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MURAT YETKİN > Why does Erdoğan support Davutoğlu’s foreign policy?

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For some politicians, observers, academics and intellectuals, Turkish foreign policy under Ahmet Davutoğlu has experienced a number of difficulties in the last year or so.

“From zero problems with neighbors, toward zero relations with neighbors” is a popular line used by opposition members to mock Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s diplomatic line. That is especially in reference to withdrawing ambassadors from two neighboring countries: from Israel because of the ongoing Mavi Marmara/flotilla case and from Syria because of the political and humanitarian situation there, which is worsening into a civil war.

The opposition is also criticizing the government for letting NATO operate a radar missile defense system which (according to them) negatively affects relations with Russia and Iran.

It is not just the opposition that has criticized Davutoğlu’s policies; some circles with influence in Turkey that are close to the government do so as well. For example, those close to the Fethullah Gülen group would like to see Davutoğlu’s stance lean more against Iran and less against Israel.

The government’s condition for improving relations with Israel is an apology over the killing of nine Turkish citizens in the raid on the Mavi Marmara ship carrying goods to break the embargo on Gaza in 2010. It, however, seems to be one of the major problems between Turkey and the United States right now. Davutoğlu is being targeted not only by those reflecting the view from Washington, but from Brussels as well.

Then why, one might ask, does Erdoğan keep supporting Davutoğlu’s line outside and inside Turkey by allocating lengthy paragraphs in his speeches to promote foreign policy in remote Anatolian towns and cities?

The answer comes from İbrahim Uslu. Mr. Uslu is the head of a research company named ANAR; he is considered to be close to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) but is also a respected researcher.

In a detailed interview with Barçın Yinanç of the Hürriyet Daily News (printed in the weekend and Monday editions in two pieces), Uslu made some interesting remarks.

First of all, he claims that the AK Parti’s voter base has increased to an average of 53 percent from the 50 percent it received in the last elections exactly one year ago today on June 12, 2011. He is confident that whoever Erdoğan would nominate for the presidential post (including possibly himself), that person will be Turkey’s next president; at the same time, Erdoğan’s economic policies, which have protected Turkey from the storms of Europe, have clearly been a factor so far.

But Uslu says Turkish foreign policy, which has been under much criticism as mentioned above, is liked by people and is a factor to increase support for Erdoğan’s government. “Problems might occur,” Uslu says, but adds that, according to the electorate, “that does not alter the fact that Turkey’s international posture has become more powerful.” Uslu translates this perception of power into potential votes for Erdoğan. This could be expressed as a proper dose of populism in Davutoğlu’s mixture of politics for interests and politics for principles.

Whether they are facts or rhetoric, what is relevant for politics is perception. As long as there is voter approval, Erdoğan is likely to retain the foreign policy directed by Davutoğlu as it is – perhaps with some fine-tuning – like every other leader.

June/12/2012

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