The need for a revision of foreign policy
Right after the disastrous bombing in Reyhanlı, a prominent journalist suggested that we should see the matter and the scale of the human cost “as an unavoidable price to pay for being an influential actor in Middle East politics.” Can you imagine a U.S. journalist suggesting something similar concerning the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Libya last year in an effort to save the U.S. government from criticism? Or can you imagine the U.S. government putting all the blame on anti-U.S. Libyans for the atrocity? Instead, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted her responsibility and the debate on the Libyan event became one of the major issues of the presidential campaign.
It is only in nationalist authoritarian regimes that the vague and suppressive concept of “the national interest” comes before the human cost and criticism. This is the case in Turkey, where authoritarian nationalism has not only defined the political regime of the status quo ante but has also been redefined along the lines of the present status quo. The present discourse of “be with us, or with our enemy al-Assad” is a clear sign of authoritarian politics which is reflected in the country’s foreign policy approach. In a normal democracy, governments should be accountable for their foreign policies as well as for their domestic politics. Definitely, this is not the case in Turkey, and the unconditional support offered to Turkish foreign policy and for “freedom for the Syrian people” by self-proclaimed “defenders of democracy” greatly helps in legitimizing the nationalist authoritarian foreign policy by ignoring the principle of accountability in foreign policy. The untenable nature of the criticisms from the opposition parties and some political circles is another problem. Most of their criticisms seem to derive from hostility to the governing party and, because of this, they are far from being convincing; moreover, they lack cohesion and are unable to suggest alternative politics.
Turkey needs a serious debate on its foreign policy, especially concerning the Syrian crisis. The debate should start from the recognition of the fact that Turkey played a negative role in the Syrian conflict.
Even after its allies changed their policy priorities from removing Bashar al-Assad by all means to engaging more in considering sustainable governance after al-Assad, Turkey insisted in getting involved in the anti-al-Assad fight and became an engaged party in the Syrian civil war. Even after some factions of the Syrian opposition were proven to be reckless sectarians, Turkey turned a blind eye to this grave problem. Even after it became clear that military options increased the risk of an escalation of the violence by both sides and that the Syrian conflict needed more diplomacy, Turkey insisted in promoting the military options.
I hope Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to the U.S. helped Turkey’s government recognize the international and regional political facts of life. Turkey could have been in a position of mediating in such time of crisis if it hadn’t burned many bridges with regional actors in the Middle East.
Regardless of whether relations with Israel are beginning to be patched up, the shadow of the scar of the Mavi Marmara will be there for some time. Regardless of who wins the election in Iran, the mutual distrust will be there for a considerable time. Turkey is in the same boat with Jordan, but after King Abdullah’s visit, things did not go well between these two regional allies. Egypt is a regional ally but does not seem to welcome Turkey’s desire to extend patronage in the region. Turkey’s “clever policy” of strengthening its ties with Iraqi Kurdistan and pursuing peace with Kurds may not prove that clever if Turkey invests too much hope on that front. Finally, for the time being, Turkey is being classified mostly by its alliance with Saudi and Gulf regimes. It means that the political role of Turkey has shrunk rather than blossomed as a result of its ambitious regional policy. That is why we need a free debate and should ask for a revision.