The great game of pool

The great game of pool

I must have heard it first from Madeleine Albright at a meeting in Ankara few years back. She was answering a question about the famous geo-strategist Zbigniew Brzezinski’s grand chessboard analogy. “I do not think that diplomacy could be visualized as a chessboard,” she said.

“To me, it is more of a pool table. You aim at a ball but your move impacts other balls on the table. With every move, all the balls on the pool table could be influenced.”

A hefty game of pool is going on in our neighborhood. We in Turkey are not the primary target, but every hit influences us nonetheless. 

The thrust came from North Africa and traveled up to the Arabian Peninsula and Central Asia. Syria is under the influence of the Arab awakening and its opposition is at our borders. Iraq is in turmoil and will be for some time after the U.S. departure. Against this backdrop, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran visited Yerevan last week. Unlike President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, his visit did not send a message to his domestic audience, but to his neighbors. The push that came from North Africa thus came to affect us on all fronts. Turkey’s position, or at least the angle you look at it, also changes. 

Iran is an important ally of Armenia. With the Turkish border still closed, other than Russia, their only connection to the outside world is Iran. Having alternatives is vital for countries. If you look at the news agenda last week, you will see a lot on energy and connectivity. Railroad construction between Iran and Armenia is one item on the table. Armenia also has a surplus in electricity and is looking for ways to sell it. They can’t sell to Turkey under the circumstances, so they are looking for a buyer in Iran. But what if those circumstances changed? If rapprochement with Armenia was to work, a whole new angle of play could come about. Each move tosses the balls around the table and the pro plans ahead of each turn.

What is the problem with Turkey? The inability to plan ahead and arrange its position on the table before each move. The heavens sent a conducive atmosphere, but we have failed to do our homework. If you cannot plan your position ahead of time, you open yourself up to the random forces of the table. That appears to be the case now. The game is too fast and Turkey is having trouble coping. Why? It has not completed its transformation process yet. It has not yet completely come to terms with the realities of its history and region. Apologizing for the Dersim killings is too little and comes too late.

If Turkey could have moved along faster with the European Union accession, it would have been in a stronger position. As things stand, forces beyond our control are bound to bounce us about.