The AKP’s failed foreign policy doctrine: Illusion or distortion?

The AKP’s failed foreign policy doctrine: Illusion or distortion?

The architect of Turkish foreign policy, Ahmet Davutoğlu, is a candidate to join the club of thinkers whose ideologies have failed following global events. One of the senior club members is Francis Fukuyama, who argued in his 1989 essay that the progression of human history as a struggle between ideologies was largely at an end, with the world settling on liberal democracy after the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall. It took less than a decade for the world to get hit by a series of terrorist attacks and became a stage for newly arising ideological competition. 
Turkey’s current situation proves that the AKP’s foreign policy approach molded by Davutoğlu, has roundly failed. The developments of the past two years put at risk the coherency, credibility, and future of Davutoğlu’s doctrine. Fukuyama eventually admitted the shortcomings of his theory; time will show if Davutoğlu will accept his mistakes or try to justify his doctrine by interpreting events as he prefers.

Even though the new approach, referred to as “Strategic Depth,” is the brainchild of Davutoğlu, the concepts on which it is based were not new to many Turkish foreign policy experts. Former Minister İsmail Cem had repeatedly stated his belief in the need to improve regional ties, broaden foreign policy interests into far regions, and make more effective use of Turkey’s heritage. Despite their similar views on the need for a proactive foreign policy, the contrast between Cem and Davutoğlu is a more telling one that highlights the problems of today.

Cem’s primary motivation was universal principles, not religious sensitivities, while it is easy to distinguish the religious flavor of Davutoğlu’s ideology by reading his book “Strategic Depth.” Those who have read his book and followed him during the last decade know how strongly his ideology rests on religious belief. While it is understandable that a policymaker’s views will influence his work, it becomes a problem when this influence begins to risk the security of his country. Now, he is in a dangerous phase of justifying his failed doctrine using misinformation.

Davutoğlu’s recent visit to Washington in February, as policymakers grappled with the Syrian conflict, Iranian crisis, the Arab awakening and the wider global turmoil, was a good platform for him to attempt to prove that his doctrine had not failed. He relied on methodological explanation and structural analysis to deliver this message. 

First, he asserts that Turkey had the most visionary policy with regard to the Arab revolutions of 2011, seeing them as a “normalization” of politics in the region. If the AKP had been expecting such a shift, then why did it maintain such extraordinarily warm relations with the authoritarian regimes of Syria and Libya over the decade leading up to the Arab Spring?

Second, Davutoğlu has spoken of democracy and freedom of speech as the basis of the newly emerging Middle East. But talking about freedom of speech rings hollow when one’s own country has the second-highest number of jailed journalists worldwide. More than 70 Turkish journalists are in prison. Turkey continued its descent in the Press Freedom Index by losing 10 places in 2012. It now ranks 148th of 179 countries, behind countries such as Russia, Tunisia, Nigeria and Uganda.

Third, Davutoğlu has asserted that the “zero-problems policy” has been a success because Turkey has not had any problems with neighboring people, only their leaders. Aside from the strain on credibility posed by this statement, it should be pointed out that policy actions such as joint cabinet meetings with Syria make clear that good ties with leaders and public alike were always the goal from the beginning. 
The Davutoğlu doctrine has brought Turkey to a point at which it has many problems with all its neighbors. If Davutoğlu does not accept the failure of his doctrine and rein in his overconfidence, Turkey’s credibility and national security will be under serious threat.

*Cenk Sidar is the managing director of Sidar Global Advisors, a Washington, DC-based strategic advisory firm.