President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey has just won another term as chief executive.
However, opposition to his autocratic ways is growing, and he was forced into a runoff election.
Significant strains continue to characterize relations between Turkey and the United States.
These include Turkey’s refusal so far to allow Sweden to join NATO.
There is no denying the importance of the two nations. The U.S. possesses the largest and most productive economy in the world, along with the most substantial and objectively powerful military.
Turkey remains a bulwark against Islamic extremism and traditionally a reliable ally of the U.S., both within and well beyond NATO. Turkish culture emphasizes effectiveness in war, and the national history in that realm is impressive and undeniable.
Mr. Erdoğan is autocratic and has expanded presidential executive power. Yet he has done this through constitutional reforms, not arbitrarily. Elections are held, though freedom of expression has been curtailed.
In 2016, he demonstrated personal courage in thwarting an attempted military coup. Contemporary social media permitted him effectively to spur resistance to the takeover.
Turkey’s continuing significance for the U.S. and the wider international community is a result of central objective facts, undeniable whatever one’s editorial opinions.
In contrast to some other Middle Eastern nations, Turkey has been fundamentally modernizing the economy. This includes expanding trade and investment, reaching significantly into Central Asia as well as Europe.
Additionally, Turkey has been able to maintain reasonably good cooperative relations at the working level in Europe and the U.S.
Economic development reinforces security relationships and influence.
NATO ties remain important. The Turkish military is the second largest in NATO, after the United States. Turkey was a major combatant in the Korean War. In Afghanistan, the nation was a leader. Turkey oversees vital sea and land routes, including the Bosporus Strait.
Finally, Turkey represents a marriage of firmly rooted Islamic religious and cultural traditions with Western government and economy. This draws on the nation’s Ottoman heritage of combining religious and secular dimensions. Terrorist groups have not gained support and Islamic extremism remains weak.
In “Lords of the Horizon – A History of the Ottoman Empire,” Jason Goodwin notes that he is writing “about a people who do not exist. The word ‘Ottoman’ does not describe a place. Nobody nowadays speaks their language… (Yet( for six hundred years the Ottoman empire swelled and declined.” (1998 edition, p. xiii).
From the 13th century to the empire’s precipitous decline in the 19th century, the Ottoman territory — which crested at the Danube in Europe — was built on military success reinforced by secular executive practices, but not investment and trade.
While the Industrial Revolution initially passed Turkey by, that has changed significantly. Over the last decades of the 20th century, the economy became a powerhouse. Economic growth and investment became strong, both corruption and inflation were greatly reduced, and government red tape and bottlenecks were steadily opened.
Much of the credit belongs to reform Prime Minister and President Turgut Özal, who held office from 1983 to 1993. His relationship with President George H.W. Bush was particularly important during the 1990-91 Gulf War.
In 2015, Turkey hosted the influential G20. The nation must be a component of effective U.S. regional leadership.
U.S. influence in the Middle East peaked under President George H.W. Bush, with successful liberation of Kuwait from Iraq occupation and related diplomacy. Turkey was vital to that success.
Arthur I. Cyr is author of “After the Cold War – American Foreign Policy, Europe and Asia” (NYU Press and Palgrave/Macmillan). He is also the director of the Clausen Center at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisc., and a Clausen Distinguished Professor. He welcomes questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.