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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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For example, Turkey can positively influence the future of Iraq by helping to resolve long-simmering tensions over the Kurdish issue. And while disagreement exists on the means, Western powers and Turkey share the goal of a non-nuclear Iran; Ankara remains a useful interlocutor with Tehran.

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Lastly, only Turkey, as a Muslim-majority state with free and fair elections, can serve as a credible beacon for democracy in the region.

The West is more than a bystander to Turkey’s domestic politics. Its rhetoric and actions powerfully reverberate inside Turkey, both for good and ill.

Demonizing Turkey will bolster the very internal forces the West fears. It will give credence to their claims that Turkey can never be part of the West and allow them to move Turkey’s foreign policy in a more extreme direction.

The right response to current strains with Turkey is therefore deeper engagement.

This is not the same as coddling. The United States and Europe have a responsibility to speak hard truths to their Middle Eastern friends and stand up for their interests when challenged – Turkey’s status as a rising democracy grants it no special exemption here.

British Prime Minister David Cameron’s recent speech in Ankara demonstrated the commitment of Turkey’s friends in the West and should kick-start the process of deeper engagement with the European Union that has been languishing since 2005.

As for the United States, deeper engagement of Turkey should include the following steps:

Action items for deeper engagement

Establish a CEO forum for US and Turkish business leaders. As Turkey’s democracy has matured, business leaders have become increasingly influential. To be effective, deeper engagement must target them.

Institute a more systematic exchange of lawmakers. Personal connections between US members of Congress and Turkish members of parliament remain superficial. Although congressional delegations visit Ankara relatively often, these are more meet and greets than serious, cumulative consultations. A regular annual exchange bringing together many of the same lawmakers will result in a more durable network.

Launch a program to immerse American officials in the Turkish government. The program could be modeled on the Mansfield Fellowship, which currently provides US federal employees with a year of Japanese language training followed by an assignment with the Japanese government.

Double the number of Fulbright exchanges with Turkey. This will enable the United States to develop a larger cadre of Turkey experts and more importantly, will serve as a down payment on a future generation of Turkish leaders with close ties to the West.

Deeper engagement is a long-term process, one that will at times be marked by short-term frustrations as Turkey fails to meet Western expectations – and vice versa. But over the long term, deeper engagement will enable the West to shape Turkey’s rise and encourage it to become a pillar of the international order.

Daniel M. Kliman, a visiting fellow at the Center for a New American Security, is completing a book on rising powers. Joshua W. Walker is a postdoctoral fellow at the Crown Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Brandeis University. As a fellow at the German Marshall Fund, he co-wrote the report “Getting to Zero: Turkey, Its Neighbors and the West.”



Turkey is critical to a more moderate Islam