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