Ankara's foreign policy rationale

The EU had proven its strategic cecity in 2004 when it accepted the southern Greek half of the island regardless of its clearly unresolved border issues with the North representing the entire Cypriot Republic. The U.S. had proven its own strategic deafness in turn when it remained mum to the July 15th 2016 military coup attempt in Turkey.

“Or, lack thereof…” one is increasingly tempted to continue these days. Yet, let’s stay away from the dead end of inevitable sarcasm and try to stay on course for the time being. There’s the clear and quick win in Qarabakh which turns out to be not the fruit of Erdoğan’s bravado but long term behind the scenes cooperation between the armed forces and the intelligence services of Turkey and Azerbaijan. The pincer squeeze on PKK along the mountainous Iraqi border and the still building up outsourcing of that struggle to the KDP. The push forward of the SNA towards Ain Aissa to slice the M4 highway in the East of Euphrates (before the Biden administration takes over on Jan. 20 perhaps) which puts pressure in its turn on SDF, Russia and Damascus.

There is the bilateral one-on-one diplomatic lobbying put into place on Italy, Spain, Bulgaria and Malta before the 10-11 December EU Council meeting with direct results. The nod and wink towards Ukraine for a Qarabagh style blitz to gain back Donbass with the help of Turkish made combat UAVs. The dismantlement of an 11 strong Iranian team allegedly linked with the notorious mobster Zindashti that abducted the Iranian dissident Farajulah Shaabi from Istanbul to Teheran together with the direct leak from high above to the US media that ensued.      

Two plus two sometimes makes four, sometimes three and other times five, in international relations as it does in life. And further sometimes, pundits, like yours truly if he now counts as one among them, tend to overanalyse trying endlessly to read into tealeaves. Also, simply declaring that “I don’t know” may be a far safer route to take than falling back into historical determinism. Context matters –just to repeat a banality. 

It also does matter, in my humble opinion, further to be at the receiving end or a direct customer so to speak, than to be a mere by-stander. Unless, one is already in the kitchen. But the ones in the kitchen rarely speak up about the food or the poison they are concocting, rarely in diplomacy at least. The question that reads in huge neon sign letters is “is there a rational, integral, multi-dimensional, functional foreign policy effort that, unbeknownst to us, keep all these various moving parts together?”

At the opposite corner, there seems to be another unfolding story. That is the one about Ankara’s  long goodbye to the West –which is the analogy I prefer to the much chewed and spat “slow motion train wreck” analogy. Traditionally, the U.S. pushed its NATO ally Turkey towards the EU and the EU ignored the fact that it kept Ankara in the waiting room since 1963, or 1996, or 1999. Now, both the the EU and the U.S. gang up on Turkey, to try and suffocate it with sanctions.

U.S. CAATSA per se classifies Turkey (by way of its cozying up with Russia) as an “adversary” and no longer an ally. On the EU front, it’s telling that at the above mentioned summit meeting, deliberations on Turkey were conducted under the “East Med” heading and not once Turkey’s candidacy status was uttered or taken note of. To add insult to injury, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Borrell is tasked with coming up with alternative scripts to define the future “partnership” (not membership) options for Turkey with the EU until the next Council to be held in March 2021.  

As I touched upon in my previous Monday column here, divorce from the West already cost Turkey in the last five years alone a whopping 250 billion USD loss in national income. In other words, if no one else attempts to sink our boat, we are still capable of effectively sinking it ourselves. Then, we may as well rinse and repeat: Where is the rationale in all this foreign policy agitation cloaked as assertiveness or defiance?

When I was a kid, my late father (1930-2000) used to relay to me a cartoon he saw in an American magazine about the 1951 Studebaker with the caption reading: “Which way are you going Mack?” –as both the front and the rear ends of that car’s looked quite similar. So, which way Turkey is going really? Or is there anyone behind the steering wheel –again- really? Even perhaps, is there a road ahead or are we in uncharted territory now?

But then again, one can endlessly add to this seemingly interminable list of questions: How about the weather conditions and road visibility? What about the traffic? How do other drivers and cars out there on the same diplomacy circuit behave and fare? For that matter, in Turkey, are we riding all on the same vehicle? Can it be the same to comment from the stands, from within another car or whilst you are already a passenger in Turkey’s 1951 Studebaker of a foreign policy car?

The EU had proven its strategic cecity in 2004 when it accepted the southern Greek half of the island regardless of its clearly unresolved border issues with the North representing the entire Cypriot Republic. It had blinked at the time to the Greek threat of putting a hold on EU’s enlargement to the East. The U.S. had proven its own strategic deafness in turn when it remained mum to the July 15th 2016 military coup attempt in Turkey.

Today, while the EU considers Turkey as merely a bulwark to the refugee flow and radical islamist terrorism; for the U.S., Turkey is considered again merely as a bulwark against Russian and Iranian mischief and ambitions in its region. For both, stability means vouching for cemeteries’ solemn silence rather than opting for the joyful tumult of the city squares. They both place geography before history and diminish history to a black and white vaudeville western with “bad Indians and good cowboys.”

Public diplomacy is part and parcel of foreign policy but foreign policy cannot be broken down only to a self-promotion effort. At the same time, one can’t boast about the splendour of the guest room while the kitchen and the bathroom are in lamentable condition. When national security takes precedence in foreign policy, freedom and democracy takes a hike in interior policy. National interest, deep state, “raison d’état”, survival of the republic are all self-generating alibis for the self-appointed praetorian guards to keep watch over the shoulder of the elected governments.

It gets even more complicated, for the freedom loving and pluralist opposition at least, when that particular elected government or leader equates its/his/her political survival with the survival of the republic and decides it’s in its/his/her interest to cooperate with that praetorian guard. The misshaped result is a never ending forced adolescence for the public and a so-called “tutelage” system to go on forever.

At the end of the day, while western pundits comfortably seated on their high horses can dispense of their wisdom abundantly and reach the verdict that anti-western sentiment is rampant among the Turkish public opinion from a safe and uninterested distance, down here we need to knock our heads together to find a way out of our miserable condition. For, simply put, we have skin in the game. Pluralism, decentralisation, secularism, agency, accountability and such like are all the vital road signs we need to place on that imaginary foggy, crowded and perilous diplomacy circuit here-above mentioned to avoid any more car crashes which at one point may prove to be fatal for us. If we wish to stay on course, that is. 

September 13, 2021 The new cold war