Why ‘time’ is the enemy of Turkey’s foreign policy calculus
It is not a secret that Turkey’s own narrative of “Turkish affairs” is probably Turkey’s worst enemy. Its inconsistency, unrealism and inflammatory rhetoric-based policy actions are the other suicidal features of Turkish policy calculus. Turkish leadership and diplomacy, inevitably, suffers from a serious problem about being convincing.
It was not a coincidence that Western analysts, even more than a decade ago, had started to quip that “Turkey’s bark is worse than its bite.” That is why Turkey’s present day threats about “this or that,” or its warnings that “no one should test the limits of our patience” only cause shy smiles, if not loud laughter, in foreign capitals. The general rule for Turkish diplomacy is that time flies and things invariably end up where Turkey X years ago warned they must not. Try to read Turkey’s political and military campaign against a Kurdish belt in northern Syria from this perspective.
In the 1990s Turkish leaders warned, almost daily, that the mighty Turkish military would turn the world upside down in northern Iraq if Kurds attempted to build an autonomous region there. In June 2007, then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan refused to meet with the Iraqi Kurdish leader, Masoud Barzani, because “he would not meet with a clan chief.” Instead, he would speak with the legitimate Iraqi government leaders in Baghdad. Nine years later, President Erdoğan would not speak with the Iraqi prime minister in Baghdad. He thinks that what we call “Baghdad” is the administrator of an army composed of Shiites.
Inconsistency is just too visible. In 2011, then Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu claimed that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s days in power were numbered. Mr. Assad, the despot of Syria, is still in power; Mr. Davutoğlu, meanwhile, has been promoted from the title of “former foreign minister” to “former prime minister.”
In 2007, Turkey accused Mr. Barzani of abetting a terrorist organization (the PKK). In 2011, Mr. Erdogan warned Mr. Barzani of a “heavy price he would have to pay” if he pushed for Kurdish independence. But also in 2011, Mr. Erdoğan (courageously) became the first Turkish leader to visit Iraqi Kurdistan and spoke of Mr. Barzani as “my dear friend, the president [of Kurdistan].” Press photos showed Kurdish children greeting Mr. Erdoğan with Turkish and Kurdish flags in their little hands.
In November 2013 Mr. Erdoğan greeted Mr. Barzani in Diyarbakir, a Turkish province which every Kurdish nationalist views as the capital of a future Kurdish state. During that merry event Mr. Barzani, in the Turkish prime minister’s words, was “my brother.” There are, in public domain, several pictures showing smiling Turkish dignitaries with Mr. Barzani, here or there, including Mr. Davutoğlu and Mevlüt Cavusoğlu, current foreign minister.
In 2015, Ankara gave fancy red-carpet treatment to Mr. Barzani, who in the same year said the time was ripe for a referendum on Kurdish independence. In the Turkish capital, Mr. Barzani met with every possible Turkish dignitary - including the president and the prime minister. In 2016, Mr. Barzani met with 36 consul generals and foreign state representatives “to discuss the issue of Kurdish independence.” He mentioned the right to self-determination.
In 2015, Sami Abdul Rahman, the Kurdish Regional Government’s representative to the United States, said: “We must take into account what our people wants … The Kurdish people want to determine their own fate and they have a right to do so like every other nation … We want to achieve [independence] at the right time and by means of dialogue … [independence] is our final goal … We shall attain our goal.”
And Iraqi Kurds who seek independence are the darlings of Turkish leadership. But Turkish and Syrian Kurds who “may” seek autonomous regions in predominantly Kurdish areas are the enemy. Syrian Kurds are the new Iraqi Kurds. With $$$$ one day trafficking across the Turkish-Syrian border they will probably become “our brothers” and get the red-carpet treatment in Ankara. Turkey’s threats to militarily crush any Kurdish “fait-accompli” in Syria? Revisit the same Turkish threats against any Kurdish “fait-accompli” in northern Iraq.