atlantic Council, January 30, 2009. Available at http://www.acus.org/new_atlanticist/turkeys-erdogan-storms-out-davos

[40] Soner Cagaptay, “Is Turkey leaving the West,” Foreign Affairs, October 26, 2009. Available at http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/65661/soner-cagaptay/is-turkey-leaving-the-west

[41] “Arab League eyes alternatives to peace process,” Al Arabiya, March 27, 2010. Available at http://www.alarabiya.net/articles/2010/03/27/104185.html

[42] “Transcript of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s speech during the AK Party Meeting,” Political Theatrics, June 6, 2010. Available at http://www.politicaltheatrics.net/2010/06/transcript-of-recep-tayyip-erdogans-speech-during-the-ak-party-meeting/

[43] “78 pct of Israelis view Turkey as enemy: poll,” Agence France Presse, June 10, 2010. Available at http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5h-VvhgxjVcleA21QBUCJULnxU0gg

[44] Delphine Strauss, “Russia to build Turkey’s nuclear plant” Financial Times, May 13, 2010. Available at http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/ba891592-5de4-11df-8153-00144feab49a.html

[45] Hassan Selim Ozertem, “Interview: The Future of Turkey-Russia relations,” Journal of Turkish Weekly, January 23, 2010. Available at http://www.turkishweekly.net/news/96359/-jtw-interview-the-future-of-turkey-russia-relations.html

[46] “Turkey, Russia sign nuclear power plant, visa removal deals,” European Dialogue, May 14, 2010. Available at http://eurodialogue.org/energy-security/Turkey-Russia-sign-nuclear-power-plant-visa-removal-deals

[47] Reva Bhalla, Lauren Goodrich and Peter Zeihan, “Turkey and Russia on the Rise,” STRATFOR, March 17, 2009. Available at http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/20090317_turkey_and_russia_rise

[48] “Turkey, Russia and Regional Energy Strategies,” Brookings Institution, Washington D.C., July 15, 2009.

[49] Saban Kardas, “Turkey prioritizes independent regional policies in the Middle East and South Caucasus,” Jamestown Foundation, June 1, 2010. Available at  http://www.jamestown.org/programs/edm/single/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=36444&tx_ttnews%5BbackPid%5D=27&cHash=620916fe5a

[50] Saban Kardas, “Turkey unveils energy plan,” Asia Times, May 13, 2010. Available at http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Central_Asia/LE13Ag01.html

[51] Gary Thomas, “Iran, Turkey vie to be Palestinian’s champion,” Voice of America, June 4, 2010. Available at http://www1.voanews.com/english/news/middle-east/-Iran-Turkey-Vie-to-Be-Palestinians-Champion-95650189.html

[52] Khaled Abu Toameh, “Turkey’s support of Hamas worries PA,” Jerusalem Post, June 8, 2010. Available at http://www.jpost.com/MiddleEast/Article.aspx?id=177779

[53] Turkey and the Middle East: Ambitions and Constraints,” International Crisis Group, Europe Report N203, April 7, 2010.

[54] Michael Rubin, “Erdogan’s Turkey is not a friend,” American Enterprise Institute, June 11, 2010. Available at http://www.aei.org/article/102138

[55] “Turkey Update: A Discussion on Turkey’s foreign policy,” Council on Foreign Relations, Washington D.C., March 30, 2010.

[56] Karl Vick, “In many Turks eyes, US remains the enemy,” Washington Post, April 10, 2005. Available at http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A41024-2005Apr10?language=printer