AKP narrative contradicts facts on the ground

AKP narrative contradicts facts on the ground

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan continues to criticize French President Nicolas Sarkozy rather than the British premier. “They were not around. Now they are trying to steal roles,” he said in reference to the French-British duo rushing to Libya just ahead of Erdoğan’s visit. There is no doubt that the Sarkozy-Cameron visit was triggered by Erdoğan’s plans to be the first world leader to congratulate rebel leaders in person. But in fact it was Erdoğan who was trying to “steal the role” from Sarkozy, whom he reproached of not “being around,” which is a false accusation.

“Gadhafi lied to me on the phone saying bombardments on Misrata are not true,” confessed Erdoğan. France did not listen to Gadhafi and took the lead in triggering international military intervention to Libya. It then provided direct military support to the rebels, who were totally disorganized at the beginning. Had it not been for the military support provided by France and Britain, it would have been difficult for the rebels to win against Gadhafi’s forces if they had to contend with the humanitarian help provided by Turkey, which became involved in the NATO operations only after some time.

The admirers of Turkish foreign policy will accuse me of writing like a French journalist. No French journalist would write about it, because despite his continuous criticism, Erdoğan’s verbal attacks are taken seriously neither by Sarkozy, nor by the French public. What France takes seriously is what Turkey does, not what Erdoğan says, since it probably knows that his rhetoric is written for domestic consumption.

The public opinion on foreign policy is largely shaped by the leadership. In other words the ordinary citizen’s view usually follows that of the leadership, according to political scientists. The latest survey of Transatlantic Trends provides the latest example of this correlation. A majority of Turks believe that the Middle East is more important to Turkey’s economic interests than Europe. This should not be a surprise despite the fact that the majority of Turkey’s exports head to the EU and that 80 percent of foreign direct investment comes from the West. Because, while there has been a sharp decline in our trade with the Middle East due to the Arab Spring in contrast to the fact that Europe remained our main partner despite its economic crisis, the prime minister rarely says anything positive about Europe.

Recall Erdoğan’s statement? “What has NATO got to do in Iraq?” he asked. Only 23 percent of Turks supported international intervention in Libya, which actually enabled Erdoğan to go to that country to be greeted as if he was the one who triggered the operation. In view of the government’s often confrontational narrative on NATO in contrast to its positive rhetoric on Iran, only 37 percent of Turks believe NATO is important for Turkey. While only 38 percent of Turks are concerned about Iran possessing nuclear weapon, one in four Turks said accepting Iran as a nuclear power would be the best option.

Under normal circumstances it would have been difficult to explain to Turks why Turkey recently decided to host a U.S. radar system as part of NATO’s nuclear defense shield.

Under normal circumstances, the government could fall into the trap created by its own rhetoric, since its narrative often contradicts the facts on the ground. It is lucky that the voices of those pointing to these contradictions remain very dim