ANKARA: SPINNING THE WHEEL: IS TURKEY’S FOREIGN POLICY ASTRAY?
Nov 25 2012
Is Turkey’s foreign policy astray? Or is it turning fragile as the days go by?
by YAVUZ BAYDAR
Tension is now spilling over into Iraq. With the decision of the
Nouri al-Maliki-led central government to deploy troops in Kirkuk
and Tuzhurmatu — the last in the midst of a disputed area — Arabs
and Kurds seem to be preparing to dig trenches for a confrontation.
With its vital dimensions such as energy and trade, it threatens to
add up to the strains on Turkey’s foreign policy. Given the nature
of the power-holders in Baghdad and the active role of Iran, the
break-up of diplomatic relations with another (fourth) neighbor is
not at all a remote possibility; it is at the doorstep.
In the aftermath of the Gaza conflict, Turkey’s “weight” in the
region was inevitably brought to the fore again. The global vote
for the “winner” went to Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s ever unpredictable
president, and not to Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey, declared by many,
has been sidelined, forced to take the backseat, as a regional broker;
its tools as a soft power are already worn out.
Turkey’s foreign policy needs a powerful revision. It has to do
with its identity, priorities, execution, delegation and style. All
of these features show strains, limitations, blurs, arrhythmia and
contradictions. Because of the flaws, Turkey, once full of promises as
a leading regional power, no longer leads; it only follows. It started
to send signals as an old style state whose voice is a blend of anger,
threat, resentment and disappointment. This must be addressed.
Of course, identity has to do with priorities. What are those and how
do they match with Ankara’s compass? Not an easy question. If it has
to with the fading EU dreams, is anything seriously being done here
to revitalize it? Or is the government only showing reflexes to hide
behind the current turmoil in the EU, creating pretexts for its loss of
appetite for reforms? Impressions matter, and they are very negative.
There are three elements that stir up the content of the foreign
policy. The first has to do with the strict verticality of its
management: More than ever, its conduct is strictly ruled by the
foreign minister himself, and, more decisively, with the “final
adjustment” from the prime minister. The ministry itself — with a
vast institutional memory, qualified staff and network — seems to
have lost its appeal.
The second has to with style, now seen as the natural part of the
persona of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In almost every event, pushing
the necessary diplomatic language aside, he managed to irk and even
alienate friends and foes. This was more audible than ever during the
Gaza crisis, when he lashed out at three permanent members of the UN,
“strongly disagreed” with Obama, and showed no sign of softening on
a dialogue with Israel. His supporters in the media do him a disfavor
while applauding every such move.
Righteousness being another feature of his, Erdogan may, with a strong
sense of morale, have had all the reasons to be angry with Ehud Olmert,
Shimon Peres, Bashar al-Assad, Benjamin Netanyahu, Maliki and others,
but those outbursts only served to limit his room to maneuver, and
helped display the capacity limitations of his country’s foreign
The third point is perhaps the critical one. If the balance sheet
of the “zero problems with neighbors” policy under Ahmet Davutoglu
does not at all impress, it has if anything showed only how weak —
maybe unprepared as well — Ankara was in conflict resolution. In the
cases of Greece, Cyprus and Armenia it has applied the methods of
“Old Turkey,” resorting to severe conditional methods. The finesse
necessary for ending conflicts has been lost, overtaken by “hard power”
discourse, causing unnecessary suspicion among friends as well.
It will get worse in the Middle East before it gets better. With
Russia and Iran lurking behind Assad and Maliki, Turkey will have to
reconsider a longer-term path, mainly because it is energy-dependent.
Will it clearly side with the Iraqi and Syrian Kurds? Will it reopen
dialogue with Israel? Will it deepen its ties with non-Sunni elements
in Lebanon and Syria? These are only a few questions that Ankara
faces as the regional plot thickens.