The Middle East Institute's Center for Turkish Studies in collaboration with the Institute for Turkish Studies held their third annual conference on Turkey last Wednesday. Several themes emerged at the event that deserve to be highlighted.
Turkey has clearly become a country of intense fascination for Washington players. Some 700 people registered to attend the conference, and it is easy to understand why: During the past decade, under the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), Turkey has become a much more prominent global actor backstopped by a dynamic diplomacy and one of the world’s most powerful economies, in a region whose security vacuum propels Turkish involvement.
Over that time, Turkey has also adopted a more flexible and therefore unpredictable foreign policy. A few years ago, people in Washington were blaming the European Union and the Bush administration for prompting Turkey to abandon the West and align more closely with Russia, Iran, Syria and other anti-Western regimes. Ankara strongly opposed the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq and subsequently complained that the Pentagon was allowing Iraqi Kurds too much autonomy, leading to deteriorating security along the Iraq-Turkish border. Disagreements over how to respond to Iran’s nuclear program combined with American suspicions regarding Turkey’s outreach efforts to Iran and Syria further strained ties.