Turkey’s Biggest Threat? Ask Uncle Sam January 16, 2011Posted by Yilan in America, Turkey, US, USA.
Tags: Ahmet Davutoglu, America, Armenia, Erdoğan, Iran, NATO, Turkey, Uncle Sam
Turkey’s neighborhood is often considered a bit rough round the edges: conflict-riven Iraq to the south, nuclear-aspirant Iran next door, the restless Caucasian states and the Russian bear to the East. Even to the west, in New Europe, the bordering Balkan states have been plagued by periodic conflict.
Turkish military officers here used to — and often still do — say as much in presentations about regional threats to schoolchildren in ‘national security’ lessons that form part of the state curriculum.
But ask Turks to name their biggest external threat and the source is a long way — and seven time zones — from the country’s borders: the United States.
According to a wide-ranging survey carried out by the Ankara-based MetroPOLL Strategic and Social Research Center in December, some 43% of Turks said they perceive the U.S. as the country’s biggest threat, followed by Israel, with 24%. Just 3% of those surveyed considered Iran a major threat.
This trend isn’t new. Though the U.S. is Turkey’s strategic ally, it has become steadily more unpopular here, receiving the lowest favorability score from Turks in every Global Attitudes survey conducted between 2006 and 2009 by the Washington-based Pew Research Center.
Still the survey from MetroPOLL — which quizzed 1,504 people in 31 provinces in December — appears to mark a sharp acceleration in antipathy towards American and particularly Israeli policy.
“This is the highest ratio ever on the external threat question among our surveys,” says Professor Özer Sencar, chairman of MetroPOLL, which is affiliated to the governing AK-party. “The U.S. foreign politics since the Iraqi invasion, the war in Afghanistan, repeated Armenian bills in the U.S. Congress and the negative statements that Turkish leaders make about the U.S. and Israel play a major role in this perception.”
Predictably, hostility toward Israeli policy spiked after the Mavi Marmara affair, which saw nine activists killed after Israeli commandos boarded a flotilla seeking to end the blockade of Gaza. The MetroPOLL survey says 63% of Turks now want to freeze diplomatic relations with Jerusalem.
Back in the Cold War days, Ankara’s allegiance was clearer — a NATO member which bordered the Soviet Union, it was a staunch ally of Washington.
Turkey’s still a steadfast NATO member: it has the security group’s second-largest military force and in November formally agreed to house a NATO missile shield, despite public protest. But with the Islamist-leaning government of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan sweeping to power in 2002, and still comfortably the most popular party here, Ankara’s foreign policy priorities have shifted significantly in the past decade.
Partly as a product of Mr. Erdogan’s Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davatoglu, who pursued a ‘peace with all neighbors’ policy, relations with old rivals Greece and Armenia — as well as Iran — have warmed. According to MetroPOLL, the number of Turks considering Greece and Armenia the principal threat to national security is now just 2% and 1%, respectively.
The perceived reorienting of Turkey’s foreign policy has ruffled feathers in Washington and Brussels, despite Ankara’s denials that its priorities have changed. The MetroPOLL survey will be cited by those who say Turkey’s deteriorating ties with the U.S. and Israel and closer relations with Iran demonstrate that NATO’s sole Muslim-majority member is moving away from the West.