Will Davutoğlu go?

Will Davutoğlu go?

I have been privy to talk among diplomats in Ankara recently about whether Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will change Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, seeing as Turkey’s foreign policy needs a serious overhauling now that the “zero problems with neighbors” policy has been replaced by tensions with just about everyone. The names being bandied about as possible replacements range from current EU Minister Egemen Bağış, current Culture Minister Ömer Çelik to Mevlut Çavusoğlu, the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) deputy head in charge of foreign affairs.

The basic argument is that the government cannot afford to allow Turkey’s foreign policy interests to keep taking blow after blow, as they appear to be doing presently. The fact that the Middle East is turning out not to be the place that either Erdoğan or Davutoğlu expected is seen as the most serious blow to the government, which once had pretensions of being the “principle game-setter” in the region.

Ankara has ended up instead with serious difference with just about every Arab capital, a fact that is also apparent over Egypt now where “the keepers” of the region’s Sunni order think differently to Erdoğan on the coup that toppled the Muslim Brotherhood. From Syria to Egypt, and beyond, Ankara misread the prevailing realities, which really matter in the end, and which govern the region. Tellingly, it is now in a state of near panic over the possibility of another autonomous Kurdish entity emerging on its borders, which is not just similar to, but also directly related to Kurdish northern Iraq.

The notion among some diplomats therefore appears to be that if Davutoğlu were to be replaced, this dire situation might change. The first thing to be said here is that it is extremely unlikely for Erdoğan to dismiss Davutoğlu at a time like this. The simple reason is that it would reflect adversely on him politically, more than it would on Davutoğlu, because it would amount to admitting that he selected the wrong person to run Turkey’s foreign policy after having appointed him with so much fanfare.

Davutoğlu’s dismissal would also provide grist to the opposition’s mill given that hardly any Turkish foreign minister in living memory has caused so much controversy. Erdoğan obviously cannot allow this to happen at a politically delicate time for himself and the AKP as this. Finally, and perhaps most crucially, the question of whether Turkey’s foreign policy would return to a more traditional and cautious line if Davutoğlu were to go, is a wide open one.

It is, after all, Erdoğan, and not Davutoğlu, who has been the main driving force behind Ankara’s foreign policy debacles, with his abrasive tone and full-frontal attacks against other leaders, countries and organizations. The simple fact is that being the unquestionable leader of the AKP, which appears more like a movement with a mission today than a regular political party, neither Davutoğlu nor anyone who might replace him is in a position to question Erdoğan.

It is, for example, hard to believe that highly qualified members of the government like Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan, Turkey’s “economic supremo,” or Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek believe the malarkey about “an interest rate lobby that is trying to undermine Turkey.” But all they can they do when Erdoğan keeps carping on about this is to timidly try and rationalize for others what their leader means when he says such things. It is also clear, especially after his latest choice of “Chief Adviser” – who incidentally is on record saying “he is prepared to die for Erdogan” – that Erdogan does not want advisers who have the courage to correct him when his is blatantly wrong. Therefore, the simple answer to the question is that Davutoğlu is here to stay, at least until the next elections. The situation might change after that, but then many things are likely to change in Turkey then, for better or worse.