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There are signs that Turkey, which has long straddled East and West, may be acceding to its Ottoman past and Arab neighbors.
In the five years since negotiations over Turkey's accession to the EU began, Ankara has fulfilled only one of the necessary 35 "chapters," or steps to membership of the 27-member bloc.
It is not all Turkey's fault that the process has been so slow: Strong resistance from member states within the EU has regularly stalled the process and, within Turkey itself, left many feeling like the unpopular neighbor who will never get invited to the party.
In a recent opinion piece in Lebanon's Daily Star newspaper, Dominique Moisi, a visiting professor at Harvard University in Massachusetts, played the blame game, throwing culpability eastward, westward and somewhere in between in an attempt to answer the question “Who lost Turkey?”
“The EU's growing reservations about Turkey's membership have been expressed unambiguously by French President Nicolas Sarkozy," Moisi argued.
He continued: "In the U.S., former President George W. Bush gets some of the blame because of the war in Iraq,” adding that Israel shared responsibility for Turkey's alienation as a result of the Lebanon war of 2006 and its recent military operations in Gaza.
That’s not to say that Turkey’s secular, pro-Western elites don’t still consider the EU and the U.S. vital allies — they do. (Many of the same people still consider Islamic fundamentalist Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran as potential threats.) Yet they are also left with the feeling of having been used, picked up by the West at times of strategic importance and diplomatically dumped soon after.
Turks, too, have demonstrated their waning desire to join the EU. According to a 2008 study commissioned by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, titled “Transatlantic Trends,” the percentage of Turks who think Turkey’s membership in the European Union would be “a good thing” steadily declined between 2004 and 2008 — from 73 percent to 40 percent. European respondents to the study also were more favorable toward Turkey’s EU accession in 2004 (36 percent) than they were in 2007 (23 percent).
The danger in “losing Turkey” is that doing so could push the inheritors of the Ottoman Empire back onto an Asian, Muslim and Middle Eastern historical trajectory. At a time when dialogue with the Islamic world is one of the West’s key challenges, it seems important to ask the costs of losing such a key translator.
Cagaptay, of the Washington Institute, pointed to a growing realization within the U.S. of the need to nurture the Western elements of the Turkish identity — a point driven home by the recent visits to Turkey by President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“Turkey is moving away, yes, and it’s causing a series of responses. For the U.S. the response is: We need to engage Turkey with a big bear hug and a little Western squeeze,” Cagaptay said.
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