Is Turkey trying to regain a leadership role?

Given my leanings toward Byzantine and Serbian history, I don’t have much love for Turkey. Not to mention the ethnic cleansing of 1.5 million Armenian Christians in WWI. As most students of history know, Turkey tried to pursue a middle ground between secular liberalism and Islamic fundamentalism. The result wasn’t a golden mean but an uncomfortable combination of both–the worst of both worlds. It wanted the apparent benefits of modern liberalism: advanced societies, medical and technological breakthroughs, and a formiddable army. It also wanted the glory of the Ottoman days, something at odds with Imperial Liberalism.

In any case, I suspect Turkey’s identity crisis is nearing an end. She sits upon the most important trade route in the world. Half a dozen of the world’s most important oil pipelines pass through her borders. She is a member of NATO, though I suspect that relationship will prove…interesting in the near future.

Turkey is trying to fill a gap in the Islamic world. Per Huntingdon, Islam is the only civilization that doesn’t have a core state. Turkey wants this leadership role, but for the past 50 years it couldn’t achieve it. Muslims are usually divided with each other and in the absence of a common enemy (be it USA or Israel), there’s more infighting than at a Baptist deacons’ meeting.

Fastfoward to the Israeli raids on Gaza flotilla. All Muslim and Arab countries are condemning, which isn’t saying much. Turkey and Syria are actually threatening war. I suspect that if Turkey can fight a reasonably successful war against Israel, even if only bringing it to a standstill, she can begin to reclaim her glory days.

Unfortunately for Turkey, without American military support, her army isn’t that formiddable.

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4 comments on “Is Turkey trying to regain a leadership role?

  1. Drew says:

    I agree with you about the Turkish identity crisis, but I think you underestimate their strength. Turkey is one of only three NATO members that has maintained a modern military since the end of the Cold War, and it has the second largest standing military in NATO after the U.S. Furthermore, much of its efforts during the modernization process have been in the direction of self-sufficiency (in a purely military sense). So, Turkey’s military – with or without American support – is quite formidable indeed. They are a very important ally, albeit indirectly: they promote stability (although not always using means we would approve), and therefore help to prevent certain conflicts from escalating to the extent that our involvement would be required. Their recent deal with Iran was a perfect example…I say we let them take it from here. It simultaneously took the teeth out of our rhetoric and sent a message to the Israelis (who are still, despite appearances, their strong allies) that their “assistance” was not needed. Vis-a-vis the “core state,” I think four countries are currently in the running for that role in the Islamic world: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Pakistan. Any thoughts?

  2. Paradoxicon says:

    I agree with you about the Turkish identity crisis, but I think you underestimate their strength. Turkey is one of only three NATO members that has maintained a modern military since the end of the Cold War, and it has the second largest standing military in NATO after the U.S. Furthermore, much of its efforts during the modernization process have been in the direction of self-sufficiency (in a purely military sense). So, Turkey's military – with or without American support – is quite formidable indeed. They are a very important ally, albeit indirectly: they promote stability (although not always using means we would approve), and therefore help to prevent certain conflicts from escalating to the extent that our involvement would be required. Their recent deal with Iran was a perfect example…I say we let them take it from here. It simultaneously took the teeth out of our rhetoric and sent a message to the Israelis (who are still, despite appearances, their strong allies) that their "assistance" was not needed. Vis-a-vis the "core state," I think four countries are currently in the running for that role in the Islamic world: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Pakistan. Any thoughts?

  3. Good comments. I really don’t know what to make of Turkey’s military. I suppose they are quite formidable and probably a lot more capable than their Arab counterparts (possible exception of Syria, which has received significant scientific and military upgrades from Russia).As to the core state: all of those states were recommend by Huntingdon as core states. All have the potential for leadership (Egypt to a lesser degree), but all have significant limitations (but these limitations aren’t absolute and can be overcome):Egypt: If this were the 1950s/1960s, I would agree and say that Egypt was the core state. They were blessed with the exceptional leadership of Nasser. But I think their days have waned.Saudi Arabia is definitely the cultural/religious capital, but I wonder if take away their American support (and American markets), how strong would they be? Pakistan has a large population, fairly capable military, and many nuclear weapons. It’s Islamic credentials aren’t in doubt, either. It could be a core state in the future, but several things mitigate against this: 1) it’s on the edge of the Muslim world–Indonesia excepted; 2) it faces many internal divisions/warring tribes. If NATO screws up even more in central Asia, or India/China ever put military pressure on Pakistan, it wouldn’t take much for the entire country to unravel.The best bet is probably Turkey. Turkey needs to convince the Middle East that it isn’t simply America’s lackey and that it will support Arabs over Zionists when push comes to shove. I don’t think Turkey will ever reclaim its Ottoman status, but it certainly could be more powerful.

  4. Good comments. I really don't know what to make of Turkey's military. I suppose they are quite formidable and probably a lot more capable than their Arab counterparts (possible exception of Syria, which has received significant scientific and military upgrades from Russia).As to the core state: all of those states were recommend by Huntingdon as core states. All have the potential for leadership (Egypt to a lesser degree), but all have significant limitations (but these limitations aren't absolute and can be overcome):Egypt: If this were the 1950s/1960s, I would agree and say that Egypt was the core state. They were blessed with the exceptional leadership of Nasser. But I think their days have waned.Saudi Arabia is definitely the cultural/religious capital, but I wonder if take away their American support (and American markets), how strong would they be? Pakistan has a large population, fairly capable military, and many nuclear weapons. It's Islamic credentials aren't in doubt, either. It could be a core state in the future, but several things mitigate against this: 1) it's on the edge of the Muslim world–Indonesia excepted; 2) it faces many internal divisions/warring tribes. If NATO screws up even more in central Asia, or India/China ever put military pressure on Pakistan, it wouldn't take much for the entire country to unravel.The best bet is probably Turkey. Turkey needs to convince the Middle East that it isn't simply America's lackey and that it will support Arabs over Zionists when push comes to shove. I don't think Turkey will ever reclaim its Ottoman status, but it certainly could be more powerful.

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