Are we the new owners of the Middle East?

Are we the new owners of the Middle East?

The speech Foreign Minister Professor Ahmet Davutoğlu delivered last Thursday at the parliamentary session on developments in Syria must be one of the most remarkable of all Turkish foreign policy statements up until today.

The reason for this is Davutoğlu’s mention of Turkey “owning” the Middle East. If I am not mistaken, a Turkish Foreign Minister, for the first time, is approaching the Middle East with a concept of “ownership.” 

Maintaining consistency in foreign policy 

Before assessing this concept, let’s take a look at the main flow of the speech. Through the majority of it, Davutoğlu was trying to explain the justness of his Syria policy; he was trying to justify it within the parameters of the stance the government has adopted regarding the dynamics of the Arab Spring. 

It is a noteworthy that the Foreign Minister is basing the first dimension of this policy on the “conscience of humanity and [striking an] optimal balance between universal values and national interests.” Later, the minister set aside the balance and defined conscience and universal values as indispensable parts of the national interest, and things which “strengthen” it. “The more we defend these values, the more we maximize our national interest,” he said. 

It is undoubtedly a laudable trait that the moral dimension – even if only on paper -- has top priority in determining a country’s foreign policy. However, real politics frequently drag countries away from these values and ideals, and serious double standards arise. How will it be explained that the ruling Justice and Development Party government – justifiably – emphasizes conscience and values so strongly when Syria is in question, whereas it does not remember these values in view of crimes against humanity committed in Sudan? Similarly, can the fact that Turkey was the first country to congratulate Mahmud Ahmedinejad, when he won his presidential post again after Iran’s controversial 2009 elections by oppressing protestors with cruel methods, be included in the roll of honors of Turkey’s foreign policy? 

‘The future is not with archaic regimes’ 

We could make a long list of such contradictions. However, if Davutoğlu’s speech expresses a determination to act with consistency from now on, we should be happy about this commitment. 

The foreign minister also said, “The future is not with archaic regimes; it is with peoples’ wills.” These are very nice words. Truly, in the Middle East, just as Davutoğlu has put it, there are “archaic,” or, in other words, outdated regimes, which lag behind the present age. The problem is that the Turkish government enjoys very good relations with these archaic regimes in the Middle East and particularly in the Arabian Peninsula, due to real politics. 

When demands for change similar to those in Syria bud in these countries, will it be possible to repeat the determined proclamations we have made against the regimes in Syria and Egypt? For example, when the Shiite opposition was being oppressed by the regime in Bahrain, did we see Ankara drawing the same lines? 

Davutoğlu said, “A new Middle East is about to be born. We will continue to be the owner, pioneer and servant of this new Middle East.” This “ownership” concept is open to all kinds of misinterpretation. When combined with his other speeches, “neo-Ottomanism” may be attributed to him.

It is good that our foreign minister has ideals and big projections for the future. However, these kinds of ambitions should not be at the cost of realism, restraint, or common sense, which should dominate the outlook and language of foreign policy.

Sedat Ergin is a columnist for daily Hürriyet, in which this piece was published on May 1. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.

Middle East, Turkey, arabs, ottoman empire