The AKP’s regional ambitions have gained Turkey nothing

The AKP’s regional ambitions have gained Turkey nothing

Foreign policy has never been a domain suitable for ambitious scenarios and ill-considered steps. Due to serious policy mistakes by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, Turkey finds itself today facing off against Russia in Syria and the U.S. in Iraq. 

It is almost certain that Ankara will not find an influential place for itself at the “Syrian table.” The latest U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria and the work in progress in this regard in Amman and Riyadh already show that Turkey’s place is secondary at best.

The explanations given by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the AKP government to Turkey’s latest crises in Syria and Iraq were, as usual, removed from reality. 

For example, they blamed Russia and Iran for influencing Baghdad, which has called on Ankara to remove all Turkish forces from Iraq. But this begs a serious question: If so, why then was the U.S. also opposed to the recent deployment of Turkish troops in Bashiqa, near Mosul, ostensibly to protect Turkish forces already there to train local anti-Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) elements?

U.S. President Barack Obama, in a recent phone conversation, effectively told Erdoğan to comply with Baghdad’s requests and remove Turkish troops in Iraq, while asking Ankara to respect Iraq’s sovereignty. 

Turkey said it started withdrawing its troops after the request from Washington in order to not aggravate the situation. It remains an open question, of course, as to whether Turkey actually withdrew all its troops, or merely relocated them to regions controlled by the Iraqi Kurds. 

The main point here, however, is that Ankara did not get the support it wanted from Washington. A “senior Turkish official” who talked to daily Hürriyet recently on condition of anonymity complained bitterly about this.

“We have no intention of fueling the crisis. But one has to ask: Are we going to divide Iraq with only 1600 soldiers? There are troops from 20 countries in Iraq, including Australia. It is not clear how many troops Iran has in Iraq. An injustice is being done to Turkey here.”

The rhetorical question this official asked was the wrong one, though. The correct questions to be asked are:
Why is it that while the troops of so many countries in Iraq do not pose any problem, the presence of a small contingent of Turkish troops does? What are the signals that Turkey has given the region that have made it so unpopular?

Can we really attribute all of this to “outside forces that are out to undermine Turkey,” as is being claimed by Ankara? Or are the real reasons embedded in a host of factors which include a lack of foresight, not to mention serious policy blunders?

Just to cite two examples, are the AKP’s policies, which smack of neo-Ottoman ambitions and Ankara’s blatant Sunni leanings in regional crises also not to blame? Until the AKP came to power Ankara always trod very carefully with regard to these issues in order avoid any embroilment in intractable regional crises.

Ankara is now left with no choice but to start building the bridges it burned one by one, starting with Israel, in order to raise Turkey’s regional profile to a degree where it can play an influential role again. 

The AKP has insisted on learning some basic truths about its region the hard way. But this lesson came only after all of its overambitious regional projects came to naught. There are those, of course, who claim the AKP did not really learn any lessons, and will continue to carry on according to its Islamist inclination. 

It should be more than clear by now, however, that if that is the case, it will only lead Turkey into to new dead-ends, and leave it with even less regional influence than it has today.