Friends, allies and ’model partners’

"Friends go to lunch together," a Washington neo-con said resentfully a few years ago. "And allies go to war together." The man was still bitter, more than two years after the fact, about the Turkish Parliament’s refusal to allow for a northern American front against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in March 2003.

With the same men in power in Ankara, but different people in charge in Washington, the new question is what do "model partners" do? Do they go to lunch? To war? To either, as applicable? Do they exchange pleasantries when necessary? Do they lobby/mediate/take solid action to safeguard each other’s interests? Or do they only pretend to do so?

This week, as we celebrate the birth of "American freedom" at parades decorated with stars and stripes, barbeques and other merry events, Americans, foreigners with American citizenship and many non-Americans still dreaming of the world’s shiniest passport will refresh their admiration for the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave. Here, in these lands, Turks will probably continue their love-hate relationship with America.

According to recent research, Turks, the holders of some of the world’s most powerful anti-American sentiments, chose U.S. President Barack Obama as the world’s most reliable leader. Forty-five percent of Turks said they have some or a lot of confidence in Obama, according to But there was more that the study revealed.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ranked second in the confidence survey, with 33 percent, and was followed by Russian President Vladimir Putin (15 percent) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (13 percent). In other words, 45 percent of Turks view Obama with some degree of confidence while another 48 percent most trust the U.S. president’s two most serious rivals, Ahmadinejad and Putin. Ironically, Merkel, who pursues a policy with no sympathy for Turkish dreams of eventual EU membership, appears to be the most trustworthy European leader in Turks’ eyes.

America has always been a difficult subject for all Turks; whether black, white or whitewashed. Send an army of pollsters into the streets to ask Turks whether they like or dislike America and you will probably get 90 percent saying "dislike." But ask the same Turks if they would agree to live in America and you will get 95 percent saying Ğ shyly Ğ "yes, please." Ask them if Turkey should side with Iran in the event of an American-Iranian conflict, and you might get more than 90 percent expressing pro-Iranian sentiments. But ask if they would agree to live in Iran, and you may well get more than 99 percent saying, "no, thanks."

Recently, an important American visitor dealing with policy-making at the State Department was in Ankara, and asked a gathering of Turkish guests a question that disproportionately escaped their attention: Imagine, the American visitor said, America is nowhere in the picture, absolutely nowhere, it just does not exist. What, in that case, would the Turks think was the best way to deal with Iran and its nuclear ambitions? A good question, with a lot of realism in it, as evinced by its "ceteris paribus" structure. Sadly, most of the comments at the dinner table were not answers to the question asked. With the Persian Tiananmen over now, we can rethink that question. Without America anywhere in the picture, the Turks would probably have mixed feelings. Without America, Iran would probably lose its appeal to most (anti-American) Turks and the level of presumed Turkish support would fade away. Also, without America, Iran would gain the identity of a "Shiite state" rather than a "Muslim nation" trying to deal with an evil empire with its modest resources. Ah, that traditional Turkish favoritism for the weak against the strongÉ On the other hand, most Turks would not seriously care about any Iranian threat, nuclear or otherwise.

What about Turkish officials? What was Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s unnecessarily premature comment on the deadly rift in Iran? Let us recall: "ÉWe believe that the problems in Iran will be solved via its inner mechanisms with the best possible resultÉ We truly hope that the dynamic and well-attended political election will not be overshadowed by the recent developments." Was that favoring the status quo in Iran? A slip of the tongue from a minister still training on the job? Or both?

But Davutoğlu predicted the Iranian drama well. Yes, the problems in Iran have been solved "via its inner mechanisms." We may even call the death toll the "best possible result," as it might have been much worse.

The American diplomat’s question in Ankara was well placed to construct useful analyses. In reality, the "let’s-assume-America-is-nowhere-in-the-picture" approach may fall into a political nowhere.

In the present Turkish foreign-policy calculus, there are visible traces of faith, faith-based dogmas, political dogmas inspired by faith and political dogmas inspired by faith-based dogmas. To make things more complex, all of that is in a complicated interaction with similar traces of similar inputs on the part of public opinion, i.e., the voters. Sometimes the official thinking feeds the public thinking, sometimes the opposite and sometimes both, at variable magnitudes. The big question remains to be answered: What, for instance, in the case of Iran, do model partners do? Going to lunch to gossip and discuss politics could be a realistic option.
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