Turkey must not replace ideology with emotion
Turkey’s prolonged “Davutoğlu moment,” which was based on a misplaced confidence in Turkey’s international strength and role, and driven by a tangibly Islamist orientation, ended in May with the dismissal of the former prime minister.
There is a clear tendency now among government officials and Justice and Development Party (AKP) supporters to blame Ahmet Davutoğlu as the architect of Ankara’s failed foreign policy, first as foreign minister and later as prime minister.
Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş’s recent remarks to the effect that much of what has befallen Turkey is “the result of the situation in Syria” and his lamenting the fact that Ankara was “unable to put forward a valid policy [on Syria],” is a damning indictment of Davutoğlu.
Davutoğlu however could not have steered Turkey in any direction without President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s approval. That approval was there until recently, when reality finally dawned on the highest level of the state. Today Davutoğlu is in the role of scapegoat; someone to blame for leaving Turkey isolated internationally and facing serious threats.
Since Davutoğlu’s departure things appeared to be going relatively smoothly under Prıme Minister Binali Yildirim, who set out “to increase the number of Turkey’s friends and reduce the number of its enemies.” The July 15 failed coup attempt, though, carries the potential to undermine his aim.
Having dumped its ideological approach to foreign policy, Ankara now faces the risk of allowing an emotional approach to act as the driving force in this respect. The high tension in its ties with the U.S. and Europe shows this clearly.
Seeing the risks it faced by allowing ties with Russia to plummet, and having therefore been forced to mend these ties, Ankara appears to be risking a similar situation now if it allows its ties with the West to deteriorate further.
This is taking place at a time when it has to have a clear and cold-blooded take on Turkey’s long-term interests, given its very sensitive location in a highly volatile region.
Erdoğan met U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin, and also consorted with other world leaders, during the G-20 Summit in Hangzhou. These meetings gave him a chance to express his current concerns without employing any of his usual angry “accusatives.”
He will be on the world stage again soon during the U.N. General Assembly, where he will have an opportunity to follow up on his talks in Hangzhou.
Now that Turkey is back in the game, especially in Syria, it will have to look hard at the big picture from different angles, and set its policies accordingly, rather than getting bogged in a new “single-track” approach.
There are many reasons why Turkey is justified in its criticism of the West, especially with regard to the West’s initial lackadaisical approach to the failed coup attempt. It is clear however from recent high-level visits to Turkey that the West is coming around to understanding what was really at risk on the night of July 15, and is gradually overcoming its antipathy for Erdoğan in order to serve its long-term interests.
Meanwhile, Western concerns about the direction of Turkey’s democracy are also justified in the light of what is going on in Turkey today. The world is watching where Turkey, or more specifically Erdoğan, goes from here.
A level-headed approach that keeps the country’s long-term interests in focus is what will keep Turkey in the game as an important player. The other option is for it to become a fickle country that swings from one set of ties to another, depending on what its feels at the time, and which is only able to forge on by hanging onto the coattails of others.
Replacing a religion-centered ideological approach with an emotional one based on righteous indignation will not bring Turkey much in the end. Ankara must avoid new mistakes, having recently ended a period of serial mistakes that brought it nothing but the troubles that it is trying hard to overcome now.