Turkey’s strategic interests have been (and continue to be) severely compromised by the US actions in Iraq. The insistance of President Bush on elections, despite the horrific violence, is not merely a further manifestation of his pig-headedness. Instead it accomplishes (or will) two important objectives – the temporary elimination of a Sunni political presence in Iraq and a payback to the Kurds for their much-touted loyalty to the US. Longer term, of course, this is a disaster. An election, and the nonsense that it represents under current conditions, provides cover for the eventual exit (escape) of the US, and virtually guarantees a civil war in Iraq. And the Kurds will get their homeland de facto on Turkey’s border. And Turkey will get a continuation of the historic violence from the newly energized Kurds, as well as have no buffer zone for its eastern border. The added pressure on Turkey to “solve” the Cyprus problem in order to enter the European Union is an additional strategic move induced by the US to reduce Turkish strategic sway on its western border. The shallow-thinking Turkish government, focusing virtually all of its remarkably limited ability to think strategically on gaining entry to the EU as a panacea for the lack of any domestic economic program whatsoever, has brought Turkey to its knees geopolitically. Turkey is now surrounded on all sides.
All this signals an abandonment of Turkey by the US as a “strategic partner,” and a profound shift in Turco-American relations. That the current blunderers now governing Turkey anticipated such a development is beside the point, and even moot. An examination of their record, both domestically and internationally, shows an inability to anticipate anything. But this is not relevant to the issue immediately unfolding.
That issue is Russia. Putin’s recent visit to Turkey is no accidental, handshaking mission. Nor is his placing a wreath at Ataturk’s tomb some protocol reflex. Russia’s seemingly eternal dream-need for a warm water port to its south has been severely compromised by developments in the Ukraine. An “alliance” with Turkey is the answer. This smacks of a similar initiative by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in March 1920 when his revolutionary government negotiated a Russian-Turkish treaty with the Bolsheviks delineating the northern frontier. By so securing the north, Ataturk was able to proceed in expelling the western occupying powers from the rest of Turkey. While it is doubtful that the current government thinks in such terms, for sure the Turkish military does. And therein resides the bird that shouted in the government’s ear that the Republic is now in profound strategic danger.
Make no mistake – whatever steel that Prime Minister Erdogan finds for his highly suspect spine is provided by the Turkish generals. Thus his recent (and quite laughable) “tough” talk. But the current US-induced crisis at least stymies his internationally tone-deaf domestic program that has been so debilitatingly corosive to the secularity of the Turkish Republic. The risk to Turkey in playing the new “Russian card” is not of further alienating the United States – that is a forgone conclusion, and one should of course prepare accordingly. Rather, it is having a bunch of political hacks get chewed up strategically by Vladimir Putin and his other tough nuts. But thankfully for the Turkish people there are always the “guardian-angel” generals.
The recent Russian love-in at Ankara demarcates a new era of Turkish international relations. The use of Turkey by the US as a buffer is over. With the current profusion of US military bases all over central Asia, it is now Turkey that needs a “buffer.” The worm has turned on the eagle... enter the early drafts of a new cool war, with a new cast of cool warriors.