is emerging onto the regional stage as an independent actor as it
simultaneously begins to face up to its Muslim roots and attempts to strengthen
democracy at home -- a tall but commendable order and perhaps a set of goals
that can only be achieved in unison. Domestically, Turkey
faces the sensitive challenges of recognizing Muslim roots without frightening
modernizing sectors of the society concerned about civil rights, of
strengthening traditionally weak civilian control over a traditionally uncontrollable
and dictatorial military, and of integrating the Kurds politically while
freeing them culturally.
Difficult as these reforms may be, it is hard to see how Ankara can meet the international challenge of replacing client status toward the U.S. with genuine foreign policy independence unless it can unite Turkish society. It is hard to see how Ankara can make the case that it deserves to have its new foreign policy of friendship toward all taken seriously unless it practices an analogous domestic policy of political inclusion of, and cultural freedom for, all social groups.
If these are inspiring times for Turks, Ankara's
new policy represents an historic opportunity for the U.S.
to promote a moderate Mideast middle to serve as a
buffer between the violence-prone forces currently setting the Mideast
political agenda. The political coin currently carries questions on each side:
1.) Can Ankara explain its new foreign policy in a way that alleviates Washington tendencies to interpret any independent thinking as a threat?
2.) Can Washington
find the maturity and vision to help Ankara
in its very ambitious effort to find positive-sum solutions to Mideast
Washington has demonstrated its inability to bring stability to the Mideast, and democracy can hardly be imposed from outside, but Washington might be able greatly to facilitate a home-grown process of cultivating both stability and democracy. With its roots in both Muslim and Western traditions, Turkey is well placed to be the catalyst of such a change.
The Current Mideast
The Mideast today is split by political fault lines separating the U.S. from Iran, Israelis from Palestinians, Israelis from those who support Palestinians, and the West from jihadis. All these fault lines are characterized by the reliance by both sides on force as the primary means of resolving conflict. Nowhere is there a force counseling understanding, compromise, or -- more important -- the search for a positive-sum solution.
Some Mideast disputes will simply require hard compromises. In the Levant, for example, sufficient water simply does not exist, so both Israelis and Palestinians will have to accept the need to share what little there is and use less than they would like. Water, then, will require a compromise.
Other Mideast disputes, in contrast, are amenable to positive-sum solutions that hold the potential of providing real security benefits from diminishing tensions to both sides. The Iranian-Israeli nuclear dispute, for example, could be muted to mutual benefit through the incremental implementation of common standards for nuclear transparency and the regulation of nuclear arms.
As long as the political environment is bifurcated into two
hostile, emotional, fearful camps with no party in the center counseling calm
analysis of options, solutions are difficult to see. Ankara
today is offering a way around this impasse. Those parties interested in
solutions, rather than endless chaos, should jump at the chance. Those parties
who indeed favor the chaos will increasingly find themselves on the defensive
if Ankara finds a way to implement
its optimistic rhetoric.
Initiative Might Lead
Iran. Ankara has already demonstrated how it might contribute to resolving the U.S.-Iranian nuclear dispute with its intervention into the argument over medical-grade uranium refined by Iran. In essence, Ankara launched an international move toward compromise (pulling in Brasilia) that might have developed momentum if supported by Washington. It also devised a minimal compromise of minimal technical importance, but that might have started a more significant long-term trend if supported by Washington.
Lebanon. Ankara has already stated its intention of getting involved in protecting Lebanon. The idea of Turkish peacekeeping forces along the Lebanese-Israeli border is one whose time has come.
Palestine. How an independent Palestine would protect itself from Israeli aggression is the invisible elephant in the room of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Israeli media have reported interest by Erdogan in playing a peace-making role. One approach might be guarding the border; another might be Turkish takeover of Gaza to free Gazans from Israel's collective punishment regime.
The wide range of options for Turkish intervention in long-standing disputes suggests that, beyond simply moderating one dispute or another, the possibility exists that significant momentum could be built toward the creation of a new Mideast culture of conflict resolution through positive-sum rather than the current zero-sum procedures.