High time for Turkey

High time for Turkey

Last week American television journalist Charlie Rose hosted former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. When answering Rose’s question on Israel-Palestine, Clinton said: “Turkey is the principal interlocutor that I would look to.”

Yet, she did not mention one main obstacle: Just as Turkey does not recognize Egypt’s cease-fire initiative due to the fact that it does not address Hamas, Turkey’s cease-fire is not accepted by Israel and Egypt since bilateral relations have been broken off. However, not only Gaza, but many other ongoing disputes in the wider region urgently need brokerage and leadership that could be only fulfilled by Turkey.  

The Arab uprisings created new regional actors who have risen up for democracy. Yet the regimes have reacted ruthlessly by oppressing them. In this rapidly changing context, Turkey had to choose some actors to side with and did so by choosing the ones standing for democracy. Hence, it had to cut off its relations with the regimes and could not use soft power at all.

However, now we are entering a totally new phase. You could call it the “post-Arab spring-era.” Iraq and Syria are on the brink of break up and terrorism has settled down along our borders. The whole region is in turmoil and urgently needs a mediator and leader and there is no other candidate for this role than Turkey.

Iraq and Syria are in their own existential fight. Egypt is now isolated, since it prefers Israel to Palestine and sides with the Gulf countries. It is only Turkey and Qatar who could deal with the regional disputes as a regional leader.

However, the fact that Qatar is a Gulf country and is the main supporter of Islamist groups such as Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood stands as a great obstacle for its impartiality. Turkey has an additional comparative advantage: Its organic links with the West, which put it into a unique position.
In addition to these, the U.S. is now leaving the regional conflicts to the regional powers, which creates the need for regional leadership. The fact that the U.S. preferred Turkey’s cease-fire initiative to Egypt’s and that Clinton emphasized Turkey’s role, indicate that the international context puts Turkey into this position.

Ankara has to immediately make a strategic decision. If it wants to pick up this role provided by the regional and international context, it has to revert to its soft power projection, just as prior to 2012. And this can be only done by resuming dialogue with all sides as of an absolute must of mediation and leadership.

Yet, Ankara is not squeezed between two options: Supporting an authoritarian or pro-coup regime or standing against it. Rather, there is a gray area beyond these black and white options. By cutting all bilateral ties or getting over-engaged with one of the sides, Turkey would waste the opportunity to use leverage.

Hence, instead, Turkey needs to engage with all sides and take the mediator role by initiating and endorsing dialogue between conflicting sides. This would not require any cooperation with any regime since Turkey would extend its hand from outside. Moreover, it could play a “constructive leadership” role by building up regional coalitions in order to address regional conflicts. Furthermore, it could work for the diffusion of democratic values in the region. Turkey’s strengthened link with the European Union would only boost this role both in the region and vis-a-vis the West.

The vision document that was declared by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for his presidential campaign last month could be conducive to the implementation of this strategy since the document emphasizes Turkey’s contribution to regional stability, solutions and cooperation as a “pioneering country.”

It’s high time for Turkey.