Friday, May 1, 2009

Turkey's New Foreign Minister and Its Foreign Policy Strategy

Ahmet Davutoglu became Turkey’s foreign minister, May 1, after having served as foreign policy advisor to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan since 2002. He’s the architect of Turkey’s current foreign policy. And that’s not good.

While the 50-year-old Davutoglu played a key role in running the Israel-Syria talks, he also has been central in such policies as: close cooperation with Iran and Syria alongside meeting leaders of Hamas, Hizballah, and the most important anti-American Iraqi militia.

For Davutoglu, this represents a balanced policy between Turkey’s European and Middle Eastern interests. “Our foreign policy regarding the EU is compatible with and in the same systematic framework as our relations with the Middle East,” he said in a June 2008 lecture. But isn’t there a conflict between the way he defines these two policies? After all, Turkey isn’t courting Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan, but rather the regional radicals?

The issue is not that Davutoglu is a radical or an Islamist. He is quite thoughtful about balancing Turkish interests and in some ways he seems like a Turkish version of the kind of thinking that typifies the EU. But here’s where the problem lies. By the way, people who have met him say that he is very unfriendly, even contemptuous, toward the United States.

Davutoglu’s belief is that Turkey should have the best possible relations with all its neighbors and especially with those forces that are most threatening. It is the equivalent of the neutralist paradigm during the Cold War. Or, in his words,

“You have to ensure that there are minimum risks around you. Turkey is surrounded by international risks....Throughout the 1990s we had certain problems with almost all of our neighbors. Now we have excellent relations with all of our neighbors.”

It tells a lot about Davutoglu and contemporary Turkey, that he neglected to interpose the ideal quote from Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish republic, here: “Peace at home, peace abroad.” There are also parallels with U.S. President Barack Obama’s world view.

But there is an assumption here that can be called into question, the belief that extremist forces can be defused by dialogue, and that the more radical and aggressive they are, the more dialogue is needed.
In his “four principles” Davutoglu said:

“Security for both sides is vital, since in the Middle East, if we want to have a real peace, security for the Palestinians should be equal to security of Israelis. Security of the Shi’ite Iraqis should be equal to the security of the Sunni Iraqis. Security of the Christian Lebanese should be equal to the security of a Shi’ite or Sunni Lebanese. Security for an Arab should be equal to the security of a Turk or Kurd or anyone. If we don’t have security for all in the region you cannot have security for one particular group or nation or state.”

That makes sense in its own terms. But not everything can be reconciled. To strengthen Hamas, as the current Turkish regime has done, makes security impossible for both Palestinians and Israelis. To back Hizballah, as the Turkish regime has often seemed to be doing, makes security impossible for Lebanese. To work so closely with Iran and Syria as the current Turkish regime does makes security impossible for Palestinians, Israelis, Lebanese, Iraqis, and probably ultimately for Turkey as well.

And as this becomes apparent which side will the Turkish government choose? When the regime foments hatred of Israel and grassroots’ anti-Americanism (despite the warm welcome given to Obama) this goes beyond such neutrality.

Davutoglu applies similar criteria elsewhere:

“We are a huge contributor to NATO - this is our strategic choice. But this will not compromise our relations with Russia. The Cold War is over.”

True, the Cold War is over and Europe-Russia relations are not a zero-sum game. But if Russia advances in the Caucasus and Central Europe through bullying or more militant methods, which side will Turkey choose?

Moreover, if what is happening in the Middle East today is the equivalent of the Cold War--and sometimes even a much hotter one--because of a clash between two blocs, the new Turkish policy is the equivalent to having refused to join NATO and oppose the Soviet threat decades ago.

Finally, he concludes, "Our integration process with the EU is not an alternative to this understanding; its compatible."

He might think so, but will European leaders think so? It might well be true that no matter what Turkey did and does it will not get into the EU as a full member. Yet this policy is making that outcome even more unlikely.

Ideally, Davutoglu’s strategy of being friends with everyone seems an ideal policy for Turkey. But choices will have to be made and already the current regime has been shown to show in which direction it is tilting.

Having been honored by a special visit by Obama and warmly praised by him, one might think that the regime--if Obama's style of diplomacy was going to work in such situations--would have at least refrained (see below) from inviting a stridently anti-American militia leader and appointing a foreign minister who is personally anti-American a few weeks later.

Here are two cases in point regarding how the Turkish regime favors the radical forces.

First, having developed good relations with Iran, which are expanding steadily on the economic front despite international sanctions; backing Hamas and Hizballah, and doing a joint military exercise with Syria (albeit small in scale) the Turkish regime recently played host, May 1-3, to Moqtada al-Sadr, a client of both Syria and Iran whose forces repeatedly attacked U.S. soldiers in Iraq.

Even though he holds no official post and is a client of Iran and Syria, Sadr held personal meetings with Turkey's prime minister and president. This is another of many steps showing the Ankara regime's moves closer to the Iran-led alliance. Turkey's government says the meeting was one of a number consulting with all political forces in Iraq.  But clearly Sadr was given red carpet treatment on a level usually accorded a visiting top foreign leader.

In April’s local elections, the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) suffered some setback but remained the most popular party by a large margin. The opposition remains deeply divided and largely ineffective.

Second, Hussein Jaafar, the main suspect in the April ambush of a Lebanese army unit in the Bekaa Valley, killing four soldiers, was caught crossing from Syria into Turkey with forged Syrian documents. In a case like this, it is reasonable to think that Jaafar was working for the Syrians or at least one of their client groups in one more assault on Lebanon's moderate government. That's how he got the Syrian passport after all. But a Lebanese court had indicted Jaafar and he was wanted in Beirut for questioning.

Presumably, the Syrians will now protect Jaafar and the Lebanese will never get him. Turkey should have extradited him to Lebanon--the man is a Lebanese citizen wanted by the courts in Lebanon--but chose to send him to Syria, knowing the consequences of that choice.

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