Fuller: Turkey Smarter than US on the Subject of Syria and Iran

Ali H. ASLAN, Washington
Zaman: 18.01.2006

One of the leading experts on the Islamic World in the United States Graham Fuller, preparing a new book titled "Future of Turkey in the Middle East", shared his assessments with Zaman about Turkish-American relations in the axis of Iraq, Iran, and Syria.

Fuller thinks it is very positive for Turkey not to support to the US on the subjects that they consider do them wrong, but should rather follow an "independent" policy. With this, he says, Turkey is heard and followed more in the region; it becomes a door open to the West and a door to change in the area.

To the contrary of Washington's "isolation policy", Fuller thinks the "engagement" strategy Ankara adapted with Syria and Iran is a smarter move. He defends neo-cons in America in the process of "self-destruction" since they run the "democratization of Iraq" project with the goals of "hegemonic" and "neo-imperial". Thus he criticizes the Washington administration more. In the post-Iraq war period, Fuller left the US capital and has built a new life for himself in British Columbia, Canada. A one time US Central Intelligence Agency expert, Fuller; however, still has ties with Washington and the Middle East. He answered Zaman's questions as follows:

Turkey has a policy of engagement with Syria. Washington has policy of isolation. Which is right?
-Turkey's policy is definitely the most correct policy. There are two areas Turkey's independence from Washington has been valuable. One has been in Iraq. Turkish involvement in Iraq would have led to very big problems for Turkey ( TR). It would have identified TR with the questions of occupation and anger from Sunnis and others. TR has now avoided that problem. And Turkey can play a significant role in Iraq after the US leaves. But it was wise not to become part of the American mistake.

Syria is definitely a country ready for some kind of change for opening for improvement of its relations; for becoming more moderate. And I think TR can play a very important role in this process. I do not believe that Washington's policy of isolation is a wise one. Not with Iran or with Syria. Iran would be the number three area in which TR's policies are different than Wash. And TR's policies are wiser and more correct in dealing with the realities of Iran. I am hoping that Syria now is now very attracted to Turkey; it wants to be part of the TR experiment. I can see TR is becoming a source of magnet, in a way that Iraqi Kurdistan also might be, which would want to be closely associated with Turkey. It would have open ed the door to Europe, to more Westernized policies to change without falling under American hegemony. Here is where AK Party's saying no to the American war really impressed the Arab world. Because they saw that it is possible to be a friend of a modern European union and still say no to policies of America that are not wise. Turkey can help keep the door open to Western influence in Syria.

Where does divergence come from on Iran?
Amazingly America is still enjoying in the luxury of refusing to talk with Iran 25 years after the Iranian revolution. Of course there are problems with Iran and Iran is a difficult country in many ways. But American policies have only worsened the problem with Iran and made it much more controversial. TR does not want that confrontation; it does not want American military adventure in Iran to try to change government which would be a disastrous failure. TR believes that continue to deal with Iran and open Iran up to the area will in the long run be the best way of dealing with this country. The degree to which TR can act independently of American policy, I don't mean anti-American I just mean acting independent policy, the greater respect it enjoys throughout the Middle East because it is seen as an independent actor, not just a tool of American policy.

People listen to this kind of TR much more than they listen to the old pro-American allied Turkey.

Has Iran increased its domination in the region after US invasion of Iraq?
Yes, definitely. I think Iran is the number one foreign power in Iraq. This doesn’t mean that they are going to dominate Iraq or that they will run Iraq. I think Iran’s power in Iraq is short term. In other words, right now with this chaos and with Iraqi Shiite looking to establish their new power in country Iran is an important source of support. But in the longer run, Shiite Arabs are Arabs, an d they are proud of being Arab, they have their own national interest. Of course many of them will have good ties with Iran but I think they will not allow Iran to dictate its policies.

Did this invasion help Israel?
Yes, because it removed one of the most outspoken anti-Israeli forces in the Middle East, and secondly it's weakened the unity of a state that was united by force under Saddam and in a position to represent a strong military opposition to Israeli military power. That's now gone. Iraq is no longer a military challenge or military opponent of Israeli military power.

So what were the advantages of this war for the US? What did the US gain with this war?
The neoconservative architects of the policy had several very clear goals in mind. They wanted to establish a pro-American state in the middle of the Arab world that would be a base for the projection of American power al l around the region. So that America could then begin to change other regimes in the area hostile to it such as in Syria in Iran or other countries. That it would provide major military bases to the US that US would have a major voice in the Iraqi oil production and sales that Iraq would open up diplomatic relations with Israel and would sell directly oil to Israel through a new pipeline. That Iraq would become the balancing force in oil production in the Gulf to keep the price balanced. This is the role that Saudi Arabia used to play but now Washington hopes that Iraq would play that role. And that Iraq would serve as an instrument of American influence through the region would help the neocon goal of American hegemonic power in the entire Middle East. As we can see almost none of these goals has been achieved. The only goals that have been achieved are the overthrow of Saddam and the Opening of the door to the possibility of an Iraq that will slowly develop a more democratic system over a long period.

Are neocons still powerful in Washington?
Neocons have been greatly weakened by the Iraq disaster. Washington is now divided between two groups. One is neoconservatives who are more ideological, who have a long term view of this problem and who genuinely believe democratization in the area in the long run will be very positive for Americans and even for the area. I happen to agree with them on this issue. But the problem is democratization goal has been linked with neoemperial goal; a hegemonic goal. And this has weakened the idea of democracy. The other groups in Washington are political. They are concerned with elections and the short term. They want to get out of Iraq as quickly as possible because they see this is an unpopular war in US. And maybe will cost the republican party the next congressional elections or the next presidential elections. Those concerns with domestic politics will be the stronger force in the next few years.

US-TR relations were strained during the Iraqi war discussion. Many people in Washington are not happy with AK Party government. And many people in Turkey especially secularist circles such as the military bureaucracy are not very happy. Can there be a convergence of interests on these two parties? How likely do you see any antidemocratic action on the part of Turkey's secularists would be welcome in Washington?

The group in Washington that is most unhappy with Turkey is a group that wants to see Turkey respond to American needs and interest in the area. That is their major goal. Turkey there will be a reliable friend what Washington would like. Washington misunderstands the independent mindedness of Turkey and of most groups in Turkey. If AK party would leave power does this mean that suddenly the next part in power will embrace Washington and will do what Washington wants? I think most people in Turkey and in the world believe that US polices in Iraq have been a disaster. Yes, Saddam is gone and that's very positive. But it has been quite disastrous in terms of creating radicalism especially Islamic radicalism and Jihadism in the area. So I don't think most Turks want to be the loyal followers of the American policies in the area. If the policies are wrong Turkey should say so and work independently. Maybe work with Europe. If it believes that US policies are wise and positive then it should support those policies and work with them. But most Washington prefers that TR support American interests as fully as possible. Turkey needs to decide each one of these issues very carefully and independently.

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