With Qatar on the retreat, Turkey will face more pressure over ISIL

With Qatar on the retreat, Turkey will face more pressure over ISIL

“With Qatar slowly backing down, Turkey will be left alone in its ambivalent stance about joining the international efforts to fight ISIL [the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant], and it will be easier to exert pressure on Turkey,” a European diplomat said during a coffee break in the Chatham House meeting in Istanbul on Sept. 13 and 14.

The diplomat spoke a day after Qatar had announced its decision to expel seven leading members of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Currently Qatar is said to be among the Arab countries that have taken part in the coalition, under U.S. leadership, that has begun bombing ISIL targets.

While Turkey’s rhetoric still remains somewhat ambivalent about its role in the anti-ISIL coalition, there are now stronger signs that it will provide even military “contribution,” if this has not already started.

Even to an ordinary observer, it was evident that the reasons for Turkey’s ambivalence were not limited to the fact that ISIL held 49 hostages. Turkey has other reasons that make it hesitant: An open contribution could make it a much more open target for ISIL, which is suspected of having sleeper cells in Turkey. Bombing ISIL targets could also aggravate the refugee situation. There may be other reasons behind Turkey’s hesitations, and the degree to which these are legitimate or understandable can be questioned.

But the fundamental problem here is this: Turkey does not trust the West, and the West does not trust the Turkey. There is no doubt that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) rulers’ Islamic mentality shapes Western skepticism. But let’s not forget that Turkey’s former secular elites were also always skeptical of Western motivations. Still, in the past there was much better and more structured dialogue between Turkey and the Western alliance, especially with Europe.

Even before Turkey began its EU accession negotiations, there were regular meetings between Turkish foreign ministers and the foreign ministers of the EU troika. There were efforts for consultation and harmonization of policies.

Today’s Turkey is no less important than the Turkey of the 1990s, as far as regional policies are concerned. Yet the conviction that Turkey cannot be considered a genuine member of the Atlantic community is getting stronger. Who is to blame? Both sides.

When you examine the situation on a case-by-case basis, Turkey has excellent relations with the EU’s major countries, like Great Britain, France, Italy, Spain, etc. None want to jeopardize the economic opportunities they hope to seize by talking about unpleasant issues like Turkey’s becoming more authoritarian, more conservative and anti-Western at a bilateral level.

However, the political dialogue forged by the EU foreign policy chief has remained weak. The EU has refused to invite Turkish leaders to its summits. As Turkey has not been hearing any direct voices of concern on the bilateral and multilateral levels, anti-Turkish comments in the Western press create confusion and a deeper suspicion of the West.

As the gap of mutual distrust widens, partly fueled by insufficient or non-genuine dialogue, there is less understanding of the real motives behind each side’s policies; that, in turn, makes cooperation much more difficult.