Event Summary: Turkish Foreign Policy 5 Years after the July 15 Coup Attempt
On Thursday, July 15, 2021, The SETA Foundation at Washington, DC hosted a virtual panel of experts to discuss ‘Turkish Foreign Policy 5 Years after the July 15 Coup Attempt.’ The discussion featured Michael Reynolds, director of Princeton University’s Program in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies. The panel was moderated by Kadir Ustun, Executive Director at SETA DC.
At the outset of the discussion, Reynolds made it clear that framing the 2016 coup attempt within the broader context of American involvement in coups around the world is inaccurate. There is a history in the Middle East of indigeous coups in which the US played no role. Further, when thinking about pre-1991 events in the Middle East, it is important to understand the context of the Cold War. At the time, the US was not the only country trying to influence events in the region. A lot of modern, indigenous coups in the Middle East are anti-Western in nature. This tradition must not be overlooked, and turning immediately to US involvement gives the US far too much credit. The Middle East is an extremely complicated region, and the idea that the US is skilled at manipulating actors in the Middle East is a myth believed by many inside and outside of Turkey. Additionally, one of the key moments in 2016 was the knowledge among the Turkish population that they have had this pattern of coups, they will not tolerate it anymore, and are willing to put their lives on the line. Reynolds explained that he has spoken to people across the political spectrum in Turkey who emphasized how disturbing they found the events of July 15, 2016 and the shock they felt.
Turkey’s aspiration to run an independent foreign policy is something that goes to the heart of the Turkish Republic. It is the underlying mission of the Turkish Republic to create a state that can achieve total sovereignty and independence for the Turkish people. In the medium term, both the US and Turkey have cooperated in Syria and both their policies have blown up in their faces. But, the US did not have to deal with this because of its geographic location. Turkey is still facing two problems: the Syrian refugee crisis and the presence of the YPG on its border. The failure of cooperation inside Syria forced Turkey to look for other actors to work with. In addition, Reynolds highlighted the fact that the clumsy and slow American response to the coup attempt compared to the Russian response suggests that Turkey may not be able to rely on the US as much as it once thought. Both Turkey and the Biden administration understand that they need each other on a range of issues; it is to the benefit of both sides to cooperate.