2013, a year we do not want to recall in foreign policy
Academia who, in the future, will be drafting Turkey’s foreign policy, will probably mark the year 2013 as an unfortunate era when several failures occurred one after the other, when all the assumptions that the policies were based on have totally collapsed, when the perception of the country in the world was altered and when its regional gravity was upended.
The most negative aspect in foreign policy is the fact that Turkey is at odds with most of the countries in its own geography. Also, the United States, which is accused of being involved in conspiracies against the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government – even though it is far away –, can be included in this group. Quarrelling with almost everyone, yelling at and scolding all the actors that you are angry at in the international arena inevitably disrupts, moreover, cancels out your ability to play a role and take initiative in international politics.
Turkey, which was once a country whose view was sought in regional issues, has now become a country today which is excluded in developments regarding the order in the same region – probably with the concern that it will further entangle the situation.
Diplomatic relations with Egypt, which is the biggest power center of the Arab world, are about to break. Relations with the central government in Iraq, excluding the peace move toward the end of 2013, have been in hostile terms most of the year. Relations with Iran were conducted at a distanced platform throughout most of the year; they have been improving since Iran's June 2013 elections.
Probably, the biggest negative aspect in this picture is the lack of comprehension and farsightedness and the mistakes in calculation in the policies toward Syria, Turkey’s neighbor to the south, with which it shares nearly a 900-kilometers-long border. The government’s Syria policy, which has placed Turkey as a distinct side in the war, has collapsed as a result of the Baath regime revalidating itself as an interlocutor before the West.
Also, last year has been a year when theories about Turkey being a role model in its region have been tested and failed. The main reason for this is that Turkey is distancing itself from the requirements of being a role model. The brutal police violence used at Taksim’s Gezi Park has enhanced the image of an extremely polarized country, further adding the shadow of authoritarianism on the democratic credibility of Turkey. Indeed, a mentality that leaves its own citizen breathless with tear gas and one which withholds condolences from its deceased citizens can be a model, but only a bad one…
The fact that foreign policy is mistuned has its effects on relations with the West. Relations with the U.S. have become beyond rational analysis criteria. The U.S.-Turkey relations, which were declared to be at its best in May during the prime minister’s Washington visit, are today staging a serious confidence crisis that can only be explained by a situation of psychic snap.
The fact that a chapter has been opened after a three-year break in EU talks does not change the fact that those negotiations have practically stopped. The prime minister’s words to Russian leader Vladimir Putin concerning being included in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, referring to the EU, “Save us from these troubles,” can be regarded as the most genuine expression of his view of the EU. The mutual insincerity both in the EU and at the Ankara front have reached such dimensions it cannot be concealed anymore.
Perhaps, one dimension of the problem also stems from decision maker number one and number two in foreign policy. The problem in Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s front is he has extremely personalized his relations with the outer world. Erdoğan is directly reflecting his ideological stance, as well as his feelings and anger to foreign policy, as he does in domestic policy, without any restrictions.
When this situation is united with his own hubris and the self-confidence boom he is experiencing, the result is being distanced from the coordinates of reality.
In such a period, a foreign minister who would be able to contain the prime minister, who would repair the bridges, who would tune into reality and who would act constructively, could have limited the damage here, whereas at the Foreign Minister Professor Ahmet Davutoğlu’s front, the unrestrainable ego and the dreamy look also contribute to Turkish diplomacy being carried to the virtual world.
In the end, Turkey has a profile, at the beginning of 2014, of a country which cannot make use of its potential, which cannot contribute to regional or world peace, which is evaluated with the criteria of unpredictability within the international system and one which demonstrates uncertainty with its fundamental perspectives and sense of direction. It would not be a mistake to say we have left behind one of the most unsuccessful years since the start of the Republic.
Sedat Ergin is a columnist for daily Hürriyet in which this abridged piece was published on Jan 4. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.