Dateline Turkey: Outsourcing and U.S. Foreign Policy
What mindsets define the relationship between Turkey and the United States?
December 7, 2009
On a trip to Ankara and Istanbul last year, which included meetings with Turkey's President Abdullah Gül and other strategic thinkers in the country, one or another member of our delegation of U.S. journalists continually charmed our Turkish interlocutors by asking this question: "If you had one wish that the new United States government could grant you, what would that be?"
And time after time, the answer was not what the delegation apparently expected — or was hoping for. With very few exceptions, none of our conversation partners showed themselves keen to request favors, such as asking the U.S. Congress to steer clear of the Armenian genocide issue.
Abdullah Gül, Turkey's president, was one of those to argue for more imagination and a laissez-faire attitude from Obama's Washington. His message, in essence, was this:
You Americans would do well to remember that, after decades of being in deep-freeze in the region due to the Soviet threat, a dark shadow has fallen over all nations in the region. Yes, we Turks have the Russians to the north, and the Iranians and Iraqis and Israelis and Lebanese and Syrians and Egyptians as neighbors, partners and regional competitors.
But give us some breathing space. Let us figure out how we in the region can re-cast relations — and come up with a prosperous, stability-oriented regime. Let's not forget that, long before the rise of the West, all of us in the region have been involved as principal actors on the regional, if not the world, stage. Trust us, we can figure things out.
He did not go quite as far as saying that the Middle East already had highly refined diplomats when Europe was still in the dark ages and the United States wasn't even a figment of anybody's imagination, but that was an integral part of his thinking.
To boot, Ahmet Davutoglu, then still Prime Minister Erdogan's chief foreign policy advisor and now the country’s foreign minister, published an influential book on an activist Turkish foreign policy in the region in 2001.
A very lively and thoughtful man, he too was the bearer of bad news for Americans hoping that Turkey's leaders would be keen to ask Washington for favors. Similar to others before and after him during our trip, his core message to Washington was a variation of the Hippocratic Oath: "First, do no harm."
Translated into foreign policy terms, it means, "Leave us room of maneuver, we will manage. Trust us, and feel free to verify (after some time)."
To be clear, the message of the policymakers in Ankara was not about Turkish megalomania — or an implicit rejection of the United States. Yes, in the Turks' eyes, much china has been broken in Iraq due to the ill-advised U.S. invasion there.
But the real point was about the concept that the U.S. government, with its unrelenting desire to be everywhere and anywhere, needs to be freed both from its Sisyphus complex — and operational reality.
In short, it is not just in the world of global finance and the G-20 that the world community needs to be liberated from too much reliance on the West. Rounding out the broader cycle of history means giving those who were in charge of key parts of the world before the room to demonstrate their skills in formulating and implementing regional solutions — and turn them into key building blocks for global stability.
The pursuit of that strategy is not at all a rejection of the West — or some kind of hidden grand design for renewed Ottoman dominance. The world has simply become too complicated a place not to rely on as many actors pursuing their bilateral and regional strategies to overcome decades-old conflicts that still seem stuck in the mud.
Clearly, for whatever reason, the West has taken too long to move the Middle East conflict — so goes the view in Ankara — toward any meaningful resolution.
In practical terms, the suggestion to Hillary Clinton and her team in the U.S. State Department is this: As Turkey's leaders see it, outsourcing is not just a useful strategy in the world of business and business process management, but also in the world of diplomacy. It's all about appreciating nuance and creating a web of bilateral relations to stabilize the global community in its constituent parts.
That's what burden-sharing really means — in sharp contrast to those who see it much more narrowly as a mechanism for other nations to absorb the financial and manpower costs of implementing what, in the ultimate analysis, are predominantly U.S. foreign policy goals.
For those very reasons, the prevailing interpretations offered in Western countries about Turkey's preferred course of future action are widely off the mark.
According to some strategists, especially in the United States, but also Turkey itself, the country and its people are so deeply frustrated about the slow pace of the EU accession negotiations that it will turn away from Europe.
Another view extends this sense of frustration to all of the West, including the United States. Taken to its logical consequence, this implies some kind of dangerous freelancing on the part of that long-term NATO partner Turkey, a nation all of a sudden keen on seeking favors with Russia, the Stans, the Gulf states, Iran, etc. — a gallery of presumed nemeses and blind spots of the West.
Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, what is presented as an ominous turn away from a firm anchor in the West is but the natural rounding out of Turkey's web of strategic contacts.
For reasons of its own prosperity and stability, the country would shortchange itself if it weren't fully engaged with all of its neighbors. Giving up on Europe, for example, would be suicidal — because the demand for Turkish exports from there is key to the country's future economic growth. The same goes for the Gulf states — and the other partners.
In the new world, it's all about maximizing one's own commercial, diplomatic and security options. What seems like a more tangled web, as any physicist will be able to attest, in the end makes for a more stable world — even if the road leading there seems hazier for quite a while.
Count on Turkey's leadership to understand precisely that point very well. Also realize that the efforts of others to make it sound as if Turkey is drifting away are fully understood for what they are — a demonstration that Turkey is a pivotal nation in a pivotal area of the world.
Turkey’s leaders feel that their country is equipped with a rather unique set of tentacles — one that lets it reach across many divides still befuddling the world today, centuries after they first appeared.
Turkey is a pivotal nation in a pivotal area of the world — and one equipped with a rather unique set of tentacles that lets it reach across many divides.
In the new world, it's all about maximizing one's own commercial, diplomatic and security options.
As Turkey's leaders see it, outsourcing is not just a useful strategy in the world of business — but also in the world of diplomacy.
What is presented as an ominous turn away from a firm anchor in the West is but the natural rounding out of Turkey's web of strategic contacts.