The Misconception

I think that Fareed Zakharia is operating under a misconception in his latest Washington Post column:

As I was following Turkey’s recent general election, I was stunned to hear one of the country’s top officials, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu, speaking to a crowd from a balcony. Jubilant, he promised that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would “wipe away whoever causes trouble” for Turkey “and that includes the American military.” Earlier, Soylu declared that those who “pursue a pro-American approach will be considered traitors.” Keep in mind that Turkey has been a member of NATO (with U.S. bases in the country) for about 70 years.

Erdogan often uses stridently anti-Western rhetoric himself. About a week before the election’s first round, he tweeted that his opponent “won’t say what he promised to the baby-killing terrorists or to the Western countries.”

Erdogan might be one of the most extreme representatives of this attitude, but he is not alone. As many commentators have noted, most of the world’s population is not aligned with the West in its struggle against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. And the war itself has only highlighted a broader phenomenon: Many of the largest and most powerful countries in the developing world are growing increasingly anti-Western and anti-American.


What is going on? Why is the United States having so much trouble with so many of the world’s largest developing nations? These attitudes are rooted in a phenomenon that I described in 2008 as the “rise of the rest.” Over the past two decades, a huge shift in the international system has taken place. Countries that were once populous but poor have moved from the margins to center stage. Once representing a negligible share of the global economy, the “emerging markets” now make up fully half of it. It would be fair to say they have emerged.

As these countries have become economically strong, politically stable and culturally proud, they have also become more nationalist, and their nationalism is often defined in opposition to the countries that dominate the international system — meaning the West. Many of these nations were once colonized by Western nations, and so they retain an instinctive aversion to Western efforts to corral them into an alliance or grouping.

Actually, I suspect it’s more than one misconception.

The first misconception is that present day Turkey is an ally of the United States in anything but a technical sense on paper. It hasn’t been for the last thirty years.

The second is that the views of the “non-aligned countries”, e.g. Brazil or India, have changed. They haven’t. They go back more than two millennia, cf. Thucydides famous maxim: “The strong do what they can; the weak suffer what they must”. Turkey and Brazil will always distrust the United States; Poland and Czechia will always distrust Russia.

The third is that there’s something we can do about it. If there ever was it’s too late now. Weaker countries will never trust strong countries with histories of interventionism, e.g. the United States and Russia. China benefits by its long adherence to a policy of noninterventionism. As that erodes not the least under the influence of “wolf warrior diplomacy”, China will lose whatever trust it had.

The only thing we can actually do is remain strong.

2 comments… add one
  • bob sykes Link

    We did try to remove Erdogan by coup a few years ago. That might have something to do with Turkish attitudes toward the US.

    And the ongoing shift in international power is striking. The combined economies of the current BRICS members exceeds that of the G7, and some 20 new countries are lining to join it.

    China has the largest economy in the world, and India might be second, with the US third. Russia, the gas station with a country, ranks somewhere between 4th to 6th, vying with Japan. Anyone who is dimly aware of what Russia actually realizes it must have a very big economy.

    By the way. the sanctions imposed on Russian oligarchs have forced them to keep their money in Russia, and the Russian economy in its best shape ever. Construction is booming. No Russia city is as dirty, as dangerous, or as run down as is almost every American city.

    The EU/NATO continue to treat the ROW as colonies, and the ROW deeply resent it. The China/Russia alliance is becoming the new hegemon.

  • PD Shaw Link

    Zakharia’s main misperception stems from scoring international relations as if global affairs is akin to the marshaling of high school cliques. Does the Interior Minister’s statements portend the removal of U.S. bases from Turkey? That would be interesting; otherwise who cares?

    And I think his basic premise is wrong. Whether or not a number of other countries are rising economically, most of them are still clearly dependent on countries other than the U.S. and vulnerable to food and energy shocks. Did Pakistan know that Europe’s energy sanctions would result in cancellation of LNG contracts as LNG was diverted to Europe? Maybe not specifically, but the crusade was always likely to hit unintended targets.

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