The West must engage, not demonize, Turkey
In Washington and European capitals, it will be tempting to conclude that Turkey is already “lost,” that it is fated to become a rising theocracy that will work against rather than for international order. This would be a grave mistake.
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It can start by understanding Turkey’s position in the world. Turkey is a member of a select geopolitical club: rising democracies. This club encompasses not only Turkey, but also India, Brazil, Indonesia, and South Africa. Their emergence is a crucial – but untold – development of the 21st century.
Rising democracies offer the West an opportunity to perpetuate the international order founded in the wake of the Second World War. This order enshrines principles such as freedom of the seas, the moral superiority of democracy, and the primacy of free trade. But with economic malaise in Europe and Japan, and looming fiscal constraints in the United States, new partners are needed to sustain this order. The only possible partners are the rising democracies.
Current tensions between the West and one of them – Turkey – should therefore cause concern. Although US and European relations with India, Brazil, Indonesia, and South Africa remain works-in-progress, recent developments with Turkey have few parallels elsewhere.
Turkey’s fiery rhetoric following an Israeli raid on the Gaza-bound ship Mavi Marmara in May and its decision in June to vote against additional United Nations sanctions on Iran have led the West to question Ankara’s future course. Moreover, far from subsiding, areas of disagreement appear ready to flare up at any moment. Flashpoints include the role of Hamas in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and how to respond to Iran’s nuclear program.
In European capitals and Washington, it will be tempting to conclude that Turkey is already “lost,” that it is inevitably fated to become a rising theocracy that will work against rather than for international order.
This would be a grave mistake.
Turkey's unique role
In the Middle East, the other regional heavyweights are either authoritarian allies – Egypt and Saudi Arabia – authoritarian and antagonistic toward the United States – Iran – or democratic but besieged on all sides – Israel. No other state can substitute for Turkey as a pillar of stability and democratic values.