The Ministry of Broken Dreams

The Ministry of Broken Dreams

It’s the same old Turkish malady: Form over function, or (fancy) words over deeds. Consistency remains one of the rarest qualities in governing politics, particularly in foreign policy. 

Unwillingly, by their speeches and acts, often totally irrelevant or disconnected from each other, Turkey’s leaders have unwillingly – perhaps without noticing - given a single, powerful message to the international community: You can just ignore our big threats and hot speeches, for even we ourselves do not know whether we can follow through on them. And the world has kindly chosen to ignore them.

“We will shoot down every foreign aircraft that violates our sovereign airspace.” Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said that at the top of his voice more than a few times. In response, the Russians sent a second jet to violate Turkish airspace. Miraculously – or not - the fighter survived.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has vowed countless times that Turkey would never have any official contact with Egypt’s “illegitimate, coup d’etat regime and its coup dictator.” But with Turkey lacking any serious clout or leverage on regional politics to be able to isolate Mr. Sisi’s Egypt, Erdoğan has now generously liberalized ministerial contacts between Ankara and Cairo. Has Mr. Sisi gone? Is Egypt now being ruled by a legitimate regime? Mr. Erdoğan is also now even talking about meeting Mr. Sisi if the capital punishment sentences that Egyptian courts gave to Muslim Brotherhood members are annulled. Will such an annulment make the “coup leader” a legitimate leader? How easy… 

For Mr. Erdoğan, the capital sentences in Egypt were an outrage, a disgrace and many other awful things. But for the same Mr. Erdoğan, the capital sentences in Saudi Arabia given to over 30 people, including a prominent Shiite cleric, were merely an “internal legal matter.” It is precisely this ideological/sectarian bias that makes Mr. Erdoğan think of Mr. Sisi as a dictator while believing that the Saudi monarchs’ land is a beacon of democracy. 

Last year, Pope Francis called the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey “the first genocide of the 20th century.” Turkey responded by recalling its ambassador from the Vatican. Last week, Turkey decided to send its ambassador back to the Vatican. Did the Holy See change his mind and say the events of 1915-19 did not amount to genocide? No. The Vatican simply expressed sympathy with the idea that an international commission should look into the tragic events of a century ago. 

The inconsistencies look even more manifest and humiliating when it comes to the Kurdish issue. Here, briefly, is the Turkish account: 

1. The PKK is a terrorist organization. 

2. So is its Syrian franchise, the PYD. 

3. The United States should choose between “us” (Turkey) and “the terrorists” (the PYD), because Washington’s special envoy to the allied campaign against ISIL recently visited the Syrian Kurds, receiving a plaque from a Kurdish commander and smiling for the cameras. Ankara vehemently states that its allies, in this case the U.S., should avoid any contact with “the terrorists,” the PYD in this case. 

4. Then Mr. Erdoğan tells the press that the Turkish intelligence services can have talks with the imprisoned leader of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). This inevitably raises the question: Should it have been CIA officers, instead of the U.S. envoy, who had talks with the “terrorist” PYD? Would that have made Ankara happy?

5.   And there is not a single word from Turkey for Masoud Barzani (who instead got the red-carpet treatment in Ankara), the leader of the Iraqi Kurds, who recently said the time was now ripe for a referendum on Kurdish independence. Is Turkey against any Kurdish independence, or is it only against Syrian Kurdish and Turkish Kurdish independence(s)?

When their leaders are so confused, it is normal that the Turks also have confused minds. 

According to recent research by Istanbul’s Kadir Has University:

1.   Slightly over 39 percent of Turks think the U.S. is a security threat to their own country. 

2.   Just over 35 percent of Turks think the U.S. is a friend of their country. 

Should anyone be surprised?