Who Is Being Delusional About Turkey’s Foreign Policy?
When Prime Minister Binali Yildirim assumed office in May 2016, he promised “to increase Turkey’s friends and reduce the number of its enemies.” This was a rehashed version of his predecessor Ahmet Davutoglu’s “zero problems with neighbors” policy.
After coming to power in November 2002, AKP leaders considered everything that came before them in Turkey as a failure. Everything was to be built from the bottom up. This applied to foreign policy also and that is how Davutoglu’s “zero problems with neighbors” policy emerged.
That policy, however, was a derivative of Turkey’s former “good neighborly relations” policy, which was predicated on treading carefully in the turbulent part of the world Turkey is in. It was also based on not getting embroiled in the intractable disputes of the Middle East.
Being an Islamist Davutoglu believed that Ankara under its secularist government’s had failed to develop good ties with the Arab world. He saw Turkey’s previous policy of treading carefully in the Middle East as a sign of weakness.
So without gauging the depth of the pool, and laboring under a series of false assumptions, Davutoglu plunged headfirst into the Middle East. We know today what the result of that was. His “zero problems with neighbors” approach left Ankara with “zero neighbors.”
All his assumptions about Islamic unity faded leaving Turkey with strained ties with Iraq, Iran, Syria, Egypt, Jordan, and most of the Gulf States. The only notable exception is Qatar.
Yildirim’s policy of “increasing the number of Turkey’s friends and reducing the number of its enemies” suffered the same fate. Yildirim was rowing against the tide of course. The adventurous and bombastic approach set by Davutoglu was not about to change, given that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had also endorsed it, and continues in the same vein today.
So we see Yildirim’s approach standing on its head now in the West and the Middle East, where Turkey’s friends have not increased but its rivals and enemies have.
Turkey today is on the brink of potentially clashing with traditional allies such as the U.S. and France in Syria, it has hardly any ties with Europe it can point to as being good, and its ties with the principal countries of the Middle East from Israel to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, are strained.
Turkey’s reliance on Russia, on the other hand, is also shaky as demonstrated by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remark this week – which angered Ankara – that Turkey should hand places it captured in Syria to the Syrian regime.
Despite this stark picture, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu had no qualms in telling an AKP gathering in the city of Bursa recently that Turkey’s international prestige was currently very high, regardless of some European countries that were trying to give Ankara lessons.
He went on to list Turkey’s membership in international organizations as added proof of this, even though Turkey has strains with NATO, the Council of Europe, various U.N. Agencies, the Arab League etc.
Maybe Cavusoglu sees things that we are not clever enough to see. He has to, therefore, explain to us convincingly why we are wrong, and he is right. Until that happens the question of who it is that is delusional will remain an open one?