‘War at home, war in the world’
The aphorism “Peace at home, peace in the world” is often cited to summarize Kemalist foreign policy and suggests a “quietist policy.” In fact, early republican foreign policy meant denouncing the Ottoman past and the troubles of World War I and much has changed since then.
It is claimed that now we live in a “post-Kemalist” era which is looking to update the republican regime in a more democratic way and pursue a more “active” foreign policy. Still, there was no need to reverse the message of the famous aphorism and come close to “war at home, war in the world.”
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s famous policy of “zero problem with neighbors” was far too optimistic and failed dramatically. Still, there must have been a chance to opt for the mild middle way rather than oscillate from one extreme to the other in such a short span of time. In fact, it is unfair to criticize the present government for switching overnight in terms of Syria and Libya. The Western policy was to first switch from the policy of rapprochement to one of confrontation in Libya and Syria. Turkey could do nothing but comply with Western policy afterwards.
Turkish foreign policy can only be criticized for being too naive as the country attempted to overplay its role so much so that it turned into a sort of neo-Ottomanism.
Turkey failed to recognize the complexity of regional politics and deluded itself with the dream of regional leadership in a very difficult time. Besides, Turkey took for granted the Western support for its active foreign policy. Finally, Turkey overestimated its power and tended to underestimate its weaknesses. This is how we have started to head for a situation of “zero friends” instead of “zero problems,” as some claim.
Apart from the coming crises with Iran and the acid test of Syria, Turkey’s ambition for regional leadership has begun to be resented also by our new allies in the Arab Spring. Egypt did everything to stop Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan from visiting Gaza and giving a speech in Tahrir Square. Moreover, he attracted criticism from secularists since he it was claimed that he was allied with the Muslim Brotherhood, or MB, even as he was challenged by the MB because of his advice on secularism. Turkey’s ambition to be “the protector” of the Palestinian cause is another source of concern among Arabs.
In addition, despite the fact that Turkey joined the efforts for regime change in Libya, the first thing that Erdoğan did after the visit to Libya was to give a very critical speech targeting his supposed allies, the British and the French, for their “imperialistic” policies in Libya.
Turkey’s deteriorating relations with Israel are another problem and the current position has already exceeded the bounds of Realpolitik. It may even be claimed that Turkey’s position has started to become an obstacle for a Palestinian peace rather than an aid to solving the problem. Turkey is now escalating the tension in the eastern Mediterranean by confronting Cyprus (and so Greece and Russia indirectly as well) in the middle of this mess.
Last but not the least, there seems to be no peaceful prospect concerning the Kurdish question at home. On the contrary, tension and confrontation is reaching alarming levels. The post-Kemalist foreign policy need not go in the direction of war and confrontation but it may turn out so unless Turkey immediately revises its current politics at home and abroad.