By Balkan Devlen

Today's Zaman
Oct 28 2008

There is global euphoria about US Sen. Barack Obama nowadays. Many
think he will bring change and a new direction to America's foreign
policy. Turkey is no exception.

Several people, from journalists to politicians, expressed the
opinion that an Obama presidency will be the start of a new era in
Turkish-American relations. They are wrong, however, and this is
why: The new US president, whether Sen. John McCain or Sen. Obama,
will face the same problems when he moves into the White House come
January 2009. Among these problems, three concern Turkey. The first
is the resurgence of Russia. The Russian Federation is making a
geopolitical comeback, fueled by oil and natural gas revenues. In
the last year or so it reached its zenith, for now, with the war
in Georgia (Balkan Devlen, Today's Zaman, Oct. 20, 2008). Turkey is
naturally not happy with Russia aggressively playing hardball just
outside its borders. However, Turkey is also not keen on directly
confronting Russia, given its extensive trade relations as well as
dependence on Russian natural gas. For the US, on the other hand,
Turkey is in a position to block Russian ambitions further in the
Caucasus (via its links with Georgia and Azerbaijan) and even create
problems, if necessary, by virtue of being able to control the Turkish
straits. Therefore, the next president of the United States will be
pushing hard to force Turkey to take a clear stand against Russia. A
position Turkey is not willing to be in right now.

The second and third problems concern Iraq and Iran, two interrelated
problems of American foreign policy. The next president has to find a
way to stabilize Iraq while avoiding the creation of a Shiite-dominated
regime under the spell of Iran. At the same time, he has to deal
with the emerging reality that Iran might be on the road to acquire
technology to eventually develop nuclear weapons. The stabilization
of Iraq requires the cooperation of Shiite militias, over which Iran
holds significant influence, and the Iranians are using the nuclear
card to get a better deal in the post-American Iraq. Americans need
the rest of Iraq to be relatively calm to be able to bargain with
the Iranians from a position of strength. Turkey also wants a stable
Iraq as well as a non-nuclear Iran. However, it has its own concerns
regarding Kurdish ambitions in northern Iraq. This is and will be a
point of contention between the US and Turkey, regardless of who the
next American president turns out to be.

As for Iran, Turkey would like to pass the buck to the Americans and
the Israelis. In other words, let them sort out the problem while
Turkey watches safely from the sidelines. Turkey prefers a non-nuclear
Iran as anything to the contrary will seriously upset the regional
balance of power. However, it is also not willing to be drawn into
a military conflict with Iran. The US will push Turkey to put more
pressure on Iran as the Russians and the Chinese are clearly against
any economic sanctions and the Europeans are not very willing, to
say the least. This will put Turkey in a position similar to the one
it finds itself in vis-a-vis Russia, not willing to see a resurgent
regional power right on its borders but also not willing to take a
strong stand.

One cannot help but remember Leon Trotsky's argument (with regards
to Soviet expansion to the lands of former tsarist Russia after
the 1920s) that "revolution does not change geography." The problems
facing Turkish-American relations will not change with the election of
Sen. Obama. The long-term interests of Turkey and the United States are
aligned. Neither country wants to see a resurgent Russia or a nuclear
Iran. Both want to see a stable and democratic Iraq. However, in the
short to medium term the means of achieving these ends will create
friction between the two allies. In fact, if Sen. Obama is elected on
Nov. 4, this might even have a negative effect on Turkish-American
relations in the short term. He is a closed box with regards to his
attitude toward Turkey. The Armenian and Greek lobbies are supporting
Mr. Obama; his running mate, Sen. Joe Biden, is no friend of Turkey, to
say the least. Those hoping the above-mentioned problems will magically
disappear if Mr. Obama is elected will be sorely disappointed. My
hope is that those at the helm of Turkish foreign policy do not have
the same illusions.