Turkey and Iran occupy very distinct positions in the Mideast political environment, suggesting there is little likelihood of any rapprochement, much less of a moderate one, which would require a significant Iranian shift.
If the emergence of a moderate Turkish-Iranian axis now appears to be not just an historic potential shift toward Mideast stability but also a logical outgrowth of certain current trends, how might it occur and how far along such a path have these two vastly different rivals moved to date? With harsh suppression of peaceful democratic protest and continuing discrimination against its Kurdish minority, Turkey can be viewed as a moderate state only in the chaotic context of the Mideast. Iran’s extremely harsh domestic political environment dominated by a military swallowing the civilian economy and a repressive clerical governing elite sits even further away from the idealized concept of a modernizing, secular, inclusive state symbolized by the green quadrant.
Relatively inclusive and attempting, under Erdogan, if sometimes not too convincingly, to find some resolution to its sectarian conflict with long abused Turkish Kurds, Turkey nonetheless still has a long way to go before building a truly inclusive polity. To put this point in context, however, one could say the same of, for example, the U.S., with its continuing racial discrimination against blacks and growing economic discrimination against both middle and lower classes. Iran may be less exclusionist in sectarian terms but is considerably more so in terms of its treatment of political dissent. Here, the key distinction is not the nature of the discrimination but its harshness.
In terms of the choice between the economy and ideology (unstated in the model, and simply assumed to be the obvious alternative for the purposes of this analysis), Iran and Turkey seem to be widely different, with Turkey much more focused on the pursuit of economic development as a national goal. Iran’s long-standing determination to give priority to its right to nuclear technology at the expense of the wrecking of its economy by U.S.-led economic warfare is the most obvious piece of evidence. Particularly noteworthy was Turkey’s effort to find a compromise over the uranium refining issue, surely with the hope of implementing in return a joint hydrocarbon venture involving serving as the middleman between Iran and Europe, upon which Iran seemed in the end needlessly to throw cold water. Turkey risked its alliance structure for economic gain; Iran suffered economic embargo, risked nuclear attack, and lost a golden opportunity simultaneously to consolidate its strategic position and gain economic advantages in order to make its point about having the right to an independent political position (i.e., the right to nuclear technology and the right to articulate a hostile verbal opposition to Israel). Examination solely of current positions offers strong evidence that the emergence of a moderate Turkish-Iranian axis based on the combination of the pursuit of economic development and an inclusionist domestic polity is a long shot indeed.
But what of trends? The next post in this series will examine recent behavior.
Part 2. Emergence of Iran Scenario