Who is losing Turkey?
Turkey lives in a troubled neighborhood and the Western world has often had problematic relations with its neighbors.
There has been a bad guy in Damascus, Bashar al-Assad. No one was supposed to cooperate with him and Turkey was once asked to follow suit.
There was also a bad guy in Iraq, Saddam Hussein. Sanctions were applied against his regime and Turkey was asked to abide by those sanctions.
In Iran, there has been a bad regime ever since the Islamic Revolution. Tehran has been continuously under sanctions, which Turkey has been under pressure to abide by.
There has also been a bad guy in Russia, the Kremlin. Sanctions have been introduced and Turkey has been required to follow them.
People sometimes forget that economically thriving nations trade with their neighbors. Some also forget that while the EU wanted Turkey to abide by the sanctions it imposed on countries to its east, north and south, it did not exactly have its arms wide open when Turkey turned to Europe.
Currently, when a foreign observer looks at Turkey, they see an Islamist leader distancing Turkey away from the transatlantic alliance. But the same observer may forget that it was that same leader who once undertook the most sweeping democratic reforms Turkey has ever seen. They may also forget that when Ankara knocked on the EU’s door in the 2000s, Germany’s Angela Merkel and then French President Nicolas Sarkozy effectively closed the door in its face. It also suited Europe’s interest to keep Turkey at arm’s length, hiding behind the Greek Cypriot administration which has been blocking accession talks.
This has all been forgotten. No one in Europe is questioning who caused the EU to lose Turkey. Why should they?
It is certainly easy to put the blame on others. After all, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) have done everything possible to merit the blame and save the transatlantic community from the burden of self-criticism.
Erdoğan and his advisors may not care about being perceived as “the Islamists taking Turkey away from the West.” But what they do not realize is that their anti-democratic path in domestic politics and anti-diplomatic and antagonistic stance in foreign relations make it easier for the Western alliance to hide behind their mistakes.
The president’s portrayal of himself as a leader standing against the entire Western alliance may appeal to a domestic audience, but abroad it only feeds the perception that he no longer wants to be part of the Western alliance.
But Turkey’s approach to the West as a common bloc may change soon, as relations with the U.S. look set to deteriorate further. The president and his advisors must have realized by now that they were mistaken to pin their hopes on U.S. President Donald Trump to solve problems in bilateral relations.
It is no coincidence that for some time President Erdoğan has been looking for a photo-op with a European leader. He is soon set to go to France and Greece for official visits.
With the nasty repercussions of the Reza Zarrab case in New York looming on the horizon, the need to mend ties with Europe could become more pressing. Relations with Germany already seem to be warming up slightly, especially following the release of German human rights defender Peter Steudner and the recent meeting of the two countries’ foreign ministers.
Recent steps taken by the German authorities against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s (PKK) activities have also not gone unnoticed in Ankara.
Still, the failure to form a coalition government in Berlin may delay a further warming of the weather between Ankara and Europe, as other capitals look to Berlin as a reference. At any rate, the Netherlands should be next in line for Turkey to mend fences with after Germany.
One thing is clear: Russia and Iran cannot be alternatives to the Western alliance. Turkey’s ruling elites have not yet reached the point of putting all their eggs in one basket.