One of the things that will be interesting to watch as the Obama administration pursues its unwinding of Bush-era isolation policies is the degree to which it either supports or devalues the “influence inflation” the Bush policies allowed various middle powers to enjoy. I’m thinking in particular about Turkey, but I’d say France fits into this category as well.
The idea being that a policy of isolating countries and subnational actors that are inescapable interlocuters puts a premium on the ability of third-party countries to bridge the communication divide. What made Turkey such a valuable mediator between Israel and Syria was in part the fact that Israel and Syria refused to negotiate directly and in part Turkey’s perceived (at the time) non-partiality. But it was also in large part due to the fact that the U.S. refused to engage in direct discussions with Syria, and therefore was unavailable to chaperone the talks.
The same goes even more for Turkey’s potential to play a mediator role between the U.S. and Iran.
Now that the American administration has no a priori objections to direct discussions with Syria and Iran, Turkey is no longer necessary as an intermediary. So far, as Yigal Schleifer details, there’s a lot of speculation andconflicting interpretations about Turkey’s role, mainly coming out of Ankara. But the signs seem to be pointing to a 10th Avenue Freeze-Out.
Turkey’s Middle Power Mojo might just be running out of steam. But on a broader level, it suggests that Obama’s willingness to engage might result in more than just the obvious losers (e.g., Chavez), and that some of them might actually be our friends.