This is not only pathetic, but also detrimental to Turkey’s long-term plans for having more of a say in international affairs. One last example of this cynicism is the compulsive Turkish discussion on the role of the US in Syria. Whenever a conflict emerges in our region, conspiracy theories come about. At the center of such theories is of course the US. If you listen to our qualified commentators, what is happening in Syria now is part of a broader American scheme to control the region by destabilizing it. If Bashar al-Assad is shooting his own people, it must only be to call for an American invasion. If a sectarian civil war emerges in Syria, it’s because the US wants Muslims to kill each other. In the eyes of Turks who are on edge, Americans are preparing the ground for a military attack on Syria and they are eager to use Ankara just like they tried to do before the Iraq war. Major opposition figures have harshly criticized Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government for having close consultations with the Obama administration. Among them is Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s “new” Republican People’s Party (CHP). They call the Erdoğan government a “subcontractor,” “representative” and “aid de camp” of the US.
No doubt the US is a major, if not the biggest player in the Middle East, despite recent military and financial hurdles. However, a quasi-God status bestowed to the US distorts the thinking in Turkey and elsewhere in the region. This impression has been very much instrumental in the conspiracy theories that emerged after the Sept. 11 attacks: How could a super power like the US overlook the actions of a bunch of terrorists? There had to be a bigger game plan there, such as willful blindness, so that future crusades on the Muslim world could be justified. According to cynics, one of those anti-Muslim wars will undoubtedly take place in Syria soon, so Turkey should stay away from the US. This might sound surreal, but believe me, it is such a fashionable argument among Turkish intellectuals, be it on the left or the right. Of course, rating-obsessed Turkish media is very keen on spreading it. Therefore, it is very difficult to sway otherwise-convinced masses that the Obama administration has in fact been relatively dovish towards Syria and is pursuing a multilateral approach, unlike the unilateralism of its predecessor. Barack Obama did not even remove Ambassador Robert Ford from Syria after the US Embassy in Syria was stormed by pro-Assad mobs in July. Can you imagine what George Bush and Dick Cheney would have done in a similar situation?
The current US administration is more comfortable with military withdrawals than diplomatic retreats. In accordance with his “leading from behind” doctrine, President Obama prefers that regional and international players take a stance and responsibility before he does, especially on controversial and challenging issues. Syria is certainly one of those cases and Turkey is certainly one of those players. Hence, the US is wisely keeping its diplomatic engagement high with Ankara and we have seen frequent calls from President Obama to Prime Minister Erdoğan, or from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. Interestingly, the Arab Spring has brought about a “Turkish-American diplomatic spring” in various ways. Ankara is glad to work with a frustrated and humbled US administration willing to consult more. And the US benefits from a more influential, albeit a little overconfident ally in Ankara, which keeps its communication channels wide open. Collaboration on Syria, for instance, is exemplary. Both governments are uneasy about security and stability challenges that anarchic revolution processes might present. But they also don’t want to miss the train of history by alienating freedom fighters. The US has abandoned extremely idealistic Bush foreign policy, moving closer to realistic Ankara whose neighborhood policy lacks a strong human rights dimension. Assad is a dictator both Ankara and Washington could live with, if only he knew the art of compromise a little bit.
Dialogue helps both the US and Turkey with policy synchronization. The US certainly wants to influence Turkish opinion, and vice versa. Just because we don’t see both sides publicly talking about their differences does not necessarily mean they fully agree. But one can comfortably say the US and Turkey’s views largely converge on Syria. For cynical Turkish intellectuals, all this means is that Ankara is acting as a puppet of Washington. The inferiority complex which is responsible for elevating the US to quasi-God status, is in effect. Despite its flourishing economy of late, improved stability and thriving democracy, cynics can’t envision Turkey as a sufficiently strong and sovereign nation.
The extremely cynical and conspiratorial psyche prevalent among Turkey’s opinion makers inflicts damage upon efforts to improve US-Turkish relations. On a broader scale, such an irrational attitude poses a risk to credibility and reliability for a nation aspiring to play an even larger role in the international arena. As Turkey grows, a more adult, mature and informed discussion on foreign policy, including about the US, is essential; not the other way around.