An Ambassador’s Reflection

I am delighted that Orbis is devoting a large part of this issue to the Republic of Turkey. Many strategic observations have been written and will continue to be written about this vital country, its status as the key to eastern Mediterranean security, and its new-old influence in Central Asia and the Persian Gulf. I do not propose to add to them. Suffice to say that all of these observations are true.

Another truism is to remind ourselves and, more importantly, those who dispose over our affairs in the capitals of the West, that secure balances of power in the regions adjacent to Turkey are very difficult to sustain. The Middle East, the Persian Gulf, Central Asia, and the Balkans are all bywords for deadly quarrels. Turkey once ruled most of them, and their successor states have not covered themselves with glory since the Turkish defeat in World War I set them free. A thriving Turkey may not answer all of the regional problems, but in its absence none of them can be managed, much less resolved.

Acutely aware of their dangerous neighborhood, the Turks have sought their future in Europe. But the Europeans do not see, nor do they wish to see, Turkey in their future. There will always be reasons why Turkey, even if with Europe, will not be of Europe. We should not disguise from ourselves that the real obstacle is history the weight of seven centuries of conflict and the burning antagonisms that still divide Greek from Turk, Armenian from Turk, Slav from Turk. Too many of these nationalisms are defined by an enmity to Turkey, which the Turks themselves reciprocate.

Americans are not free of this history. Anyone who deals with U.S.-Turkish relations soon acquires a profound education in the ways and wiles of ethnic politics in the Congress. Few of us who have been bloodied in these transactions can be optimistic that anything will change soon. As a consequence, American presidents will continue to find warm relations with Turkey politically expensive. In other words, the conduct of U.S. relations with Turkey requires unusual statesmanship, precisely because the domestic political rewards will be few.

This having been said, I would commend to Washington two approaches in its dealings with Ankara. The first is always to reinforce the NATO relationship, the true and best anchor for Turkey. NATO unites the pragmatists in Europe and the United States who understand the strategic verities and have the weight and influence to keep Turkey close to the West. The second is to urge the Turks to use their most valuable natural resource, water, as a force for change in the region. From a peace pipeline that nourishes the thirsty Jordan River valley, many good things will flow.