Strategic depth becomes strategic blindness on Iran

Strategic depth becomes strategic blindness on Iran

What are the French telling us? “Let’s not mix our objection to your EU bid with bilateral ties. Let’s continue to improve relations at the bilateral level.” What do we tell them? “As long as you target the most important pillar of our foreign policy, we will not have business as usual with you.”

What are the Iranians telling us? “If you target my ally Syria, as well as my ally in Baghdad, I won’t let you have the prestige of hosting nuclear talks.” What are we telling Iranians? “It’s OK if you support Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki who has been fueling sectarian conflict in the country; it’s OK if you support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad although we want him to go. Let’s agree to disagree and have business as usual.”

And that “business as usual,” happens to be Turkey’s unconditional support for the controversial Iranian nuclear program. And why are we extending that support? Because Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has told us the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei has told him that weapons of mass destruction are religiously prohibited and against Islam.

But then, when Iran proposed holding the new round of nuclear talks in Iraq or Syria, he criticized Tehran for driving the issue uphill, accusing the Iranian regime of a lack of honesty. It’s difficult to follow the logic of the prime minister as these two statements came in the same week. If Tehran is not after a nuclear bomb, since it’s against Islam, why would they drive the issue uphill?

It’s perfectly understandable to argue that it is in the strategic interest of Turkey to make every effort to find an agreement between Tehran and the Western camp in order to avert a military crisis that can have a devastating effect in the region.

Yet it is hard to read this strategic argumentation in the government rhetoric since it looks as if another type of reasoning guides the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Let’s face it; the political culture of the AKP has a soft spot for the Islamic regime in Tehran precisely because it is Islamic. Yet there is nothing Islamic in the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Tehran’s policy is based on what it perceives to be to its strategic interest. That’s why as long as Turkey’s policies are devoid of strategic outlook vis-a-vis Iran, Erdoğan will be bound to be disappointed by Iran just as he was disappointed with his “then” brother al-Assad. 

Yet with Ahmet Davutoğlu at the helm of the Foreign Ministry, Erdoğan should ready himself for further disappointments. On April 4, at a press conference with his Belgian counterpart, Davutoğlu said what was essential in Turkey’s foreign policy was not strategic interest but principles, the value Turkey gives to human life. 

Unfortunately, the statement that Turkey’s foreign policy is not based on strategic interests, coming from the author of a book called “strategic depth,” can cost Turkey some strategic losses. 

How can Turkey hope to achieve a desired outcome in a global and regional environment where every actor plays the game according to strategic interest? 

A foreign policy that is supposedly based on principles of good intentions was not enough to convince al-Assad. Let’s hope that Davutoğlu’s strategic depth does not lead to strategic blindness on Iran.