The lead up to the presidential and parliamentary elections in 2019 is going to be an ugly affair.
We see this already from the insulting remarks exchanged between the ruling party and the opposition. The expectation is that this is going to get worse over the next months and not better.
It is also evident that foreign policy will be one of the areas that the sides will used to score points with the public. The risk, however, is that political party interests will continue to trump Turkey’s vital strategic interests.
In the past foreign policy used to be a domain that political parties tried to keep above their domestic political squabbling. They succeeded to a great extent too, even if this did not work all the time. The understanding was that whatever our political differences may be, the national interest came first.
That has all changed now. There is no clear understanding of what the national interest is anymore. Each party has its own definition and even these are used for domestic political gains, rather than reflecting a understanding of what Turkey’s real place in the world and its true capacities are.
One side claims today that Turkey has never be so strong and influential, while the other claims the opposite. The bottom line, however, is that Turkey has never been this isolated in the west or in its region.
Unable to chart a rational course, it is trying to fill in the gaps with piecemeal approaches designed to save the day. Its vacillations have forced it to turn its back on traditional friends and allies, and to seek new friends and allies, whether this makes sense or not.
Turkey’s foreign policy in the past was driven essentially by a caution born of realism. This was the result of historic experiences that left indelible marks on the collective memory of Turks. Adventurism, therefore, was never allowed to predominate.
This did not mean timidity, as supporters of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) claim. Turkey showed with its Cyprus operation in 1974 that when its vital strategic interests are at stake it will do what if feels is necessary, regardless of what others say.
This past understanding steered Ankara through the mine fields of the Second World War and the Cold War, and prevented a succession of wars and crises on its eastern borders from spilling over into Turkey.
That was all lost under the AKP in the name of overambitious dreams about making Turkey a preeminent power in its region and in the world.
Today we see a Turkey that is on the defensive and losing its diplomatic battles on almost all fronts, with few friends left that it can truly rely on. This, however, is being presented as a great success story by the AKP. The opposition, for its part, is doing the opposite and underlining Turkey’s inability to steer events, even on its own borders, anymore.
Meanwhile, the national interest continues be harmed with no end in sight. That end will only come when the understanding dawns that somethings have to be kept above the political interests of parties.
Turkey is nowhere near that point, which more or less guarantees that foreign policy will continue to be increasingly instrumentalized to the detriment of the national interest as election fever grips the nation.