Turkey's foreign policy forays amount to a fiasco

Every venture led by Erdoğan has benefited Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Amid this circle of fire, Turkey can hardly take on a potent role to push for peace. For the destructive choices it has made in recent years have taken their toll on constructive diplomacy.

In the past few months, Turkey's Housing Development Administration (TOKİ) has raised attention in Turkey and abroad due to a plan devised by Ankara that would magically accommodate 2 million refugees and leaves Kurds east of the Euphrates, like Afrin, homeless.

Ankara has drawn a list of commitments and declared Idlib a "de-escalation" zone. Yet its self-assurance has made it a guarantor to a jihadist army made up of former Al Qaida and ISIS fighters. Ankara sees no harm in making Turkey the protector of jihadist organizations and of one the war's major actors on Syria's own soil.

Every two or three months, Ankara knocks at Moscow's door because it turns out that one of the 12 observation points around Idlib is again under siege. Still, it does not appear to be humiliated by this. Throughout Turkey's modern history, there has never been a time like the past two years when so many frequent visits have been paid to the Kremlin Palace.

The recent ceasefires that were concluded following several Turkish requests to Russia lasted no more than a couple of hours. Ironically, Ankara has presented this moves to the Turkish public as the "diplomacy of wisdom." Major General Ali Mamluk is the embodied form of the Baathist system that Turkey's rulers have been cursing and attempting to vanquish for nine years and that turned Turkish soil into a highway for jihadists.

This very Ali Mamluk could recently be seen sitting at a table with the head of Turkish Intelligence, MİT President Hakan Fidan. Mamluk put forward three main points: Turkey should fully recognize Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, withdraw its troops and militia from Syria and as promised in Sochi, cleanse Idlib of terror organizations and open the M-4 and M-5 highways.

It is striking how quickly the tables have turned!

Those that initially launched valorous military campaigns are now returning from their forays with a great deal of misery. Upon that fiasco, attention was masterfully drawn to Libya.

Given Ankara already has militias in Syria, they are to serve as a quick reaction team, that is, the "warriors" of Turkey's solution in Libya. Those "warriors" - depending on their position - are to receive between 1,800 and 2,500 dollars monthly as well as a guarantee Turkish citizenship. Later, they might even be rewarded with a enrollment in a prospective regime special force that Erdoğan has been considering in recent times as he deems Turkey's lawful security forces inadequate.

Turkey's ties with Libya are somewhat odd. Lest we forget, Muammar Gaddafi once gave a "human rights award" to Erdoğan. The then-prime minister publicly railed against NATO's intervention in Libya. Later, Erdoğan had to stomach the fact that Turkey served as NATO's primary headquarters for its intervention in Libya which thereby made him complicit to the "conspiracy" that ended with Gaddafi's lynching - the person he had been praising only a few months earlier.

In the wake of the Libya uprising and the outbreak of the civil war, Erdoğan sided with the Islamists as planes filled with dollars and weapons flew into the country from Qatar and the UAE. He lent a hand to the grinches that did not recognize Libya's elected parliament in 2014.

Once the United Nations endorsed Libya's Government of National Accord, Erdoğan stressed his support the "legal government," attempting to conceal his former alignment with the "illegal occupiers." Since then, Turkey has provided the Islamists with arms-filled ships, armored vehicles, drones and MİT-led operations.

Ultimately, two deals were struck with the Tripoli government on November 27, 2019 to whitewash its illegitimacy. One was a military cooperation agreement while the other was a deal that determined maritime zones. Ankara proclaimed it was making deals with the "Un-recognized" government. Yet, the "Un-recognized" House of Representatives or parliament rejected these agreements as well as the Tripoli-based government.

Ankara is now claiming it is upending regional dynamics in the Eastern Mediterranean through these agreements.

But what has really changed? As Turkey's parliament approved the sending of troops to Libya on Jan. 2, that same day, Greece, Israel and the Republic of Cyprus were signing an agreement regarding the Eastern Mediterranean that would carry natural gas to Europe.

On Jan. 8, the foreign ministers of France, Greece, Egypt and the Republic of Cyprus met in Cairo and issued a declaration discrediting the deals that had been done with Libya.

As Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi exhibits his might with military exercises, all Libyan actors are in Moscow. Meanwhile, Haftar's followers have grown bolder.

Tribal leaders from dozens of cities across Libya gathered in Benghazi to protest Turkey's military intervention referring to it as an "occupation." And as the Tripoli-based groups whose fate depends on Turkish military support have become hated figures in the rest of Libya, Turkey is widely perceived as an occupier.

Ankara regards a victory on the part of the Tripoli-based Islamists as necessary to sustain its Libya deals in the future. That’s why the bill to send troops was ratified in the parliament. Though soon after, it was understood that a comprehensive military intervention was not within reach.

Prior to the resolution, Turkish troops, intelligence personel and technical staff had already been involved in the war. The number of soldiers deployed went from 40 to 80. A plan based on the deployment of militias from Syria to Tripoli was put into action. But just as Turkey was devising this plan, Haftar conquered the city of Sirte from the Turkish-backed forces.

And again, all the protagonists ended up meeting at the Kremlin. Every one of Erdoğan's ventures benefits Putin. The Russian President spoke with Egypt and UAE leaders. Haftar went to Moscow unwillingly. Through indirect negotiations, on behalf of Ankara, Turkey's Defense Minister, Foreign Affairs Minister and the President of the MİT were present at the table. In other words, the “coup plotter” Khalifa Haftar now had become an interlocutor with Turkey.

Ironically, only a few days before the Russian summit, Erdoğan was proclaiming that "a mediation could no take place between a coup-plotter and a legitimate government:"

According to the demagogues at the Palace, it is Turkey's assertiveness in Libya that opened the way to diplomacy. But what has this led to so far? Haftar left Moscow without signing the deal. The ceasefire called for together with Erdoğan and Putin which was received positively has also crumbled. Indeed, the process has not ended, another negotiating round will be set up on Jan. 19 in Berlin. 

Some say Haftar has told the Russians that he rejects Turkey’s mediation. Arabic sources, on the other hand, argue that Haftar left the table because the following demands of his were not accepted: 

“The Libyan National Army should be deployed in Tripoli. The militia brought from Syria should be sent back. Turkish military units should be withdrawn. Turkey should not be in the international force observing the ceasefire. Armed groups in Tripoli should be dispersed. The Libyan National Army should be conferred the duty of fighting against terror. A new government of accord should be formed and submitted to the approval of the House of Representatives.”   

Erdoğan is now talking about "giving a lesson" to Haftar. But, as it happened in Syria, he seems to have given in to Putin. Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said, “Our interlocutor in Libya is Russia. We are waiting for Putin’s work to be finalized.” Akar is frank. The interlocutors in Syria are the Russians, as they are in Libya. Russia’s comprehensive policies in Middle East and North Africa are explain its current sway in the region. Yet it gained its interlocutor position through largely uncalculated moves.

But Ankara's reached another level when it stated "it could not be indifferent to Libya, to the reminiscence of Hayreddin Barbarossa, to the heritage of the Ottomans.” For it has to bring up “The Arabs, the Berbers, or Amazighs, the Tuareg people, and the Kouloughlis (Kuloğlu) Turks, all [its] brothers in Libya.”

While Turkey uses this historic and Ottoman rhetoric to push through its foreign policy ventures, even those who should consider themselves as Ottoman descendants - the Kuloğlu Turks - are reacting angrily against Erdoğan's intervention in Libya.

As some Kuloğlu sources told me, “If a Kuloğlu has links to the Muslim Brothers, then Erdoğan works with them. Otherwise, nobody is contacting us.” I cannot even give their names because they fear they might be killed by Erdoğan-backed Islamists Erdoğan. 

Amid this circle of fire, Turkey can hardly take on a potent role to push for peace. For the destructive choices it has made in recent years have taken their toll on constructive diplomacy.

In Iraq, while it talks of "fraternity", Turkey has exhausted the opportunities and channels that would have helped the country. In sum, despite Ankara's constant boasting, the future lies largely in Putin's hands. Not ours.