The Janus Face of Turkey
The Janus Face of Turkey
Ever since the Justice and Development Party, or AK Party, came to power in 2002, Turkey’s new ideological orientation has been questioned in many European capitals, and of course in the US. With strong Islamic credentials, the AK party is seen as re-orienting Turkey’s foreign policy away from the West and towards the Middle East and the Islamic World. This worries Western countries, particularly America and Israel, who see the move as anti-Western.
The worry is based on the fallacious belief that to be pro-Islam or pro-Middle East is to be inherently anti-Western in political and cultural orientation. To look to the Middle East is not to turn against the West. Turkey’s foreign policy can be both pro-Western and Middle Eastern at the same time. In fact, the kind of pro-Western role expected of Turkey is seen by many Turks as a pursuance of Western interests through Turkey. Furthermore, Turkey’s own interests do not carry much weight in capitals ranging from Brussels to Washington, D.C. At the same time, an unquestioning loyalty to Western interests seems to be a prerequisite for Turkey to be considered pro-Western. Turkey is coming of age as a power with a growing economy and strong demography. It has increasingly refused to play its hitherto subservient role. Turks believe that it is for this reason that Turkey’s Western orientation is increasingly called into question.
However, in the long run a more critical Turkey will be morebeneficial to Western interests than a blindly loyal one. A Turkey that refuses to do the West’s bidding and questions unwise decisions would reduce mistakes that Western powers still continue to make when dealing with the Islamic or Middle Eastern world. In fact, a more critical Turkey has the potential to be both pro-Western and pro-Middle Eastern at the same time. On the other hand, it is possible for Turkey to be both anti-Western and anti-Middle Eastern at the same time. Like any state, it may choose to maximize its self-interest at the cost of both its Western allies and neighbors in the Middle East.
Furthermore, due to its historical involvement both in the West and in the Islamic world, Turkey will always have a twin focus. It will look both East and West as its unique geographical position enables it to play a role in both regions. The answer to the question of which way Turkey will turn under the AK Party’s leadership is simply that Turkey is “Janus Faced” and will keep its eye on both directions. The AK Party’s Islamic background places them in a favorable place in its dealing with the Islamic/Middle Eastern World. This does not necessarily mean that they will inevitably become more hostile towards the West.
History teaches us that countries shift their foreign policies in different directions, sometimes even radically, and there are no permanent friends or foes in politics. Flexibility is the most significant tool in any diplomat’s toolbox. Like any other independent nation, Turkey has the right to adopt a foreign policy that better suits its needs. It has now acquired the confidence to behave as an increasingly independent nation.
My final point is that assuming regions like “the West,” “the Middle East” and “the Islamic World” are homogeneous is presumptuous. Countries in these regions have contending interests, although these regions as a whole may share many interests. Furthermore, the separation between the West and the Middle East is often not as deep and wide as people imagine. They share similar interests and, when the interests convalesce, an independent Turkish foreign policy could act as a bridge builder between both sides. For Turkey to do so, the AK Party has to first organize its own party and constructively deal with the issues of Kurdish political rights, secularist fear, and participatory democracy.