[US FOREIGN POLICY AFTER NOVEMBER 2008] What’s next: Realism, liberal institutionalism or something in between like realistic Wilsonianism? (2) by MEHMET KALYONCU*

[US FOREIGN POLICY AFTER NOVEMBER 2008] What’s next: Realism, liberal 
   institutionalism or something in 
   between like realistic Wilsonianism? (2) by MEHMET KALYONCU*

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (L) shakes hands with then Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül prior to a meeting in Ankara on Feb. 6, 2005. The aim of the visit was to improve the two countries’ relations.

January 04, 2008, Friday/ 18:36:00
The students of international relations in American academia are pondering the question of what paradigm should guide US foreign policy after the Bush administration, a period deemed the “post-post-Sept. 11 era.”Should the United States preserve its military presence around the globe at the present level? Should it directly or indirectly interfere with the internal affairs of other states for the sake of protecting the interests of its own and of the free world? How should it handle the national security threats such as nuclear proliferation, emergence of terrorist networks and the regional conflicts such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

The co-authors of “The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy,” John Mearsheimer and former Harvard Professor Stephen Walt, propose “off-shore balancing” as a main US foreign policy approach, which recognizes that “the United States does not need to control other parts of the world or tell other societies how to govern their own internal processes.” A neorealist who takes the world as it is and does not aspire to create a world in the image of the US, Walt suggests that the United States should instead “maintain local balances of power to ensure that key areas of the world are not dominated by hostile powers.” That is, for instance, the oil resources in the Middle East or Africa should not fall under the control of a hostile power or of a group of such powers. Walt acknowledges that the US has a limit to its power and that it cannot run other societies. Therefore the US should not interfere with other nations’ internal affairs and should reduce its global military presence since the high level of military presence generates resentment and fuels terrorism. The neorealist approach, Walt laments, has not been adopted by many US presidents because it is viewed as a method that would move the United States to isolationism.

An alternative to the “off-shore balancing” strategy of neorealism is liberal institutionalism, spearheaded by John Ikenberry of Princeton University. Ikenberry argues that the biggest challenge of the next US president will be to “rebuild US authority, respect and credibility and regain the ready support of its allies and other states.” Therefore, he suggests, the US foreign policy in the post-post-Sept. 11 era should be based on multilateralism and exercise the US influence through international organizations and alliances. That is, instead of taking unilateral military actions and interfering with the internal affairs of other states, Washington should ensure economic and political interdependence among states by creating international frameworks for cooperation and by strengthening the existing ones such as the United Nations.

Another foreign policy approach comes from Francis Fukuyama of SAIS (School of Advanced International Studies) who seems to have come to grips with the perils of neoconservatism, which he had subscribed to previously. Though he had initially supported the US invasion of Iraq, Fukuyama admits that the invasion has turned Iraq into a training base for al-Qaeda and its affiliate terrorist networks, thereby helping the Bush administration fulfill its own prophecy that the Islamist terrorists pose the greatest danger to the US not only abroad but also at home. Parallel to the neorealists, Fukuyama agrees that the overwhelming military presence of the US in other countries, especially in the Middle East, has become counterproductive and breeds resentment toward the United States. With his alternative foreign policy strategy, “realistic Wilsonianism,” Fukuyama suggests that with preventive wars and regime change via military intervention never off the table completely, the US should care about what goes on inside the countries, promote democratic ends via non-military means and exercise its power through international organizations. As such, he concurs with those who think the future of US foreign policy lies in multilateralism, international institutions and alliances.

If the last seven years of the Bush administration has taught any lesson to Americans, it is that the US can no longer go it alone in dealing with the regional and global challenges it faces. It is highly likely that with the new president, whether Republican or Democrat, Washington will still pursue a foreign policy driven by the present fears and concerns, such as transnational terrorism, the spiraling effects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, democratization of the Middle East, energy security and maintaining its dominance in world trade; however, it will do so more through multilateral channels and international institutions than on its own. At this point, the prospects for an increased Turkish-American cooperation in the years to come lie in Turkey’s ability to shape itself as a regional power motivated more by its national interests than by national emotions.

Turkey: From passive partnership to active partnership

Turkey’s ready compliance with the US ever since the strategic partnership agreement signed between the two earned the former continuous criticism from both Turkish and foreign observers that it has been giving priority to the US strategic interests over its own regional interests. While the subsequent Turkish governments were blamed for their inability to draft and execute a conclusive policy on the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorism, they have also been blamed for their inability to do anything in the region, let alone in the oil-rich northern Iraq populated with Kurds, without the approval of Washington. Not to mention Ankara’s immediate support to the US during the first Gulf War, which in a way helped the PKK terrorists to infiltrate Turkish soil among the fleeing Iraqi Kurds and caused dramatic economic repercussions since it ended the sizeable trade between Turkey and Iraq almost overnight. With these lessons learned from the past experiences and under the closer scrutiny of the public, the new generation of Turkish political and military strata tends to be more cautious when it comes to cooperating with the US or accommodating the US interests in the region, especially when it comes to any Kurdish formation near Turkey’s southeastern border.

Certainly Turkey would be better off engaging with and shaping the developments next to its border than simply blocking them because such an engagement would provide Ankara with the opportunity and ability to control the actual outcome of that formation. Those who argue that a truly democratic formation near Turkey’s southeastern border with a predictable and rational government not under the grip of a particular clan or a well-connected leader but elected through free and fair elections would benefit Turkey’s geostrategic and economic interests in the region may not necessarily be wrong. Nor does such a possible formation deserve outright opposition without any deep thought given to it just because it may also benefit the US interests in the region as well. It appears that from now on Ankara and Washington will share more common interests and as such will need more cooperation. After all, it is well known inside the beltway that Washington would also be better off having Ankara, its long time ally and compliant partner, instead of the soon-to-be nuclearized rogue state or a state having difficulty getting along with its Arab neighbors, in charge of the region where it can no longer sustain its military presence.

Last but not the least is the need for further and continuous intelligence sharing between the Turkish and American security services as the weakening PKK increases urban disturbance within Turkey’s western cities. At the end of the day, nobody should expect Turkey’s terrorism problem to come to an end after a series of successful operations on the PKK camps in northern Iraq, which may certainly finish off the PKK in the mountains.


* Mehmet Kalyoncu is an international relations analyst and can be reached at [email protected]