The blossoming of relations between Turkey and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) traces its roots back to the United States-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, which laid the ground for Turkey’s growing involvement in the Gulf. However, Turkish-GCC dialogue has recently transformed into a Turkish-Qatari partnership, concretized largely through a military agreement signed by both nations in December 2014, which paved the way in December 2015 for a second agreement on the establishment of a Turkish military base in Qatar. This article investigates the course of this new relationship between Turkey and Qatar with reference to discussions held in the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA). It also explores possible implications for relations between Turkey and the United States, with a specific focus on United States Congressional hearings from 2014 to 2016.
Turkey’s interest in the Gulf has grown dramatically in the aftermath of the United States-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. While Turkey’s interactions in this region had previously taken place in the economic sphere, Turkey’s interest gained political momentum under the specter of the potential war against Iraq. When the possibility of an intervention by a coalition against the forces of Saddam Hussein appeared on the horizon in 2002, Turkey’s common goal with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) of making every effort to find a solution without going to war brought both sides together. Additionally, shared concerns of both Turkey and the GCC about the rise in sectarian violence in Iraq and its impact on the whole region in the wake of the war in 2003 left each of these nations searching for a strategic partner in the region to deal with the vacuum created in Iraq and the unexpected consequences of the war. This also made room for both to take on more active roles in the region, to the point that Turkey and the GCC signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in September 2, 2008. This deal was critical, since in this MOU, the GCC named Turkey as its first strategic partner outside the Gulf. Here, one might argue that the security challenges which emerged after the invasion of Iraq paved the way for a greater level of security cooperation for Turkey and the GCC, both believing that relying solely upon United States security guarantees would be problematic. In that sense, the 2008 MOU between Turkey and the GCC was an unprecedented collaboration that motivated scholars and specialists in the region to reconsider Gulf security and create further study and analysis of Turkey-GCC cooperation.
Although Turkish-Qatari relations had already begun to warm, Turkey’s interest in the Gulf gained a more concrete dimension with the Turkish-Qatari agreement in December 2015, in which both countries’ leaders agreed on the establishment of a Turkish military base in Qatar. Turkey had previously established a military base in Cyprus, a legacy of the Cold War years. Thus, the military base in Qatar is intended to be Turkey’s new permanent military base, a fact that reveals a significant change in Turkish foreign policy. This article will investigate the course of the Turkish-Qatari rapprochement with respect to the political position adopted by the Justice and Development Party in Turkey (JDP), on the recent turmoil in the Middle East and the related discussions held in the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA), and will further explore possible implications for Turkish-American relations, with a special focus on discussion of Turkey and Qatar in United States Congressional Hearings.
FROM TURKEY-GCC STRATEGIC DIALOGUE TO TURKEY-QATARI PARTNERSHIP
Beginning in 2003, cooperation with the GCC started becoming an important component of Turkish foreign policy due to the US-led invasion of Iraq. In addition to economic, trade and investment relations, this cooperation contained a wide range of political measures such as ensuring territorial integrity of Iraq, containing the Iranian nuclear program, as well as limiting Shi’a influence in Syria and Lebanon, while attempting to find a peaceful solution to the Palestinian issue. The political vacuum created in Iraq in the aftermath of the US-led invasion and the shaken credibility of the United States in the eyes of Turkish and GCC leaders was the most important factor behind this strategic dialogue. Yet it is worth noting that these security concerns stemmed not only from the Iraq war but also from the Islamist background of the JDP, the political party that has held power in Turkey since 2002, and which was instrumental in engineering this dialogue.
Beginning with the first years of the JDP, Turkey’s foreign relations were overseen by then Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, largely seen as the architect of Turkish foreign policy until his resignation as Prime Minister in April 2016. Davutoglu promoted the belief that the Republic of Turkey, under the pretext of “Westernization,” had neglected the remnants of its Ottoman legacy—such as the Islamic heritage coming from the caliphate and relations with the Muslim world—for many decades. Over the years, this neglect had dragged Turkey into a humbled position as a state unable to shape world history. Nevertheless, from Davutoglu’s perspective, with the rise of the JDP to power, Turkey’s foreign policy had entered a period of restoration that sought to consolidate peace and stability around Turkey through a proactive foreign policy. This restoration required Turkey to re-establish its links with the Muslim world, to take action before any potential crisis, to play a part to mitigate these crises, and thus to become a leading regional power. For Davutoglu, Turkey had a role as “order setter” in the Turkish hinterland, where the most important bond among peoples was Islam. Stirring rhetoric based on the “strategic depth” doctrine of Davutoglu manifested itself in Turkey’s increasing initiatives toward the regional Middle East. In light of this, Turkey-GCC cooperation seems also to be a direct consequence of the rise of the new Turkish elites, who put more emphasis on Turkey’s reconciliation with the Muslim world than on perceived political power. While Turkey’s increasing interest in the Middle East was an important factor in the new understanding between Turkey and the GCC, the very same factors began to create rifts over certain specific issues.
The first rift between Turkey and the GCC emerged around the issue of the Iranian nuclear program. Turkey has always supported negotiations and even initiated talks with Iran over its nuclear capability. In return, the GCC, under the leadership of Saudi Arabia, remained reluctant and suspicious about such a deal for historical reasons. After this, Turkey’s rising interest in regional dynamics continued to sour Turkey-GCC relations, if not creating outright crisis. While Baghdad’s discontent on Turkey-Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) oil deals laid the ground for the GCC’s uneasiness about Turkey’s material breach of Iraqi sovereignty, Turkey’s newfound assertive attitude vis-à-vis Israel, particularly after the Davos crisis in 2009 and the Mavi Marmara flotilla incident in 2010, raised even more question marks around the Gulf about Turkish intentions in the region, despite Turkey’s rising popularity in the eyes of the peoples of the Gulf nations.
A more remarkable rift, however, emerged around the issue of the Arab uprisings that created a new wave of violence in the Middle East and inevitably resulted in an authority gap both within Egypt and throughout the region. Under these new circumstances, Turkish decision makers were quick to side with the peoples of the Middle East, evaluating the aforementioned uprisings as indicators of the peoples’ will for greater democracy. Turkish leaders went even further, taking sides in the conflicts, a fact that revealed a critical divergence between Turkey and the GCC. As an example of this dynamic, Turkey-GCC relations were undermined when JDP leaders demonstrated a concrete interest in and preference for the Muslim Brotherhood as a faction that could replace existing regimes in the region. A clear disagreement between Turkey and the GCC emerged during the coup in Egypt in 2013, when Turkey harshly condemned the coup, while the GCC under the leadership of Saudi Arabia preferred to support the coup and immediately recognized the new leadership that toppled Mohamed Morsi, who was supported by the Muslim Brotherhood.
Here one might argue that the Turkey-GCC cooperation which was initiated in 2003 had suffered a blow and evolved into a Turkey-Qatar partnership over the course of the Arab uprisings, which triggered internal divisions and rivalries within the GCC. But even before the outbreak of the uprisings, Qatar, a GCC member, had already started to deviate from other GCC members, adopting a “hyperactive” diplomacy, according to Qatar-based political scientist Mehran Kamrava. For instance, differing from the Saudi stance, Qatar followed a mitigating approach toward Iran, refraining from criticizing its Shi’a influence and emphasizing that Qatar was keen to develop strong diplomatic relations with Iran. Yet, the most remarkable example of deviation from a standard GCC position came to light when Qatar became known as “the Arab Spring’s most vocal champion” right from the outset of the Arab uprisings, as indicated by writer and political scientist Larbi Sadiki In effect, Doha differed from the rest of the GCC with its strong support of the Arab uprisings and of the Islamist political forces that might replace existing regimes. In particular, the Qatari backing of the anti-Gaddafi forces in Libya and the forces of Mohamed Morsi in Egypt created the impression of Qatar as the voice of people revolting against the authoritarianism. The rifts between Qatar and the GCC became very public in March 2014, when three members of the GCC, Saudi Arabia, the United-Arab Emirates, and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Doha and accused Qatar of interfering in their internal affairs and jeopardizing regional security by maintaining strong ties with the Muslim Brotherhood. Although the tension lessened in subsequent months with the return of these nations’ ambassadors to Doha, the crisis was a critical revelation of deep skirmishes between Qatar and the GCC. Through these diplomatic moves, Qatar had begun signaling that it had its own independent foreign policy and that it was able to reposition itself in the face of the political and social unrest engulfing the Middle East. In that sense, Turkey and Qatar have followed similar policies vis-à-vis the uprisings, assuming a leading role respectively in the creation of an area of influence and in the promotion of change in the region.
Despite this extensive background, however, it remains mostly the Syrian civil war which has facilitated a greater alliance between Turkey and Qatar. Although Turkey and the GCC agreed in principle to call upon the international community to put an immediate end to the bloodshed and generate a political transition process in Syria, as mentioned in the joint statement of Turkey and the GCC Ministerial Meeting in 2012, Turkish foreign policy aligned mostly with Qatari foreign policy over this process. From the beginning of the crisis, Turkey has advocated the overthrow of Bashar Assad with the help of an international coalition and the creation of a no-fly zone in Northern Syria to deal with the refugee problem. Neither demand was met by Turkey’s Western allies, who inevitably left Turkey face-to-face with three million refugees. Here, it should be noted that Turkey’s strict position vis-à-vis the Assad regime is based on clear causes such as the humanitarian catastrophe in the wake of the use of chemical weapons by Assad against his people. But the reluctance of the West to take action against this crisis left Turkey in a position where it was unable to control regional dynamics. Moreover, the rise of the Islamic State (IS) as an important actor in the region has complicated the issue. While the primary objective of the international community has become to deal with IS since then, Turkey differed by perceiving the regime of Assad and the PYD—the PKK’s offshoot in Syria—to be as dangerous as IS.
Facing the humanitarian crisis of millions of Syrian refugees, Turkey found its solution in supporting the Syrian opposition, hosting the Syrian National Council (SNC) in Turkish territory and providing material assistance to moderate Sunni armed groups in Syria in their struggle against Assad. This sectarian deviation of Turkey, which initially derived from pragmatic causes, became problematic when it combined the Islamist aspirations of the JDP with its insistence on Assad’s removal and support for moderate Sunni groups in Syria. Turkey gradually found itself engaged in supporting Sunni movements in the region in general, and the Sunni opposition in Syria in particular. Turkey differed in this approach from the GCC, which preferred to stay in line with the United States and make the struggle against IS its priority. Once the difference between priorities of Turkey and the GCC became visible, Doha emerged as a potential partner for Ankara. Once Doha became headquarters of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, which succeeded the SNC in Turkey, Qatar became, in effect, the second shelter of the Syrian opposition. Since 2012, a surprising degree of alignment emerged between Turkey and Qatar, since the latter holds strong ties with the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood as well. Due to Western reluctance to intervene in Syria, and Russian support of the Assad regime, JDP leaders have attempted to compensate for their mistrust and disappointment with initiatives launched in collaboration with Qatar.
TURKEY’S MILITARY BASE IN QATAR AND DOMESTIC DISCUSSIONS
The most remarkable sign of this newborn alliance between Turkey and Qatar occurred in December of 2014 first, and then in December 2015, when the two nations agreed on the establishment of a Turkish military base in Qatar. With this deal, Turkey and Qatar are expected to exchange operational training experiences, and cooperate in the defense industry, while the military base is expected to accommodate approximately 3000 Turkish soldiers, who will assist in training the Qatari army and participate in joint military exercises. The decision to open a military base in Qatar might be accepted as a milestone for Turkey, which had refrained from intervening in regional conflicts and held itself at a distance from conflicting sides for decades. Indeed, outside of Turkey’s borders, it had held only a single military base, in Cyprus, for decades. The base in Cyprus is still accepted by both Turkish politicians and Turkish public opinion as a national cause inherited from the 1960s and 1970s. However, in light of this, the fact of Turkey establishing new military bases, including the recent one agreed upon with Qatar, reveals an important change in Turkish foreign policy. Although Turkey’s distant position vis-à-vis regional conflicts faced significant challenges, first from the Gulf War in 1991 and then by the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, Turkey’s decision to open a military base on the Arabian peninsula signals Turkey’s gradually growing involvement in the Middle East and therefore foreshadows another critical challenge for Turkey in the near future.
The alignment of Turkey and Qatar was a controversial issue occupying the Turkish parliamentarian agenda, even before the 2015 deal. An analysis of TGNA sessions reveals that the political opposition in Turkey representing different segments of the political spectrum shares the same concern when it comes to Turkey’s recently-increased engagement in the Middle East, especially with the outbreak of the Arab uprisings. In particular, the Turkish position on the Syrian civil war is heavily criticized by the members of the Republican People’s Party (RPP), the Nationalist Movement Party (NMP) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). According to the opposition, the JDP is more highly attuned to the perspective of Qatar, advocating providing support to Syrian opposition, including factions such as Al-Qaida, against the Assad regime. This stance, opponents claim, inevitably undermines Turkey’s image in the eyes of the world. For all these reasons, according to these opposing parties, the Turkey-Qatar rapprochement has become quite controversial.
In a similar vein, Turkey’s military agreement with Qatar in late 2014 to establish a military base creates an important point of criticism leveled against the Turkish government. The political opposition accuses the JDP of dragging Turkey towards joining the Sunni camp in the Middle East. According to the opposition, this deprives Turkey of its strength, since it was specifically Turkey’s neutrality and equidistance that made it a respected and valued country in the region, offering it the power of mediation. In the Turkish Grand National Assembly, RPP parliamentarians have asked the government many times whether this new cooperation is specifically aimed against Iran and its Shi’a influence. They also ask why Turkey would be against Iran, even though Turkey has no specific conflict with that state. Furthermore, the main opposition party, the RPP, has questioned the purpose of posting Turkish armed forces to Qatar, asking whether the main function of Turkish soldiers will be to struggle against IS or to support the Syrian opposition. Likewise, NMP parliamentarians have focused largely on Turkey’s choice of Qatar as its main ally in the region and have urged the JDP to choose its allies carefully and follow a realist foreign policy. For instance, the NMP has pointed out that Qatar did not accept refugees into its territories, leaving Turkey alone with three million Syrians. In that sense, the NMP has criticized the JDP for the blindness of this double standard. The NMP has also criticized the JDP for adopting an inconsistent policy on human rights, charging that if Turkey places a priority on protecting human rights in the Middle East through the overthrow of authoritarian regimes, Qatar, which is another authoritarian regime, is not necessarily a suitable ally. Similar criticisms have been voiced so often in different sessions that the PDP, the pro-Kurdish Party, has entered a motion of censure on several occasions for the initiation of an investigation process regarding JDP’s foreign policy in the Middle East.
Turkey’s political opposition criticizes not only the strategic mistakes of the JDP made in the name of “Sunni ideology,” but also the way in which the alliance with Qatar was launched. As seen in the TGNA’s sessions, the opposition has criticized the speed of the process, leading parliamentarians to ask whether the JDP could possibly have had a hidden agenda. In addition to this, the RPP revealed the fact that Hakan Fidan, chief of the Turkish Intelligence Organization, accompanied the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim, during his visit to Turkey in December 2014, suggesting that this type of collaboration would not normally be a part of normal procedure for a diplomatic visit.
While these are the main points of criticism, the JDP’s responses have emphasized the need for Turkey to adapt to changing circumstances within the Middle East. According to the ruling party, Turkey is in an increasingly chaotic region, obligating it to take defensive measures. The recent strategic alliance with Qatar represents part of these defensive measures which could contribute to stability in the region, and it is neither related to the training and supporting of the Syrian opposition nor to the hidden agenda alleged by the opposition. In addition, as noted by key members of the JDP, Turkey’s new partnership with Qatar is also a consequence of Turkey’s rapidly-developing defense industry, since Turkey has begun to sell large numbers of drones to Qatar, and there exist major opportunities for defense industry cooperation between two countries alongside a rising trade volume. Likewise, ideological concerns of the political opposition concerning the “Sunni tilt” of the Turkish-Qatari rapprochement seem to be weakened since Turkey is not the sole state which will have a military base in the Arabian Peninsula. Indeed, Qatar is already home to Al-Udeid airbase, which, with 10,000 personnel, serves as the biggest hub for United States Central Command (CENTCOM) operations in the Middle East, while the United Arab Emirates is home to a French military base, and Bahrain to a British base. Also, as noted by Minister of Defense Ismet Yilmaz , Turkey is keen to reduce tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and supports all efforts in this direction. In this sense, Turkey is not looking for a “Sunni alliance” in the Middle East but is rather seeking sectarian “balance”.
These parliamentary debates have become a recurring theme in Turkish political life, becoming even more highly inflamed when Turkey became the target of serial terrorist attacks in 2015 and 2016. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s statement in July 2016 on the possibility of offering Turkish citizenship to Syrian refugees further catalyzed the existing tension between the government and the political opposition. RPP parliamentarians submitted a motion to initiate a parliamentary investigation, arguing that the government has turned a blind eye to jihadist groups originating from Syria. In a parliamentary session held in the aftermath of consecutive terrorist attacks in Turkey, including one at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul in June 2016, the political opposition even argued that the Turkish government was using Syrian refugees to further their political interests in domestic politics as well as in foreign policy. In this session, held on July 12, 2016, the JDP justified Turkey’s position by citing a balance of security and humanitarian concerns, and emphasized that the government is waging an effective struggle against non-state actors emanating from Syria, enumerating in the session all of the concrete measures which had been taken by the government towards this purpose.
Although there was no specific reference to the Turkey-Qatar partnership in the aforementioned parliamentary session, it nonetheless continues to be an important source of concern for the political opposition, who argue that it bears a Sunni tilt. In this sense, the recent partnership between two countries differs from the Turkey-GCC strategic dialogue which was launched in 2008. In effect, the MOU signed between Turkey and the GCC in 2008 was appreciated, if not embraced in its entirety, by the political opposition since it was perceived as a necessary measure to ensure Turkey’s interests in the wake of the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. It is possible to state that, while Turkey-GCC rapprochement was evaluated mostly as a strategically necessary step by different political ideologies within in Turkey, the newer Turkey-Qatar partnership is seen instead as an ideologically-oriented step. This claim centers primarily on the JDP’s official stance over the course of the Arab uprisings and Syrian civil war.
PROSPECTS FOR TURKISH-AMERICAN RELATIONS
Qatar is home of the largest United States military base in the Gulf region and therefore has served as a critical launch pad for US CENTCOM military operations since the beginning of the 2000s. The signing of a 10-year defense cooperation agreement between the United States and Qatar in 2013 further deepened their alliance, while Turkey, holding the second-largest army in NATO and Incirlik airbase, has been a crucial ally for the United States since the outset of the Cold War. The United States considers both Turkey and Qatar to be strong partners in the Middle East and continues to foster these existing partnerships with new efforts of cooperation in the areas of security and defense.
Given this background, it is possible to argue that Turkey’s intensifying partnership with Qatar and in particular its planned military base there should be welcomed by the United States. In fact, Turkish initiatives toward the Gulf States have been long appreciated and even perceived as indispensable by the United States for building regional stability and security, since Turkey and the Gulf states are each strong partners for American initiatives in the Middle East. In that sense, the United States might actually welcome Turkey’s planned military base in Qatar. It should be noted, however, that the absence of reaction, positive or negative, does not imply full American support for this partnership. While the recent Turkey-Qatar military agreement has not been specifically discussed yet by related committees within the U.S. Congress as of this writing, previous discussions of Qatar and Turkey in sessions of Congress might hold up a mirror to the type of impact this partnership might have on Turkish-American relations in the near future.
Since the beginning of 2014 and the rise of IS along with increasing violence in the Syrian civil war, Turkey and Qatar have often been singled out for discussion in various Congressional hearings. Since then, Turkish and Qatari contributions to security and stability in the Middle East have been frequently analyzed and deeply interrogated. In these hearings, Turkey and Qatar are often identified as actors following similar patterns, receiving similar criticism from members of Congress as well as from experts who are called to testify.
The specific point of criticism leveled against both Turkey and Qatar in U.S. Congress committee hearings relates to the struggle against terrorism. On September 9, 2014, in a joint hearing before the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa and the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Non-proliferation and Trade of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, a hearing entitled, “Hamas Benefactors: A Network of Terror,” Turkey and Qatar were identified as the main supporters of Hamas. Hamas is recognized as a terrorist organization by the United States, while Turkey and Qatar refuse to recognize it as such. According to congressional hearing participants, Hamas spends millions of dollars, 70 percent of which are rumored to be provided by these two countries, not on the welfare of the Palestinian people, but “on tunnels for terrorizing Israeli communities,” making Hamas a terrorist organization. In this respect, Turkish and Qatari material and ideological support to Hamas is seen as feeding the “Sunni supremacism” in the region.
It is significant that over the course of this hearing, Turkey was referred to as a “frenemy” by Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies since, despite its NATO membership, Turkey is thought to be a haven for many Hamas leaders. Likewise, Qatar is a key ally of the United States. Nevertheless, Qatar differs from U.S. policies in its huge amount of financial support to Hamas. According to some experts testifying before the commission, Turkish and Qatari policies vis-à-vis Hamas should be aligned with those of the U.S. through a number of measures, including pressuring these two nations to freeze Hamas assets and expel key Hamas figures, putting a hold on U.S. military sales to these countries, conducting hearings and demanding intelligence assessments of both countries and if necessary, moving the Al-Udeid airbase out of Qatar. It is not a coincidence that within just three months of this hearing, a group of members of Congress sent a letter to the Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen, calling on the Treasury Department to sanction all individuals, institutions, and companies, including the Turkish and Qatari governments, “who clearly violate U.S. laws by assisting Hamas and its proxies,” and to take the necessary measures against them.
Concerns of the United States regarding the Turkish and Qatari positions on the struggle against terrorism are not limited to Hamas but also concern IS, as well. Turkey and Qatar are recognized as key American allies in the fight against IS, as indicated in the December 2, 2014 and April 29, 2015 joint hearings before the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Non-Proliferation and Trade and the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa. Nevertheless, the same hearings brought to light diverse sources of uneasiness. It is striking that Turkey and Qatar were both defined by U.S. Representative Ted Poe, chair of the subcommittee on Terrorism, Non-proliferation and Trade, as well as by Representative Paul Cook as “reluctant partners,” who prefer to act late or insufficiently in the fight against IS. Members of both the Republican and Democratic Parties have criticized Turkey for serving as the “commonly-used route” by terrorists, providing a frontier open to oil smuggling by IS fighters, as well as for focusing on fighting Assad’s forces along with Syrian Kurdish forces such as the PYD instead of IS. Turkey is also seen as an actor which shows a considerable degree of hesitancy in this fight, which led representative David Cicilline to comment in December 2014 that “It’s pretty clear that they have not been an enthusiastic, wonderful, reliable partner in this effort,” Likewise, similar observations and concerns regarding Turkey’s role persisted in the hearings dated November 17, 2015 and February 10, 2016. Poe and David Andrew Weinberg, also of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, mentioned , for instance, that the government of Qatar has remained silent toward a number of Qatari donors who contribute financially to terrorism; country-wide regulations and prosecutions concerning terrorism remain fragile and even insufficient. Likewise, Representative William Keating indicated during those hearings that Turkey functions as a hub of trade for the Islamic State and that Turkey’s priority in the region is not the fight against IS. Members of Congress went even further, emphasizing that the United States will not turn a blind eye to Qatar’s actions solely because they host a U.S. military base. In this respect, it seems that the Turkish and Qatari positions vis-à-vis the recent turmoil in the Middle East have provoked fierce discussions, with members of the U.S. Congress interrogating the behavior of their “allies.”
As U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry mentioned in the his opening statement of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in September 2014, the U.S. priority in the Middle East is on the defeat of IS. The United States encourages local forces in this fight and sees the necessity of using not only military means but also other instruments such as democracy promotion and the establishment of transparent political institutions to deal with this global threat. In this respect, as indicated in many official statements, the United States acts within the framework of universal values, in tandem with a global coalition. Within this framework, Turkey, a NATO ally, and Qatar, a non-NATO ally, constitute two important members of this coalition. Yet there are deep concerns that are revealed in congressional hearings relating to these two countries. The fact that since the outbreak of the Syrian war, Turkey has been perceived as a Sunni player in tandem with Qatar, is a fundamental shift in the U.S. conception of Turkish foreign policy, where decades ago Turkey was seen as an actor refraining from intervening in regional affairs and pursuing a policy of equidistance toward different actors. More recently, Turkey has been heralded as a rising power in the Middle East since it was successful in launching initiatives and dialogues toward diverse regional actors. Now it is striking that Turkey is seen as attempting to forge a sectarian alliance in the region. In this respect, it appears that the current rulers of Turkey have failed to rationally explain the reasons behind their actions to their American counterparts and that there is a growing sense of distrust between Turkey and the United States. Although the Turkish-Qatari partnership in the Gulf has not been discussed as of this written in a U.S. Congressional hearing, the partnership is another potential new challenge for Turkish-American relations in the near future, since it might be seen by U.S. officials as a strong sign of growing Sunni strength in the region.
Turkish foreign policy has long fluctuated between the ideological stance of the new Turkish elites, in power since 2002, and realpolitik. With the Syrian civil war, ideology has begun to carry greater weight. In that regard, the new alliance between Turkey and Qatar might be seen as a consequence of this shift of priority in Turkish foreign policy.
The transformation of a generalized Turkey-GCC strategic dialogue to a more specific Turkey-Qatar partnership creates more risks than opportunities for Turkey. Turkey has already found itself increasingly isolated in the Middle East. The Turkish-Qatari military deal carries the risk of adding to this isolation due to its perceived “Sunni tilt,” unless Turkey manages to meticulously balance its foreign policy through compensation in its relations with other nations. Particularly starting from the beginning of 2016, Turkey began seeking to improve its relations with a number of regional states, in order to break this isolation. Moves in this direction have included developing relations with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, attempting to normalize diplomatic relations with Israel in the wake of Davutoglu’s leaving the office of Prime Minster in April 2016, and, more recently, efforts to restore relations with Russia, to which Turkey had been vehemently opposed in the aftermath of its downing of a Russian warplane in November 2015. It seems that Turkish decision makers, although they deny such claims, have taken note of negative implications of this regional isolation, and ironically, are attempting to balance Turkish foreign policy, which has been criticized for being ideologically rooted, with some more realist steps. Whether Turkish leaders will ultimately succeed in striking a balance between ideology and realpolitik remains to be seen.
In the meantime, it is difficult to foresee any short-term directly negative repercussions of the Turkish-Qatari rapprochement for Turkish-U.S. relations. The Republican Trump administration will certainly take a cautious position vis-à-vis this new military partnership, no doubt continuing to emphasize that Turkey and Qatar are indispensable partners for the United States and that Turkey’s new permanent military foothold in Qatar might add to the security of the region. Nonetheless, these official statements will likely fail to prevent rising concerns and criticism on the part of Congress towards the shared Turkish-Qatari political vision in the Middle East. In effect, the growing Sunni tilt in Turkish foreign policy throws into question the future of Turkish-U.S. relations. Nevertheless, it is also true that, while Turkey has attracted criticism from Congress for its mixed track record concerning the recent turmoil in the Middle East, Turkey has limited independence as a regional player. In that regard, both Turkey and the United States need each other in order to guarantee one another’s security. The stability of Turkish-U.S. relations lies in both nations’ mutual understanding of this reality.
* Nur Çetinoğlu Harunoğlu is a member of the Faculty of Political Science at Marmara University. She holds her BA degree from Galatasaray University and MA degree from Université Libre de Bruxelles. She completed her PhD dissertation on Turkish-American Relations in 2014, at Marmara University, Istanbul.
 Mariam Al Hakeem, “GCC names Turkey first strategic partner outside the Gulf”, Gulf News, (September 3, 2008), http://gulfnews.com/news/uae/general/gcc-names-turkey-first-strategic-partner-outside-the-gulf-1.129631
 See for instance, Bulent Aras, “Turkey and the GCC: An Emerging Relationship”, Middle East Policy, Vol.12, No.4 (Winter 2005), pp.89-97; Robert Olson, “Turkey’s Relations with the Gulf Cooperation Council from 2003 to 2007: New Paradigms?”, Mediterranean Quarterly, Vol.19, No.3 (2008), pp.68-87; Lenore Martin, “Turkey and Gulf Cooperation Council Security”, Turkish Studies, Vol.10, No.1 (March 2009), pp.75-93; Nur Cetinoglu, “11 Eylül 2001 Sonrası Türkiye- Körfez İşbirliği Konseyi (KİK) İlişkileri” [Turkey-GCC Relations in the aftermath of 11 September 2001], Akademik Orta Dogu, Vol.4, No.1, (September 2009), pp.143-171; Sean Foley, “Turkey and the Gulf states in the Twenty-First Century”, Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA), Vol.14, No.3 (September 2010), pp.29-37; Stephen Larrabee, “Turkey and the Gulf Cooperation Council”, Turkish Studies, Vol.12, No.4 (December 2011), pp.689-698.
 Siret Hursoy, “Turkey’s Foreign Policy and Economic Interests in the Gulf”, Turkish Studies, Vol.14, No.3, (2013), pp.509-516.
 An Address by H.E.Ahmet Davutoglu, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey, “Perspectives on Turkish Foreign Policy”, The Brookings Institution, Washington D.C., November 29, 2010, pp.10-11. http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/events/2010/11/29-turkey/20101129_turkey.pdf
 Ahmet Davutoglu, Teoriden Pratige Turk Dis Politikası uzerine konusmalar [From Theory to Practice, Statements on Turkish Foreign Policy], (Istanbul: Kure Yayinlari, 2013), pp.373-374.
 Ahmet Davutoglu, Stratejik Derinlik [Strategic Depth] (İstanbul: Küre Yayınları, 2001).
 Omer Taspinar, “Turkey and the Arab Gulf states: A Dance with Uncertain Expectations”, The Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, 2015, http://www.agsiw.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Turkey-and-the-Arab-Gulf-States.pdf
 Please see the results of the workshop organized by TESEV on September 5, 2012, which gathered academics, journalists and think-tankers from both Turkey and the GCC to discuss the implications of Turkey’s growing engagement in the Gulf. The results of the workshop are insightful in the sense that they reveal the bilateral perception on both sides. Saban Kardas, “Turkey and the Gulf Dialogue in the Middle East”, TESEV Foreign Policy Programme, November 2012, http://tesev.org.tr/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Turkey_And_The_Gulf_Dialogue_In_The_Middle_East.pdf
 Oktav mentions that the Turkish-Israeli crises related to Davos and Mavi Marmara triggered the development of relations between Turkey and the Gulf at the societal level. Ozden Zeynep Oktav, “Arap Bahari ve Turkiye-Korfez Devlettleri Iliskileri”[The Arab Spring and Turkey-GCC States Relations], Ortadogu Analiz, Vol.5, No.51 (March 2013), p.72.
 Taspinar, “Turkey and the Arab Gulf states”, p.6.
 Mehran Kamrava, Qatar: Small State, Big Politics, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013), p.70.
 Will Fulton, Ariel Farrar-Wellman, “Qatar-Iran Foreign Relations”, American Enterprise Institute Iran Tracker, July 22, 2011, http://www.irantracker.org/foreign-relations/qatar-iran-foreign-relations
 Larbi Sadiki, “The impact of the Arab Spring on the Gulf Cooperation Council”, Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies, Vol.17, No.3, (2015), p.312.
 Philip Walter Wellman, “3 Gulf states withdraw ambassadors from Qatar”, VoA News, March 4, 2014, http://www.voanews.com/content/saudi-arabia-bahrain-uae-withdraw-ambassadors-from-qatar/1864426.html
 For a comparative analysis, see Pinar Akpinar, “Mediation as a Foreign Policy Tool in the Arab Spring: Turkey, Qatar and Iran”, Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies, Vol.17, No.3, (2015), pp. 252-268.
 Joint Statement on Turkey- GCC High Level Strategic Dialogue”, 4th Joint Ministerial Meeting, İstanbul: January 28, 2012, http://www.mfa.gov.tr/joint-statement-turkey-gcc-high-level-strategic-dialogue-4th-joint-ministerial-meeting_-28january-2012_-istanbul-_-turkey.en.mfa
 Aslı Ilgit, “Many roles of Turkey in the Syrian Crisis”, Middle East Research and Information Project, 28 January 2013, http://www.merip.org/mero/mero012813?ip_login_no_cache=442890c1c6565ea872ef8afd4124e9bb
 See the statements of Ahmet Demirok, Turkish Ambassador in Qatar, “Türkiye Katar’da askeri üs kuracak” [Turkey will establish military base in Qatar], Milliyet, December 16, 2015, http://www.milliyet.com.tr/turkiye-katar-da-askeri-us-kuracak/dunya/detay/2164737/default.htm
 For similar discussions please see Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA) Report April 22, 2014, Period: 24, Session: 79, p.34; TGNA Report December 14, 2014, Period: 24, Session:29, p. 32-33; TGNA Report December 20, 2014, Period: 24, Session: 35, p.82-84; TGNA Report January 6, 2015, Period:24, Session: 38, p. 13.
 See the statement of Ali Ozgunduz from the RPP, TGNA Report March 19, 2015, Period: 24, Session: 80, pp. 39, 54.
 See the statement of Ali Ozgunduz from the RPP, TGNA Report March 19, 2015, Period: 24, Session: 80, p.37. See also the statement of Aytug Atici from the RPP, TGNA Report March 19, 2015, Period: 24, Session: 80, p.51-52.
 See the statement of Umit Ozdag from the NMP, TGNA Report February 17, 2016, Period: 24, Session: 40.
 See the statement of Ruhi Ersoy from the NMP, TGNA Report June 21, 2016, Period: 24, Session: 104.
 See the statement of Yusuf Halacoglu from the NMP, TGNA Report March 19, 2015, Period: 24, Session: 80, p.43.
 For a motion of censure launched by the PDP, see TGNA Report April 12, 2016, Period: 24, Session: 71.
 TGNA Report March 19, 2015, Period: 24, Session: 80, p.52.
 TGNA Report December 20, 2014, Period: 24, Session: 35, p.29.
 See the statements of the Minister of Development Cevdet Yilmaz, TGNA Report March 19, 2015, Period: 24, Session: 80, p.49.
 See the statement of the Minister of Defense Ismet Yilmaz, TGNA Report March 4, 2016, Period: 24, Session: 52.
 See the meeting held between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Sani in December 2015. “15 Agreements signed between Turkey and Qatar”, December 2, 2015, http://www.tccb.gov.tr/en/news/542/36171/turkiye-ile-katar-arasinda-15-anlasma-imzalandi.html
 See the statement of the Minister of Defense Ismet Yilmaz, TGNA Report March 4, 2016, Period: 24, Session: 52.
 “Erdogan: Syrian refugees could become Turkish citizens”, Al Jazeera, July 4, 2016, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/07/erdogan-syrian-refugees-turkish-citizens-160703133739430.html
 TGNA Report July 12, 2016, Period: 26, Session:111, pp.45-46; 62-67.
 Cristopher M. Blanchard, “Qatar: Background and U.S. Relations”, Congressional Research Service Report, November 4, 2014, p.6.
 See for instance US Department of State, Remarks with Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlut Cavusoglu, 21 April 2015. US Department of State, Press Availability with Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid Bin Mohammed al-Attiyah, 3 August 2015.
 The author of this article contacted the secretariat of key members of U.S. Congress to learn whether the recent Turkish-Qatari military cooperation will be the subject of an upcoming Congressional session. According to replies received, due to its recent focus primarily on the presidential elections of November 2016, that this subject is out of the agenda of the Congress as of this writing.
 Joint Hearing Before the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa and the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Non-proliferation and Trade of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, House of Representatives, “Hamas Benefactors: A Network of Terror”, 9 September 2014, pp.3, 59
 “Hamas Benefactors”, p. 10
 “Hamas Benefactors”, p. 12
 “Hamas Benefactors”, p. 12-13
 Letter to The Honorable David S. Cohen, December 9, 2014, https://www.clarionproject.org/sites/default/files/Letter-Calling-for-Sanctions-on-Turkey-Qatar.pdf
 Joint Hearing Before the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa and the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Non-proliferation and Trade of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, House of Representatives, “ISIS and the Threat from Foreign Fighters”, December 2, 2014, pp.2,42.
“ISIS and the Threat from Foreign Fighters”, pp.2-3, 28; Hearing before the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Non-proliferation and Trade of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, House of Representatives, “ISIS: Defining the Enemy”, April 29, 2015, p.14.
 “ISIS and the Threat from Foreign Fighters”, p.48.
 Hearing before the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Non-proliferation and Trade of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, House of Representatives, “Terrorist Financing: Kidnapping, Antiquities and Private Donations”, November 17, 2015, p. 72.
 Hearing before the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Non-proliferation and Trade of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, House of Representatives, “After San Bernardino: The Future of ISIS-Inspired Attacks”, February 10, 2016, p.41.
 “Terrorist Financing: Kidnapping, Antiquities and Private Donations”,p.79.
 Secretary’s Kerry’s Opening Statement Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing on Iraq, Syria, and Threat Posed by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, September 17, 2014.
Secretary Kerry, Foreign Ministers From Turkey and Qatar Hold Trilateral Meeting in Paris 2014 © U.S. Department of State (public domain)