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Turkish critics in Washington

Soner Cagaptay – Zeyno Baran

Two Washington-based Turkish analysts Soner Cagaptay and Zeyno Baran have been among the most vocal critics of Turkey's foreign policy under the AKP. Both have also questioned whether the increasing civilianisation of Turkish policy making in recent years has actually been a good thing. If a military coup against the AKP were to take place, Baran wrote in December 2006, "it would not necessarily translate to a nondemocratic Turkey. More likely, it would simply mean the end of Turkey's current 'Islamist experiment' and a return to a more conservative government stalwartly secular, yes, but a democracy nonetheless. Ironically, this Turkey might ultimately be seen to be a better member of Europe than today's."

"The AKP, which came to power in 2002, has since undermined Turkey's traditional pro-Western foreign policy orientation," Cagaptay wrote in "Secularism and Foreign Policy in Turkey", a 2007 publication.

"Turkey's ensuing drift away from the West to be at equal distance to all 'geocultural basins' around it is the most important paradigm change in Turkish foreign policy since the beginning of the Cold War."

"The AKP is moving Turkey in a direction where growing anti-Western public opinion increasingly checks Turkey's commitment to the West."

In a 2009 commentary published in The Washington Post, Cagaptay issues even more dire warnings.

"Ankara's rapprochement with Tehran has gone so far since 2002 that it is doubtful whether Turkey would side with the United States in dealing with the issue of a nuclear Iran. […] If Turkish foreign policy is based on solidarity with Islamist regimes or causes, Ankara cannot hope to be considered a serious NATO ally."

Zeyno Baran tends to agree. The number of Turks with a positive view of the U.S. has dropped steadily, from 52 percent in 2000, to 30 percent in 2002, to only 13 percent as of June 2008, she notes in a recent paper. "No alliance between two democratic countries can survive such negative perceptions; the United States can no longer afford to take the partnership for granted." Responsibility for this trend, she argues, lies not with decisions taken by the US government (such as the war in Iraq, hugely unpopular in Turkey), but with the AKP government.

"Turkey is undergoing an identity crisis, and it is not certain that it will emerge from it with a pro-Western orientation. Faced with political and economic challenges, Ankara may turn inwards and adopt a more nationalistic and Islamic identity, making it an outlier in the NATO alliance. Given its geography neighbouring Iran, Iraq and Syria to the south, Russia and Ukraine to the north, the Balkans to the West, and the Caucasus to the east Turkey's tilt away from the Atlantic Alliance would have grave consequences for America's interests in these volatile regions."

Baran criticises the doctrine of "strategic depth" as foreign policy la carte. "Instead of acting as part of the Western alliance," she writes, "this view puts Turkey in the middle, where it can pick and choose when and in what form it will act in unison with the West and when it will act on its own." In a similar vein, she accuses Davutoğlu and other AKP foreign policy makers of turning away from the US in favour of strengthened ties with the Muslim world.

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