Did Turkey do the right thing by coming out immediately and enthusiastically to support the strikes by the U.S., France, and Britain against the regime targets in Syria?
Many in Turkey are asking this question now.
The “congratulatory” statement from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs on the morning of the strikes was reportedly issued hastily even before office hours. This suggests an urgent need to display Ankara’s satisfaction over this supposed “punishment” method for Syrian leader Bashar al Assad.
So what was it that was achieved with these strikes that pleased Ankara so much?
The answer is, nothing!
Assad was unscathed because he had time to prepare. The end of his regime is no nearer today than it was before the strikes.
Why was Turkey so hasty in welcoming these strikes then? The only explanation one has is that this was yet another knee-jerk reaction by Ankara. The hatred of Assad is so dominant that it continues to cloud diplomatic judgment.
This has been the case for Turkey since the start of the Syrian crisis. Erratic behavior has, in fact, become the cornerstone of Turkey’s foreign policy under the present government.
In the past, Turkey had a cautious and balanced approach to international events, especially when it came to disputes in the Middle East. It would look before it jumped in, so it could gauge the consequences and weigh possible outcomes.
In other words, it used to wait for the full picture to emerge before it made a move.
Those who have been running this country since 2002 have always considered the cautious foreign policy line that Ankara pursued before them as a sign of weakness.
They always overlooked the fact, however, that while Turkey may be a regional power, it has to conduct its foreign policy in a minefield that is this part of the world. This, by its very nature, requires caution.
Government apologists now argue that Ankara was always consistent in its desire to see the back of Assad. Seeing that happen will be a happy day for the whole region, of course. But a country’s subjective desires should not cloud the reality on the ground.
Ankara veered towards Russia out of ‘realpolitik’ because it needed to counterbalance its deteriorating ties with the West. This, however, requires Ankara to be consistent and remain on the same trajectory, rather than going off on limbs that risk undermining the very ties with Moscow that it relies on.
Loudly cheering air strikes in Syria, that are considered to be a major slight by Russia, does not reflect consistency in policymaking. Especially if this cheering achieves nothing for Ankara in the end, but rather raise suspicions in Moscow.
One may question how wise it was for Turkey to have veered towards Russia in the first place. On balance it doesn’t seem very wise. The decision was nevertheless made. There is also little chance that Turkey will turn its face back to the West now that three key western countries have bombed Assad.
A lack of consistency in foreign policy, which for Turkey has merely become an extension – and victim – of domestic politics, is set to land Ankara in more difficulties unless there is a fundamental and realistic change in its approach.