Who Lost Turkey?

PARIS – “Who lost Turkey?” That question, often raised in the past, has been heating up in the aftermath of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s emotional outburst during the recent World Economic Forum 2009 in Davos, when he abruptly left a panel he was sharing with Israeli President Shimon Peres. And the Turkish question matters greatly, because it touches on some of the most unstable and unsettling of the world’s diplomatic disputes.

If Turkey has indeed been “lost,” those responsible include the European Union, the United States, Israel, and Turkey itself. The EU’s growing reservations about Turkey’s membership have been expressed unambiguously by French President Nicolas Sarkozy. In the US, former President George W. Bush gets some of the blame because of the war in Iraq. Israel, too, has played its part in Turkey’s alienation from the West, as a result of the Lebanon war of 2006 and its recent military operations in Gaza.

All of these events have disturbed and disoriented Turkey, and are magnified by the domestic impact of worst global economic crisis since the 1930’s.

Of course, Turkey’s secular, pro-Western elites may still consider the EU and the US important, if not indispensable, allies and partners, and they may consider Islamic fundamentalism, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran real or at least potential threats. Yet they are also convinced that Europe has behaved improperly toward Turkey, through a combination of short-term populist reflexes and the absence of a long-term strategic vision.