TURKISH - AMERICAN RELATIONS IN OBAMA PRESIDENCY
By Sedat Laciner

Journal of Turkish Weekly
April 1 2009

During the Bush presidency, the relations between Turkey and
US were severely damaged. The Washington administration has an
immense responsibility in this case. Turkey gave full support to
the US' combat against terror. In this regard, Ankara sent Turkish
soldiers to Afghanistan and acted in accordance with its Western
allies in order to capture the militants of Al-Qaeda in Turkey
or anywhere. Meanwhile, Turkey undertook a constructive role in
the Middle East problems. However, when the Turkish Grand National
Assembly (TBMM) rejected the US' request to base US troops in Turkey
for an assault on Iraq on March 1, 2003, the US' Turkey policy was
completely changed. As a result, Washington started to implement a
"punishment strategy' against Turkey. Turkey is a democratic country
and the government must implement its policies in line with the
decisions of the parliament. The Turkish Government sincerely wanted
to pass the 1 March Parliament Note (tezkere) to allow the US troops
to use Turkish territories, yet the Government had no option but to
implement the taken decision.

The rejection decision of the Turkish Parliament cost Turkey
a lot. Turkey lost billions of dollars in an economic crisis
environment. However the US lost very little. Of course, if it
were possible for the US troops to use Turkey's territory, it
would definitely become easier for US to invade Iraq. But, the
US administration made a fatal mistake. They did not pay enough
attention to the Turkish parliament, Turkish people and did not
respect Turkish pluralism. In this period, the US promised to provide
a huge credit at an amount of about 30 billion dollars and thought
that Turkey could not reject its request to use Turkey's territory
(because, Turkey was trying to recover its economy after the 2001
great economic crisis). The US expected to exploit from Turkey's
difficult situation. The sarcastic expressions of some American
politicians including President Bush caused a negative impact on
Turkish parliamentarians and Turkish people. By the way, the Turkish
Army, which makes declarations on almost everything, did not make
any statement regarding the US-Turkey military co-operation on Iraqi
operation. So, thanks to the Army's impartial position, many Turkish
politicians thought that the US operation against Iraq was not vital
for Turkish interests. As a result Turkish democracy decided and
it said "no' to the US soldiers. If the US could use Turkish route,
of course the risks in the operation would have been decreased a lot.

Although the US could not enter Iraq from Northern part of Turkey,
the US was surprisingly not seriously affected in terms of military
bases from Turkish decision. One of the most important reasons for
this was the errant strategy of Saddam Hussein. Saddam did not presume
that Turkey would refuse permission for US troops and deployed a large
amount of soldiers in the northern part of the country. Meanwhile, the
Iraqi Kurdish collaborators (Barzani and Talabani) with the US in the
North also prevented the passage of Saddam's soldiers. Thanks to these
developments, Iraq was occupied by US troops in a very short time and
it was brought under the control of US with very few casualties. In
this regard, it is not possible to say that the Turkey's rejection
of the US paved the way to a big tragedy, as the Vice President of
US Dick Cheney and some other politicians had claimed in the recent
past. The US did not have many difficulties during the invasion of
Iraq, but after the invasion.

The problems of the US in Iraq did not begin during the invasion, but
later. The US easily occupied Iraq easily but could not administer the
occupied territory. The US soldiers created serious problems in the
region due to their wrong strategy, human rights violations, and being
unaccustomed to the indigenous people. At this point, Turkey offered
help to the US and the Turkish parliament ratified the decision to
send Turkish troops to Iraq to help the US as a result of the intense
efforts of the Erdogan government. However, the US did not show any
desire to accept Turkey's attempts and made a special effort to keep
Turkey and Turkish approach outside Iraq and outside the region. It
can be said that the policies of the Bush administration regarding
the Iraq issue were founded on the ground of punishing Turkey and
to keep it outside the Middle East and Iraqi issues. In addition,
the US did not give any support to Turkey in combating terrorism
during this period, especially between the years 2003 and 2007.

Furthermore, many people in Turkey even stated that the US supported
PKK terrorism. During this period, Turkish public opinion showed a
strong and unprecedented reaction against the US' approach to PKK
terrorism and the Kurdish issue. Almost every political group in
Turkey thinks that the US was not candid about the PKK terrorism. In
this context, the terrorism problem still remains the most important
issue between the two countries.

This mistakes which occurred during the Bush administration
would definitely pave the way to further problems in the upcoming
years. Unfortunately, some people in Washington think that Turkish
society can forget the bad things easily. Yet, this is not a true
analysis. One of the most significant reasons for the Turkish
parliament's rejection of the 1 March Bill was the repercussions
from the two countries' previous run-ins. The Turkish intellectuals,
bureaucrats, media, experts, and even laymen do not forget the
US's biased behaviors regarding the 1964 Johnson Letter, the US's
arms embargo on Turkey respecting Cyprus, and pro-Greek stance of
the US in many occasions and the Armenian issue. Unfortunately, the
Bush administration added new damaging even traumatic memories to the
previous ones. Besides, the US soldiers headed bag the Turkish soldiers
in northern Iraq. With these actions, the US not only punished, but
also insulted Turkey. All of these bad memories would be remembered by
the Turkish people and affect the relations between the two countries
in the future. I am sure that no single Turkish soldier and citizen
can forget the bag affair in coming years.

In this context, the new president must be aware of this heritage with
good sides and with the sins and try to take action to eliminate the
bad memories. He should ease the damages in the relations.

What Obama Presidency Should Do?

First of all, the new president Barack Obama must give full support
to Turkey about combating terrorism via a strong message. Although
Iraq has been kept under the control of the US for about six years,
up to now, the US military forces has not caught or arrested or judged
any PKK terrorist. The PKK became stronger under the US occupation
rule. In the following days, if the Obama administration could make
a contribution by apprehending a famous name from the PKK, it would
positively affect the US' image in the eyes of Turkish people. The US
should do something in the PKK issue really important valuable to the
Turkish people because the people here see the US somehow responsible
for the increasing PKK terror.

Secondly, Obama must not act in line with the desires of the
ultra-nationalist Armenian Diaspora. The US should keep its
impartiality in the issue. While a historical dialogue process has
been launched between Ankara and Yerevan, any radical expressions
from Obama could damage this process. Obama should concentrate on
today's problems rather than historical Armenian claims and support
the efforts of rapprochement between Turkey and Armenia. He should
not be emotional but realist. The only aim should be to establish
Turkish-Armenian friendship on mutual interests of US, Armenia
and Turkey. Turkey defends a regional integration between Turkey,
Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. If the Karabakh and other occupied
territories problem could be solved with the US' help, Turkey could
be the locomotive of Caucasian integration. The stability and more
co-operations in the Caucasus will put an end to the Armenian isolation
and strengthen the Western energy security making Nabucco and other
east-west energy corridors more possible. If Obama concentrates on
the disagreements between Armenians and Turks and if he allows the
ultra-nationalist Armenian diaspora lobbyists to drive the relations
Turkish, Armenian and American interests would be undermined. We
should now focus on Armenia's and the region's needs. Armenia should
not be a prisoner of the extremists' and Russia's narrow and conflict
based policies. Georgia War clearly proved that Armenia, Azerbaijan
and Turkey need each other.

Third, the EU membership of Turkey is of vital importance in terms
of the peace in the Middle East and the relations between the West
and the East. In conjunction with the full membership of Turkey, the
EU would have a Muslim member country for the first time. Becoming
an equal and strong member of the EU, Turkey can make significant
contributions to the stability and development of the Middle East
and greater East. Besides, Turkey would prove to construct a frank,
constructive, and beneficial relationship for both sides between the
Muslim and the Western worlds. In this way, Turkey could be a model
country and success story for the Muslim world and help to eliminate
the region's extremist religious groups. If the EU rejects Turkey
due to the religious differences, this great mistake would be a
great signal to the Muslim peoples in the world. The US can play a
constructive role in bridging Turkey and the EU.

Finally the US must keep its promises in Cyprus. Turkish side fully
support the Annan Plan, however while the Greeks strongly rejected the
UN Peace Plan. The US and the EU promised a lot to Turkish Cypriots
and Turkey before the referendum. However the side who was punished is
the Turkish Cypriots and Turkey. The US and the EU did not keep their
promises. Turkish people are frustrated with the double standards in
Cyprus issue. People here think that the EU and the US support the
Greek Cypriots because of religious solidarity. I hope Obama will
keep the US' words to the Turkish Cypriots.