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Nowhere is this new democratic approach more evident than in Turkey, a country that has been transformed in recent years from a semidemocracy with its foreign policy run by the army to a full-fledged democratic nation. Its Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is a natural politician and senses the public mood instinctively. The result is a Turkish foreign policy that reflects both his own views and those of his people. This presents Israel with new challenges. But the fact is that the old Israeli model--cutting deals with kings and dictators, getting Washington to lean on Turkey's generals--will not work anymore. And the fretting about Turkey's new attitude has missed a key effect: Turkey has utterly eclipsed Iran as the leader of the Arab street. When Erdogan visited Cairo on Sept. 12 and 13, he was greeted like a conquering hero. Cafés that once had photographs of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are replacing them with images of the Turkish leader.
It is a commentary on the paucity of leadership in the Arab world that the two countries vying to lead--Iran and Turkey--are non-Arab. And it is profoundly to the region's and the world's benefit that Turkey win that contest. Turkey is a democracy with deep ties to the West. It has just agreed to situate an important NATO-backed U.S. radar on its territory, affirming its military alliance with the U.S. And after some prodding by President Obama, Turkey has ended up on the right side of things in Libya and Syria. It wants to be a respected member of the international community, and it can be reasoned with.
A more democratic, populist Middle East will present new challenges, not all of them easily dealt with. But they reflect new openness, dynamism and energy in a region where people's aspirations are finally being heard. Spring in the Arab world is often filled with gales and violent sandstorms. But eventually they yield to calmer weather.