Turkey’s Emergence as a Regional Leader

Judah Grunstein has a good piece in World Politics Review arguing that Turkey, rather than Iran, comes out as the biggest winner from the Iraq war debacle.  However it is the degree to which Ankara comes into conflict with Moscow over regional issues in the Black Sea that bears more careful study.

Ankara’s opposition to the war, and the Bush administration’s obstinacy in pursuing it, in some ways prepared the way for Turkey’s rebalancing of its foreign policy approach from a Western-focused alignment to a Turkey-centric strategic hub. And the power vacuum created by the fall of Saddam Hussein, though initially as destabilizing as Ankara had feared and warned, subsequently helped create the space for Turkey to assume the regional role it aspired to.

Butin contrast to Iran, it has done so on the basis of an economic boomunfettered by mistrust, isolation and, most importantly, internationalsanctions. And it has done so while embodying a model of democraticgovernance that is infinitely more palatable to its  internationalpartners, both existing and potential, beyond the region — andultimately more threatening to the authoritarian autocracies within theregion than that of Iran.

An interesting parallel, by the way,would be Brazil — an emerging middle power often associated with Turkey– in the context of Latin America. For all sorts of structural andhistorical reasons, Brazil was already poised to be the region’sdominant power. But the fact that its historical rival, Argentina,suffered a catastrophic financial meltdown leading to a lost decadehelped remove a potential barrier to those aspirations. The ways inwhich Japan’s lost decade helped clear some room for South Korea’semergence as a global economic contender probably fits in here, too.