Turkey’s no-return course

Alwaght– Following 2002 parliamentary election when the Justice and Development Party (AKP) rose to power, the party designed a Turkish-branded multifaceted foreign policy with regard to Ankara’s emerging role in the region.

Until 2000, the climactic point of the Turkey’s regional role was acting as broker among regional countries. But this status did not last for Turkey, and after the Islamic awakening period that followed a series of uprisings in the Arab world after 2011, Turkey made a shift in regional role and policy, put aside its zero tensions policy towards neighbors and embarked on an interventionist strategy.

Despite all work to generate an appropriate regional image, the years that followed the popular revolutions and chaos in the region– until recently– saw the Turkish position going all of a sudden under risk of collapse. The analysts suggest the Turkish ruling party AKP has faced failure of its enormous investment on the allied Islamist groups holding power in its vicinity. Very soon, loss of the party’s huge part of geopolitical resources ensued.

The strategic view of the country’s political decision makers, particularly former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, was built on the basis that Ankara needed a boost of its regional prestige via close economic interactions with the neighboring countries. But this suggestion did not look suitable in the eyes of the Turkish leaders after the winds of change began blowing across the region out of nothing, pushing Ankara to support the rising Islamist parties– as it had done before– in the Arab world if it sought to pursue its long-term interests.

Beyond 2011 uprisings and subsequent events, which included toppling the despotic rule of Zine El Abedine Ben Ali of Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt at the hands of the Islamist parties, Ankara transformed into an advocate of the political Islam in the region in a bid to materialize the President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s desire of rebuilding the Ottoman Empire on the strength of power gain of the Islamist groups in different Muslim countries.

But soon everything changed for Ankara leaders, letting them know that Turkey was too unfit to impose its hegemonic ambitions on the region. In other words, Ankara’s ambitious foreign policy began to look incompetent, and soon drained away. The Turkish model of regional foreign policy, dubbed zero-tension policy, that aimed close ties with all of major regional actors in the beginning of 2011 proved to be a mirage. At the same time, the international hopes on Turkey to guide the newly-established regimes to modernization were heavily frustrated.

The previously-followed Ankara policies like avoiding sectarianism as well as intervention in the neighboring countries’ domestic affairs were soon put aside. This policy shift was never clear in other places as it was in Syria. Turkey’s leaders not only rose to oppose the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, their earlier ally, but also facilitated emergence of Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood as a political actor on the Syrian stage. Along with supporting the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the military wing of the opposition, beside other backers like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Turkey tended to have the back of the Muslim Brotherhood, and so stood party to the domestic Syrian conflict. Joining the atrocious anti-Damascus campaign of Riyadh and Doha in favor of the terrorists raised serious questions about credibility of Ankara’s claims about intentions to help build a democracy in Syria.

Being assertive in calls for the Syrian president to quit the power, the Turkish leaders turned a blind eye to the extremist groups’ heinous crimes against Syrian people and let foreigner terrorists easily cross the Turkish borders into the Syrian territories. Turkey is said to be a key gate of terrorists’ arrival to Syria.

But the Syrian war ramifications were beyond the Turks’ expectations, pulling Turkey into the sectarianism abyss, making it get the label of being the leader of the region’s Sunnis. As Syrian government made military gains against the terrorists on the one hand and Turkish leaders failed to allure the Western allies into military action against Damascus on the other hand, already-broad chasm between Ankara’s ambitions and its capacities even widened.

Turkey’s post-2011 foreign policy priorities failed gradually not only in Syria as a regional hot spot and a point of Ankara’s focus but in other nations, including Egyptian that saw rise of seculars after Muslim Brotherhood-led president Mohamed Morsi was forced out of office by army. Turkey’s strategic failure is described to be prompted by the AKP’s West Asian policy conflict with large part of the Turkey’s traditional geopolitical interests. Sticking to the new political priorities in dealing with the region’s developments pushed Erdogan-led Ankara away from its former pragmatism, allowing the policy to be reined by ideological approaches.

Recent years’ Turkish geopolitical expansionism discredited the superficial discourse of democracy. Anti-democratic measures at home and offering tactical support for the radical militant forces in Syria and Iraq also tarnished Ankara’s democratic gesture. This trend not only stifled the zero-tension policy but also made Ankara devoid of validity in the eyes of Europeans. Distrust in Erdogan’s policies set up roadblocks ahead of Turkey’s accession to the European Union. The trend, the analysts argue, has pushed the country into a one-way course, with no end in sight.