Cablegate: What Lies Beneath Ankara's New Foreign Policy

DE RUEHAK #0087/01 0200525
P 200525Z JAN 10

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 06 ANKARA 000087



E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/19/2020

REF: A. 09 ANKARA 1717
B. 09 ISTANBUL 466
C. 09 ANKARA 1561 (EXDIS)

Classified By: Ambassador James Jeffrey for reasons 1.4 (b,d)


1. (C) There is much talk in chanceries and in the
international media these days about Turkey's new, highly
activist foreign policy, which unquestionably represents a
transition not only from prior governments, but also from the
AKP regime before the Gaza/Davos events, and before the
ascent of Ahmet Davutoglu as Foreign Minister in April. Some
commentaries are upbeat, but others, including many experts
and editorial writers in the US, have expressed concern. The
ruling AKP foreign policy is driven by both a desire to be
more independently activist, and by a more Islamic
orientation. Frankly, rational national interest,
particularly trade opportunities and stability
considerations, also drives Turkey's new slant. Major
challenges with us in the coming months include the direction
of Turkish-Israeli relations, the fate of the Protocols with
Armenia, and the Turkish posture vis--vis Iran.

2. (C) Does all this mean that the country is becoming more
focused on the Islamist world and its Muslim tradition in its
foreign policy? Absolutely. Does it mean that it is
"abandoning" or wants to abandon its traditional Western
orientation and willingness to cooperate with us? Absolutely
not. At the end of the day we will have to live with a Turkey
whose population is propelling much of what we see. This
calls for a more issue-by-issue approach, and recognition
that Turkey will often go its own way. In any case, sooner
or later we will no longer have to deal with the current cast
of political leaders, with their special yen for destructive
drama and - rhetoric. But we see no one better on the
horizon, and Turkey will remain a complicated blend of world
class "Western" institutions, competencies, and orientation,
and Middle Eastern culture and religion. END INTRODUCTION.


"The Traditional Western"

3. (C) Turkish policy today is a mix of "traditional Western"
orientation, attitudes and interests, and two new elements,
linked with new operational philosophies: "zero conflicts"
and "neo-Ottomanism." The traditional still represents the
core of Turkish foreign policy, and is centered on
cooperation and integration with the West. Its core is NATO,
the customs union with the EU, and most significantly, the EU
accession effort. This all began with the Ottoman effort to
emulate the European great powers, and was propelled
powerfully forward by Ataturk. Nevertheless the country was
on the sidelines in World War II. It was only the threat of
the USSR, and the dominance (and outstretched hand) of the
US, that led to the "Turkey we know": tough combat partner
in Korea, major NATO ally, US anchor in the Middle East.
Much of this continues.

4. (C) Europe is by far Turkey's most important economic
partner in terms of investment and trade. The EU accounts for
42 percent of Turkey,s total trade, while the US accounts
for a bit less than 5 percent. While the US is much less
important in terms of trade statistics, it remains important
in various sectors (, aviation, military), and in
various ways. NATO is essential to and much respected by

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Turkey. (Note: The fact that "only" about one-third of the
Turkish population in one poll see NATO as important to
Turkey's security is actually a plus; on any poll Turks
usually are overwhelmingly negative about any foreign
engagement or relationship. But we should not be too
sanguine here since support for NATO has been halved over the
past decade. End Note) The military is armed by the US, and
Turkey recognizes that many fires in its back yard -- from
Iraq to Afghanistan and Pakistan -- can only be solved by
close cooperation with and acceptance of US and NATO
leadership. Finally, even AKP leaders know that much of
their allure or "wasta" in the Middle East and elsewhere
stems from their privileged position in key Western clubs.
This traditional orientation may be shaken, or reduced, but
as it has both significant buy-in by elites of all
philosophies, and many concrete advantages, Turkey will not
abandon it.

"Zero Problems with Turkey's Neighbors"

5. (C) But this Turkey is trying to "post-modernize" itself.
One major area of AKP effort has been to resolve problems
with Turkey's immediate "near abroad." This effort stands in
contrast with the "traditional" Turkish policy of letting
these frozen conflicts fester, and is much more compatible
with US and European interests. The list of Turkish
initiatives under the AKP is impressive: accepting the Annan
Plan in 2004 to resolve Cyprus, continuing the 1999
rapprochement with Greece, the opening to Armenia culminating
in the signing of recognition protocols, warming and
productive relations with both Baghdad and Erbil (the latter
complemented by significant reforms in Turkey's relations
with its own Kurdish population). The signature
accomplishment of this policy is the wooing of Syria. While
this road to Damascus in fact was paved by Syria's
accommodation of prior Turkish governments' demands
(relinquishing claims on Turkey's Hatay province, expelling
Ocalan), it is touted by the Turks as a game-changer. As
noted below, they have leveraged it to tackle a number of
regional problems, from Lebanon to Iran.

6. (C) While this new approach is to be applauded, there is a
fly in its ointment. Little of true practical and final
accomplishment has been achieved. Cyprus is still split
(albeit the fault, at least in terms of the Annan plan, lies
more with the Greek Cypriots and the EU); tensions with
Greece in the Aegean continue; the Protocols with Armenia
have not been ratified due to Turkish concerns about
Nagorno-Karabakh; Iraq's instability and the KRG's
unwillingness to do more against the PKK raise questions
about the sustainability of Turkey's constructive Iraq
policy; the rapprochement with Syria has not really produced
any Syrian "flip" away from Iran. Granted, Turkey is dealing
with some of the world's most difficult actors, and facing
stiff opposition at home to making more concessions, but the
proof of this pudding is yet to be seen.

"Neo Ottomanism"

7. (C) The idea of Turkey using its cultural and religious
links to the Middle East to the advantage of both Turkish
interests and regional stability is not new with the AKP, but
has been given much more priority by it, in part because of
the Islamic orientation of much of the party, including
leaders Erdogan, Gul, and Davutoglu. Moreover, the AKP's
constant harping on its unique understanding of the region,
and outreach to populations over the heads of conservative,
pro-US governments, have led to accusations of
"neo-Ottomanism." Rather than deny, Davutoglu has embraced
this accusation. Himself the grandson of an Ottoman soldier

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who fought in Gaza, Davutoglu summed up the Davutoglu/AKP
philosophy in an extraordinary speech in Sarajevo in late
2009 (REF A). His thesis: the Balkans, Caucasus, and Middle
East were all better off when under Ottoman control or
influence; peace and progress prevailed. Alas the region has
been ravaged by division and war ever since. (He was too
clever to explicitly blame all that on the imperialist
western powers, but came close). However, now Turkey is back,
ready to lead -- or even unite. (Davutoglu: "We will
re-establish this (Ottoman) Balkan").

8. (C) While this speech was given in the Balkans, most of
its impact is in the Middle East. Davutoglu's theory is that
most of the regimes there are both undemocratic and
illegitimate. Turkey, building on the alleged admiration
among Middle Eastern populations for its economic success and
power, and willing to stand up for the interests of the
people, reaches over the regimes to the "Arab street."
Turkey's excoriating the Israelis over Gaza, culminating in
the insulting treatment of President Peres by Erdogan at
Davos in 2009, illustrates this trend. To capitalize on its
rapport with the people, and supposed diplomatic expertise
and Ottoman experience, Turkey has thrown itself into a
half-dozen conflicts as a mediator. This has worked well, as
noted above, with Iraq, and was quite successful in the
Syrian-Israeli talks before Gaza. Turkey has also achieved
some limited success on Lebanon and in bringing Saudi Arabia
and Syria together. As noted below, however, this policy
brings with it great frictions, not just with us and the
Europeans but with many supposed beneficiaries of a return to
Ottoman suzerainty. Furthermore, it has not achieved any
single success of note.


9. (C) Various factors explain the shifts we see in Turkish
foreign policy beyond the personal views of the AKP

-- Islamization: As reported REF B, religiosity has been
increasing in Turkey in past years, just as has been seen in
many other Muslim societies. The AKP is both a beneficiary
of, and a stimulus for, this phenomenon. However, bitter
opposition within Turkey against domestic "pro-Islamic"
reforms (e.g., head scarves) has frustrated the AKP, and a
more "Islamic" or "Middle Eastern" foreign policy offers an
alternative sop for the AKP's devout base.

-- Success: Despite its problems, Turkey over the past 50
years has been a success story, rising to the 16th largest
economy and membership in the G-20. This, along with its
extraordinary security situation compared to all other
regional states, and democratic system, encourage a more
active -- and more independent -- leadership role in regional
and even global affairs.

-- Economics: one secret of Turkish success has been its
trade and technology-led economic growth. This growth is in
good part thanks to its customs union with the EU, by far its
biggest export market, and resulting investment from the EU,
as well as decades of technology transfer and educational
assistance from the U.S. Nevertheless, with exports to the
EU down due to the 2008-2009 crisis, Turkey is looking for
new markets, particularly in the hydrocarbon rich Arab world,
Iran, Russia, and Caucasus/Central Asia. They have money,
and strong import demand, and Turkey is dependent on them for
its oil and gas. These countries, however, (along with
China-another Turkish export target) tend much more than the
EU and North America to mix politics and trade. To some

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degree the West thus is taken for granted and economic
priority is directed towards relations with the Middle East
and "Eurasia."

-- Civilians ascendant: Erdogan's political success -
together with a number of messy scandals resulting in public
investigation - has meant that the Turkish General Staff now
plays a much smaller role in defining Turkey's foreign
policy. Turkey's support to NATO is still strong, but it now
lacks the suspicion of Russia which the cold-war instinct of
General Staff brought to the mix.

-- EU disillusionment: Both popular and elite Turkish
opinion has recently grown much more pessimistic about
eventual EU membership -- or even its value. The reasons for
this are complex, but include the shifting mood in Europe
towards Islam, the replacement of "pro-Turkey" leaders in
France and Germany by Sarkozy and Merkel, both decidedly cool
towards Turkey's EU membership, and a sense in Turkey of
distance from and lack of sympathy for Europe.

-- Relativization of the Western anchor. An op-ed in the
Financial Times by Gideon Rechman on January 4 noted
correctly the tendency of the "young giants" -- South Africa,
Brazil, India, and Turkey -- to pursue Third Worldish
policies and rhetoric even while benefitting enormously from
the globalized trade and international security created and
maintained by the "West." That certainly characterizes
Turkey. With the end of the cold war, relative success in
the struggle with the PKK, and the "taming" of Syria, Iraq,
and (at least from Turkey's point of view) Iran, Turkey's
need for NATO and U.S. security is reduced. Its dependence
on Western trade, investment, technology transfer and
educational exchange remains critical, but is regarded as a
"free good" that Turkey deserves and does not have to expend
effort for. Relations with its various new friends in the
North-East-South or on the other hand require effort which is
facilitated by some downplaying of Turkey's Western anchor.


10. (C) The AKP's new approach to international affairs
receives mixed reviews inside and outside Turkey. It is not
a major factor in the AKP's relative popularity, but several
elements of it (unfortunately, those we are least happy with)
do appeal to voters. Criticism of Israel post-Gaza is
overwhelmingly popular, and the relatively soft Turkish
position on Iran -- a country about which many Turks are
skeptical -- is presumably helpful with a narrow, but for
Erdogan's electoral fate important, group of Islamic voters
associated with former PM Erbakan.

11. (C) Nevertheless, many in Turkey's large westernized
elite see the Islamic Outreach as a complement to the alleged
AKP plan to Islamize Turkish society, and complain bitterly
about their country's losing its western moorings. The
Nationalist segment in Turkey, mobilized most by the
Nationalist Action Party (MHP), sees the AKP's compromises on
Armenia, the KRG in northern Iraq, Cyprus, etc, as a betrayal
of diaspora "Turks" (the Iraqi Turkomen, Azeris, Turkish
Cypriots, etc) and charges that the AKP is trying to replace
the Republic's organizing principle of "Turkism" with the
broader Islamic "Umma." The Republican People's Party (CHP),
the lead opposition party, attacks AKP foreign policy
relatively ineffectively with a mix of MHP-like nationalist
rhetoric and "abandoning the west" criticism.

12. (C) But it is in the EU that the Erdogan foreign policy
of late has run into the heaviest of sailing. To some degree

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European angst at Turkey's "new direction" is viewed as an
excuse to pummel Turkey to score domestic points among
anti-foreigner elements. But there is real concern in
Europe, made manifest by the Rasmussen NATO SecGen issue last
April. Europeans were furious with Turkey's presentng itself
as the "Islamic" voice or conscience in NATO, having
consulted with Middle Eastern States before talking to its
NATO allies. Extrapolating that behavior into the even more
diversity-intolerant EU is a nightmare. Erdogan's foreign
(and domestic) policy orientation conjures up not just a
clash of Christianity and Islam, but the spectre of a "meld"
of Europe and the Middle East, and of Europe's secularlism
with oriental religiosity. Davutoglu and others argue that
Turkey's "success" as a coming Middle East power makes it
more attractive to the EU -- giving Europe a new foreign
policy "market" through Turkey. While some in Europe appear
interested in this idea, ironically including Turkey EU
membership skeptic France, this does not seem to carry much
weight in most European capitals, let alone populations.

13. (C) Finally, not all of the ex-Ottomans look with
fondness on their past under the Pashas, or yearn for
Turkey's return. Reaction among many in the Balkans to
Davutoglu's Sarejevo speech (REF A) was quite strong. In the
Middle East itself, the Arab street might applaud Turkey's
populistic and essentially cost-free support for more radical
elements, but it's not particularly appreciated by rulers
(although Turkey seems to have made some progress with Syria,
brokered a rapprochement between President Bashir and Saudi
King Abdullah, and has had some role in resolving the Lebanon
cabinet stalemate). Sooner or later, though, Turkey will
have to produce results, take risks, commit real resources,
and take hard decisions to augment a policy now consisting
mainly of popular slogans, ceaseless trips, and innumerable
signatures on MOUs of little importance. The experience with
Iran, which despite significant Turkish verbal support and
wooing, appears uninterested in granting Turkey any
concessions, or agreeing to a Turkish lead in mediation
efforts, is telling.


14. (C) Turkey's new foreign policy is a mixed bag for us.
Having regional heavyweights take on burdens, thereby
relieving us, has long been a desired goal of US policy, but
it comes with a certain loss of control. Nevertheless, on a
whole host of key issues of supreme importance to us --
Afghanistan and Pakistan, cooperation in and on Iraq, NATO
efforts (although a leading Turkish role in Missile Defense
will not be easy) -- Turkey is a crucial ally, and our use of
Incirlik, Habur gate, and Turkish airspace for our Iraq and
Afghanistan operations is indispensible. Its "zero
conflicts" initiatives, which have moved Turkey forward on
more of the key bilateral spats -- Cyprus, Greece, Kurds,
Northern Iraq, Armenia -- than we have seen with any other
Turkish government, also support U.S. interests.

15. (C) Nevertheless, these latter issues illustrate two
problems. At least in Turkish eyes, on this complex of
issues the US , especially the media, interest groups, and
Congress, default to a "blame Turkey" posture regardless of
whatever it does. Second, Turkey has repeatedly run into
trouble actually consummating these various openings -- the
Armenian protocols being the best example, but continued
overflights of Greek islands and domestic opposition to the
Kurdish opening are also relevant. What we fear is that this
inability to bring to conclusion foreign policy initiatives
will affect not just the above, but most Turkish policy,
given the over-extension of Davutoglu and his team, and a

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tendency to substitute rhetoric for long term investment of
diplomatic, military, and assistance capital. (Fortunately,
Afghanistan/Pakistan and Iraq are the two major exceptions to
this tendency.)

16. (C) The greatest potential strategic problem for the US,
however, and the one that has some of the commentators
howling, is the Turks neo-Ottoman posturing around the Middle
East and Balkans. This "back to the past" attitude so clear
in Davutoglu's Sarajevo speech, combined with the Turks'
tendency to execute it through alliances with more Islamic or
more worrisome local actors, constantly creates new problems.
Part of this is structural. Despite their success and
relative power, the Turks really can't compete on equal terms
with either the US or regional "leaders" (EU in the Balkans,
Russia in the Caucasus/Black Sea, Saudis, Egyptians and even
Iranians in the ME). With Rolls Royce ambitions but Rover
resources, to cut themselves in on the action the Turks have
to "cheat" by finding an underdog (this also plays to
Erdogan's own worldview), a Siladjcic, Mish'al, or
Ahmadinejad, who will be happy to have the Turks take up his
cause. The Turks then attempt to ram through revisions to at
least the reigning "Western" position to the favor of their
guy. Given, again, the questioning of Western policy and
motives by much of the Turkish public and the AKP, such an
approach provides a relatively low cost and popular tool to
demonstrate influence, power, and the "we're back" slogan.

17. (C) This has been, so far, manageable, if at times high
maintenance, in the Balkans and Mideast, although the damage
to Israeli-Turkish relations remains serious. If the Turks
are genuine in their desire to draw Syria away from Iran, and
if they begin achieving real success rather than telephone
books worth of questionable protocols, then that will be of
benefit to us all. But with Iran itself it is a different
story. REF C describes the background to the Turkish
relationship with Iran, one more complicated than with their
ex-Ottoman Arab and other subjects. Trade/hydrocarbon
interests, Turkish aversion to sanctions stemming from the
first Gulf War, Erdogan's vocal "third worldism" and certain
domestic political considerations all push Turkey in the
wrong direction. Unlike with many of the other issues,
however, Turkey will have to stand and be counted on Iran, in
the Security Council, with MD, and in implementation of UN or
US sanctions. This will have a profound effect on relations
second only to the fate of the Armenian protocols over the
next year.

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