Changing Paradigm in U.S. – Turkey Relations
According to Kemal Koprulu, public opinion of foreign policy issues in Turkey shifts along an oscillating wave. He cited the example of public opinion in regard to Turkey's intention to fully focus on European Union accession starting in 1998. Though there was much anti-EU sentiment surrounding the decision at that time, immediately after the EU was perceived to have shut the door on Turkey's accession prospects at its Luxembourg summit, current public opinion towards the EU is quite favorable.
Koprulu provided a brief rundown of the historical relationship between the United States and Turkey. He argued that the relationship of previous years had been built on trust and cooperation between the two governments. The bilateral relationship reached its peak in 1999, with the lengthy visit of former President Bill Clinton to Turkey. Koprulu stated that the relationship involved both countries working cooperatively, directly and indirectly, on a range of issues. Both countries would keep the other informed of their activities on common regional developments.
Many Turks perceive this is no longer the case. For instance, many believe that the U.S. and Israel are working together to establish a Kurdish state in northern Iraq, a longstanding domestic concern of enormous consequence for Turkey. Furthermore, many young pro-Western professionals in Turkey, question the U.S. commitment to the "global war on terror" while 5,000 PKK militants enjoy safe haven in Iraq's northern mountain range.
Koprulu stressed the role that civil society organizations can play in shaping informed public debate on important policy issues. He emphasized that many public opinion problems regarding anti-Americanism are due to the lack of, or misguided, information being reported to the public by the media, which furthers the negative feelings and distrust towards the U.S. Turkish citizens are especially bombarded with heated televised arguments among individuals uninformed on foreign policy and promoting misinformation to the public that in turn fuels an anxiety that the U.S. is opposed to Turkey's interests.
Koprulu added that the relationship between the U.S. and Turkey has been on the decline for some time, even before the March 2003 parliament vote denying the use of Turkish territory for the U.S. 4th Army Infantry Division to invade Iraq.
Turkish mistrust could be traced back to U.S. commitments unkept since the 1991 Persian Gulf War; insufficient support on the Cyprus issue over several decades; and the 1970's U.S. arms embargo on Turkey. These became ingrained in the mindset of the Turkish nation and laid the foundation for resurgent anti-American sentiment. Koprulu believes that another five years could pass without incident before U.S.-Turkey relations begin to mend.
Koprulu also laid a large part of the blame on the mismanagement of pre-Iraq war negotiations with the U.S. by the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In the negotiations, critical disputes were actually resolved with Washington, but that information was never presented to parliamentarians citing the disputes in voting against the use of Turkish territory for the Iraq invasion. Most of the Turkish public is unaware of this information he sourced in a recently published book called "Resolution," which describes in detail the internal politics of the March 2003 vote.
Koprulu noted that another shift in Turkey's policies may be underway. Despite professed aims to accede to, and integrate with, the European Union, Turkish foreign policy seeks to secure "strategic depth" whereby Turkey positions itself to cooperate more effectively with other countries to its east and south based on perceived common interests. This is designed to free Turkey to strengthen relationships with Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries and potentially move Turkey away from its historic Western aspirations.
Koprulu closed in stressing that the Turkish government needs to better explain to its public the nature and basis of its relationship with the U.S. He encouraged a framework for greater public debate in Turkish society, especially between officials and citizens, to provide greater and more useful information to everyday Turks.
He reiterated that civil society organizations could play a significant role in achieving this objective, especially if given greater support in both Turkey and the United States.