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The Situation in the Middle East: A Turkish Model of A Different Sort?

My colleague at the Naval War College, professor John Schindler, comments on the situation: "Several decades of U.S. policies towards the Middle East are unraveling in real-time, before our eyes." Tunisia's government fell; Egypt's is possibly toppling; and others (like Jordan and Yemen) are attempting to head-off trouble at the pass. Add to the mix developments in Iraq and Lebanon in the past month, where anti-American movements are now part and parcel of the governing mix, and it becomes a lot harder for the U.S. to sustain what have been the pillars of its Middle East policy for the last thirty years. Even if pro-U.S. governments survive, they will be modified in some way to take into account "pressure from below", making it much harder for them to accommodate U.S. requests when it comes to coming to terms with Israel, isolating Hamas or containing Iran.

Many commentators are worrying about the potential rise of virulently anti-American Islamist regimes. But what about what might be termed "the Turkish variant?" As I have noted, "Even if the Jordan's IAF, Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood or Tunisia's En-Nahda moves more in the moderate direction trailblazed by Turkey's Justice and Development Party (AKP)--Ghannouchi explicitly cites the AKP as his model for Tunisia--that will be of significant concern to Washington, given how Turkey in recent years has backed away from its formerly close relations with Israel and has been open to reaching an accommodation with Iran."

For years, Washington held out Turkey as a model for an Islamic society embracing democracy and economic reform. But the U.S.-Turkish relationship has become more complicated in recent years as the AKP government has moved away from reflexive support of U.S. positions in the Middle East towards a more nuanced apporach, beginning with disagreements over Iraq. The government of Recep Erodgan maintains its ties to Israel, but, following Ahmet Davtoglu's "zero problems with neighbors" policy also has started a dialogue with Syria, has reached out to Iran, and supported an easing of the blockade against Hamas.

A post-Mubarak government in Egypt does not necessarily mean that the Muslim Brotherhood takes over, but two other likely variants are not reassuring either for U.S. planners. One is that the Brotherhood, as part of a national unity government, gains effective veto power over national policy a la Hezbollah in Lebanon or Sadr in Iraq. The other is that a post-Mubarak Egypt evolves along the path trailblazed by the AKP--a government not particularly hostile to the United States and not itching to go to war with Israel--but also less committed to following Washington's line when it comes to Middle East policy.

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