A Reminder of Turkey’s Disposition

Just a reminder: Turkey is a NATO ally.

Strangely, many in some sectors of the American right have argued that Turkey is either “lost” to the US/the West or, at least, is sliding into some sort of Islamist morass (indeed, commenters here at OTB have made such arguments).  This is usually because of the fact that current ruling party (the AKP) is one that is conservative on social issues (which means in the Turkish case, based in Islamic teachings the same way that social conservatives in the US base their views in their interpretations of Christian teachings).  There is also reflexive reactions to the current tensions between Turkey and Israel over the death of Turkish nationals who tried to run the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

Unfortunately, such overblown rhetoric/”analysis” of Turkey is not limited to blog comment sections, as Daniel Drezner noted in a recent essay:

To understand the parlous state of foreign policy thought in the 2012 Republican field, consider the curious exception of Mitt Romney, the former chief executive of Bain Capital and former governor of Mass-achusetts. In October, Romney published a policy white paper called ‘An American Century’. It reflected a significant effort on foreign affairs, and yet it contained multiple inaccuracies, contradictions and omissions. Romney repeatedly implied that President Obama had gone on ‘an apology tour’ abroad without a scintilla of evidence toback up the claim. Japan and South Korea received only perfunctory mentions, and Turkey was treated like a pariah state rather than a Nato ally.

Emphasis mine.

All of this came to mind when I saw the following story via the AP:  Iran threatens to hit Turkey if US, Israel attack

“Should we be threatened, we will target NATO’s missile defense shield in Turkey and then hit the next targets,” the semiofficial Mehr news agency quoted Hajizadeh as saying.

Tehran says NATO’s early warning radar station in Turkey is meant to protect Israel against Iranian missile attacks if a war breaks out with the Jewish state. Ankara agreed to host the radar in September as part of NATO’s missile defense system aimed at countering ballistic missile threats from neighboring Iran.

So note two rather important facts: 1)  Iran threatens Turkey, and 2) there are NATO military installations in Turkey (for those keeping score at home, the US is part of NATO).

And yet, some think (an example from an OTB commenter here) that should Israel attack Iran, that Turkey would ally with Iran against Israel.

Also, as we try and evaluate Turkey’s place in the world we should note, too, that they have been aiding Syrian rebels.  This is not the action of a country poised to join an Iranian led alliance against the West.

Some background:

Via the NYTTurkey Moves to Intensify Sanctions Against Syria

Turkey took steps on Wednesday to freeze the Syrian government’s financial assets, impose a travel ban on senior Syrian officials and cut off transactions with the country’s central bank, sharply escalating international pressure on Damascus in response to its continuing violence against civilians.


Reiterating his calls for Mr. Assad to relinquish power and to stop his brutal assault on his own people, Turkey’s foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said in Ankara that the measures would include an extensive ban on military sales to Damascus and a blockade of weapons deliveries from third countries at Turkey’s land and sea borders with Syria. He said Turkey would also stop new transactions with the Commercial Bank of Syria and halt all credit to the Syrian government.


The intensification of pressure by Turkey against Syria is part of a radical about-face in relations between the two countries, as Turkey seeks to assert its leadership in the Muslim world. Only a year ago Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Assad took vacations together and the countries held joint cabinet sessions.


Mr. Erdogan recently warned Mr. Assad that he might meet the same fate as the late Libyan leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, if he did not step down and the killing did not stop.

Via PressTV:  ‘Turkey harboring Syrian rebels’

According to Turkish Taraf daily, over 20,000 Syrian dissidents are currently stationed at camps near the two countries border.

The newspaper also pointed out that a number of Syrian opposition groups are currently residing in Turkey.

Via the BBC:  Syrian rebel leader waiting in Turkey, “The Turks seem to regard Colonel Asad as a potentially important figure for the future, and are determined that nothing untoward should happen to him.”

Via WaPo:  Turkey urges Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down.

Just because Turkey currently has tension with Israel does not mean they are no longer steadfast allies of the United States.  Indeed, in assessing Turkey’s position vis-à-vis Israel, consider for a moment how the United States would have reacted had Americans engaged in a humanitarian effort had been killed by a foreign military.  One can imagine such an action, even during a questionable action by said Americans, would not be greeted happily in Washington.*

Regardless, the continued fantasies about Turkey and its foreign policy dispositions are simply incorrect and are born out of ignorance at best and Islamophobia at worst.  I will conclude by pointing out once again that the political party most interested in getting Turkey into the EU is the ruling AKP (yes, the aforementioned conservative Islamist party).  Of course, these days their ardor for the EU may have cooled, but not because of interest in joining Iran against Israel (for those note paying attention:  the EU’s is having a bit of trouble at the moment).

*Although, granted, if the government in question was Israel’s they migh have gotten away with it (as the case of Rachel Corrie would illustrate).

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, Europe, Middle East, US Politics, World Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    But Steven, they stand in the way of “End-Times” theology so they must be destroyed.

  2. anjin-san says:

    the continued fantasies about Turkey and its foreign policy dispositions are simply incorrect and are born out of ignorance at best and Islamophobia at worst.

    You probably support keeping our embassy in Iran open too. Maybe you should change your name to Neville Chamberlain…

  3. ponce says:

    The Republicans have to shriek about Turkey because the Republican party supports the radical Islamic Kurdish terrorists of the PKK.

  4. Ron Beasley says:

    This is all about Israel. Turkey is no longer a Zionist puppet so they must be a friend of Iran.

  5. Rob in CT says:

    Oh Steven, you Ostrich you. 😉

  6. James H says:

    I submit that Turkey is a bit of a complex thing. The country is a member of NATO and has made noises about joining the EU, yet the rest of Europe on occasion treats Turkey as if it’s a member of the Middle East.

    It’s also fair to say , IMO, that today, Turkey seeks to assert itself as a regional power in a way that it hasn’t since the end of World War II.

  7. Andre Kenji says:

    If Iran attacks Turkey there will be Turkish troops marching in Teehran in a matter of days.

  8. 11B40 says:


    I think your blog does a good job (non-gratuitous pandering) addressing the complexity of trying to understand today’s Turkey and its intentions. I would add this: the Turks, the Arabs, and the Persians (today’s Iranians) were the three main power groups at various times in the Muslim Middle East. In the spirit of Fouad Ajami’s lands of “I against my brother; my brother and I against our cousin; and my cousin, my brother and I against the stranger” the sands there shift on a fairly continuing, object-based regularity. Alliances over there may not be what we have in our mind when we think of out relations with European countries, more along the lines of one of those Muslim “temporary” marriages. What ever happens, as long as Islam remains as the millstone around the necks of those peoples, we will be the strangest stranger of them all.

    Or, as my father used to more simply say, it’s when the pie comes to the table that the knives come out.

  9. Vast Variety says:

    @anjin-san: The United States does not have an embassy in Iran.

    In my opinion Israel causes more problems for the US than Turkey does.

  10. Neil Hudelson says:

    This is usually because of the fact that current ruling party (the AKP) is one that is conservative on social issues (which means in the Turkish case, based in Islamic teachings the same way that social conservatives in the US base their views in their interpretations of Christian teachings).

    There is a difference between the AKP and social conservatives–our social conservatives are basing their intepretations on the correct religion.

  11. @Vast Variety: He is making fun of Michele Bachmann, who commented this week that we should close out embassy in Iran.

  12. Vast Variety says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Ah, I try not to pay much attention to the crazier side of the GOP.

  13. Vast Variety says:

    @Neil Hudelson: There is no such thing as “The Correct Religion”

  14. OzarkHillbilly says:


  15. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Vast Variety: What OzarkHillbilly said.

  16. Vast Variety says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: I’m gay to so is is possible to stone someone to death more than once?

  17. Rob in CT says:

    VV’s sarcasm detector is malfunctioning, apparently. 😉

  18. Vast Variety says:

    @Rob in CT: lol, no sorry, I understood it was sarcasm… I think it’s my writing of sarcasm to add to it that’s defective.

  19. ponce says:

    This is all about Israel. Turkey is no longer a Zionist puppet so they must be a friend of Iran.

    It is odd that with Israel’s government in the process of passing a slew of racist, anti-democratic laws that people are talking about the threat of Turkey going radical.

  20. Ron Beasley says:

    @ponce: Not to mention Orthodox Jews spitting on Christians in Jerusalem. Israel is becoming very radicalized as demonstrated by this.

  21. ponce says:

    Our own Congress has just passed a law that allows the U.S. military to kidnap American citizens on American soil and detain them indefinitely without a trial and nobody is making a fuss about it, so it’s hard to see them getting upset about Israel turning into a fringe right religious dictatorship.

  22. Excellent point Mr. Taylor, there is a psychological explanation for these sorts of equations of groups that are in fact different