[Marxism] Further evidence that profits trump theology
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Tue Dec 31 06:39:44 MST 2013
NY Times December 29, 2013
Iran, Turkey’s New Ally?
By VALI R. NASR
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
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
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