You know that something strange is happening when the usual crew of neocon critics takes out after Turkey — yes, Turkey! — a country that, as Inter Press Service’s Jim Lobe points out, they long cultivated and supported as a key ally and supposedly model democracy in the Islamic world. Of course, that was then. Now, Turkey’s involvement in a nuclear deal with Tehran and its prime minister’s outrage over the Israeli attack on a convoy bringing aid to Gaza that resulted in the deaths of nine Turks has soured them considerably on the country. In fact, the strength of the Turkish reaction — essentially a breach with Israel, once a close ally — sent the Obama administration scrambling awkwardly for a way to mollify the Turks without condemning the Israeli attack.
And don’t think it’s just the usual suspects on the right blaming Turkey either. The Washington Post editorial page denounced its government for “grotesque demagoguery toward Israel that ought to be unacceptable for a member of NATO,” while the Christian Science Monitor typically declared it “over the top,” raised the specter of “anti-Semitism,” and swore that its leaders now ran “the risk of further undermining Turkey’s credibility and goal of being a regional problem solver.” In a news story, the New York Times offered a classic statement of the problem from Washington’s perspective: “Turkey is seen increasingly in Washington as ‘running around the region doing things that are at cross-purposes to what the big powers in the region want,’ said Steven A. Cook, a scholar with the Council on Foreign Relations. The question being asked, he said, is ‘How do we keep the Turks in their lane?’”
And which lane might that be, one wonders? It looks ever more like the passing lane on the main highway through the Middle East. Talk about a country whose importance has crept up on us. It’s a country that, as John Feffer, co-director of the invaluable Foreign Policy in Focus website and TomDispatch regular, indicates, has been in that passing lane for some time now (whatever Washington may think), whether in its relations with Iran, Russia, or Iraq, among other countries. And what surprising relations they turn out to be. If one thing is clear, it’s that, as American power wanes, the global stage is indeed being cleared for new kinds of politics and new combinations of every sort. The future holds surprises and, as Feffer makes clear, it will be surprising indeed if Turkey isn’t one of them.