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Corruption scandal is not a creation of the US
An unpredictable process is going on in Turkey by its internal and external dynamics. Regional actors create a new kind of policy and this situation strongly effects the interstate relations. Analyst Mr. Michael Koplow criticizes vital topics to share their unknown dimensions for Strategic Outlook readers. 
Interview by Mehmet Fatih Öztarsu
Mr. Koplow, how do you evaluate the “precious loneliness” term for Turkish foreign policy? Is it an applicable definition?
I think that “precious loneliness” was little more than an example of Ibrahim Kalın expressing his frustration with the situation in which Turkey found itself in the Middle East as its Syria policy was in shambles and after Mohamed Morsi was ousted by the Egyptian military. After using the term değerli yalnızlık, Kalın said that he was trying to communicate the idea that Turkey’s foreign policy is based on a set of values and that these values are currently creating problems with other countries in the region. While Kalın’s frusration is understandable, I hesitate to buy into the narrative that Turkey is pursuing the moral high ground in every situation and that this is why it suddenly finds itself at odds with its neighbors. Turkey has made a number of high profile bets – on the Syrian opposition, on the Muslim Brotherhood, on Hamas, to name a few – that have not turned out well, but the decisions to back these entities were driven by self-interest as much as any type of higher value. There is nothing “precious” about Turkish isolation, and it should be noted that in the past couple of months, Turkish foreign policy has taken a far more conciliatory turn in an effort to reestablish the zero problems with neighbors policy that once reigned supreme. Like every other state, Turkey’s foreign policy is a mixture of interests and values, and it is easy to fall back on a morally superior attitude when things don’t work out, but rather than coming up with new slogans, perhaps the Erdoğan government would be better off trying to repair relations with its neighbors instead of acting as if isolation is a sign of success.
Corruption scandal in Turkey occured after the newly elected Iranian president. The US was investigating the money laundering activities of Iran before. There is an unknown and unpredictable process. What do you say for indissoluble Turkey-Iran-US knot on this issue?
Turkey has long been in a difficult position in trying to navigate between its relationship with the U.S. and its role in NATO on the one hand, and its trade ties with Iran and its reliance on Iranian energy sources on the other. The U.S. has been looking into Halkbank’s role in helping Iran skirt sanctions for some time, and so that element in the corruption scandal is not a surprise. The U.S. is going to keep on pursuing sanctions against Iran until the issue of the Iranian nuclear program has been resolved to the U.S.’s satisfaction, and it should come as no surprise that the Treasury Department is monitoring any efforts to subvert those sanctions. Given Turkey’s status as a NATO ally, its hosting of the X-Band radar system, its hard stance against Iranian ally Bashar al-Assad, and its reliance on Western capital in maintaining Turkish economic growth, the choice between cooperating with the U.S. or siding with Iran should be an easy one. There is a lot more going on here, however, that has nothing at all to do with the U.S. or Iran, including the government’s role in doling out patronage in the course of massive construction projects. The theory that this scandal is a creation of the U.S. and is being used to somehow punish Turkey is not only simplistic but quite frankly nonsensical.
How do you evaluate the position of Gulen movement in Turkish political system especially after the corruption scandal?
I don’t think the Gülen movement is going to come out of this unscathed, or even necessarily in a more powerful position. As of this writing, somewhere between 400 and 500 police officers and supervisors have been dismissed, and Gülen-owned corporations have seen their stock prices fall on worries that government investigations into them are going to be coming soon. While the Gülen movement is inflicting a lot of harm on Erdoğan and his inner circle, the Gülenists are being harmed as well. The best outcome for the Hizmet at this point will be for the AKP to be taken over by someone known to have ties to Gülen, such as Abdullah Gül, but even if Erdoğan does not ultimately survive this scandal, the AKP is still very much his party and his allies will harbor lots of resentment toward the Gülen movement. There is no question that the Gülenists have lots of political influence, but I think they will soon find that exercising that power and influence was much easier when they were operating in tandem with the government and the AKP rather than in opposition to the government and the AKP.
Turkish PM Erdogan criticizes often the role of the US in domestic politics of Turkey especially after Gezi events and corruption scandal. Can we say that Turkey’s strategic importance changed and the US seeks to find a new partner in the region?
The U.S. is not seeking to find a new partner in the region because there really isn’t anyone who can supplant Turkey, but there is certainly a growing wariness of how reliable of an ally Turkey actually is, and this has been magnified over the past few months. The U.S. perceives Turkey to be pursuing short term aims, oftentimes explicitly political ones, at the expense of long term goals, and the pursuit of these short term aims often conflicts with U.S. interests in the region. The rifts with Egypt and Israel, the abetting of jihadi fighters entering Syria, and most importantly the agreement to purchase an anti-missile defense system from China rather than from a fellow NATO country are all examples of Turkey pursuing what it perceives to be easy short term gains to the great detriment of long term strategic goals. While Turkey is, of course, free to do as it pleases, these decisions have created great fallout for the U.S. and thus cannot be simply ignored by the Obama administration or chalked up to internal Turkish business. In the U.S. view, they fit into a general pattern of Turkey rushing headlong into foreign policy decisions without taking a minute to look at the big picture and assess the impact of its actions on other parties, specifically the U.S. in this case, which is bound to cause some friction.
In addition, there is a certain level of tolerance for Erdoğan to periodically bash the U.S. since there is an understanding that it is an easy target for domestic political purposes. However, the insinuation following the corruption scandal that the U.S. was setting up the Turkish government and the veiled threats to expel Ambassador Ricciardone have taken things to a new level, and there is a lot of confusion now in Washington about what Erdoğan is thinking and whether the relationship with Turkey needs to be reassessed. Logically, Turkey is an important U.S. partner and the two countries have a long relationship, not to mention that there are many overlapping interests, so Turkey’s strategic importance has not evaporated. That said, the U.S. is not going to partner closely with an ally upon whom it cannot reasonably rely, and there are serious questions now about how reliable Turkey truly is.
What can you say for Israeli approach towards new period of the relations between the US and Iran?
The Israeli approach has been one of extreme worry, as many Israelis believe that the U.S. is determined to reach a deal with Iran at any cost and that Israeli security concerns are going to be the casualty of such a deal. Israel is making a mistake in some of its harsher rhetoric, and risks making Israeli stubbornness the story rather than Iranian intransigence. Israel’s security concerns are well-founded, but the one thing that Israel cannot afford to do under any circumstances is to damage its relationship with the U.S. in a tangible way. Were I advising the Israeli government, I would tell it to keep any disputes with the U.S. over Iran behind closed doors, and not to do anything to damage the P5+1 negotiation process. If Iran is not serious about making nuclear concessions, it will be apparent relatively early on when it tries to skirt around any enforcement or monitoring mechanisms built into a deal, at which point I expect the U.S. to be on the same page as Israel with regard to Iran.
What is your estimation for upcoming elections in Turkey? How do you criticize the effect of opposition parties and civil society organisations?
Two weeks ago I would have said that the AKP may lose a few high profile seats in the municipal elections in March but would have no trouble at all during the presidental or parliamentary elections to follow. Now, however, I think that the local elections are going to be a lot more important. If Mustafa Sarıgül wins Istanbul – and at this point I fully expect him to be victorious – and Mansur Yavaş wins Ankara, then I think the CHP may actually be poised to do much better than expected in the parliamentary elections. I still expect Gül to win the presidency if he runs and I expect the AKP to win the parliamentary elections next year, but with a much smaller margin of victory than in the 2011 election and perhaps with less of the vote than the party received in 2007. The AKP is fortunate that the opposition parties are still largely feckless and do not have political platforms that resonate with most Turks, because were there any type of strong opposition, the AKP’s continued rule would be in legitimate danger. If CHP does well, it will have to do more with the AKP’s blunders than with the CHP’s successes.
Who is Michael Koplow?
Michael Koplow is Program Director of the Israel Institute. He holds a Ph.D. in Government from Georgetown University, where he specialized in political development and ideology, and the politics of Middle Eastern states. During 2012-13, he was a participant in the Young Turkey Young America fellowship program at the Atlantic Council. His academic work has appeared in Security Studies and Bustan and he frequently writes for Foreign Affairs, The National Interest, Foreign Policy, and The Atlantic, in addition to blogging at Ottomans and Zionists. In addition to his Ph.D., he holds a B.A. from Brandeis University, a J.D. from New York University, and a A.M. in Middle Eastern Studies from Harvard University.

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