Back in June 2004, ahead of arriving in Turkey for an official visit as well as for participating in a NATO summit, George W. Bush, US President Barack Obama’s predecessor, praised Turkey as a model Muslim democracy -- a description which has never been embraced by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan or other senior Turkish leaders and decision makers, along with the definition “moderate Islamic model.”
Within the stillborn Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative (BMENA) presented by the US in April 2004 as a G-8 initiative, Washington viewed NATO ally Turkey as a bridge between the Muslim East and the Christian West. Ankara welcomed such a role but rejected being a model and insistently said reforms should not be imposed on countries in the region from the outside.
The stillborn initiative, which the United States had envisioned would bring democracy to Middle Eastern countries, eventually proved unsuccessful, and reminiscences of Bush’s 2004 İstanbul speech among the people of Turkey are not quite positive, with the public’s objections to the Bush administration’s policies sometimes turning into anti-American sentiments.
Another serious source of tension between Turkey and the US was the latter’s inaction against the presence of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in northern Iraq. This tension was overcome at a considerable level after November 2007, following a White House meeting between Bush and Erdoğan, since which the US has supplied real-time intelligence to Turkey to help accurately pinpoint PKK targets in northern Iraq.
Still, what Obama has brought in bilateral relations has been substantially bigger and more important than what was gained after that meeting, particularly due to Obama’s definition of relations as well as his approach toward Turkey.
In April, he chose Turkey as the last leg of his eight-day-long maiden trip to Europe.
Turning back to the resonance of the word “model,” while in Turkey, Obama refrained from employing the frequently used “strategic partnership” term to define relations between Turkey and the US, but rather suggested building a “model partnership” between Turkey and the United States with a unity based on ideals and values.
In June, in a speech delivered in Washington, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who was the chief foreign policy advisor to Prime Minister Erdoğan from 2002 until he was appointed to his current post in May, listed the foreign policy issues that are on agenda of both Ankara and Washington: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Palestine-Israel dispute, Lebanon, Caucasus, Armenia and Cyprus. He added, “Model partnership is not an issue of preference, but it is a necessity.”
“The US doesn’t feel a need for Roman Emperor [Julius] Caesar, but feels need for Marcus Aurelius. Obama’s approach is the approach of Aurelius, but not of Caesar. You can only proceed to a certain point via using power. Now a multilateral approach is being used in the US,” Davutoğlu asserted. Earlier, in March, in a speech on Turkey’s foreign policy at Princeton University, Davutoğlu had already voiced expectations of “a golden era” ahead in Turkey-US cooperation
“Our approach and principles are almost the same, very similar [to the US] on issues such as the Middle East, Caucasus, the Balkans and energy security.
Therefore, we hope that there is a golden era ahead in cooperation,” Davutoğlu said at the time. Messages delivered by Erdoğan and Obama following a White House meeting on Dec. 7 appeared to flesh out the declared “model partnership” between Ankara and Washington since those messages had a constant and vocal harmony over the nature of relations. This was better observed when Obama clearly expressed his appreciation of the role played by Turkey in contributing to the maintenance of global peace rather than trying to limit Turkey’s role to that of merely a regional actor. In remarks by prominent author-journalist Roger Cohen, the Obama administration has been apparently “moving methodically to dismantle the Manichean Bush paradigm -- with us or against us in a global battle of good against evil called the war on terror -- in favor of a new realism that places improved relations with the Muslim world at its fulcrum.” Cohen’s remarks had come just ahead of Obama’s visit to Turkey.
Such considerable change concerning a superpower -- whose earlier approach implied “Don’t get into a knock-down, drag-out fight, otherwise, we’ll harm you,” or “We have made a decision, this is the decision, come if you want to join this decision” -- has certainly nourished hopes here in Turkey for a “wind of change” in relations because of the convergence of the two sides’ understanding of “cooperation.”