Questions about foreign policy under an Erdoğan presidency

Questions about foreign policy under an Erdoğan presidency

Efforts by the government to allay concerns in the West about where Turkey is headed are not working. When talking to Western diplomats in Ankara, one senses tangible concerns in this regard, given what is increasingly referred to as the authoritarian tendencies of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

One of the main questions being asked in this context relates to Ankara’s orientation for foreign policy under an Erdoğan presidency should that happen. Erdoğan’s forcefully declared intention to use executive powers if he is elected president in August has been duly noted in this context.

The question is will Erdoğan make foreign policy a presidential prerogative should he become president? The making and running of foreign policy under the present Constitution is the prerogative of the elected government. So how will the system work under an Erdoğan presidency?

Many recall that Erdoğan, as prime minister, has overridden sound advice from his Foreign Ministry on key foreign policy issues in the past. The demise of the Zurich protocols initialed with Armenia in 2009, and the delay in normalizing ties with Israel are two cases in point.

In other words, if Erdoğan becomes the kind of president he promises to be, he is unlikely to leave the making of foreign policy to the government. That prospect, however, is what is raising the questions that are being asked today.

Fueling concerns is Erdoğan’s Muslim Brotherhood orientated approach to the Middle East, and his overtly anti-Western leanings, which he has made apparent on a considerable number of occasions. 

Many western diplomats also note that Erdoğan has selected a rabidly anti-Western person as one of his chief economic advisors, whose opinions, if press reports are anything to go by, he values more that the opinions of his ministers. This person went on record recently with a diatribe against the EU, which he is clearly advising Erdoğan to forget about and look elsewhere.

Erdoğan has declared, of course, that if President Putin helps Turkey join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, then Ankara will forget about the EU. Establishing strategic ties with Russia and China are things that Erdoğan and his chief advisors dream about in order to poke the West they despise in the eye.

But these are fanciful thoughts. Turkey faces geo-strategic concerns which have changed little over the years and have always directed Ankara’s foreign policy in the end. Erdoğan tried to break out of this with his efforts to turn Turkey into the principal player in the Middle East, even cozying up to the likes of Bashar al-Assad at the time.

The world sees where he stands today with regards to governments of the region, almost all of whom look on him disagreeably, whatever the admiration may be for him among members of the Muslim Brotherhood and related quarters in the region whose political influence is presently waning.

There is also the question of what Ankara’s ties with Washington will be under an Erdoğan presidency. It is obvious that there is not much love lost between the Obama administration and Erdoğan today.

Regional developments, however, show that there will have to be more strategic cooperation between the two countries in the future, not less.

These questions remain unanswered today for the West where future plans relating to Turkey under an Erdoğan presidency appear to be based on negative, not positive, expectations, judging by what Western diplomats are saying.

There are Turkish diplomats that are aware of this and are highly concerned. It is doubtful, however, if Erdoğan and those he has surrounded himself with are concerned or even bothered about all of this today. The singular objective for the government now is to get Erdoğan elected president and that is what all energy is being focused on.

Still, Erdoğan’s reaching out to Armenians yesterday hints at the possibility that he may change tack in the future. But he has had a few false starts before, so it’s best to remain skeptical for the moment.