AKP finally acknowledges its foreign policy failures

AKP finally acknowledges its foreign policy failures

It is not clear whether Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım was referring to his government or the “Erdoğan administration” when he said, after assuming office, that Turkey’s new foreign policy orientation would be “to increase the number of friends and reduce the number of enemies.”

One cannot help recall that ousted Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu also set out ambitiously, while he was still foreign minister, to have “zero problems with neighbors,” but ended up leaving Turkey with no neighbors and a much increased number of rivals and enemies. 

So it would not be surprising if many felt a sense of “déjà vu” upon hearing Yıldırım’s remarks. 

If Yıldırım was speaking on behalf of his government, he faces a tall order. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s shadow looms large and threatens to overturn all efforts at increasing the “number of Turkey’s friends while reducing the number of its enemies” with one unpredictable verbal onslaught or another.

If, however, Yıldırım was talking for the “Erdoğan administration,” which is a more appropriate way to refer to his government, then his words are equally problematic. 

Following the cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister and Government Spokesman Numan Kurtulmuş made the intriguing remark that Turkey needed to take new steps to keep up with the fast pace of change in the world. 

Pointing to ties with Russia, Syria, Israel and the EU as priority areas where “serious steps” had to be taken, Kurtulmuş went on as follows: “There is a rapidly changing foreign policy atmosphere. It is essential that we go for a revision of some practices which we have been enforcing for some time. The world has entered a great period of conflict. Even if we wanted to we don’t have the power or the possibility to solve every problem. What we have to do is reduce the number of conflicts surrounding us.” 

This amounts to an admission that the “Erdoğan government,” in power between 2003 and 2014 before Erdoğan was elected president, pursued a failed foreign policy that landed Turkey in the internationally difficult position it is in today.

Of course, there is a barely veiled attempt now by Erdoğan’s supporters to pin the blame for this on Davutoğlu, but that is not convincing when looked at objectively. 

Recently, for example, when Davutoğlu was negotiating the refugee deal with the EU, Erdoğan was standing on the sidelines throwing barbs at the West in general and Europe in particular. Many believe today that Davutoğlu’s relatively good performance during those negotiations is what got him fired, because Erdoğan was annoyed that his thunder had been stolen. 

Because of this, eyes and ears are not trained now on what Yıldırım or Kurtulmuş may say, but on what Erdoğan is saying. Judging by his continuing bellicosity towards the West, in particular, there is little to suggest that Erdoğan will change his overall attitude. 

Take away his love for moralistically wagging his finger at the world and you take away an essential component of what makes Erdoğan the politician he is today. It is hard to imagine, therefore, how Yıldırım intends to change his bosses well-established habits so that Turkey can set out with new and more realistic foreign policies. 

Nevertheless, Kurtulmuş’s remarks show that the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) previous Davutoğlu-driven attitude - which basically said “we have the power to reorganize our region, where a leaf can’t move without Turkey’s permission” – is now dead. 

Kurtulmuş is now saying “we don’t have the power or the possibility to solve every problem.” If this realization had dawned on the AKP five years ago, we would have been spared a lot of the trouble we are faced with today.