Erdoğan’s thunder and Davutoğlu’s tears

Erdoğan’s thunder and Davutoğlu’s tears

Prime Minister Erdoğan roars at Israel with thunderous ferocity from his “pulpit.” Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu drowns in tears over a dead family member of a distraught Palestinian in Gaza whose head he clasps to his chest for succor.

These are powerful images one can not ignore. It should be amply clear by now that Gaza and the besieged Palestinians there touch a central nerve in the prime minister and his foreign minister. The righteousness they reflect also sends their supporters in Turkey and the Islamic world into ecstatic satisfaction because of the contrast with timid Arab leaders.

Those leaders – especially the non-elected ones – in fact have little reason to be enamored by Erdoğan’s thunder since it highlights their own inertia, even if it is not politically wise to show their annoyance. But while Erdogan’s anti-Israeli (and anti-al-Assad) thunder goes down well among the Sunni masses in Turkey and the Middle East, it has also forced Ankara to the sidelines in terms of the diplomatic efforts to solve the Syrian crisis and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Erdoğan and Davutoğlu warmly welcomed the fact that Egyptians elected Mohamed Morsi as president in their first free elections. He is after all part of the “International Islamic Brotherhood” and thus “of the fold.” However, this has also put Egypt back on center stage, showing that it has more regional influence once again than Turkey.

Morsi’s advantage is that he maintains official ties with Israel, even if the level of diplomatic relations has been lowered due to Gaza, while at the same time being close to Hamas. Turkey, on the other hand, has burned its bridges with Israel and the prospects for building new ones currently appear nil.

Ankara’s current role in the Middle East is merely that of a “strong backer” and “promoter” of settlements agreed on by its regional and global allies. In other words, it is not involved in any key negotiations. This was also seen this week when Davutoğlu visited Gaza with a group of Arab foreign ministers.

While this visit got a lot of media attention in Turkey, the real action aimed at trying to bring about a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas was in Cairo, with Morsi steering developments under the watchful eye of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

In short, developments in the Middle East appear to have seriously out-paced both Prime Minister Erdoğan’s and Foreign Minister Davutoğlu’s expectations, ensuring that Ankara is neither a “pace setter” nor a “game setter,” despite ambitious claims to this effect until relatively recently.

Granted, the Erdoğan government cannot be faulted over the unexpected developments that led to this outcome, but it could have read the situation on the ground better given Davutoğlu’s oft-repeated claim in the past that Turkey understands the region better than anyone else due to historical reasons.

Erdoğan’s thunder and Davutoğlu’s tears are also useful in that they divert public attention conveniently away from the fact that Ankara is currently being sidelined in terms of the real action in the Middle East. These even led committed AKP supporters – with help from the government-friendly media – into believing that Turkey is out there calling the shots, which it clearly is not.

Nevertheless, one cannot simple brush aside this thunder and tears and attribute it to pure and cynical political calculations. After all, Erdoğan and Davutoğlu are deeply devout and ideologically motivated along religious lines. They are no different to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in this.

But religiously motivated moral righteousness does not necessarily make for a rational foreign policy for Turkey in a world where international relations are still based on Realpolitik, and developments are proving this.