[Marxism] Further evidence that profits trump theology

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Dec 31 06:39:44 MST 2013

NY Times December 29, 2013
Iran, Turkey’s New Ally?

WASHINGTON — A bribery and corruption scandal has plunged Turkey into 
crisis, seriously undermining Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s 
authority. Mr. Erdogan now faces serious challenges from both 
secularists suspicious of his Islamist agenda and his erstwhile ally 
turned rival, the cleric Fethullah Gulen, who leads a powerful Islamic 
movement from his perch in Pennsylvania. Sluggish economic growth and 
setbacks in foreign policy have only spurred the critics.

The political bickering is unlikely to let up before next year’s crucial 
presidential election, in which Mr. Erdogan is expected to run. He will 
have a difficult time repairing the tarnished image of his Justice and 
Development Party, or A.K.P. The economy will not give him a boost, but 
foreign policy might — if he can show that Turkey will once again play a 
central role in the Middle East.

For over a decade, Turkey cultivated ties with its Arab neighbors. 
Turkish diplomats and businessmen were ubiquitous across the region, 
opening borders and trade routes, promoting business and brokering 
political deals. Turkey’s spectacular economic success and its stable 
Muslim democracy were hailed as a model for the whole region.

In the past year, however, Mr. Erdogan’s Middle East policy has gone 
adrift. Tumult across the region has eroded Turkey’s influence and 
dented its economic aspirations.

Disagreements over Syria and, more so, over Egypt have alienated the 
Arab world, placing a wedge between Turkey and Saudi Arabia in 
particular. The Turkish model for Muslim democracy is, after all, a 
milder version of the former Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt — 
which, with Saudi help, the Egyptian military and secularists have done 
away with.

Turkey has denounced the ouster of Egypt’s Brotherhood government, but 
it can do little more than protest. Even doing that too volubly led to 
the expulsion of Turkey’s ambassador to Egypt.

At the same time, disapproving Persian Gulf monarchies have cut back 
trade ties, hurting Turkey’s economy. All this has come at a difficult 
time for Mr. Erdogan.

Turkey’s relations with Israel have remained strained since a clash in 
2010 over an aid flotilla to Gaza. And as Turkey’s pivotal role in the 
region declined, the United States stopped looking to Ankara for advice 
on how to manage the Middle East. Instead, Washington became concerned 
that the antigovernment protests sweeping the Arab world might 
destabilize Turkey, too.

On the foreign policy front, at least, Mr. Erdogan’s luck may have 
changed. Now that America and Iran are talking seriously, things could 
be different. In sharp contrast to Israel and the Persian Gulf 
monarchies, which have been alarmed by the interim deal on Iran’s 
nuclear program, Turkey sees benefit in serving as a bridge between Iran 
and the West and in providing the gateway to the world that Tehran needs 
as it emerges from isolation.

The Iranian turn has come at an opportune time for Turkish foreign 
policy in other ways, too. Iran has influence with Iraq’s Shiite-led 
government and Syria’s Alawite elite. In Iraq, where a crucial oil deal 
hangs in the balance, Turkey needs Iranian cooperation. It also needs 
Iran’s help on Syria.

Turkey initially tied its policy to America’s demand that President 
Bashar al-Assad quit. It was disappointed when the Obama administration 
signed on to a Russian-brokered deal with Mr. Assad on chemical weapons. 
With violence menacing across the border, Turkey wants to see an end to 
Syria’s civil war. The new moderate government in Tehran is Turkey’s 
best hope for leveraging a settlement.

Economic ties between Turkey and Iran have been strengthening, with 
trade now estimated to be worth $20 billion. The real number may be 
still higher, since the recent corruption charges allege that Turkish 
officials and the state-owned Halkbank have been helping Iranian 
businesses dodge international sanctions. In any case, Iranian exports 
still reach Turkey, and the proceeds fund the purchase of gold and 
silver that flow back to Iran. In turn, Turkey’s economy depends on 
Iran’s oil and gas, its investments dollars and large export market.

If Iran does conclude a long-term nuclear deal with the West, it still 
cannot expect a warm welcome from the Sunni Arab world. With the region 
divided by a widening sectarian rift, the Persian Gulf monarchies will 
become only more fretful about Iran’s regional ambitions. That makes 
Turkey potentially a key strategic partner for Iran, especially if its 
economy starts to grow as sanctions are relaxed.

With American influence in the region in decline, and with Israel and 
the Persian Gulf monarchies finding themselves united in their 
opposition to Iran, Turkey could find itself playing a central role 
thanks to its links with Iran. A new Turkish-Iranian partnership could 
be a welcome development for the West: Turkey’s economic ties could 
boost Iran’s commercial development, which would help consolidate the 
political position of the moderates in Tehran. The real gains would come 
if a closer relationship with Turkey began to erode the alliance of 
militias and radical religious forces on which Iran has relied to 
project its influence.

To play this enlarged regional role, though, Turkey must first reassure 
the West that it will remain a trusted NATO ally and not demonize 
Western allies as a way of managing political dissent at home. However 
Mr. Erdogan’s domestic difficulties fall out, Turkey has an opportunity 
to restore its international standing. It will have to show that it is 
not simply an advocate for Iran, but has used its influence to shift 
Iran’s foreign policy and facilitate a permanent nuclear deal.

Vali R. Nasr is dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced 
International Studies.

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