Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

Cook examines developments in the Middle East and their resonance in Washington.

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Showing posts for "Turkey"

Turkey Has Been Consistent, Just Not In Line With U.S.

by Steven A. Cook
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the 69th United Nations General Assembly at the UN headquarters in New York (Lucas Jackson/Courtesy Reuters). Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the 69th United Nations General Assembly at the UN headquarters in New York (Lucas Jackson/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here on NYTimes.com on Tuesday, October 14, 2014.

Turkey could still commit itself to becoming a more active member of the anti-ISIS coalition, though that seems unlikely. Last Friday, Ankara agreed to train members of the Free Syrian Army, and is still considering whether it will allow American and allied forces to use the Incirlik air base in the fight against the militant group. However, the permission to use this sprawling airfield close to the Syrian border may not be the breakthrough that U.S. officials have touted, revealing a continuing gap between Washington’s security needs and Turkey’s political dilemmas. Read more »

Fiddling While Kobani Burns

by Steven A. Cook
Turkish soldiers watch over the Syrian town of Kobani as they take position near Mursitpinar border crossing on the Turkish-Syrian border (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters). Turkish soldiers watch over the Syrian town of Kobani as they take position near Mursitpinar border crossing on the Turkish-Syrian border (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here on ForeignPolicy.com on Tuesday, October 7, 2014.

Last week, the Turkish Grand National Assembly voted to authorize the use of force in Syria and Iraq. Turkish legislators also voted to permit the deployment of foreign forces in Turkey for the purpose of fighting against the Islamic State (IS). The votes were heralded in the Turkish and U.S. media as proof that Ankara is a dependable ally in the ongoing battle against the Islamic State. So why are Turkish forces sitting idly along the border while jihadist militants advance toward the border? Read more »

What a Turkey!

by Steven A. Cook
Turkey's Prime Minister and presidential candidate Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters during an election rally in Istanbul August 3, 2014 (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters). Turkey's Prime Minister and presidential candidate Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters during an election rally in Istanbul August 3, 2014 (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here on Politico.com on Tuesday, August 5, 2014.

If Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan were an American politician, he would be an excellent candidate for one of Chris Cillizza’s “Worst Week in Washington” features. First, on Friday, July 19, a day after the State Department spokesperson criticized him for his frequent invocation of the Nazis to describe Israel’s behavior, Erdogan asked, “What do Americans know about Hitler?” Given that almost 200,000 young Americans died fighting in Europe during WWII, quite a lot, actually. Second, in an open and embarrassing display of just how far the cult of Erdogan’s personality has gone, the 60-year-old prime minister appeared in a friendly soccer match—wearing a bright orange uniform—and miraculously scored three goals in 15 minutes to the collective delirium of announcers, fans and opposing players from the Istanbul Basaksehir club. (It was a bit of a disappointment that he did not pull off his jersey in triumph after the hat trick; it would have given the growing Tayyip Erdogan-Vladimir Putin comparisons an additional element of absurdity.) Third, the American Jewish Congress demanded that Erdogan return the “Profiles in Courage” award the organization bestowed upon him in 2004 for his commitment to protect Turkish Jewry, combat terrorism and forge peaceful coexistence in the Middle East. The prime minister—who is also a recipient of the Muammar al-Qaddafi prize for human rights—was, in the words of Turkey’s ambassador in Washington, “glad” to return the honor. Finally, Cillizza’s colleague at the Washington Post, Richard Cohen, penned a column about Erdogan’s “Hitler fetish,” wondering whether the Turkish prime minister had lost his marbles. Read more »

The Contest for Regional Leadership in the New Middle East

by Steven A. Cook
Free Syrian Army fighters pose on a tank, which they say was captured from the Syrian army loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, after clashes in Qasseer, near Homs (Shaam News Network/Courtesy Reuters). Free Syrian Army fighters pose on a tank, which they say was captured from the Syrian army loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, after clashes in Qasseer, near Homs (Shaam News Network/Courtesy Reuters).

The Center for a New American Security (CNAS) just published this report that I coauthored with Jacob Stokes, Bacevich fellow at  CNAS, and my research associate Alexander Brock.

“The Contest for Regional Leadership in the New Middle East” shows how, in addition to the historic political change occurring within the major states of the Middle East, there is a transformative process underway remaking the dynamics among the states of the region. The reordering of the geopolitics of the region has exposed rivalries among the contenders for leadership, as well as different ideological, economic, nationalistic and sectarian agendas. The report argues that Washington has sought to accommodate these changes in a way that continues to secure its strategic interests. What role the United States will play in a “new Middle East” is the subject of intense debate among Americans, Arabs and Turks. Nevertheless, it is clear that with all the problems regional powers have confronted trying to shape the politics of the region, American leadership will continue to be indispensable. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Investing in Egypt, Haunting 1967 Photos, and August in Turkey

by Steven A. Cook
Galatasaray fans light flares to celebrate their goal against Fenerbahce during the Turkish Super League derby soccer match between Galatasaray and Fenerbahce in Istanbul (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters). Galatasaray fans light flares to celebrate their goal against Fenerbahce during the Turkish Super League derby soccer match between Galatasaray and Fenerbahce in Istanbul (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters).

Hdeel Abdelhady says that Egypt’s new investment law is not a solution to its economic woes, but rather is a symptom of the country’s inability to conceive and implement coherent economic policies. Read more »

The Sources of Erdogan’s Conduct

by Steven A. Cook
Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (R) poses with a painting depicting him as a miner, which was given to him from his ruling AK Party supporters, during a party meeting at the parliament in Ankara (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters). Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (R) poses with a painting depicting him as a miner, which was given to him from his ruling AK Party supporters, during a party meeting at the parliament in Ankara (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters).

There is a lot that seems inexplicable about Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s recent conduct.  In the last few years, the Turkish prime minister has squandered the good will of many of his citizens and his counterparts around the world.  Erdogan once represented a kind of Turkish “third way” (as cliché as that sounds) in which political reform and compromise were combined with economic liberalism and a consciously Muslim identity, but now he is mostly  known for bluster, intimidation, and the reversal of the impressive political reforms of 2003 and 2004. The prime minister’s routine bullying of his opponents seems rather unnecessary given his mastery of the Turkish political arena. That said, the most recent head-scratching episode came a few weeks ago upon the Turkish leader’s visit to the grieving people of Soma—the site of Turkey’s worst mining disaster ever.  Erdogan, who was ostensibly there to express sympathy for the families of the 305 dead miners, ended up slapping a protester unhappy with the government’s handling of the catastrophe.  If that was not enough, the ”Great Master” as his adoring press refers to Erdogan, reportedly called the poor man, “Israeli semen” as he stole away. Astonishing, to say the least.  Recently, Michael Weiss of FP.com and Now Lebanon—a keen observer of events in Syria, Turkey, and Russia—asked whether Erdogan is a “poached egg.”  Weiss’ work is always interesting and provocative, yet behind Erdogan’s sometimes curious behavior is a brilliant politician who deftly manipulates Turkey’s past greatness and humiliations, to powerful political effect. Read more »

Closing the Channels of the Military’s Economic Influence in Turkey

by Steven A. Cook
Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (2nd R) is flanked by Ground Forces Commander and acting Chief of Staff General Necdet Ozel (C), Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz (R) and top military officials (Umit Bektas/Courtesy Reuters). Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (2nd R) is flanked by Ground Forces Commander and acting Chief of Staff General Necdet Ozel (C), Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz (R) and top military officials (Umit Bektas/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here as part of the Middle East Institute’s Middle East-Asia Project on civilianizing the state. 

Since the patterns of civil-military relations in Turkey began to change a decade ago, analysts have focused on the modalities and the durability of civilian control of the armed forces, the consequences of the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer cases on the cohesion of the armed forces, and how the transformation of the officer corps’ historic relationship with the political system has affected the capabilities of the armed forces. Observers have given significantly less attention to the military’s role in the economy. Since the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923, the military has deployed its power in this area through indirect means. First, during relatively brief periods of military rule, the officers influenced economic policy without dictating the details of policymaking. Second, the military’s pension fund invests its members’ funds in the economy. Finally, until the mid-1980s, the senior command exercised control over the military procurement process through various military foundations. Over time, however, the military’s ability to shape economic policies has changed and the officers’ role in the economy has become normalized. Read more »

Turkey: “What Next?”

by Steven A. Cook
Sun sets behind the 16th century Ottoman era Blue Mosque in the old city of Istanbul (Fatih Saribas/Courtesy Reuters). Sun sets behind the 16th century Ottoman era Blue Mosque in the old city of Istanbul (Fatih Saribas/Courtesy Reuters).

“What next?”  That is the question that virtually everyone in Turkey is asking and it has Turks on edge. It has become shorthand for a series of other questions: Will Prime Minister Erdogan declare his presidential candidacy? Probably…maybe…,but you never know. Will President Gul oppose him? Unclear. Can Erdogan remain prime minister?  Yes, but he seems to want to be president. Would Gul be willing to be prime minister if Erdogan becomes president? He says he won’t play Medvedev to Erdogan’s Putin, but that may just be a tactic.  If not Gul, then who would assume the prime ministry? Perhaps deputy prime minister Ali Babacan, but whoever it is—besides Gul—it will certainly be someone Erdogan can control or intimidate.  Can Erdogan be marginalized in the officially apolitical presidency? The prime minister is the sun around which Turkish politics revolves; he does not do “marginalized.” Read more »