Ankara needs a reality check
There are currently some important developments happening in the Middle East. The U.S. is in contact with Iran over their common enemy, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Russia and Iran have concluded new deals in the nuclear energy sector, which will consolidate their political and military ties.
Egypt under Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and the U.S. continue to consolidate their ties. Using the international legitimacy he has gained, despite having toppled an elected president, el-Sisi is also developing new energy – and possibly military – ties with Greek Cyprus and Greece.
Meanwhile, Greek Cyprus held joint naval exercises with Russia and is developing its ties with Israel. Saudi Arabia and Egypt are heading an anti-Muslim Brotherhood front that has regional support.
Syria’s Bashar al-Assad looks like he is staying for the foreseeable future, while Washington has established military and political links with Syrian Kurdish groups considered to be offshoots of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
These developments concern Turkey greatly. Overt or covert cooperation between Washington and Tehran will contribute to further diminishing Turkey’s regional influence. The consolidation of ties between Moscow and Tehran will make it even harder for Ankara’s regional plans – including the demise of al-Assad – to materialize.
Egypt’s growing ties in and outside the region will ensure Turkey’s isolation among Arab regimes, given that Ankara has declared el-Sisi an enemy. Turkey’s unwavering support for the Muslim Brotherhood will also ensure that ties with most Middle Eastern governments remain strained.
Al-Assad’s staying power will continue to make a mockery of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s moral jihad against him. Moscow’s support of Greek Cyprus and ties between Greek Cyprus and Israel will ensure Ankara’s warnings over the exploitation of energy reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean will have limited diplomatic clout.
U.S. support for the Syrian Kurds will legitimize groups Ankara considers to be unsavory. It will also weaken the manner in which Ankara is trying to prioritize the fight against ISIL. Related events will further complicate the peace process with the Kurds in Turkey, which has already been harmed over Ankara’s stance on Kobani.
The Justice and Development Party (AKP) has a “zero problems with neighbors” policy, which has become a long-forgotten thing, and its efforts to morally rationalize the regional isolation it finds itself in as “glorious loneliness” or “precious loneliness” convinces no one.
We have a president that was once listed as one of the most influential leaders in the world and a potential savior of the politically backward Middle East. We have a prime minister who made his name on the assumption that he is an expert on “strategic depth” in foreign policy.
Looking at what is transpiring in the region, one would have assumed that this is the time when Erdoğan and Davutoğlu would demonstrate their ability to not only use Turkey’s influence and power to help stabilize and develop the region, but also to enhance Turkey’s own interests. However, we see nothing of the sort.
We are at a time when new alliances that exclude Turkey are being established in order to respond to unexpected developments. Meanwhile new forces are at play, rebounding on Turkey in dangerous ways. There are also opportunities that are being missed by Ankara.
This overall situation clearly needs sophisticated management based on realistic assessments of the situation on the ground. Unfortunately, moralizing from the pulpit with inflated claims about Turkey’s place in the world seems to be the only way Erdoğan and Davutoğlu are attempting to respond to the changing environment around them.
Ankara rapidly needs a reality check, and policies to match the situation as it really is, if Turkey is to become the power Erdoğan and Davutoğlu dream of. Otherwise it will just be more shadowboxing with little to show for it in the end.