What went wrong with Turkish foreign policy?
Now it becomes clearer that Turkey got it wrong in Syria (and in fact in the Middle East in general). In the very beginning, the Turkish government hesitated to denounce the Bashar al-Assad regime but soon after, had to adjust to its Western allies’ policy and turned into an arch enemy of the Syrian regime.
At the time, Turkey was encouraged to take more initiative as a neighboring country but the government got it wrong and overdid it. First of all, it went too far in supporting the “opposition.” Then, Turkey could not comprehend the changing Western perceptions concerning Syria; that radical Islamists started to be a major concern. Besides, Turkey could not see that its efforts to exclude Kurds in post-Assad scenarios were futile.
In fact, even before U.S. President Barack Obama’s second term started, Hilary Clinton in her last visit to Turkey hinted at the changing visions by stating that the post-Assad period had become a more important issue than the removal of the Assad regime. Nevertheless, even afterwards, the U.S. listed Al Nusra Front as a terrorist organization and declared radical Islamist elements in Syrian opposition as a major threat, Turkey did not bother to revise its Syrian policy. The recent report of the International Crisis Group (ICG) summarizes the outcomes of Turkey’s mishandling of the process (“Blurring the Borders: Syrian Spillover Risks Turkey”). The most striking part is that it is necessary to remind Turkey that it cannot solve Syria’s problem alone, no matter whether Turkey is a regional power. The other important point is that the report needs to remind Turkey that it is not expected to play sectarian politics.
I think Turkey is still suffering from a confused perception of the Syrian affair and of regional politics in general. It is true that the focus of the crises is Iran and Turkey has long been expected to play a role against Iran and its allies, and it is true that Sunni powers are encouraged to counterbalance Iranian influence in the region. Nevertheless, Western policy started to change and the U.S.’s reluctance to alienate the Maliki government in Iraq is the last best evidence of this policy change. Turkey, which has strained its relations with Maliki and invested too much hopes in strengthening its relations with the Kurdish Authority in the Northern Iraq, found itself in an odd position. Moreover, Arbil and Baghdad achieved some sort of agreement last weekend, most probably due to the pressures from the U.S. and Iran respectively. Again, Turkey seems to have miscalculated the possible outcomes of the tension between Arbil and Baghdad.
The thing is that Turkey is doomed to be misled by its confusions and delusions, as long as it sees itself as the most “clever” and “able” actor in the region. Turkey’s Middle East adventure started with a delusion that it was “the major player” in the region and as long as the government refuses to revise this perception, it will put itself in difficult positions which come out of miscalculations.
Last but not least, such a delusional approach may endanger its domestic and regional Kurdish policy. So far, the government is convinced that its Kurdish peace process should promise more than domestic peace and stability. There is no doubt that such a prospect promises the empowerment for Turkey, yet Turkey expects more than a prospect of empowerment by social and political peace and stability. Turkey hopes more that peace with the Kurds will be a key for “Greater Turkey” (if not in terms of borders soon) in terms of more power and influence in the region, regardless of the interests of the other actors.
The great visions are inspiring but great expectations are poisonous, since the former is based on facts and prospects, but the latter is based on self-centered delusions. Turkey needs to start to see the difference to get it right and avoid further complications.