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How Do You Say "Frenemy" in Turkish?

Author: Steven A. Cook, Hasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies
June 1, 2010
Foreign Policy

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Recently, my colleague and good friend, Charles Kupchan, published a book called How Enemies Become Friends. In it, he argues that diplomatic engagement is decisive in transforming relations between adversaries. It is an interesting read, and the book has received some terrific reviews. Charlie might want to follow up with a new book called How Friends Become Frenemies. He can use the United States and Turkey as his primary case study.

It is hard to admit, but after six decades of strategic cooperation, Turkey and the United States are becoming strategic competitors--especially in the Middle East. This is the logical result of profound shifts in Turkish foreign and domestic politics and changes in the international system.

This reality has been driven home by Turkey's angry response to Israel's interdiction of the Istanbul-organized flotilla of ships that tried Monday to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza. After Israel's attempts to halt the vessels resulted in the deaths of at least nine activists, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu referred to Israel's actions as "murder conducted by a state." The Turkish government also spearheaded efforts at the U.N. Security Council to issue a harsh rebuke of Israel.

Monday's events might prove a wake-up call for the U.S. foreign-policy establishment. Among the small group of Turkey watchers inside the Beltway, nostalgia rules the day. U.S. officialdom yearns to return to a brief moment in history when Washington and Ankara's security interests were aligned, due to the shared threat posed by the Soviet Union. Returning to the halcyon days of the U.S.-Turkish relationship, however, is increasingly untenable.

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