Turkey hopes to be a global power, but it has not yet become even the regional player that the ruling AKP declares it to be. Can the AKP do better, or will it be held back by its Islamist past and the conservative inclinations of its core constituents?
In early October, Turkey disinvited Israel from Anatolian Eagle, an annual Turkish air force exercise that it had held with Israel, NATO, and the United States since the mid-1990s. It marked the first time Turkey's governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) let its increasingly anti-Western rhetoric spill into its foreign policy strategy, and the move may suggest that Turkey's continued cooperation with the West is far from guaranteed.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's prime minister and the leader of the AKP, justified the decision by calling Israel a "persecutor." But only a day after it dismissed Israel, Turkey invited Syria -- a known abuser of human rights -- to joint military exercises and announced the creation of a Strategic Cooperation Council with the Syrian regime. A mountain is moving in Turkish foreign policy, and the foundation of Turkey's 60-year-old military and political cooperation with the West may be eroding.
Starting in 1946, when Turkey chose to ally itself with the West in the Cold War -- later sending troops to Korea and joining NATO -- successive Turkish governments have pursued close cooperation with the United States and Europe. Turkey viewed the Middle East and global politics through the lens of their own national security interests. This made cooperation possible, even with Israel, a state Turkey viewed as a democratic ally in a volatile region. The two countries shared similar security concerns, such as Syria's support for terror groups abroad -- radical Palestinian organizations in the case of Israel, and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in Turkey. In 1998, when Ankara confronted Damascus over its support for the PKK, Turkish newspapers wrote headlines championing the Turkish-Israeli alliance: "We will say 'shalom' to the Israelis on the Golan Heights," one read.
The AKP, however, viewed Turkey's interests through a different lens -- one colored by a politicized take on religion, namely Islamism. Senior AKP officials called the 2004 U.S. offensive in Fallujah, Iraq, a "genocide," and in February 2009, Erdogan compared Gaza to a "concentration camp."