Turkey has no foreign policy worth mentioning

Turkey has no foreign policy worth mentioning

Murat Yetkin, our editor-in-chief, and Nuray Mert, one of our prominent columnists, had interesting commentary pieces recently in the Arabic daily Asharq Al-Awsat concerning the prospects for Turkey’s foreign policy following the strong support Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan got in the local elections.

Agreeing that Turkish diplomacy over the past few years has been marked by serious failures, Yetkin and Mert nevertheless concluded that Erdoğan had little reason to change his foreign policy orientation under these circumstances.

According to Yetkin, Erdoğan is happy with his foreign policy, “not because of its diplomatic successes, but because of its domestic payoff, which keeps him ruling the country.” Mert, on the other hand, argues that “Erdoğan, who considers himself the leader of the Muslim world, thinks his leadership has been approved once more, not only by the Turkish electorate, but also by the ‘prayers of Muslims all over the world.’”

The bottom line is that Erdoğan believes he is pursuing a highly successful foreign policy which he says has been vindicated by the results of the local elections. This appears delusional when looked at from the outside, of course. However, it is clear, as is being pointed out by many, that Erdoğan is only eyeing the domestic gallery and the approval he is getting there.

In other words, Erdoğan has no real foreign policy concerns. His only interest is to maintain the support of the “Muslim Brotherhood International” and the latest death sentences given out Egypt’s military-sponsored kangaroo court have provided him with another opportunity in this regard to play politics at home.

He provided a fine example of this when he lashed out at the Doğan Group, which owns this paper as well, only a few days ago, accusing it of indifference toward the death sentences in Egypt while having supported the demonstrators in last summer’s Gezi protests.

Erdoğan was of course mixing apples and oranges, but who cares if there is a political dividend involved. His angry response to visiting German President Joachim Gauck for the latter’s highly critical remarks about anti-democratic developments in Turkey can also be seen in the same vein.

His request for Washington to extradite Fetullah Gülen, who has not been convicted in Turkey of any crime – at least not yet – is another case of demagoguery and populism. But that seems to works for him as far as a significant portion of the Turkish population is concerned and that is all that counts.

It is obvious that one cannot talk about a foreign policy under these circumstances, but only about a domestic political strategy that is spilling over into the foreign policy domain. In other words, just as “the emperor is naked,” Turkey currently has no foreign policy to speak of.

Erdoğan’s abrasive manner with regard to matters that require diplomatic delicacy, on the other hand, show that if he should become president things could end up getting worse, given that he is likely to hit hard at the West for criticizing his authoritarian rule, and at the East for his support for the Muslim Brotherhood which is considered a threat by most of the current regimes in the region.

Erdoğan’s groundbreaking message of condolence to the Armenians last week is also unlikely to go anywhere under these circumstances, even though this message – regardless of the political calculations behind it – must be considered a positive development if its result, as a side product, is that Turks start looking at the events of 1915 in a more objective light.

I suggested recently that Erdoğan had to start drawing Turkey’s foreign policy back to neutral territory to regain what influence it had in its region in the past, and to be able to play a proactive role in efforts to resolve the key issues facing the region today. Looked at from the current perspective – where Turkey has no foreign policy worth mentioning – that appears to be no more than wishful thinking.