“all ignorance toboggans into know / and trudges up to ignorance again” -thus had once mused e.e. cummings (1894-1962), the distinguished American poet (who famously shunned capital letters) in the middle of the last century. To understand Turkey’s current foreign policy foolhardiness, one has to first figure out Turkey right perhaps, and to do that, again perhaps, think about the “after-Erdoğan” era.
Turkey stands yet at a crossroads. After all, for any self-proclaimed student of the Turkish history, this should be the most unnerving pseudo-observation. It seems as if this republic had never had any particular period of comfort in its history where it did not encounter a crossroads. Maybe this much chewed and spit “crossroads” or “do-or-die” rhetoric was and still is the main instrument of the regime’s evergreen eternity.
It had seemed to come at an end though, when the 1999 Marmara Earthquake literally shook the ground under the feet of the state. The 2002 elections have meant that the people had enough and booted all the establishment out hand in hand. The minority political islamists have ridden the center-right elephant almost until when the failed 15th of July, 2016 coup added the last bit of water into politics’ wine.
One has to admit that, starting well before the failed coup, especially after “Gezi” uprising of 2013, but definitely since then, Turkey is in an anti-politics and anti-rule-of-law vacuum, as if it is permanently waiting in an obscure ante-chamber of history. That permanent lethargy contradictorily translates as non-stop agitation in foreign and in so-called “counter-terrorism” policies. In other words, Turkish state does more and even more, in order to persevere in its reeking stagnancy.
Today, a shaky hodge-podge opposition coalition of sorts seems to have emerged following the metropolitan municipality victories in 2019, first and foremost winning the prized duchy of Istanbul among them. Now, the secularist nationalists and muslim democrats with the Kurds and leftists suspiciously eyeing but soldiering on with them have a quite clear shot at the presidency in 2023 the latest -in ceteris paribus conditions.
Ergo, the talk of the town in Ankara is about reversing course back to parliamentarian system. Leave aside the constant politicking, even the most well versed constitutional law professors present very convincing arguments that no half way through measures, as in the French system, will make it in the case of Turkey. There ain’t much problem there, except: Those opposition politicians mostly represent also “the state” as we know it.
Hence, once in power, given the present situation of existing near-abroad, EastMed and MidEast conflicts, honeymoon with Putin’s Russia, betting on Trump and rampant anti-americanism, vegetative state of EU membership bid, they will have their job cut out for them in the area of foreign policy. Taking over municipalities will not look nowhere near the same as having to face at day one all these foreign and national security policy challenges.
For a simple reason: There won’t be any “in between” for the sake of continuity or moderateness, but a binary “either/or” situation. It became a mantra among home-grown pundits here, again including your writer, that the foreign policy became increasingly an extension of the interior politics and increasingly morphed into a giant PR exercise for Mr. Erdoğan. Hence, a clean-break in regime must, by default, translate into a “tabula rasa” in foreign and national security policies.
If, simply put, the regime is the identity of the republic and foreign and national security policies are a reflection of that identity, regime change must mean a thorough soul-searching as well. Or alternatively, will this game end at the last level with a dry “go back to case one” anti-climax? In that case, what is prematurely heralded as the dawn of the age of reason, can well turn out to be the pastel colours of an eternal sunset.
Shall we find a way to live together in dignity as citizens of a secular, pluralist, decentralized Turkish republic? Will “peace at home, peace in the world” motto be fleshed out in Libya, Syria, Iraq and with the Kurds of all colours? How about the Armenian Genocide issue? Even much more modestly: Shall the Foreign Ministry be completely overhauled? Shall the National Defence Minister be a civilian with unhindered authority over the armed forces? Shall the National Security Council be ditched?
It is a tall order which can be made even longer. “but winter’s not forever, even snow / melts; and if spring should spoil the game, what then?” concludes e.e. cummings his musing. We shall see. Sooner rather than later, I tend to believe –as, not Mr. Cummings but, an older moustachioed oracle famously predicted: “The abyss is (indeed) gazing back into us” after 18 years of AKP rule that is.