When President Obama told Fareed Zakaria in a January Time magazine interview that he counts Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey as one of a handful of world leaders with whom he shares a “friendship and bonds of trust,” it set off a curious buzz of surprise around the world.
Curious because, for close observers of the relationship between the United States and Turkey, it is hardly news that our prime minister would be mentioned in the same company as his counterparts from the United Kingdom, Germany, India and South Korea; it is hardly news that Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton consult with one another frequently, particularly with regard to Iran, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, and that 141 members of Congress (and counting) currently belong to the Congressional Turkey Caucus.
Indeed, a warm relationship between American and Turkish leaders seems almost inevitable and altogether necessary given the fast-moving and, in some cases, watershed developments we have seen around the world in recent years ― such as the growing demands across the Arab nations for rights and freedoms, the global financial crisis and the war on terror, to name the most obvious. The reality is that the U.S.-Turkish relationship is much broader, deeper and mutually beneficial than it was even a decade ago, let alone 60 years ago when Turkey formally joined the U.S. and others in the NATO alliance. And the “bonds of trust” that Obama described are stronger than ever.
Among the people in the Arab Spring nations, for example, Erdogan is considered one of the most respected global leaders, and he is using his prestige to encourage those societies to adopt a model of democratic, pluralistic and secular government that is committed to the rule of law. As a neighbor with historical ties to Iran, Turkey has been able to sustain a dialogue that the United States counts on and that, we believe, will keep the region safe from both the proliferation of nuclear weapons and war. Turkey's agreement last year to station an early warning radar under the NATO Missile Defense System was testament to our commitment to NATO and the indivisibility of our mutual security and defense.
We’re also playing a critical role in efforts to unify and stabilize Iraq, politically and economically, particularly since the withdrawal of U.S. and coalition forces. And in Afghanistan, Turkey has worked shoulder to shoulder with the United States and other NATO partners through our rotating command of International Security Assistance Force and our extensive projects that bring health and educational infrastructure to the millions of Afghan people.
Turkey and the United States stand side by side as allies in NATO, working to ensure that our transatlantic alliance continues to be as robust as possible.
Beyond these strategic aspects of the U.S.-Turkish relationship, so, too, have the economic dimensions expanded. That has been especially true in the last several years as Turkey's young and dynamic population of more than 70 million people has made it now the 16th largest economy in the world and sixth in Europe. Even at a time of global economic downturn, Turkey’s economy grew by 9 percent in 2010 and 8.5 percent in 2011. With this growth rate, Turkey once again stood out as the fastest growing economy in Europe. In 2010, Turkey created as many new jobs (1.5 million) as European Union nations lost.
Obama and Erdogan, by virtue of the “Framework for Strategic Economic and Commercial Cooperation,” have initiated a mechanism for leaders of both governments to get together regularly to discuss and implement ways to build momentum for greater bilateral trade, which serves both our economies.
In light of all these areas of cooperation, it should not be difficult to understand why anti-Turkey measures, which are periodically introduced in Congress, present a threat not only to the strategic partnership between the two countries but also to the goal of peace and stability in the Middle East, Africa, the Balkans, the Caucasus, Afghanistan and beyond.
As two democracies, the U.S. and Turkey share many values. We also share many common challenges. While Europe is faced with a huge economic crisis and the Middle East is in turmoil, Turkey and the U.S. are standing, as time-tested friends, partners and allies not only to tackle the myriad risks and threats posed by our era, but also to build a better, brighter future for both our great nations. At a time of such great uncertainty and upheaval, those very “bonds of friendship and trust” give us all hope and optimism for the future.