In many respects, Turkey today is an exemplar of the Middle East as a whole -- a nation divided by geography, religious loyalties and politics.
It is moderate in many ways, going back to the secular program of Ataturk; yet as Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s recent program for Islamization would suggest, it is also extreme.
It wants to reside in the 21st century, but continually looks into the rear-view mirror at the former Ottoman Empire. It is pro-West and anti-West, once supportive of the United States but now at odds. It was an economic miracle, the darling of Wall Street for a decade, but is riddled with debt. At any given moment, almost anything one says about Turkey could be true.
President Obama was once fond of calling Erdogan his closest ally on the foreign stage, but the friendship has not stood the test of time. Although still a member of NATO and geographically a bridge between Europe and Asia, the current Turkish leadership is tilting away from the United States.
The unwillingness of the United States to assist the rebels in Syria was a disappointment to Erdogan, but even more crucial in undermining the relationship has been the Obama administration’s recent rapprochement with Iran.
U.S. negotiations with Iran over the enrichment of uranium have led to the justifiable fear that the United States will countenance an Iranian bomb. The belief gaining traction throughout the region is that a Shia Crescent, the imperial Persian dream, may ultimately be realized with complicit American action.
So profound is this sentiment that tectonic alternations are underway in Turkey and throughout the Middle East.
Saudi Arabia has made it clear that it does not want a seat in the U.N. Security Council as long as negotiations with Iran continue. Saudi Prince Bandar, a longstanding ally of the United States, has turned against American foreign policy with outspoken vengeance. He has even suggested the U.S. nuclear umbrella is unreliable and has prompted discussion with Pakistan over the acquisition of nuclear weapons should Iran be given a green light for further enrichment of uranium.
It is not coincidental that Turkish foreign policy positions follow a Saudi script, since capital from Riyadh underwrites much of the faltering Turkish economy. Should Saudi Arabia obtain nuclear weapons, Turkey will be waiting its turn with open arms.
Egypt too, once firmly registered in alliance with the U.S., is now turning to Saudi Arabia for aid and may even look to Russia for military assistance if the U.S. continues to withhold the Apache aircraft it promised in the past.