Ankara rediscovers pragmatism
Turkey began this week with two big surprises in foreign policy. Firstly, Turkey and Israel finally reached an agreement to restore full diplomatic relations, after a six-year lull following the deadly Gaza Flotilla incident in May 2010. Secondly, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sent a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin, which may be the first step toward ending the cold war between Ankara and Moscow since the downing of a Russian warplane on the Turkish-Syrian border in November 2015.
For my part, I welcome both of these steps. The Turkish-Israeli deal will not only help the two countries with new economic opportunities, it will also help Palestine thanks to broader access that Turkey will now have to bring in aid and build key facilities.
A possible reconciliation with Russia will also be good because both countries have major economic ties that have been severely hurt in the past seven months. Turkish tourism, in particular, is at an all-time low because of the dramatic decline in the number of Russian tourists. (And I am saying this as someone who is a fan of neither Putinism nor Erdoğanism, and see their convergence as a problem, not a blessing.)
The major question is why Ankara now, after months and years of nationalist chest-beating, is taking these steps. Well, even the masters of Ankara, who are not very well-versed in seeing their own mistakes, have ultimately realized that they dug themselves into a pit with their emotional, ideological and ultimately arrogant foreign policy. Turkey became a severely isolated country in the world, with very few friends and very many enemies, real or perceived.
This problem, in fact, has helped the same masters domestically, because they were able to convince their base about a “global conspiracy” against Turkey and mobilize millions to give unyielding support to the government. But the fanatic devotion of your base does not make your economy get better, your tourism prosper, or your security improve. You just keep deluding your supporters, and perhaps even yourself, but these delusions have no positive impact on the reality in which you are living. At some point, reality sinks in.
So, as belated as it is, I am happy to see this positive turn, which I would call the restoration of pragmatism. There are also signs that this process will go on, with improved relations with Egypt as well. That would be also fine.
Does this positive turn have something to do with the departure of the former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu? That is what some people, including some supporters of the president, are speculating these days. Accordingly, it was Davutoğlu who put Turkey on a path of “ideological foreign policy,” and it is now his departure that gives the government a chance to get more realistic.
But I don’t fully buy this argument. Indeed, I agree that Davutoğlu sometimes acted with too much intellectual “vision” and insufficient calculation of facts on the ground — especially in Syria. Yet
neither the Syria policy, nor the break with Israel and Russia, were solely his designs. They were all led and executed by Erdoğan. So I guess that Davutoğlu’s departure is only a pretext now to correct a foreign policy for which he was not the only responsible person.
As a final point, pragmatism and moderation in foreign policy is nice. But we need the exact same turn in domestic policy as well. In fact Turkey needs the latter even more desperately than the former.