Believe it or not, the following lines belong to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan:
“Turkey has no objective of becoming either a regional or global power. Turkey is being positioned in the region and in the international community for simply doing its part. That’s how it should be. The opposite is defined as ambition and ambition is always dangerous. We therefore have no such ambition.”
He goes on to explain his new rhetoric on foreign policy:
“What kind of a duty falls on our shoulders in the region? No one can think that Turkey, which has a 911 kilometer-long border with Syria, can remain silent when 130,000 people have been killed there.
While children, women and elderly people are being killed by barrel bombs, it’s unthinkable for us to remain silent. The same is valid for Palestine, Iraq, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, and also in Yemen. Can Turkey remain silent to these issues taking place in its immediate neighborhood, while the interventions of countries that are 10,000 kilometers away from the region are considered normal?”
Erdoğan made these important remarks at a conference in Tokyo, on the first leg of his week-long trip to the Far East.
At first glance, it’s important that Erdoğan dismissed becoming a “global or regional power” as a foreign policy objective, although this is one of the most important pillars of the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) diplomatic goals. From the very first days to today, Erdoğan as the prime minister and the foreign ministers serving for him, have all outlined this as the main objective of AKP governments.
Frequently mentioned by senior AKP officials, the year 2023 stands an important target for lifting Turkey into the first class league of countries, which will also turn it into a global power. Very recently, Erdoğan again underlined the objective of his government to this end as a promise to the founder of the republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, while writing in the Special Book at Anıtkabir, Atatürk’s mausoleum:
“As Turkey is firmly advancing to become a global and regional power, it continues to contribute for permanent stability, peace and comfort in its region.”
This objective has been voiced in perhaps every AKP government program, in Erdoğan’s frequent statements in mass rallies, and elsewhere. That’s why the prime minister’s statement is important if it indicates a change in foreign policy.
Equally important in Erdoğan’s statement is that he denounced “ambition” in foreign policy. “Ambition is always dangerous,” he said, echoing criticism of his government’s foreign policy and particularly the way it has been conducted by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu.
For many, Davutoğlu’s foreign policy is thought to have been a very ambitious one, something he has proven with his very sharp statements. At a parliamentary debate in 2012, he made the following statement: “A new Middle East is being born. We will continue to be the owner, pioneer and servant of this Middle East. In the new Middle East, the voice of justice and the will of nations will have the say, not oppression and dictatorships. With the coming of this new Middle East, a belt of peace, stability and prosperity will encircle Turkey. We will improve our democratization and economic development together with this new Middle East.”
The new Middle East currently being shaped, however, is not obviously in the form depicted by Davutoğlu. The entire Middle East is burning, with Syria unfortunately the focal point of a long-lasting regional instability and insecurity. Iraq is rushing to accompany Syria in this sense, with the ever more powerful intrusion of al-Qaeda and its affiliate to this theater. Analysts no longer hesitate to call Iraq-Syria a new “Afpak,” in the sense that the presence of jihadists will invite another form of international intervention. The Americans and the Iranians have already voiced that they are ready to help the Iraqi government in its fight against al-Qaeda.
On the Syrian civil war and this country’s prospects, I was told the following by a Western diplomat recently: “Don’t be surprised if the West and Bashar al-Assad will together chase al-Qaeda from Syria, and at any time thereafter.”
Of course, it would be unfair to blame Davutoğlu for the worsening conditions in the region. However, wouldn’t it be wiser for Turkey to move in a more cool-blooded manner, instead of revealing its regional ambitions?
That’s why Erdoğan’s denouncing of ambitious foreign policy is important. But what is more important is how it will be implemented. To put it more simply: With or without Davutoğlu?