An independent or disappointed Turkey?
First, it was Turkey’s regional politics which seemed to have drifted away from the politics of its longtime Western allies. Then, it turned into a minor crisis with the United States and the Western world after a very critical article on Turkish intelligence chief Hakan Fidan appeared in a U.S. newspaper. At the same time, there is a missile crisis, as the Turkish government has announced its intention to buy missiles from China.
If we leave the conflict and crises with Israel aside, it was the policy on Syria which has been the major reason for the separation. Turkey insisted on the removal of the Bashar al-Assad regime and continued supporting the “armed opposition” despite and after Western allies became seriously concerned by the increasing dominance of radical Islamist armed groups on the opposition front. Then, the Turkish government strongly committed itself to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt to the point of interfering in Egyptian domestic politics after a military coup removed MB leader Mohamed Morsi from office. At the end of the day, it seems that (Sunni) “sectarian” and (Islamist) ideological politics have started to shape the politics of the present government. Finally, the direct criticism of Hakan Fidan and indirect criticism of Turkish foreign policy turned into a debate on “Turkey’s independence” by supporters of the government. It is argued that U.S. and Western forces in general are trying to hinder Turkey from pursuing “independent politics” and becoming a more successful and powerful political actor, globally as well as regionally.
An “independent Turkey” free from the imperialist West has long been a radical leftist slogan but now it has turned into a motto for conservatives. In fact, Islamists and other right-wing political discourses have their history of anti-Westernism and in most cases, this discourse centers on “Jewish conspiracy” theories. So this backlash may not be a big surprise, but it nonetheless reflects a shift from pro-Western center-right politics to a skeptical right-wing nationalism/Islamism. If that is the case, we all have reasons to be concerned by such a slide.
Nevertheless, I think this shift is also the result of disappointment in the field of foreign policy on the part of the government. It is a common human trait to project failures onto others and become aggressive in the face of disappointment, and it is no different in politics. Besides, even if Turkey refrained from expressing its distress concerning the recent rapprochement between the U.S. and Iran, it was too much to swallow after the shortcoming of the failure in its Syrian policy.
There is no doubt that the recent rise of Iranian politics in the region disturbed three countries more than others: Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Israel. Israel and Saudi Arabia made it explicit in different ways, Turkey could not express its concern in an explicit way but felt seriously intimidated and disappointed. This is rather understandable, yet quite risky, since disappointment may often and easily lead to destructiveness, even if it might mean self- destruction.
P.S.: Turkey’s “Chinese missile story” reminded me of the Saudi purchase of Chinese missiles in 1986. The reason then was the U.S. Congress’ refusal to sell Lance missiles to the Saudis; Riyadh was determined to get the missiles, and they did so by agreeing with the Chinese. Alas, they could not use the missiles in 1990 during the first Gulf War. By the way, the broker of the deal with China was Bandar bin Sultan and the secret deal was revealed by the Washington Post in 1988. Yet, at the time, it did not lead to a major crisis with the U.S. and Bandar bin Sultan was not a U.S. critic then as he is nowadays.