Dimitar Bechev argues that after a two decade lull, Turkey is resuming its post-WWII trajectory of Americanization both in how it conducts its foreign policy and in the shape of its political culture and domestic institutions. In some ways he is right and in others I think he is wrong – AKP majoritarianism does not look like what Arend Lijphart called the consensus model of European social democracies but it also does not look like the system in the U.S. Congress, and Turkey’s culture wars are more a mirror image of France’s than a carbon copy of American ones – but he glides over the way in which I think Turkey’s foreign policy does most resemble an American one, which is the strategy of expanding and utilizing soft power.
America’s rise as a global superpower was of course predicated on its victory in WWII and its military might, but its far reaching influence is just as attributable to its dominant soft power, which was increased by the spread of American culture and consumer goods. A constructivist take on the end of the Cold War is that the U.S. defeated the Soviet Union in the realm of ideas, and American culture was just as responsible for the downfall of the Soviet Union as was increased military spending. Certainly the obsession with all things American (a trend that has been on the decline for at least a decade and probably more) helped turn American companies into global behemoths.
Turkey has made a conscious effort to do the same thing, first in the Middle East and now in more far flung places. Davutoğlu’s “zero problems with neighbors” strategy was an effort to increase Turkish influence, and Turkish soap operas are wildly popular in Arab countries, as is Turkey’s advocacy of the Palestinian cause. Posters of Erdoğan lining the streets of Cairo during his visit last September and his position atop Arab public opinion polls are the direct result of Turkish soft power and cultural/political influence. Turkey has also rapidly been moving into Africa, increasing their diplomatic presence and flooding markets with Turkish consumer goods that are viewed as being of higher quality than cheaper Chinese imports. This is all reminiscent of the push to increase American influence around the world during the second half of the 20th century amid the recognition that military power was not going to be enough. In looking at ways in which Turkey is consciously or unconsciously mimicking the U.S., the move to increase its soft power as a major component of its foreign policy seems to me to be a big one.