In the field…
Enjoying the happy ending of the Turkish-Lebanese-Syrian hostage crisis, a much relieved Ahmet Davutoğlu, foreign minister, assessed why the two Turkish Airlines pilots had been taken hostage in Lebanon for 71 days: “If you are in the field, such things may happen. If you are not in the field, there is no risk.”
What Minister Davutoğlu refers to as being “in the field” is his clout-fetish foreign policy (and often interior policy, too) in the Middle East that looks more like driving down a one-way, dead-end street.
Clout. The mysterious word without which, it seems, Mr. Davutoğlu could have been speechless.
Naturally, he said that the release of hostages underscored Turkey’s diplomatic clout. I do not remember a single thing that has not underscored Turkey’s diplomatic clout or its regional importance since he sat at the helm.
“The success of this process, which has been conducted under the instructions of our prime minister, proves once again the regional importance of Turkey.” Yes, that, too, was Mr. Davutoglu - in a Twitter post before the abducted pilots landed in Istanbul.
The release of the Turkish pilots was something to celebrate for the Turks. So was the exchange release of nine Lebanese Shia pilgrims, for their beloved ones; and the chain-exchange release of dozens of prisoners held by the Damascus regime. Did all that happen because of Turkey’s diplomatic clout and regional importance only?
Would the chain-exchange-release ever have taken place if Mr. Davutoğlu’s (and the prime minister’s) nemesis, Bashar al-Assad, had not agreed to release the prisoners for whose release the nine Lebanese hostages had been taken? Did Mr. Assad really release the Syrian prisoners because of Turkey’s diplomatic clout and regional importance? Without Tehran’s diplomatic clout over Damascus, would this happy ending ever be a happy ending? Why did the Turkish pilots disembark from a Qatar Airways jet, not Turkish?
After several trials and errors and dramatic failures all of which have invariably reminded every player in the region that there is a ridiculously large gap between Turkey’s diplomatic ambitions and its real-life clout, Mr. Davutoglu must have felt too thirsty for what he could portray as Turkey’s diplomatic clout and regional importance – words he has a passion for. His every effort in ending the three-way hostage crisis is, no doubt, worthy of much praise for humanistic reasons. The way he has childishly portrayed his efforts is not.
Understandably, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has successfully made foreign policy a “domestic issue.” It smartly found a real “vote-catcher” in a new calculus as it nicely catered for the average Turkish voter’s longing for “diplomatic clout, power, importance and “we-are-feeling-imperial-again” ego. In 2011, when the AKP’s vote in parliamentary elections was nearly 50 percent, various opinion polls revealed that around 65 percent of Turks approved of its foreign policy.
However, as new polls find out that the “returns” on new foreign policy have not been popular, and could even be costly at a time when the party faces three critical elections in a span of two years, a desperate need emerged for anything that could be portrayed to the public (voter, these days) as a grand foreign policy success.
Mr. Davutoglu and his team can work on smart ideas to add to the visibility of Turkey’s diplomatic clout and regional importance. For instance, they can encourage tour operators to regularly haul thousands of Turkish nationals to countries like Lebanon, Syria and Egypt, where the Turkish clout is apparently very visible. By boosting hostage trading and solving every subsequent hostage crisis they can appear even more triumphant before the cameras.
Alternatively, special events could be arranged to mark the important dates in new Turkish diplomacy (clout, in short); starting with, for instance next year, the “3rd Anniversary of Minister Davutoglu’s First Speech That Said al-Assad Would Be Disposed of Within Weeks.” Or the “4th Anniversary of Minister Davutoglu’s Speech on How Israel Would Be Isolated Soon.” A special event could also be arranged to celebrate EU Minister Egemen Bagis’s guess that German Chancellor Angela Merkel “would soon be going to fishing with former French President Nicolas Sarkozy.”
Luckily, we are in the field.