The choice of vocabulary employed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in his criticism over Israel’s Gaza offensive, as well as the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP’s, relationship with Hamas have led to serious concerns in Washington, warned a senior American analyst.
"The risk is that Turkey moves far from the transatlantic consensus on how to deal with Hamas and loses credibility as an interlocutor," Ian Lesser of the German Marshall Fund said in an interview with the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Friday.
Praising Turkey’s active engagement in Middle East politics as important, Lesser said Ankara’s relations with Syria and Iran should not be put in the same basket with the issue of relations with Hamas. "The relationship with Syria has been useful. Maybe even the relationship with Iran is sort of understandable. But when it comes to Hamas, it is more problematic... The biggest concern from an American perspective is that Turkey loses its ability to play a useful role between Israel and its neighbors. Geopolitically this would have consequences," Lesser said.
According to Lesser, American policy-makers in Washington understand the Turkish public’s reaction toward Israel and the AKP government’s consideration of that public opinion, however, it is the tone that raises eyebrows in Washington. "In the long-term this could affect Turkish public opinion negatively not only in relations with Israel but also with the United States," he said.
The state of play between Turkey and the United States under President Barack Obama will depend heavily on Ankara’s perception of the transatlantic alliance, Lesser added. While pointing to Turkey’s temporary seat at the United Nation’s Security Council as an important asset in transatlantic cooperation, he implied that possible developments in Iran would serve as a litmus test for Turkey’s direction.
"There will be serious questions of what Turkey will do on major security issues and the most important one is Iran. If there is a Security Council action on Iran’s nuclear program then Turkey will have to make tough choices. I am not sure it will be a problem but Turkey and the US will have to work much closer," he said. The second major issue for Turkey during Obama’s term will be the future of Iraq, Lesser added. Despite the common tendency to link this with the fight against the terrorist PKK organization, Lesser said Turkey’s interest should be assessed in a wider, longer-term perspective in relation to U.S. disengagement.
"Certainly on the PKK issue, I do not think Turkey will have any problem with the Obama administration, I think there is a good recognition of Turkey’s problems. I do not really expect any problems," Lesser said.
Lesser did not completely rule out the potential danger of the 1915 events turning into a crisis between Ankara and Washington under Obama’s rule, however, he left room for optimism. He said, "I think this issue will be critical but it will not be the first time. We have had many experiences like this. Resolutions have not been very successful in the past. I do not think this will be any different. Smart, effective political people around Obama will understand its meaning for Turkey."
Relations with Armenia
He also said the relations between Turkey and Armenia as well as the changing Turkish discourse on the issue would be seriously considered in Washington. "These issues will all be second considerations for Obama given the obsession with the economy. This is valid for congress too," he added. As Obama will take over the ship with the huge burden of the worsening economic situation, the events of 1915 will be among the secondary considerations, he said.
While admitting that for an outsider it is extremely difficult to understand what has actually happened in the Ergenekon saga, Lesser reacted to efforts to link the Ergenekon plot with the US. "It is just not true to think that somehow it is an American creation or there is an American involvement in this. People are not even sure what it is. I think it is part of this increasing pattern in Turkish society in recent years that reflects that a lot of suspicion about the United States," he said.