A costly lesson for Turkey

A costly lesson for Turkey

A new set of circumstances is developing in the Middle East. This has always been the nature of international relations. Yesterday’s enemies can find common ground while former friends can fall out. Intentions are all very well but it is always reality that drives successful foreign policies.

Turkey under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s tutelage has been trying to row against the current of this well-established truth. In doing so it has isolated itself regionally and is left with few friends that count in the world.

No one is knocking on Ankara’s door anymore to ask for advice on anything. Turkey does not have any ability left to influence the course of events to its own advantage either; instead it is being dragged along by the tide.

Unfolding events are now producing an environment where the U.S. and Iran, for example, could very well end up cooperating in efforts to stabilize the region if their current talks produce the results that both sides appear keen on achieving. This will clearly further diminish Turkey’s importance as a potential regional player.

Recent statement’s from Washington also show that there is a new mode of thinking developing there with regard to Syria, which factors in the Syrian regime as a party to any settlement to that crisis. Even if Bashar al-Assad is not directly involved, it is obvious that he will be a guiding hand behind the scenes. This will be another major defeat for Ankara.

It will also signal an end to Erdoğan’s dream of a grand Sunni coalition in the region, which also sees the emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood as the new political force, in the way that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) emerged in Turkey. Two key considerations were not factored in as far as this grand expectation was concerned.

Firstly, the fact that Iran is capable of making subtle moves on the strategic chess board to counter attempts at forming such a coalition. Secondly, the fact that those who hold the key to the region’s established Sunni order do not share Erdoğan’s - and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s - vision concerning the Muslim Brotherhood and its offshoots.

All of Davutoğlu’s assumptions, predictions, and plans - from Iraq to Syria, and from Egypt to Saudi Arabia - have fallen through. This is a dismal situation for an academic whose area of expertise is international relations, and who used to claim that Turkey is the country that understands the intricacies of the Middle East the best.

Erdoğan and Davutoğlu, however, give no indications that they are willing to work Turkey out of this mire. They appear trapped by their own ideology. Erdoğan tried, of course, to inject more significance into his recent Saudi Arabia visit than it merited. Certain remarks by him also fed into speculation about an emerging anti-Iranian alliance between the two countries.

Turkish-Iranian ties, however, have always been driven by a set of specific factors which are unlikely to change, regardless of how deep the disagreement between the two countries on regional issues may be. Anyone who is aware of these factors knows that talk of an anti-Iranian alliance between Turkey and Saudi Arabia is hollow.

Equally hollow and self-delusional were the attempts by Erdoğan’s spin doctors in the pro-government media, and in pro-government think tanks, to try and convince the public that Riyadh is coming around to Ankara’s position on Egypt.

If there in one thing the AKP and its supporters have proved, one lesson to be learned from all of this, it is that foreign policy is not an amateur sport.

It requires cold-blooded assessments based on the best information available at any given moment concerning the actual situation on the ground. It also requires a clear understanding that events usually do not conform to ideologically driven personal desires, especially if the ability to influence developments has been lost due to a series of blatant policy mistakes.

This has been a costly lesson for Turkey.