Turkey’s confused foreign policy leaves it facing ethical dilemmas

Turkey’s confused foreign policy leaves it facing ethical dilemmas

President Recep Erdoğan spoke the truth when he said recently that Turkey is a European country. This may appear odd to those who predicate their outlook on religious factors. However, the geo-political geography that a country belongs to has to be considered from a much broader perspective.

Those who have bothered to read European history, rather than relying on cultural myths only, are more than aware that Turks and Europeans have interacted – for good or bad - from the moment the Ottomans consolidated their power.

This history was never a simple case of “Islam against the infidel” or “Christendom against the Anti-Christ.” There have been plenty of alliances between Muslim Ottomans and Catholic or Protestant European powers based on political or economic interests. 

The Ottomans provided refuge to Swedish Kings, Hungarian national heroes or Polish notables in this context, while Ottoman princes, pretenders to the throne, intellectuals, and nationalists found refuge in Europe. 

There is a vast library that not only corroborates this, but also shows how deep the Turkish (if indeed the Ottomans can be considered “Turkish” in the way we do today) and European interaction has been, all the way up to the First World War and beyond.

This interaction was never out of choice, but mostly out of necessity based on geopolitical realities. Put another way, if there are those in Europe today who believe the continents can cut its links with Turkey and live happily ever after, they are dreaming.

The same applies to Turkey. If there are those in this country who believe Turkey can sever all of its links with Europe and turn eastwards and live happily ever after, they too are dreaming. 

Robert T. Kaplan’s book “The Revenge of Geography” is an excellent study, showing us that what ultimately drives countries is their place on the map and how this inevitably guides their choices.

Turkey’s foreign policy under the Justice and Development Party (AKP), which was to a great extent driven by former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s Islamic oriented pipe-dreams, has left Ankara in a confused and contradictory position.

Its current position regarding the tragedy in Syria provides us with a clear example. Turkey started by wanting to see an end to the tyranny of Bashar al Assad, but ended up, as we see now, not being able to openly condemn the principal powers – Russia and Iran – that have ensured that al-Assad will remain standing.

Turkey has been unable to do this because its confused and impulsive foreign policy today is based on vilifying the West and relying on Russia to counterbalance its deteriorating ties with the U.S. and Europe. However, this is not a “fresh perspective” for Turkey that promises a new page. 

It is, instead, a historic aberration that will continue to have dire consequences until such time as those who run this country realize that Russia and Iran are ultimately out to secure their own interests, which in many cases fall counter to Turkey’s interests. These regional powers are likely to get much more out of their ties with Turkey than the other way around. 

Russia and Iran have a clear notion of where they belong and have pursued consistent policies to achieve this. Turkey, on the other hand, has wavered and vacillated, giving the impression in the end of being all over the place without a true sense of direction. 

Because of this it now faces a serious ethical dilemma in Syria. Today, Ankara is mostly mute and ineffective in the face of what is happening in Aleppo and elsewhere in that country. 

The bottom line is that those who rule Turkey don’t have to like the West. But they must realize that geopolitics condemns Turkey to working with the West. Turkey needs to work to overcome problems and move back to its natural fold, before things get totally out of hand for it.