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U.S.-Turkey Relations: Model Partnership as an ‘Empty Signifier’

This commentary attempts to make a conceptual evaluation of the phrase “model partnership” as a definition of US-Turkey relations. Against the background of much debate about the “viability” or “possibility” of “model partnership,” it argues that “model partnership” as an empty signifier does not represent either the ideal or the fully accomplished state of Turkish-American relations. The current problems in the bilateral relations derive from the gradual transformation in the nature of Turkish-American relations from a hierarchical relationship into a complementary one, i.e. from a “strategic partnership” to a “model partnership.” As we are going through a structural change, “policy recommendations” alone will not suffice to remedy the broader problem of necessary adjustments. The option for a “model partnership” is still on the table, however, it requires a serious, engaged, and conceptual discussion as the two sides adjust to and negotiate the new form of the relationship.

 

During his first bilateral intercontinental trip after his election, President Barack Obama visited Turkey in April 2010. During his visit he used the expression “model partnership” to define US-Turkey relations.

Ever since Obama’s visit, Turkish and American analysts of Turkish-American relations have been debating what “model partnership” really means. Both sides have emphasized the importance of Turkish-American relations and suggested that a redefinition of relations after the Bush presidency was necessary. However, it seems that there is no agreement on what “model partnership” is or will be. Some analysts and even politicians have argued that the Flotilla Crisis and Turkey’s “No” vote at the UN Security Council put an early end to “model partnership,” which is now only a bygone hope.

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