Authors Aslı Aydıntaşbaş and Jeremy Shapiro, in a comprehensive analysis published in US online magazine Foreign Affairs on Friday, shed light on Turkey’s post-Western identity and its implications for international relations, observing the emergence of a new era of transactional diplomacy as Turkey navigates its foreign policy under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
The authors observe that President Erdoğan envisions Turkey as a rising global power, no longer reliant on or aspiring to Western ideals.
They note a significant shift in Turkey’s foreign policy, moving away from Euro-Atlantic institutions and embracing a post-Western identity.
The relationship between the United States and Turkey has worsened since Erdoğan took power, but the authors see a cooling of mutual anger and a move towards acceptance.
They identify a trend towards transactional diplomacy, where Turkey seeks to maintain independence and navigate between great powers.
The authors highlight Turkey’s economic challenges, including its heavy reliance on Western markets and the downturn triggered by Erdoğan’s policies.
The situation in Syria is identified as a central issue between Ankara and Washington, with conflicting interests and alliances.
They acknowledge Erdoğan’s lack of interest in political reforms and human rights, but also his pragmatism in high-profile cases when pushed by the West.
The authors recommend a more transactional approach to diplomacy, focusing on hard-nosed bargains that work for both sides without demands for permanent fealty.
They suggest stabilising the economic relationship with Turkey by expanding trade, engaging with Turkish business organisations, and encouraging the European Union to upgrade its trade deal with Turkey.
The authors call for dialogue between the United States and Turkey on Syria, including increased aid for refugees, encouraging Syrian Kurds to integrate into the Syrian state, and supporting a constitutional arrangement within Syria.
They recommend private, clear, and hard-bargaining conversations with Erdoğan’s inner circle on human rights, with a focus on specific cases and potential concessions.
The authors encourage continued support for Turkish citizens who desire democracy, through cultural exchanges, economic integration, and engagement with various Turkish institutions.
Finally, they advocate for creating a more realistic relationship with Turkey, one based on mutually beneficial transactions, recognising Turkey as a prototype of a middle power in the age of geopolitical competition.
The authors identify Syria as the fundamental issue in U.S.-Turkey relations and broadly propose that the U.S. take the lead in crafting a formula for regional autonomy for Syrian Kurds within a future Syrian state. They argue that Turkey would have to accept this autonomy if it includes guarantees against PKK influence within the Kurdish-led administration. The proposal also suggests that such a deal, led by Washington, could lead to the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria and the reconstruction of northern Syria, with significant investment going to Turkish contractors. In return, Turkey would need to support a deal between Kurdish leaders and the regime in Damascus, facilitate trade and transportation within Syria, and accept any eventual constitutional arrangement agreed upon by Syrians.
However, the authors’ approach to the complex issue of regional autonomy for Syrian Kurds, using a lens of transactional diplomacy, may be seen in different ways. They suggest that Turkey would accept regional autonomy for Syrian Kurds under specific conditions, a viewpoint that may not fully consider Turkey’s longstanding conflict with the Kurds and the PKK. Additionally, the authors’ emphasis on economic gains, such as Turkish contractors receiving investment for reconstruction, represents a transactional approach. Some argue that this approach prioritises short-term benefits over long-term stability and human rights. This perspective has been a subject of debate in Turkey for decades, with various outcomes. As Adem Uzun argues, “Same policy can’t bring different results. The world has tested anti-human ‘transactionalism’ in Turkey for decades,” with the result being the “end of Turkish democracy, war in Kurdistan, a regime newly empowered to run foreign and domestic policy on blackmail.”