As the baseball season roars into October, we are reminded time and again that the sweet pastime is really a study of averages. While even the most reliable players can disappoint in high-pressure situations, managers keep them in play because historically, they have performed well – and there is hope that they will do so again in future contests. Turkey, historically one of the U.S.’s most reliable teammates, has been in a slump of late. We needed them when the war with Iraq began. However, on March 1 they refused to allow our troops to operate from Turkish soil. This was a low point in U.S.-Turkish relations. But a few unsuccessful trips to the plate do not a season make. And there are endless games ahead in this long season of war against global terrorism.
Turkey, a member of NATO since the early 1950s, has been one of our staunchest allies. For more than a decade, U.S. F-15 and F-16 fighters conducted operation Northern Watch from bases in Turkey. It was the first predominantly Muslim country to offer – and deliver – direct military participation in Operation Enduring Freedom. In that conflict, hundreds of troops fought alongside the U.S. and its allies and thousands of U.S. transport missions were launched from the Incirlik Air Base. In June 2002, Turkey assumed temporary command of ISAF, the United Nations stabilization force in Afghanistan.
Turkey continues to have a tremendous amount to offer as an ally, and not only because of its key strategic geography. Perhaps most importantly, Turkey serves as a demonstration to the world that democracy and prosperity in a large Muslim country are possible. Turkey’s government has instituted many positive domestic reforms, partly in order to boost its prospects for membership in the European Union. And as one of the only countries in the world that maintains excellent relations with both Israel and the Palestinians, Turkey represents a major stabilizing force in the Middle East.
U.S.-Turkish relations appear to be returning to their historic averages. Early this month, despite popular opposition, Turkey’s parliament approved a government motion that could send as many as 10,000 peacekeeping troops to Iraq to relieve exhausted U.S. forces. Wisely, Washington too has shown a willingness to move beyond any disappointment it may still feel about the Iraq war. Late last month, the U.S. and Turkey finalized an $8.5 billion loan pact to support the Turkish economy and offset costs incurred during the Iraqi War.
The U.S. relationship with Turkey has never been simple. There are occasional slumps. But on average the work that goes into fostering the relationship is well worth it. Turkey is a power in one of the most important regions in the world. More important, it is a nation that shares many of our core perspectives on international security. In particular, the Turks understand that terrorism in all its forms must be fought aggressively wherever it is found. It also has the other two essential characteristics of a 21st Century U.S. ally: capable military forces that can be deployed when and where needed.
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