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Nice-guy Obama Fails Turkey's Democracy

Author: Steven A. Cook, Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies
July 2, 2013
Christian Science Monitor


The US ambassador to Turkey, Francis Ricciardone, took a lot of criticism from Turkish activists when, after almost a month of street protests here, he affirmed Washington's support for Ankara in both good times and bad.

Given Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's efforts to blame his sudden political problems on unidentified "foreign agents," "Zionists," and even the American Enterprise Institute think tank, the ambassador's diplomatic niceties were prudent. A strong American rebuke would have handed Mr. Erdogan a gift by making the United States – not the demonstrations – the story in Turkey.

For all of Washington's diplomatic deftness during the crisis, however, the Obama administration has been far too solicitous of Erdogan and his increasingly authoritarian ways over the past five years. Its reasoning is based on the flawed assumption that being nice will ensure cooperation from this strategic ally that straddles Europe and the greater Middle East.

Such a calculus is just another example of Washington choosing realism over idealism in foreign affairs. In this case, it would be far better for the US to err on the side of idealism. Washington has missed an opportunity to encourage Erdogan, who presided over impressive political reforms early in his tenure, to continue Turkey's transition to a liberal democracy.

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