Turkey Flexes Its Political Muscle in the Middle East

To account for Turkey's recent bouts of belligerence towards Israel, on October 10, Dutch MP Wilm Kortenoeven, claimed that the Turkish government is "sliding into an abyss of Islamic extremism." Upon doing so, Kortenoeven found himself in the unfortunate position of being woefully incorrect.

Indeed, Turkey's diplomatic relations with Israel have very publicly been deteriorating over the past few months. However, Turkey's change in attitude towards Israel has less to do with an Iran-like desire to provoke Islamic revolution throughout the world and more to do with a reignited imperial attitude towards the Middle East. Rather than suddenly acquiring a taste for Islamic fanaticism and exclusively bashing the state of Israel and everything else non-Islamic in its proximity, Turkey has swiftly experienced an economic and political boom which has allowed it to launch a broad campaign of aggression across the Middle East. For this reason, Turkey’s new foreign policy is better characterized as neo-Ottomanism than as Islamism.

Let's examine the facts.

At a staggering rate of 11% year-on-year GDP growth as of this year's first quarter, Turkey’s economy was growing at a rate faster than China’s, a development that has prompted writers at the Wall Street Journal to refer to Turkey as "Eurasia’s rising tiger." Maintaining growth at a rapid rate of 8.8% during a second quarter marred by regional instability, Turkey's durable economy has managed to attract persistent praise from high-ranking economists.

"The Turkish economy keeps growing no matter what," Wall Street Journal reported.

Turkey’s steady rise to economic prominence makes the nation a more influential global force, granting it the capability to adopt a more aggressive foreign policy with relative impunity.

As Turkey gains the capacity to exert more political influence throughout the world, it is only logical that, at this moment, the country has chosen to focus on the Middle East. In defending this assertion, proximity to the region is certainly one factor to consider. Another is Turkey’s persistent exclusion from the European sphere.

Then there’s the opportunity presented by the Arab Spring and the resulting political vacuum created in the Middle East, an opportunity compounded by the fact that over the past nine years favorable attitudes towards Turkey throughout many Arab nations have dramatically risen. Today, a significant portion of the citizens of Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia would likely welcome Turkish influence in the Middle East with open arms.

The Turkish government has responded to these favorable developments. Examine events in the Middle East over just the last two months.

Turkish military intervention in Iraq, aimed at subduing militant Kurds, has become a regular occurrence. On October 5, Turkey's parliament voted in favor of extending the mandate for military strikes against PKK personnel within Iraqi Kurdistan. In Syria, the Turkish government has made an audacious effort to garner favor with a rebellious civilian population. In late September Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced an arms embargo against Syria designed to hinder Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime from continuing it's crackdown against protestors.

Most intriguing is the quietly escalating friction between Turkey and Iran. In September, a military adviser to Ayatollah Khamenei openly chastised the Turkish government for supporting the deployment of NATO’s missile defense system and — here’s the humdinger — for promoting the "secular model" in states such as Egypt.

Despite what people like Wilm Kortenoeven would like us to believe, Turkey is not undergoing some sort of radical Islamic revolution. Yes, Turkey has entered the Middle Eastern fray. That's not necessarily a negative development. In the battle for regional hegemony, better Turkey than Iran.

Photo Credit: KLMircea

How likely are you to make Mic your go-to news source?

Michael Youhana

Writer interested in US foreign policy whose articles have been featured in various outlets including The Nation and The Jerusalem Report magazines, and, of course, on PolicyMic

MORE FROM

Grizzly bear protections in Yellowstone National park are ending

A final ruling by US government officials will strike the Yellowstone grizzly bear from the list of threatened species after its population increased to 700.

Another day, another off-camera White House press briefing

The move to scale back on-camera press briefings comes amid Trump's increasing unwillingness to interact with the press.

Minneapolis might get a $15 minimum wage, but restaurant workers aren't celebrating

Discord has been brewing in Minneapolis over whether tipped work will be counted toward a $15 minimum wage.

These abysmal new poll numbers for House health care bill don't bode well for Senate version

Only 34% of Republicans approve of the new proposed law.

'Pizzagate' shooter gets 4-year prison sentence, lawyers urged judge to deter vigilantism

Welch stormed a Washington, D.C., pizza place and shot off a firearm because of the internet.

American Health Care Act by the numbers: What to know about Senate Republicans' secret health plan

After drafting the ACA repeal and replace plan behind closed doors, the AHCA is out — and Senate Republican leaders are hoping to vote on it in a week.

Grizzly bear protections in Yellowstone National park are ending

A final ruling by US government officials will strike the Yellowstone grizzly bear from the list of threatened species after its population increased to 700.

Another day, another off-camera White House press briefing

The move to scale back on-camera press briefings comes amid Trump's increasing unwillingness to interact with the press.

Minneapolis might get a $15 minimum wage, but restaurant workers aren't celebrating

Discord has been brewing in Minneapolis over whether tipped work will be counted toward a $15 minimum wage.

These abysmal new poll numbers for House health care bill don't bode well for Senate version

Only 34% of Republicans approve of the new proposed law.

'Pizzagate' shooter gets 4-year prison sentence, lawyers urged judge to deter vigilantism

Welch stormed a Washington, D.C., pizza place and shot off a firearm because of the internet.

American Health Care Act by the numbers: What to know about Senate Republicans' secret health plan

After drafting the ACA repeal and replace plan behind closed doors, the AHCA is out — and Senate Republican leaders are hoping to vote on it in a week.