Last week a diplomatic crisis came to a head as the Turkish government revoked the credentials of the American ambassador. Most observers have attributed the spat to the deterioration of once-friendly relations between the two countries as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has moved his country in an undemocratic, pro-Islamist, and anti-Western direction. Yet Steven A. Cook argues that the friction ultimately stems from the fundamental divergence of American and Turkish interests as, with the end of the cold war, the two countries lost the shared antagonism to the Soviet Union that had long held them together:
Given the changing international dynamics, the U.S. relationship with any plausible Turkish ruling party would likely be frayed at this point. If Turkey’s main opposition party, the Republican People’s party (CHP), were in power, there would still be considerable tension. . . . For example, the CHP leadership has taken a pro-Bashar al-Assad stance in Syria and is as strongly opposed to Kurdish nationalism as Erdogan’s Justice and Development party, if not more so. And to varying degrees, all political parties in Turkey have tended to flirt with Iran over the years.
This is a reality that often dumbfounds American officials, who tend to work with a set of outdated ideas about Turkey. . . . The American foreign-policy community is slowly learning that much of what it believed about Turkey turned out not to be the case. The country’s leaders—including the military command—are neither democrats nor pro-Western. In fact, they are deeply suspicious of the West, especially the United States. . . .
Most importantly, Turkey’s leaders do not share the interests of the United States. . . . From an American perspective, Turkey’s periodic warming of its ties with Iran has weakened efforts to contain Tehran’s nuclear development, while Ankara is also guilty of enabling extremists in Syria and supporting . . . Hamas.
These tensions pre-date Erdogan. . . . [Now] Turkey, a NATO ally, works with Russia—whose leaders are intent on weakening the Western alliance—in Syria while the United States fights Islamic State with Syrian Kurdish forces whom the Turks believe (rightly) to be part and parcel of a terrorist organization that has waged war against Ankara since 1984. . . . The very fact that it has become relatively easy for each country to work with the other’s adversary suggests that the strain in U.S.-Turkey ties is less about Erdogan’s worldview or former President Barack Obama’s retrenchment than about the way international politics is ordered a quarter-century after the cold war.