Turkey’s split with US should be good news for Arabs
Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states will feel the loss when Turkey stops allowing the United States to support Syrian opposition groups from within its territory but otherwise Ankara can be expected to seek closer ties with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Gulf Arab states.
The key lessons for top diplomats of the region to take from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s August 9th meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin is that, following the failure of the attempted military coup in Turkey in July, Erdogan has initiated a major and accelerated diplomatic reorientation with far-reaching consequences.
Most of all, Erdogan at the meeting with Putin showed that the Turkish president is seeking to mend fences with a wide array of countries and leaders he has quarrelled with in recent years in anticipation of a widening estrangement from the United States.
Even while the attempted coup was in progress, US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry were loud in their public support for Erdogan’s democratically elected government and for Turkey’s constitutional process.
However, the Turkish government has since publicly blamed the United States for being involved with the military coup plotters and this view is undoubtedly widely held among the general public and by top government policymakers in Ankara.
There are serious doubts about how long Turkey will remain in NATO and how long it will continue to allow the United States to use the crucial Incirlik airbase close to the Mediterranean coast in south-central Turkey.
Incirlik has proven vital for US air operations against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria and Iraq and in support of Kurdish and other opposition groups fighting the regime of President Bashar Assad in Syria.
Even before the attempted coup, Erdogan was showing signs of renewed disenchantment with the European Union. His support for reintroducing the death penalty for treason in Turkey since the coup was crushed and his firing of tens of thousands of teachers throughout the Turkish educational system strongly indicate that he is not going to bother courting European goodwill anymore.
He appears to have given up hope of Turkey being welcomed into the European Union as a full member.
Erdogan knows that individual European governments, especially Germany and Italy, will still seek lucrative trade deals and excellent bilateral relations with Ankara.
However, his clear estrangement with Washington and concern over not letting Turkey become strategically and diplomatically isolated mean that he will focus on rapidly expanding his excellent relations with major Arab countries.
Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states in particular have a great deal to gain from making larger deals with Turkey’s ministries, with agriculture at the top of the list. The Turkish economy remains the biggest and strongest anywhere between Europe and Russia on one side and India on the other.
And in a time of worsening diplomatic ties with Washington and increasingly strained ones with the European Commission in Brussels, Ankara is certain to want to compensate by returning to its “neo-Ottoman” policy of expanding its influence and exports throughout the Arab world while seeking to attract more Arab investment.
Expanded Turkish investment in Central Asia, especially in energy-rich Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, can also be anticipated. Far from seeking to discourage this development, Moscow is likely to welcome it as an alternative to more US and European involvement.
Erdogan can also be expected to energetically court China and do his best to cooperate with Beijing’s efforts to expand its New Silk Road web of road, rail and air communications across Eurasia. Russia and Turkey are also reviving their cooperation to complete the Turkish Stream gas pipeline.
The Turkish government’s reaction to the failed coup will likely shake the entire world but major Arab nations look to benefit widely from it.