The cost of the AKP’s policy mistakes

The cost of the AKP’s policy mistakes

One has to wonder how much thought Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and his government are putting into decisions that have a direct bearing on Turkey’s foreign policy, as well as its vital security and economic interests.

Two recent incidents stick out in this respect: The downing of the Russian fighter jet and the deployment of Turkish forces in the town of Bashiqa, north of Mosul. Both steps have left Turkey worse off than it was to start with.

Turkey says the downing of the Russian jet was legitimate because it violated Turkish airspace. It also says everyone was warned about its rules of engagement in the event of such a violation. That may be the case legally, but the results of this incident show that more thought should have been given to the possibility of such a military confrontation with Russia and what it would ultimately cost.

The second blunder by the government was the deployment of 600 crack troops and 25 tanks in Bashiqa without informing Baghdad. Turkey say the deployment was carried under a 2014 agreement with Iraq, and was aimed at replacing Turkish troops already there to train fighters against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). 

One still has to wonder how Turkey could decide on such a deployment without informing Baghdad, and expect this not to be misinterpreted, especially given past Turkish revanchist inclinations with regard to Mosul.  Ankara is accusing Russia and Iran of having influenced Baghdad, which immediately insisted that Turkey remove all of its troops from Iraq and took the matter to the U.N. Security Council. 

Ankara’s argument, however, only reinforces the question as to how it could not foresee that such a hasty and surprise deployment would be controversial at such a sensitive moment in the region, and result in the U.S. calling on Turkey to comply with Baghdad’s demands.

The result of this obviously ill-conceived step is that the government was forced under international pressure, even from its closest ally, the U.S., to remove all of its forces from Bashiqa, even the ones that have been there since 2015. 

No matter what spin Ankara is putting on it, this represents a loss of prestige for Turkey. In addition to this, Ankara now has to contend with Russia in Syria, and the U.S. (as well as Russia and Iran) in Iraq, as it tries to gain a diplomatic and military foothold in these two countries.

The Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) ability to paint Turkey into a corner internationally is also forcing it now to take steps it is loath to take, and would not have taken under normal circumstances, because of its Islamist orientation. 

The most obvious case in point is its efforts at trying to improve ties with Israel. This should have happened long ago, of course, for the sake of Turkey’s interests. AKP policymakers have to explain why they maintained such a maximalist and negative approach towards Israel over these past few years if there was a way to solve problems diplomatically, as there seems to be now.

The current effort at rapprochement with Israel is, therefore, also an embarrassment for Ankara ultimately, since it appears very much to be the product of a necessity forced on Turkey, rather than the result of a rational and well thought-out foreign policy. 

This development also shows that the AKP may be coming around, belatedly, to understanding that a successful foreign policy requires cold-blooded calculations and rational steps, rather than the burning of bridges for ideological reasons or the taking of ill-conceived and overly ambitious steps that leave the country looking weaker in the end.