Coming from the western world I see geopolitics from the perspective of the United States. My second influence is decidedly European, mainly the western side of the continent including the United Kingdom. A third perspective, strangely enough is Eastern European, mainly Russian. This is mainly due to the fact that I grew up during the last twenty years of the Cold War, a conflict that permeated the daily existence of American life. As for Asia, even with the incredible rise of China it still seems a distant and remote place. When I think of Japan, South Korea and China they seem beyond foreign. They are distinct cultures which require a great amount of time and energy to comprehend. As for Africa and South America, they are little more than an afterthought, even with all the tangible gains both have made during the past decade. Then there is the Middle East, a place of seemingly ancient religious feuds, authoritarian governments, grim prospects for peace and eternal tumult. I am confused by the byzantine politics and infighting of the region.
Then there is Turkey, close to the Middle East, but not quite part of it. In both Europe and Asia, with elements of Europe, but more influenced by the Orient. Turkey is both an outlier and of great strategic importance. An outlier since it certainly has its act together much more than any of its neighbors, including the European ones (Greece and Bulgaria). But where does it fit in. Commentators assign it to the near East, while hoping that it will both move closer to Europe and at the same time act as a bridge that transmits liberal democratic principles to the Middle East. After spending a week in Istanbul, a place literally (the city straddles Europe and Asia) on the cusp of opposing worldviews. The Orient starts here, Europe starts here (at least geographically), the Islamic World takes hold here and the Classical World has left an its indelible mark. There is truly no other nation in such a critical position.
When I crossed the Bosphorus from Eminonu on the European side to Uskadar on the Asian side, I felt like I was at the epicenter of the world, between everything and anything. If I headed East, just a day or two away were countries consumed by war, chaos and dictatorship as well as home to ancient world historical traditions. If I headed west both the Slavic world and the cradle of Classicism were just hours from where I stood. Yet these places, European in orientation, were also riven by economic crisis and corrupt politics. And in between was Turkey, a little bit of both.
The view from the middle of the Bosphorus is beautiful, there is a reason Istanbul market’s itself as “the most inspiring city in the world.” A panoramic sweep of the horizon offers a window on two continents, some of the holiest sites in both Islam and Christianity as well as the home of the Ottomans who conquered both east and west, much like the Romans over a thousand years before them. This is a place that human civilization cannot help but leave its historical, political and spiritual marks on. This is a place that has its own inexorable logic, much like the nation that now controls it. For Turkey today, much it has always been for whatever polity possessed this area, geography is destiny. Whether it ascends or descends will greatly impact the future of our world. Here is the place where everything and anything is always possible.