The engineer mindset in politics
Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım is an engineer, a ship building engineer from the prestigious Istanbul Technical University Faculty of Naval Architecture and Ocean Engineering. He defines himself as a “sailor.”
He entered politics in 2002 and until May 2016, he was in a period where he mostly demonstrated his engineering side. He did not deal with political calculations or diplomatic matters, but with highways, tunnels and bridges. Since May 2016, he has found himself right in the middle of the labyrinth of both domestic and international politics.
Since domestic politics is a separate issue, let’s take a look at some issues in foreign policy that have emerged during Yıldırım’s term as prime minister.
As soon as Yıldırım took office, he said in one of his first speeches, “We will increase our friends and decrease our enemies.”
Following this, these developments occurred: The normalization process that was launched with Israel but never went anywhere reached its target. Ambassadors were appointed; currently, ministerial level visits are planned.
The Turkey-Russia tension that started with Turkey’s downing of a Russian plane was causing the Turkish economy to pay huge prices. Currently, Russian President Vladimir Putin is lifting sanctions against Turkey, albeit involuntarily and slowly. On the other hand, the two countries are pursuing a full partnership period in Syria. It is quite possible that a permanent cease-fire in Syria will be the product of Turkey and Russia.
With Iraq, we experienced a period when military threats were made mutually because of the Bashiqa camp. The problem between Turkey and the Iraqi government reached a dimension where it upset relations with Iran and with the United States. Now, we have reached a phase where prime ministerial-level visits are done.
While Turkey was a country excluded in the Syrian issue, the Euphrates Shield Operation made Turkey an active player. Actors such as the U.S., Russia and Iran have accepted that there can be no game plan without Turkey. Turkey, on the other hand, despite not changing its stance on the toppling of Bashar al-Assad, has undertaken a mediator role in a process where al-Assad’s representatives are participating.
With Egypt, low-level talks are ongoing. Progress in this field has huge importance in terms of Turkey’s foreign trade.
When you view what is occurring behind the scenes in all these developments, you notice that the key element is Yıldırım’s engineering style that focuses on the solution, not the problem. His closest aides are telling us that Yıldırım first asks those who brief him what solution they would like to reach. His second question is what should be done to reach this solution. Unlikely options are eliminated and the necessary steps for a solution are taken.
The latest example is the Bashiqa camp, as we were on the brink of a clash with Iraq over it. For his first question, he was given the answer: Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi has to be convinced. The reply to the second question was that al-Abadi was in a difficult situation before his grassroots. He needed to be eased. With Yıldırım’s Baghdad visit, the image of “Look, they have come to us” was provided for al-Abadi to tell his grassroots. A permanent solution has not been immediately reached but we have moved to dialogue from an environment of clashes.
In the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) negotiations, during those times when the talks were blocked by vague interpretations and legal aspects, it was Yıldırım’s questions and suggestions that opened the way.
Yes, all these negativities were the result of AK party’s foreign policy and all of them were repairs called “normalization” – yet one has to know how to make repairs as well.
You may like or dislike them, but, as engineers, the marks left by Süleyman Demirel, Necmettin Erbakan and Turgut Özal, who always looked for accuracy and concreteness, showed that the engineering mind in politics functions well most of the time.