The end of Turkey’s ‘precious loneliness’?

The end of Turkey’s ‘precious loneliness’?

The idea of “precious loneliness” was introduced to international relations literature by İbrahim Kalın, in order to describe the much criticized state of Turkey’s Middle East policy almost three years ago in August 2013.

At the time, Kalın was deputy undersecretary in charge of foreign policy for then prime minister Tayyip Erdoğan. When Erdoğan was elected president in August 2014, Kalın was appointed deputy secretary general of the presidency in charge of foreign and security policies, and he also became the spokesman for the president with the title of ambassador. As a high-level bureaucrat, he is known to be more effective and influential than a number of ministers in current prime minister Binali Yıldırım’s Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government.

When he came up with the “precious loneliness” term, first voiced in a Twitter message, he was trying to justify Erdoğan’s foreign policy, which had been shaped and executed by then foreign minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. 

The Twitter message said the “claim” of Turkey’s loneliness in the Middle East was untrue, but even if it was then this was a “precious” loneliness. Elaborating in a later interview, Kalın said the AK Parti’s foreign policy was based on “values and principles” rather than daily necessities.

Back in August 2013, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) administration of elected president Mohamad Morsi in Egypt had just been taken out by a Saudi-orchestrated coup. The following were also true:

- Turkey had still an ambassador in Egypt, despite lacking ambassadors in Syria and Israel.

- The MB structures had not yet been completely crushed in Egypt.

- The MB was still the main backbone of the forces against the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria.

-The core Syria opposition had not dissolved to join al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra and newcomer jihadist group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

- ISIL had not yet captured Raqqa in Syria (January 2014) or Mosul in Iraq (June 2014).

- The Turkish government was not yet under massive criticism about jihadist militants’ continued crossing into Syria from Turkey.

- There was still a dialogue process going on with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and there was no serious domestic security problem along Turkey’s borders with Syria, Iraq and Iran.

- ISIL had yet not attacked the Syrian town of Kobane (then known as Ayn al-Arab) near the Turkish border, which was captured earlier by militia of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the Syrian branch of the PKK.

- U.S. President Barack Obama had not yet phoned President Erdoğan to tell him about American support to the PYD in Kobane, which opened up a major crack in Turkish-U.S. relations;

- The PKK had not abandoned dialogue and resumed acts of terror, sensing the possibility of a future Kurdistan because of the Kobane experience.

- Turkey had not yet opened its strategic İncirlik air base to the U.S.-led coalition against ISIL.

- Acts of terror by ISIL and the PKK had not yet started another period of bloodshed in Turkey.

- Turkey still had very good political and commercial relations with Russia, despite Russian moves against Ukraine.

- Russia had still not deployed troops to Syria, despite insistent calls from Iran.

- The Turkish Air Force had not yet downed a Russian plane over violations of the border with Syria, triggering a major crisis with Russia.

- The hope for a reactivation of relations with the European Union had not yet been put on hold because of the anti-terror fight in Turkey;

- Long-time EU candidate Turkey had not yet become campaign material for EU politicians to hit each other with.

It was Erdoğan who had handpicked Davutoğlu to succeed him as prime minister. It was then again Erdoğan who changed Davutoğlu with Yıldırım, as part of his bid to shift Turkey to a strong, executive presidential regime.

It now looks like Erdoğan has seen that the foreign policy line he followed with Davuoğlu is not taking Turkey anywhere better. It is good to have principles and values for a consistent foreign policy, but it is not possible to sustain a foreign policy with only values and principles.

The recent overtures to Russia and talks with Israel are perhaps indications that Turkey’s foreign policy is changing. Indeed, it does have to change before precious loneliness is turned into something even more dangerous or isolationist. That would be a shame for a country of Turkey’s size and history.