This article analyses Turkish foreign policy towards the USA in 2009. After putting the Turkish-US relations into historical and political context it focuses on a set of developments that affected bilateral relations in 2009. It argues that Turkish-American relations in 2009 were shaped and influenced more by “third party” problems and issues, than by bilateral ones. The set of such issues were categorized and examined under three levels- bilateral, global and regional. The year 2009 could be seen as a positively exceptional span of time for Turkish foreign policy, because of Turkey’s high level of cooperation with the USA. The term developed to describe this new era, model partnership, could be defined as extensive and intensive collaboration between Turkey and the USA to set up a new regional order in the countries and regions around Turkey. Thus, during 2009, Turkey and the USA actively cooperated for the resolution of crises pertaining to Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Armenia, and the Arab- Israeli conflict.

Key Words

Turkish foreign policy, American foreign policy, Turkey-USA relations in 2009, Model Partnership, regional order in Eurasia.


Turkish-American relations in general terms have always been shaped under the influence of two factors. The first is the set of structural and institutional factors, which can be regarded as the fundamental dynamic of the bilateral relations. It includes those enduring elements that helped the continuity of the relationship, despite all kinds of current or periodical challenges. Most important of those elements are the following: Turkey’s membership in, and position within, the military-political structure of NATO; her relations with global economic and financial institutions, the IMF and the World Bank; her diplomatic and political role stemming from UN membership; and finally, the U.S. sphere of influence policy in the regions around Turkey. All these can be seen as the bases of continuity in Turkish-American relations for more than sixty years, which ensure the maintenance and resilience of good relations in spite of crises and problems that emerge from time to time. However, the structural and institutional dimension is frequently tested by new developments and crises time and again, but revised and maintained continuously.

The second set of factors to influence Turkey’s foreign policy towards the US is those national and international conjectural/periodical developments which closely relate to, and influence, Turkish-American relations. Thus, changing conjunctures from the 1940s up until now have caused an overlap of interests and policies of the two countries sometimes, and conflicts and alienation at other times. As a result, Turkey’s foreign policy towards the US has shown different patterns in different periods.

In historical perspective, Turkey’s policy toward the US was at the highest level in three periods, which can also be described as the golden ages of Turkish- American relations: the Menderes period of the 1950s, the Özal period of the 1980s and the Gül-Erdoğan period since 2007. In those periods Turkey’s policy towards the US was intensive and extensive. It can be argued that the above- mentioned periods played a leading role in the formation of Turkey’s perception of the US in general. Turkey’s definition and perception of the US as an ‘ally’, a
‘friend,’ and even a ‘savior’ resulted from its experience in those periods. Bilateral and multilateral cooperation between the two countries grew in those periods, too. They co-acted to form an order in the regions extending from the Middle East to Europe up to Korea. In those golden ages, a strong sympathy towards the US, i.e. pro-Americanism, developed at the social and bureaucratic segments of Turkey.

At other times outside the golden ages, Turkish-American relations witnessed serious problems, and even deep crises, from time to time. But two of these crises were especially critical because of their potential risks to destroy relations between the two countries. The first was the turmoil in the 1960-1970 period due to the Cyprus problem, which resulted in the notorious Johnson Letter in 1964, and unfortunate US military embargo against Turkey in 1975. The second period covered the time frame from 1 March 2003, when Turkey’s Grand National Assembly (TGNA) refused to cooperate with the US on the invasion of Iraq, to 5 November 2007, when Prime Minister Erdoğan and President Bush met in the Oval Office to conclude an intelligence cooperation agreement against the PKK. In those years, a wide range of tensions and alienation erupted in Turkish-American relations. Turkey’s approach to the US became negative, especially at the social level; some people even came to the point as to consider the US a big threat for Turkey. In contrast to the golden ages, anti-Americanism was on the rise in that period.

It can be inferred from the above analysis that Turkey’s policy toward the USA was shaped more by the situations in third countries or regions which were related to the interests of both countries than by the issues directly related to bilateral relations. In other words, Turkey’s foreign policy toward the US and Turkish-American relations was rather heavily influenced by the periodic developments in third countries or other regions. As an overall principle, it can be argued that in those cases where both countries have common perceptions of interests about third countries and regions, Turkey’s foreign policy toward the US has been ‘good’; on the contrary, in those cases where interests of both countries conflicted or deeply differed the relationship has been ‘negative’ or ‘in crisis.’

Thus, when analyzing Turkey’s policy towards the US, unlike her policy towards most of other countries, one should take into account not only bilateral issues but also those situations and problems which concerned both countries’ interests at the same time. Such situations may emanate not only from those developments at local, regional and global levels, but also from ‘domestic’ political issues of both countries. Consequently, Turkey’s policy towards the US closely influences its foreign policy in general terms and its attitude toward other countries and regions. In other words, Turkey’s foreign policy understanding and its policies toward other countries and international system is a derivative of Turkey-US relations. This is mainly because of the aforementioned structural and institutional factors.

From this perspective, we can analyze Turkey’s foreign policy towards the US or Turkish-American relations in 2009 under three sections: firstly the general mood or atmosphere of Turkey- US relations; secondly, developments in bilateral relations; thirdly, approaches and practices by Turkey and the US toward third countries or other regions