Turkey’s foreign policy delusions
I am not one of the dissenters who celebrate the ongoing foreign policy failings of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). In fact, I am very worried.
It is not that I believe foreign policy should be immune to criticism. Nor do I think it is a matter of “national interest.” After all, the concept of the “national interest” is one of the most abused terms in politics, often manipulated by rulers trying to avoid criticism by sublimating their policies as unquestionable national matters.
I and many others have always been very critical of the AKP and its foreign policy. Now I am more concerned than ever about foreign policy shortcomings, as these problems are having disastrous domestic consequences. Some are worried that Turkey is parting ways with the Western alliance and turning its face to Russia and Asia. That would be a matter of serious concern, as such a change of direction would mean Turkey drifting away from values like human rights and freedoms.
However, what is worse than Turkey heading in a new direction and forging new alliances is the fact that it is just another grand delusion on behalf of its current rulers. As Ankara tries to ally itself more with Russia in order to compensate the decay in its relations with the West, it seems set for a new set of disappointments. First of all, Turkey’s expectation for the Russians to support a military intervention in northwestern Syria against the Kurds is far from reality. Let alone supporting a Turkish military move, Russia does not seem to agree with Ankara on excluding the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) from a political solution in Syria. The Turkish government has already been frustrated by a Russian-American agreement for a “political” rather than military solution.
In Iraq, the fact that Iran and the central government in Iraq agreed with Turkey on opposing Massoud Barzani’s independence referendum in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is being over-estimated by Ankara as a permanent policy. But the agreement between the three countries is likely more temporal and issue-based. Unlike Turkey, Iran is still eager to keep its relations with the KRG close. As for the Iraqi central government, the situation is more complex as it is most concerned with limiting Kurdish expansion in debated areas and weakening Barzani’s high ambitions.
It was the same Baghdad government that not so long ago opposed Barzani’s close relations with Turkey and his attempts to conduct illegal (as they see it) oil transport via Turkey. It will be no surprise if Baghdad eventually comes up with accusations against Turkey over illicit oil transports from the KRG. Let’s just remember that back in 2012 the central Iraqi government did not let the plane of Turkey’s energy minister land in KRG capital Arbil. Although things have changed since then, the conflict of interests between Ankara and Baghdad has actually not changed much. The only difference is that the central government is now more powerful, with the support of both Iran and the U.S.
In short, Turkey may be facing more challenges and disappointments in the near future because of its over-reliance on the prospect of forging new non-Western allies. Worse than Turkey sliding to an “Eastern alliance” at the expense of losing friends in the West is the potential prospect that Turkey will be left completely alone.
Considerable danger lies in the prospect of “lone wolf” politics, which can only lead Turkey to turmoil. The deterioration of Turkey’s foreign policy prospects has already been presented as the outcome of a global plot against the country. Such a perception of reality leads Turkey’s rulers to condemn not only all international powers but also all dissent in Turkey as the work of foreign pawns and agents.
The more Turkish foreign policy fails, the more rights and freedoms are curbed as a “solution.” Foreign policy developments are thus reflected in a particularly painful way domestically. That is why there is so much to be concerned about - rather than celebrated - in the ongoing failings of the ruling AKP.