U.S. diplomacy dithers on Turkey and Iran

Born into this world not more than three centuries ago, the U.S. acts like the hot-blooded teenager of the world

Ceylan Ozbudak
Ceylan Ozbudak
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As an analyst in the Middle East, who is frequently criticized for being “too pro-American” or “too pro-Israeli,” I feel confident enough to criticize some of the policies of my beloved American friends. Although the last thing the United States wants is more anti-American sentiment, the only thing U.S. foreign policy has been doing over the last decade is producing more of that.

Born into this world not more than three centuries ago, the U.S. acts like the hot-blooded teenager of the world. Even though the American liveliness and dynamism that we all came to appreciate originates from that spirit, it is high time for the U.S. to start maturing so that it can pursue a reliable, trusted foreign policy.

It is only fair for countries to watch out for their national interests. Yet, it seems hardly right that the U.S. seeks ad hoc allies according to the current conditions and doesn’t refrain from turning its back on its genuine allies. This clearly makes it difficult for the U.S. to find friends when it comes to diplomacy. Especially in the aftermath of the Arab spring, the U.S. has preferred a daily policy based on meeting its current needs, rather than a reasonable, long-term one.

As of 2013, the U.S. has carried out 461 drone attacks killing 3,520 people, and at least 457 of them were civilians. Such action does nothing but fuel anti-American sentiment and maybe even promotes the terrorist’s agenda.

The ever-shifting nature of the foreign policy of our beloved Americans is, in my humble opinion, one of the most important subjects we must attract attention to. The decision to pivot to Asia, cancelling the decision and staying in the Middle East, action in Libya, inaction in Syria, withdrawal from Iraq, refusing to withdraw from the airspace of Yemen, getting involved in the disputed territories in the East Chinese Sea, not getting involved in the disputed territories in North India, supporting democratization and opposing a coup regime in Mubarak’s Egypt, embracing one of the bloodiest coup regimes in the history of Egypt and supporting General al-Sisi; the list seems to go on with daily deals of American diplomats throughout the Middle East, pushing hard to make America “THE DISPENSIBLE NATION” for the residents of these lands.

When it comes to economic sanctions on Iran, we have to remember such measures never stopped any country before from pursuing their plans of getting nuclear weapons, with the clear examples of North Korea, China, Pakistan and Russia before us. Sanctions have never been able to make any totalitarian regime bow down to pressure, and on the contrary, they pushed arrogant leaders to assume a more violent, pressuring and anti-democratic stance. On the other hand, the relations between countries should never have a humiliating, intimidating or bullying nature. Offending national pride will only lead to ill-feelings and alienation.

Then of course we come to the Turkey issue. It’s no secret that the U.S. and Israel were not at ease about Turkey continuing trade ties with Iran and offering visa-free travel to Iranian citizens. In the past five years, Turkey has reached a trade volume of 65 billion U.S. dollars with Iran. Surely it is an achievement to do this despite the strict international sanctions against Iran. If the sanctions against Iran are lifted, these numbers could easily reach 200 billion U.S. dollars. In the near future, Turkey is not likely to continue to accept sanctions on Iran and completely cut the trade ties: Turkey shares a 560 km border with Iran. Just as the case with Syria and Iraq, there are lots of families on both sides of the border. Turkish citizens along the border carry our border trade activities with Iran. Above all, 42 percent of the population of 77 million Iranians are of Turkish origin. Various Turkic people, including Azerbaijanis, Turkmens, Kashgais, Khorasan Turks, Halacs, Sungurs, Ebiverdis, Kazakhs and Uzbeks live in Iran, and Tabriz is known as the political and cultural center of Iranian Turks. Moreover, the sanctions against Iran affect not only Turkey but also Iran’s other neighbors including Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Iraq. In other words, these restrictions are putting a heavy burden on millions of people in the region.

Turkey is not particularly rich in terms of raw energy products and the energy intensity of production in Turkey is increasing. Turkey’s dependence on oil and natural gas is high. Surely Turkey has the right to meet its energy needs in the most cost-effective manner. Advising Turkey not to do business with, or buy energy from, Iran is a senseless act that only hurts the Turkish people. It is obvious that eventually Turkey will meet its energy needs, whether it is from Russia or Iran.

it would be helpful if the U.S. didn’t turn its back on its long term allies and thought about the repercussions of the steps it takes

Ceylan Ozbudak

The U.S. Congress showed considerable interest in working with Turkey in the Middle East to influence political outcomes in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan to counter Iranian influence mostly over the past decade. Lately, the U.S. is said to be shifting this policy with Iran (ironically a reverse), thinking Rowhani might change the face of Iran completely in the coming years. This strategy is again flawed on many levels, though it can be easier to fix if the U.S. sees fit to reconsider. First, the Islamic Republic of Iran rests on a very deeply engrained ideology and that ideology is being protected by parallel government systems and the Iranian state. Therefore, it is not that easy to change the system without completely eradicating the ideology from all layers of life in Iran. Even though the president seems to hold “some” powers of legislation, the actual revolutionary forces constitute these state actors. Second, before Iran changed its policy of powerful segregation, non-existence of free trials or human rights, women’s oppression and the style of its Marxist-type regime protection, no country in the Middle East would like to emulate the model that contemporary Iran espouses. Although not resulting in full-fledged democracies, the Arab Spring awakened an ideology of freedom in the minds of Middle Eastern people. Like every storm, this one also has its silent stages and I strongly believe we are in one, awaiting a second and stronger wind of change. Therefore, it would be deceitful to expect the regional countries to look up to Iran as it is today.

Is Turkey perfect? Did the Turkish model prove successful?

There are a plethora of assessments about where Turkey is going, based largely on the claims of the AK Party leading Turkey into a dictatorship and reaching opposing conclusions. What kind of a dictatorship is it wherein the clear attacks on a current government can be on the headlines of almost every newspaper? 12 years have passed with the AK Party in power and still none of us here in Turkey have been forced to accept a certain lifestyle. As a woman, I have never been asked to wear hijab or accept the ideas of another person in the last decade. The amendments the AK Party made to the constitution were not derived from Shariah courts but from the European Court of Human Rights. Let’s all face it, we are living in the Middle East; this is a heavily conservative region. All revealed religions were born here in these lands and it is the beauty of these lands. Turkey, as a part of the Middle East is a democracy and it is a strictly secular democracy. In the battle of perceptions, because of the opposition to the current leading party in Turkey, the Turkish model is shown to be in question. The secular-conservative-tolerant religious model, which is referred to as the Turkish model, is bigger than one party or one government. It is an ideal we are also trying to perfect. It is an ideal for not only Turkey, but for the rest of the Middle East. Prime Minister Erdoğan gave the hint to the Turkish model in Egypt. He called on the Muslim Brotherhood to enjoy democracy with a secular constitution after the fall of Mubarak, and he reminded that in the Qur’an, Allah says: “Let there be no compulsion in religion. Truth has been made clear from error...Allah hears and knows all things”. If the Muslim Brotherhood had taken his advice, perhaps things would be different today.

Remove the word “Turkish” from the model in question and ask a Pakistani, an Egyptian, a Tunisian or a Moroccan. Would they not want to live in a Muslim society, tolerant to all religions and all sects, remove the religious titles from the public discourse, freely fulfilling their religious duties either in Ramadan or in Hanukkah or at Christmas, being respectful towards women and making women a positive part of society unlike the soulless European understanding of feminism? Yes they would. With the Ataturk era, Turkey took a step towards a model of living Islam to the fullest but in a way perfectly integrated with the post-colonialism Western culture.

Turkey, on the other hand, still has some work to do to improve its civilizational level. Turkey still needs to improve freedoms in the public sphere, improve transparency, offer a more consolidative model to the regimes we are in opposition to and showcase a new progressive step of offering values of civilization like art and science. It is also understood that critical thinking will need to develop for an innovative culture to emerge. With its current position in the public understanding, if it decides to take a new progressive step, Turkey can be a role model for the rest of the world with the eminence it attaches to women. “The cultural gulf separating Islam from the West involves Eros far more than Demos,” conclude Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart in their “Testing the ‘Clash of Civilizations’ Thesis” the basis of the World Values Study, the most basic cultural gap between the West and today’s Islamic world concerns the issues of gender equality not political values. Amid the discussion of the hijabi parliamentarians entering parliament for the first time, Adnan Oktar commented: “It’s a disgrace for men to be even commenting on women’s outfit.” Women were at the center of this debate but until that moment it was carried out primarily by men.

The fact that the U.S. is getting ready to promote Iran as a stable power in the Middle East in order to solve some of the long-standing conflicts is a positive approach. Surely, we don’t need to proceed with a purely bi-polar world view. Apparently Iran is taking steps to build a more democratic nation and this should be welcomed not shunned. But in the process, it would be far more helpful if the U.S. didn’t turn its back on its long term allies and thought about the repercussions of the steps it takes rather than simply seeking to maintain the status-quo.


Ceylan Ozbudak is a Turkish political analyst, television presenter, and executive director of Building Bridges, an Istanbul-based NGO. She can be followed on Twitter via @ceylanozbudak

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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