The jet incident with Syria is on the verge of turning into a political fiasco for the Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
government. As new facts emerge, it appears that the account of the incident in the Wall Street Journal, which angered Erdoğan so much, may not have been too far off the mark.
In the meantime, Moscow’s almost taunting remark to the effect that it has “objective data concerning the incident which it is willing to share” is taking on new meaning. It is also interesting to note that Ankara
has thus far not asked for the “objective data” from Russia. Perhaps Erdoğan will do so when he visits Moscow next week.
Turkish foreign policy has traditionally been guided by caution and a lack of adventurism. While some in Turkey have considered this to be spineless timidity, one has to simply look at our neighborhood to understand the reasons for this.
The Justice and Development Party (AKP) administration, however, has been captivated by the “sound of the street” and has let caution go in favor of “populism” for the sake of political gain. As matters stand, however, some of the things popularly attributed to the AKP were not a first for Turkey anyway.
Take the situation with Israel. The late Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit went so far as to accuse Israel
of “perpetrating genocide” in Gaza against the Palestinian people. His government nevertheless remained cautious and acted realistically by maintaining ties with Israel.
In addition to all this, previous Turkish administrations always stayed away from taking on ambitious foreign policy missions, especially when it was not clear where they would all lead.
With the coming of the Arab Spring
and related developments in the Middle East that were unexpected and unforeseen by Ankara, it did not take long for all to see the pitfalls in Turkey’s undertaking of certain missions and engagement in an adventurist foreign policy that strayed from the traditional line.
The first sign came when Erdoğan angrily questioned what business NATO
had in Libya, only to be left with little choice but to authorize Turkey’s participation in that mission.
When it comes to Syria, on the other hand, hardly any of the Erdoğan government’s calculations came to pass. Ankara
started off by courting the Bashar al-Assad regime, almost as an act of defiance against the West, and ended up by bringing Turkey to the brink of war with that country for reasons that are not clear to the Turkish public.
Remaining on the subject of Syria, the government came out with definite explanations concerning the downing of its jet and accused Damascus automatically by categorically refusing the Syrian account of the incident.
Now, however, we have remarks from the most authoritative voices in the Turkish military saying that there is no evidence the jet was downed by a missile, and thus casting serious doubt on the government’s clear account to this effect.
Judging by what is being leaked to the press, government circles are tending to accuse the military over this developing fiasco. But even if there was a break in communication between the military and the government, a crucial question still has to be asked: Why was the Erdoğan government so keen to blurt out a definite account of the incident when the facts were clearly not all in and before it consulted with Turkey’s Western allies, who envelop the region with their radar facilities?
These are questions that are being asked by members of the public now, even if Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu
more or less accused commentators and analysts who recently asked these questions of behaving “treasonously.”
Turkey is clearly a very important regional player and its influence in this part of the world is set to increase. That goes without saying. But this does not do away with the fact that the AKP administration has been trying to conduct a foreign policy that is way out of its current league.