Perhaps it is better to slow down and even halt for a while when events seem to overtake us. Yet, not so, it seemed for Mr. Erdoğan. To the contrary, Turkish foreign policy is (was?) in constant hurry and agitation in the face of imminent dangers and risks. And, to most of the self-appointed independent minded pundits, your humble servant among them, Turkish foreign policy either is a direct extension of internal politics or depends directly on the whims of Mr. Erdoğan. It almost always prioritized muscle over negotiation since a long while.
At the same time the twists and turns of the developments in the East Med and the Mid East region are mind boggling. Who would have predicted that Iran would shoot down a passenger plane and that Teheran which was the scene of the crowds mourning the death of Qasem Suleimani now would be the scene of crowds calling the same Suleimani a murderer while questioning the honour (“bisherem”) of the Revolutionary Guards? Who would have guessed that following the arrival of first Turkish troops on Libyan soil presidents Mr. Erdoğan and Mr. Putin would call for a UN brokered ceasefire on the ground and that call would be heeded by both the GNA and the LNA?
This is what the official presidential spokesperson and de facto National Security Adviser Mr. Kalın tweeted on Sunday: “Thanks to the intense diplomatic work of President Erdoğan, ceasefires have been reached in Idlib and Libya. This is a result of Turkey’s peace diplomacy. Diplomacy is a process management by different means. Our goal is to secure peace, security and prosperity for all people.” The last sentence is enigmatic at best, pretentious at worst but the bit on Libya perhaps heralds a change in Ankara’s (read Erdoğan’s) dominant approach to near abroad matters.
It is also noteworthy that Mr. Putin, having left Istanbul and having himself pictured on board the Marshal Ustinov cruiser which fired a few missiles in the Black Sea, received in Moscow on Saturday the German Chancellor Ms. Merkel. In the aftermath of the talks the chancellor said she hoped Turkish-Russian efforts to broker peace would be successful, and confirmed that Berlin would be the site of upcoming ceasefire talks. Ms. Merkel also underlined that it would be the United Nations, and not Germany that would lead the talks. GNA PM Mr. Sarraj’s unannounced visit Istanbul on Sunday, where he was received by President Erdoğan happened in the wake of that statement.
Again quite interestingly to me, a senior U.S. official delegation had met separately with GNA’s Interior Minister Mr. Bashagha and LNA’s General Haftar in Rome on Thursday -two days prior to Merkel-Putin bilateral talks. According to the statement put out by the U.S. Embassy the U.S. officials would have voiced their Administration’s serious concern about “toxic foreign interference” in the conflict. They would also have stressed the fact that “the deployment of Russian mercenaries fighting on behalf of the Libyan National Army AND Turkish-supported Syrian fighters allied with the GNA” would have significantly degraded security in Libya.
Still on Thursday Turkish Foreign Minister Mr. Çavuşoğlu was in Baghdad to meet the Iraqi PM Mr. Abdelmehdi who had resigned on the 30th of November. The two did not share any comments about their meeting with the press. Mr. Çavuşoğlu did not seize the opportunity to follow his visit up with a stopover in Erbil which was the target of five Iranian missiles just on Wednesday’s wee hours. A phone call was deemed sufficient to that effect instead. Furthermore, Ankara appointed a Consul General to Mosul and the consulate will be operational soon. Also to note on the Iraqi front is the killing of two journalists, Ahmed Abdulsamad and Safa Al Ghali in Basra by Iranian affiliated militia forces.
Last, but not the least as the saying goes, a ceasefire in Syria’s Idlib as well is enacted. This was mediatized as yet another concrete outcome of Erdoğan-Putin meeting in Istanbul. Initially, the Russian military officials seemed to complain about the Turkish backed combatants not sticking to their end of the bargain but later on the deepest worry of Ankara of having to face yet another wave of a hundred thousand Syrian refugees piling up literally near the wall built on its Syrian border appeared to have temporarily appeased. Why should this last ceasefire will hold whereas the previous ones have failed is anybody’s guess –yet, here we are.
To sum, the Iranian regime appears to feel the pain inflicted by the U.S. sanctions and to lose ground on both home and neighboring Iraq fronts. Erdoğan’s combative foreign policy also appears to let off steam and slow down on both Syrian and Libyan fronts. It is too early to tell whether finally reason had found a foothold in Ankara. For Mr. Erdoğan the hardest bit to tackle in 2020 will be the U.S. President’s repeated invitation for the NATO’s mission to be expanded to the Mid East and namely to Iraq. That was anathema to Ankara’s national security gospel till now. We will also not wait for too long to see whether Ankara will put its money where Mr. Kalın’s above referenced tweet is.
The outcome of the Berlin Conference on Libya is anybody’s guess and whether it will make any difference is anybody’s guess as well. The safest bet is to claim that we are just starting a long de-escalation period with its inevitable ups and downs unless General Hafter manages to upend it militarily.
Turkey, if it stops short of going all in in Libya and taps into its long forgotten diplomatic arsenal, has a unique opportunity to step forward with its home brew de-escalation efforts. President Erdoğan already had both Mr. Rouhani and Mr. Saleh on the phone. Briskly, Ankara can step forward and play on both its hundreds year long relations with Teheran and its half a century old NATO membership.
Mr.Erdoğan went to Tunisia but came back empty handed following his meeting with his counterpart Mr.Saied. The joint diplomatic, military, intelligence team that was dispatched to Moscow got no deal after three days long talks. Italy, Britain, France and Germany are seriously considering imposing a No Fly Zone which will definitely put a hold to armed drones provided by Turkey to GNA.
Vienna, no need to be a historian to reach that conclusion, is an imperial capital. Coming from Istanbul, I can’t help but think about the parallelism of these two cities being amputated of their respective empires almost simultaneously at the end of World War I.
Ankara went ahead and put the pedal to the metal in all files. No restraint, no consultation, no foresight: Just jump in head-on wherever, whenever you see trouble. Why? Simply because it almost always paid off at the ballot box. Second, there was no payback, no price tag attached to any of all these reckless foreign policy moves, manoeuvers and adventures.
So here I was back at heart of the blob. Or alternately, here I was knee-deep back in the swamp. Ten years ago this city was sort of abuzz. This time though, if President Macron kindly allows me to borrow the description he recently used for NATO, DC appeared to me sort of “brain-dead”. A good friend who had navigated these treachourous waters for decades had warned me that I would come to witness “the demise of an empire.”
Never in the history of mankind, less than ten richest persons in the world possessed more than half of the global wealth. But also, never in the history of mankind, humans lived so long and a billion people to global population was added in such a short span of time. Statesmen are in short supply in our time and at the same time all the public upheaval from Santiago to Najaf can be understood as a global rejection of being lead by anyone anyway.
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.
What is the secret of the “Kılıçdaroğlu Doctrine”? That’s “winning with a disappearing act”, in a nut-shell. That is, now you see Mr.Kılıçdaroğlu and he dexterly shuffles the deck of cards lurking in the shadows, and now you don’t, the cards are open on the table with brand new names facing the voter. Ergo, CHP rises as the legendary phoenix from its ashes.
Where will Iraq go from here, I do not know. The historical process triggered by the U.S. military that toppled the most brutal dictator of its era in 2003 does not yet appear to have arrived at its final destination. It is perhaps a good enough thing to be alive for some of us, but then again, for some of us to merely survive is not enough. The brave young generation of Iraq, unlike the frequent traveler that your humble servant was, plays this game for their lives: They want to live, to be free and pursue their happiness as they see fit.
The relations between Turkey and the U.S. are beyond repair. The bilateral relations are either going to look like “operational” as in U.S.-Egypt relations for example, in which case people who consider themselves democrats will definitely go under the bus. Or, another option may appear to be, as it derives from the dominant narrative of Erdoğan, a character similar to the U.S.-Russia relations: Turkey playing the part of an equal and indispensable but difficult partner.
Turkey is anchored in the West since the Paris Peace Conference in 1856 that ensued the Crimean War. Today, over the control of a godforsaken piece of land of 120 to 32km, Putin is invited to kill too many birds with one stone.
As the U.S. pulled out, Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian Arab Army (SAA), supported by Russia, moved into Manbij and Kobane to the west and to the Qamishli axis to the east of the said rectangular field of ongoing operations. Hence, there is no reason why the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) should heed the U.S.-Turkish Joint Statement, and there is no reason why the congressional sanctions effort should stop—it didn’t.
Last week marked the fourth anniversary of the Ankara Train Station massacre. The pain caused by the hundreds of dead and injured subsists. The victims simply demanded peace. But they paid a high price for it.
Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said, rather ungrammatically, that they would 'raggedy' Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu if he doesn't mind his own business. He openly and directly threatened him with these words