A few days ago, Turkey’s foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, grandiloquently proclaimed that “if the world is on fire, Turkey is the firefighter. Turkey is assuming the leading role for stability in the Middle East.”
Such ambition is new for Ankara. In the 1990s, it contentedly fulfilled its NATO obligations and followed Washington’s lead. Starting about 1996,relations with Israel blossomed. In all, Turkish policy offered an attractive exception to the tyrannical, Islamist, and conspiracist mentality generally dominating Muslim peoples. That the country’s political leaders were corrupt and fumbling seemed of little consequence.
Those faults, however, proved extremely consequential, leading to the repudiation of long-established political parties and the victory of an Islamist party, Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP), in the elections of November 2002. By March 2003, in advance of the coming war in Iraq, the new government signaled that a new era had begun by refusing to permit American troops to traverse Turkish territory.