September 20, 2012 § 3 Comments
Spend five minutes listening to Turkish politicians or reading their speeches and you immediately get a sense of how high Turkey’s ambitions are. The best recent example of this is a speech Ahmet Davutoğlu made in April in which he declared, “A new Middle East is about to be born. We will be the owner, pioneer and the servant of this new Middle East,” adding that “even your dreams can’t and won’t reach the place where our power has come to.” Hugh Eakin captures this notion of immense Turkish ambition in a piece that uses Prime Minister Erdoğan’s plans to build an enormous new mosque overlooking the Bosphorus as a metaphor for Turkey’s grand strategic plans. As Eakin notes, Turkey under the AKP wants to lead the Sunni Muslim world and take charge of the Middle East while building up Istanbul in a style reminiscent of development in Gulf states.
I think that some of what Eakin writes is either wrong or goes too far; for instance, he implies that Turkey is turning away from the West which is neither true nor even possible given Turkey’s presence in NATO and the fact that over 60% of its trade is with the EU. The thrust of Eakin’s piece is that the AKP is moving Turkey in a more religious direction, but the talk of increased religion misses the point in two ways though; first, Turkey is and always has been a traditional/conservative/religious society once you move away from Istanbul, Izmir, and other large cities, so I don’t think it is the government that is driving a religious revival, but rather a religious revival that is emboldening the government. Second, what should be the greater concern is not the move toward more overt acceptance of religion but the move toward more overt authoritarianism, which has absolutely nothing to do with religion and everything to do with the AKP transforming into a typical Turkish proto-authoritarian party. The focus on Islam is misplaced here, in my view, and risks overlooking the greater danger that is brewing. In any event, Eakin is making a larger point about Turkish ambitions, and it is certainly an accurate one.
Walter Russell Mead also wrote about Turkey earlier this week, but his argument was that Turkish ambitions are about to be dashed. In a typical Mead-ian historical flourish, he compares Erdoğan to Woodrow Wilson:
Everywhere he went in the Middle East, crowds hailed him. Like Wilson, he brought a political movement out of the wilderness into power at home. Like Wilson, for his followers he embodied a mix of conservative religious and progressive social ideas. Like Wilson, events propelled him to a position of huge international prominence when he appeared to have the power and the ideas that could reshape world politics in the places he cared most about. (And like Wilson, he ruthlessly suppressed dissent in the press, sending opponents and critics to jail.)
Today, Erdogan still looks a bit like Woodrow Wilson, but it is the sharply diminished, post-Versailles Wilson he most resembles. His magic moment has passed; the world did not transform. The voice of God that sounded so clearly now seems to have faded, become indistinct. His dream of leading the march of Islamist democracy through the Middle East looks tattered and worn. Libya, Syria, Egypt: none of them look like successes for Turkish diplomacy or leadership, and Syria is a fully fledged disaster that threatens instability inside Turkey itself.
April 30, 2012 § Leave a Comment
The AKP, like most democratic political parties, has designs on becoming something of a permanent ruling party. Luckily for them, the opposition CHP is all too happy to play the role of the Washington Generals to the AKP’s Harlem Globetrotters. Fresh off Davutoğlu’s aggressive statements last week on Syria and Turkey’s role in the world, CHP deputy leader Osman Korutürk decided that the proper response was to blast the AKP’s policy on Syria, which he dubbed as damaging to Turkey.
Defining the policy a failure, CHP Deputy Chairman Osman Korutürk maintained that “Turkey has turned into an interventionist country, meddling in the internal affairs of its neighbors, instigating war and taking part in regional conflicts.” “Turkey has become an isolated country within the international community due to its Syria policy. It pretended to back Annan’s peace plan but has created a perception that it supports a military intervention in Syria,” Korutürk added.
There are two simple lessons that the CHP needs to learn. First, nobody wants to listen to politicians telling you how terrible and unworthy you are. It is simply not a recipe for winning elections, particularly in a country like Turkey that has very strong nationalist feelings and state pride. When refugees are pouring across the border, it just won’t do to talks about Turkish meddling or war-mongering. It is tone deaf at best, dangerously cynical at worst. In addition, Syria is a strange issue on which to go after the AKP. The government might have dragged its heels at the outset, waiting interminably for Assad to carry out the various reforms that he had promised his buddy Erdoğan were forthcoming, but Ankara has arrived at a place where it has a principled and praiseworthy position on Syria. Why in the world would the CHP attack Erdoğan and Davutoğlu on this aside from just wanting to jump up and down and wave their arms in the hopes of getting some attention? The strategy here basically seems to be to look at what the AKP is doing on foreign policy and then do the opposite, irrespective of the actual policy or issue at hand. There is a reason that the CHP has been out of power for three decades, and this type of nonsense is not going to help matters.
Second, it is not enough to just tear down the other side without having a coherent policy of your own. What would the CHP have Turkey do in Syria? Is Korutürk arguing that it is actually in Turkey’s interests to just leave Assad alone to do his own thing? Note that Korutürk did not accuse the government of trying to intervene in Syria themselves, but rather of supporting a military intervention in Syria, which implies an international force of some sort, whether it be NATO or the UN. This is an aggressive posture to be sure, but given that this is precisely what happened in Libya, it doesn’t read as being totally outrageous or unprecedented. It is unclear to me why the CHP thinks that Turkey has in any way instigated war or how it believes Ankara is now isolated, and what its solution is to contain the enormous problem in Turkey’s backyard that is spilling over into Turkey itself. Also, bear in mind that this is the very same party that was going hard after the AKP one year ago for being inconsistent on the Arab Spring, supporting the people in one instance and the regime in another, and now its position is that Turkey should just sit on its hands in every situation? Rather than generating endless sound and fury, the CHP needs to take a step back, figure out what its position actually is, and become proactive rather than always react to what the government is doing. Until this happens, Davutoğlu is going to continue running circles around the CHP’s foreign policy voices and the party will keep on consigning itself to irrelevance.
April 10, 2012 § 1 Comment
I haven’t blogged much about Turkey and Syria despite the increasingly heated rhetoric being directed at Assad on Turkey’s part because I still don’t see anything changing the basic fact that Turkey wants to avoid having to establish a buffer zone in Syria at any cost. The shooting over the border by Syrian forces is a serious issue for Turkey, and the new word is that Turkey might establish a buffer zone if Syria massacres civilians that are gathering in camps near Aleppo or if another 25,000 refugees cross into Turkey, both of which are a pretty high threshold to overcome and still do not guarantee that Turkey will actually create a buffer zone inside Syria. The border violation by Syria puts Turkey in a real bind, because Ankara is not going engage in open hostilities with Syrian forces over the killing of two Syrian refugees and the wounding of others inside Turkey’s territory, but to not do so essentially lets Assad call Erdoğan’s bluff and keep on pushing the line further and further. Turkey desperately wants an international solution here, explaining Erdoğan’s blasting of the U.N. and the foreign ministry deriding Kofi Annan’s ceasefire plan as irrelevant, which Turkey hopes will spur stronger action against Syria so that it will not have to back up its noise about taking matters into its own hands. The bottom line here is that Turkey prematurely floated rumors of a buffer zone never intending to actually have to set one up, and now its bluff is being called in a big way. That does not change the fact that Turkey does not actually want to have to send its troops into Syria and risk becoming entangled in a hot war with Assad’s forces, and absent Syria shelling the Turkish border and killing a significant number of Turks, I still maintain that a buffer zone is not going to happen. The Turkish foreign ministry can float as many stories as it wants in Zaman and Milliyet of behind the scenes discussions regarding a buffer zone, but it’s just not in Turkey’s interests to do so, and I’ll believe it is going to happen when I see actual troop deployments taking place. Until then, my prediction will remain unchanged.