Tuesday August 6, 2019
Here we go again, another phase of witch-hunting over “Who lost _____(fill in the blanks) country.” It was once who lost China in 1949, then Cuba in 1959, then Iran in 1979, and others. The latest iteration is now “Who lost Turkey?”
This question classically pops up whenever a country we thought was firmly locked into the “American camp” suddenly turns against us. Washington policy makers indeed seem to believe that, among rational nations, strategic allegiance with the US is in the natural order of things. Any defection from such an alliance is not supposed to happen, and if it ever does, “who is to blame?” How could Turkey, long a “trusted US and NATO ally,” ever develop good working ties with Russia, work in tandem with Iran, or engage with China’s new Eurasian vision?
Ankara’s actions actually make a good bit more sense if we take a broader perspective as to what Turkey has been all about over the last two or three decades.
In simplest terms, over time Turkey has increasingly struck out on its own path in full exercise of its sovereignty. During the Cold War, Turkey was deemed a “loyal” if prickly NATO ally. For Turkey the preeminent geopolitical fact was that it bordered on the Soviet Union; Russia after all had engaged in centuries of confrontation and war with the Turkish Ottoman Empire. But with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 new independent states—Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan— sprung up in this former Soviet space—right along Turkey’s eastern borders. Turkey suddenly no longer even bordered on Russia any more—a huge geopolitical shift.