Some claim that Ankara’s public diplomacy efforts utterly stuttered or even miserably failed during and after the latest military operation to the east of Euphrates. SDF commander Mazlum Abdi acceded to the rank of a legitimate political interlocutor and the People's Protection Units (YPG) is not tainted by PKK’s terrorist organization label but mostly the opposite view gained traction. Your humble servant begs to differ and will argue here that the best way to save the metaphorical taxpayer’s lira is to ditch the public diplomacy effort altogether.
Reminiscing about the times I happened to have joined the ranks of diplomacy in the early nineties, I do not recall whether we had such a concern as other people liking us – which is I gather, is what the so-called public diplomacy stunt is all about. I do recall though, having completed my nine months military service during which I served as a simple seaman at the sunny shores of Aksaz Naval Base, I was promptly assigned to our Information Desk. Where, totally disillusioned, I spent my working days reading the papers in English and French, if not just looking at the wall facing me.
What might have possibly changed since then? It seems like Erdoğan’s Turkey not only wants to go it alone almost in all foreign policy issues but also actually expects almost all other countries, friend or foe, to, at best, applaud its acts and decisions or to understand them and to remain silent, at worst. That’s not a realistic goal. Are the thinking and talking heads in Beştepe not aware of this fact? Well, you bet they are.
Then, why this obsession with the public diplomacy? First, it’s not really diplomacy but this is more like pursuing policies abroad designed for public consumption disguised as public diplomacy. Second, this is also foreign policy made and implemented by arrivistes whose sole achievement are their sheer contempt for what they see as the effeminate and debauched ways of the career diplomats. Third, this is audacity derived from ignorance and ignorance based on fear from unknown.
Let me explain. Since a long while there resides only a single decision-maker in Ankara, and we all know who that person is. The entire makeshift presidential system is created to go from point A to point B without any legal or political interference. Public scrutiny is considered equal to treason. There is only one data that matters as input and that is the constant popularity rate of the leader. Foreign policy’s brinkmanship endeavours are mere ammunition provided for the firebrand style speeches. In short: “Me against the World and Me equals Us.”
Second point is the disdain for foreign policy professionals. True, grass was perhaps not greener even then as now. Yet, since Napoleon Bonaparte establihed it, a bureaucracy is the backbone of the modern state. However, “bürokrasi” means “red tape” in Turkish. A diplomat’s job in our times is to negotiate and then to communicate. In case of victory, it is the political decisonmaker’s. Failure, rests full and square on the shoulders of the diplomat. Turkish case is direct one-on-one diplomacy, with no whatsoever “bürokrasi” present in the room.
Third point is depicted by the “there are wackos out there” moment in Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine.” According to the rampant narrative, Turkey is surrounded from within and from without by enemies. Those enemies are on the payroll of foreign powers. A “foreign power” is not just any other state beyond Turkey, but it is an alien operator lurking in the shadows. Hence, the need to whistle while walking through the cemetery at night.
To conclude, what do I suggest, if I may? Well, beyond the U.S. I know of no other country which is constant need of being approved of by others. I believe America, the sole truly global power, is still THE exception even though it can no more be seen as the benign hegemon that it used to be for a brief while following WW2. For the rest, Turkey first and foremost among them, they all will need to soldier on and cope with the challenge of decision-making in an imperfect world, and live with the consequences.