Erdoğan needs to open a new page with West
The first thing Recep Tayyip Erdoğan did after he won his first election victory in late 2002 that took him to power, was to embark on a large foreign tour, including a dozen European countries and the United States, in a bid to explain his vision and to convince that his government would continue to work in harmony with its partners. He had felt this need because there were widely shared concerns that this politician, with a strong political-Islamic background, and his strong government would drift Turkey away from its traditional allies and partners in the West.
With all of his pragmatism, Erdoğan could quickly break these prejudices in the West, especially thanks to his reformist policies that paved the way for Turkey to begin full membership negotiations with the EU in a historic development.
Today’s conditions are surely much different from 2002. Neither Erdoğan nor Turkey is same. The world has changed drastically since then and the turmoil in our neighborhood, the Middle East and around the Black Sea, does not give any sign of ending soon.
That’s why it’s time for President-elect Erdoğan to open a clean sheet with Turkey’s partners and allies to show he is ready under his new capacity to efficiently cooperate for the resolution of regional and global issues. Also he needs to convince Turkey’s partners that he is not seeking a one-man rule, often described as authoritarian by his opponents inside and outside Turkey. Of course, he can only prove this with his actions, rather than his words as the world has gained good knowledge of him over his 12-years-rule.
As Erdoğan will take office Aug. 28, a heavy load of foreign policy issues will await him on his desk. First and foremost, the hostage crisis will constitute an important test for Erdoğan as the tragedy entered its third month on Aug. 11, a day after Erdoğan claimed his victory. It’s well-observed that the abduction of the 49 Turkish citizens, including its diplomats’ ties, Turkey’s hands in the face of developments in Iraq as one of the world’s deadliest jihadist groups, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), is storming northern Iraq causing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis that can kick a massive influx into Turkey.
The Turkish government is silently carrying out humanitarian assistance to those in need in northern Iraq but is far from taking effective measures in order not to provoke ISIL. Under these conditions, it is in dire need of cooperation with the U.S. after the White House authorized limited airstrikes against ISIL in Iraq.
Not only in Iraq, but developments in Gaza over the Israeli offensive and in Syria, where unrest has become a way of life, require a better harmonization between Turkey and the U.S., and other prominent countries. It’s crucial for Erdoğan to leave his anti-Semitic language behind, as well as his futile criticisms on the unjust global system if he wants to be heard. There is still time for Erdoğan to correct the image he has drawn throughout his election campaign in which he frequently likened current Israeli leadership to Hitler and slammed Washington and other Western countries over their support to Tel Aviv. It’s not because Erdoğan, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and others were wrong in their criticism on what was happening in Gaza, but because it was not helping Turkey to help Palestinians in the most efficient way.
Increasing the level of cooperation with partners would bring about more ways to reach out to these people in need and to influence developments in the international arena. Leaving now domestic political competition behind, it would be wise for Turkey to return to a more realistic foreign policy agenda with calibrating its policies in the Middle East in particular.
No doubt, Erdoğan, as president, will have renewed credit from allies, as signaled by the White House that President Barack Obama was looking forward to working with him. Sour developments in Syria and Iraq have shown Turkey its regional role is limited in preventing unwanted results and it requires full cooperation with its partners. The clean sheet Erdoğan will open as he takes office will surely find adequate responses from the West, but the quality of this cooperation will be set through the genuineness of the two sides’ approaches toward each other. Turkey’s return to capitalize on its geostrategic advantages would surely have positive repercussions in its neighborhood; from the Middle East to the Caucasus, where tension is escalating again, from North Africa to Ukraine, where the Cold War between the West and Russia is resurfacing. Apart from many other issues, Erdoğan should and probably will give his priority on foreign policy matters as he takes office late August.