We trust you, you know what you’re doing
By a simple twist of fate, the prime ministers across the most beautiful sea in the world can be mentioned in a future edition of author Bill Fawcett’s popular book, “Trust Me, I Know What I’m Doing: 100 More Mistakes That Lost Elections, Ended Empires, and Made the World What It Is Today.” No doubt, history will recall Prime Ministers Alexis Tsipras (the guest of honor in this column on Wednesday) and Ahmet Davutoğlu for their excellent ability at achieving the exact opposite of what they aimed for at the beginning of their political journeys.
But they will not be alone in the hall of historic misguidance. In 1917, Vladimir Lenin was stuck in Switzerland when German army intelligence hatched a wonderful idea: Ship him and his 18 revolutionaries secretly to Russia and give them some money to finance their revolution. The trouble-makers would disappear from Europe and perish in Russia. Without German help, possibly, the Bolshevik revolution might never have taken place.
In 1938, when emboldened Nazis demanded a part of Czechoslovakia and the Sudetenland, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain convinced the Czechs to give up some land to “buy peace in our time.”
In 1941, just a few months before the Germans invaded Russia, Soviet military intelligence reported on the invasion plans. Stalin stubbornly insisted that it was merely a plot by the British to drag the Soviet Union into the war.
Across the Atlantic, in 1929, President Herbert Hoover confidently decided to “let the economy fix itself.” That’s precisely how the Great Depression deserved its title.
The radical leftist Mr. Tsipras would have been the noble warrior who defeated the evil capitalist powers that strangled his country. He would heroically rewrite his country’s history “à la Guevara.” Political romanticism is not bad. Unless it captures the thinking of leaders.
Similarly, Mr. Davutoğlu would rewrite the “wrong flow of history” in the former Ottoman lands. Not only would he build eternal peace with Turkey’s neighbors on the basis of “zero problems,” but also take on a historic mission (in his words): “Like in the 16th century, when the Ottoman Balkans were rising, we will once again make the Balkans, the Caucasus and the Middle East, together with Turkey, the center of world politics in the future. That is the goal of Turkish foreign policy and we will achieve it.” (2009). “On the historic march of our holy nation, the AK Party signals the birth of a global power and the mission for a new world order. This is the centenary of our exit from the Middle East … whatever we lost between 1911 and 1923, whatever lands we withdrew from, from 2011 to 2023 we shall once again meet our brothers in those lands. This is a bounden historic mission,” (2012).
Mr. Davutoğlu would prove that “the world is greater than five,” and Muslim Turkey would become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. He would make a non-Arab nation the leader of the Arab world – once again – and the Arab world would shed tears in joy and happiness. He would conduct prayers in mosques in “the Palestinian capital Quds [Jerusalem]” and in Syria (implying President Bashar’s al-Assad’s downfall “soon.”
Just like there is misery, humiliation and hopelessness in Greece instead of Mr. Tsipras’ promises of “Guevara-ish” dignity, there is in Turkey a forceful feeling of loneliness and abandonment instead of Davutoğlu’s promises of “neo-Ottoman glory and grandeur.”
Turkey does not have ambassadors in the five capitals in its vicinity: Yerevan, Nicosia, Damascus, Tel Aviv and Cairo. It recalls ambassadors across the world as more and more countries recognize the Armenian genocide. Its ships come under fire off the Libyan coast. Its nationals are good value in Lebanon’s kidnapping market. It fights a silent, sectarian war against Iran. It even has serious diplomatic rows with China and Thailand (even Thailand!)
But Syria can be counted as a success. If what Mr. Davutoğlu meant with “meeting our brothers [in former Ottoman lands]” was to have 2 million Syrian refugees in Turkey and an assortment of jihadists across the border, that is.