Is Turkey’s Erdoğan ‘deceived’ again?

Is Turkey’s Erdoğan ‘deceived’ again?

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan suggested on Sept. 24 that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could take part in a “transition process” in Turkey’s war-torn southern neighbor.

“Either a transition process without al-Assad, or with al-Assad, is possible,” Erdoğan said after performing his Eid al-Adha prayer in Ankara.

Eid al-Adha is a day when Muslims are encouraged to set aside hard feelings and make peace with each other. Regardless of whether his words were uttered with such symbolism in mind, Erdoğan’s words are important.

They may mark a juncture in Turkey’s foreign policy, which has refused to sit and negotiate with the Syrian president so far. For various reasons, Ankara has also severed relations with Egypt, Israel and others.

Those who know the backstages of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) may be expecting such a shift. 

Erdoğan admits foreign policy mistakes 

Erdoğan convened 40 of the AKP’s 70 co-founders in his presidential palace on Sept. 8, four days before the party’s eventful congress. 

According to AKP insiders, the Turkish president complained that he was being criticized for all mistakes made over the past year, although he was not involved in their making. He particularly pointed the finger at “mistakes in foreign policy.”

I was expecting to see a shift in Ankara’s policy on Egypt, because Erdoğan reportedly referred to it as a mistake in the party meeting, albeit without elaboration. But it seems that the Turkish president is softening his rhetoric in Syria first, amid increased calls from the international arena to sit down and negotiate with al-Assad, whose bloody administration now enjoys even more Russian support.

Former FM Davutoğlu undermined as PM

Erdoğan’s behind-closed-doors jab at Turkish foreign policy might be linked to his pre-congress strategy of bringing Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu around to his point of view. 

In the congress, Erdoğan managed to singlehandedly shape the AKP’s top cadre by “convincing” Davutoğlu and showing the “stick” of supporting a more loyalist candidate who could have challenged the prime minister for the AKP leadership.

Although he was ultimately unchallenged at the AKP congress, the seat of Davutoğlu, who has been the architect of Turkey’s foreign policy for the past decade, is still not secure with the Nov. 1 election looming on the horizon. With a party management that he does not really control, the Turkish PM’s fate may now be between the two lips of Erdoğan.

If the president wishes, he will be able to replace Davutoğlu easily, arguing that he was misinformed about foreign policy issues, just as he reportedly told party seniors on Sept. 8.

Turkish president a ‘victim’ again?

Pulling this off should not be too hard for Erdoğan. After all, he has so far presented himself as a victim of “deceit” at the hands of the Gülenists, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), thus transferring the burden of all Ankara’s policy failures onto them.

Will we end up hearing Erdoğan say he was also “deceived” by Davutoğlu, in order to conveniently lay the foundation for himself to change the course of Turkey’s self-harming foreign policy? We will see after the Nov. 1 election.