Tuesday, February 24, 2009

New US Foreign Policy Equation and Some Implications for Turkey


Hurriyet Daily News, February 24, 2009

Washington, DC. The Obama administration did not waste any time to move swiftly to change the foreign policy settings and the US Secretary of State, Mrs. Hillary Clinton’s East Asia trip was a test drive to see some components of this new equation. The various reports, commentaries and discussions in the US Capitol tell us that, the new administration’s appointing special representatives and envoys, reminiscent of the Bill Clinton years, will somewhat subside the long-established Secretary of State’s weight in crucial regions and conflicts around the world. The new US special representative Richard Holbrook takes on Afghanistan-Pakistan and South Asia; former Senate Majority leader and the special envoy George Mitchell Israel-Palestine and Middle East. Furthermore, as Rodger Baker of Stratfor Global Intelligence pointed out recently, managing by and large China strategy will also fall to Vice President Joe Biden.

Last week, Clinton’s first foreign visit was discussed at the Brookings Institution, a Washington, DC think tank. After the lengthy discussion, I asked the moderator Dr. Richard C. Bush III, Director, Brooking’s Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies, how he would comment on Hillary’s not dropping into Afghanistan during her first foreign visit to the region. After all, Obama has made it profusely clear how important Afghanistan was to his administration. Dr. Bush’s response was even more startling. According to him, Hillary was not going to visit Afghanistan in order not to undercut Holbrook’s future policy attempts and prospects in the region. I addressed the same question to Dr. Seth Jones, Georgetown University professor and who just came back from the region and co-author of a working paper called “Securing Afghanistan: Getting on track” which is published within last week by the United States of Institute of Peace, respected bipartisan organization. Dr. Jones gave me a similar answer after a different conference here in DC, that the new administration has a range of actors and region distribution policy, and since Holbrook is already in the region visiting Afghanistan and Pakistan, Mrs. Clinton visited other East Asia countries. Thus, it seems, the Secretary of State’s visit to Afghanistan is being given up for making more room for the new envoy to the region.

Transatlantic economic bilateral relationships is another part of the new equation that is expected to furthermore weaken the traditional State Secretary’s weight in the American foreign policy making arena. Dr. David M. Lampton, Director of China Studies and Dean of Faculty at Johns Hopkins’ SAIS, touched on this shifting dynamic of the equipoise at the Brookings’ discussion. On the one hand, China’s dependency on America’s export market, on the other America’s investors and bankers’ addiction to China’s growth and other economic issues make China-US relations and other America’s transatlantic bilateral relationships stay strongly focused on trade and finance. And plausibly America’s economic actors, such as the Department of Commerce and Trade, Treasury, gaudy new White House economic tsars and even the FED will occupy much space in this context in the coming years.

In addition to these newly created foreign policy actors and rapidly altering dynamics, the Department of Defense and Pentagon need to be put in the milieu. Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s undiminished power-tallying struggle, recent wars and ever-increased budget power carried these two players’ maneuvering capability to the limits as much to taper the State Department’s policy-making capability.

The Obama Administration has been ear-piercing about how different they are from the previous administration when it comes to foreign affairs as well. While this discrepancy in tone allows the Obama administration to start with a new page and gives advantages to rub out some of the worst memories of the recent past, it also burdens American foreign policy players to deal with the mounting expectations in a variety of countries. Let’s take the new hymn of Obama’s foreign relation policy of ‘listening’. Balbina Y. Hwang, Adjunct Lecturer, Georgetown University, was asking: listening to who and how much? And how you are going to listen to many competing countries of various disparate wishes and satisfy them?

In recent times, hearing America’s decreasing soft and hard power in unlike corners of the world became just a usual jingle. With its stretching military power in the two wars, economic crises and the worst reputation, it seems that the Obama administration’s new ‘listening-singing’ motto came in right on time. In fact, this newly embraced stance is the valley where America eventually was going to arrive. I interpret that the new foreign adjustments just made this landing elegantly easier.

Multi-dimensional vs. One-dimensional

This new equation of American foreign policy approach, as anticipated, has implications for Turkish foreign policy outlook. If Turkish Prime Minister’s top foreign adviser Dr. Ahmet Davutoglu’s multi-dimensional foreign policy strategy is to be followed, first of all, the Turkish Foreign Ministry needs to employ a reality check to its logistic infrastructure. The ministry can start with recognizing the scarcity of the number of Turkish diplomats. Turkey has only about a total of a thousand diplomats and when one compares this small number with a same sized European country, a dire reality hits the faces. If Turkey wants to play big in her region with ostentatious strategic depth adage, she has to walk the walk beside talk the talk and start training many more diplomats.

The second, if Turkey fancies to utilize Obama's new foreign policy venue in favor of Turkish foreign policy goals, it must be understood that the new 'listening-talking' buzz comes with its encumbrances. One of the first give-and-take issues will be very likely Afghanistan in this new era of American-Turkish relationship. Very recently, I had a conversation with the president of the Turkish-American Council, Amb. James Holmes at the Gulenist Rumi Forum in Washington, DC. I asked him why Turkish administration and Turkish General Staff are so averse to sending any additional troops to Afghanistan since it has the second biggest standing army within NATO. One of the reasons Amb. Holmes had given to me was: unpopularity of sending combat troops to foreign countries in the eyes of Turkish public. Though it must be understood that, Afghanistan will be equally important to Obama’s Administration as Iraq was to Bush’s, and the Obama Administration will do everything to get more/any help that they can dig up from the transatlantic alliances. It is very prone that this more troops question will be also brought before the Turkish interlocutors. These interlocutors better start calculating their responds and the potential results of these counters sooner than later.

As Dr. Bush and Dr. Seth eloquently summarized to me the importance of the newly created regional US envoys and dynamics, Turkey also ought to spend some time to think how they can resound with this new canvas. It has been increasingly flagrant that the Turkish diplomatic negotiating role between Syria and Israel is more appreciated by the Westerners as day go by; while the recent Davos incident has weakened Turkey’s independent broker role for the Israeli-Palestine peace process at the same time. I have heard much praise about Turkish mediator diplomatic exertion between Syrians and Israelis for the last few weeks in Washington, DC and many abandoned their hostile deportment to the Turkish effort on this issue. For instance, last week, several well respected Israel, Syria and Middle East experts in different panels here in Washington, DC corroborated that the man, Benjamin Netanyahu, who is given the job to create the new Israeli government, is indeed very eager about peace talks with Syria rather than Palestine. Thus, Turkey still can enforce its expediency in Syrian-Israeli dialog in the near future and hope that this stance might erase the fraction of Davos’ ghastly image. In addition, the new US envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell is reported to visit Turkey in the coming week and this might be another opportunity to touch the right tones by Turkish officials in Ankara.

The life with Obama in a real world has started and the blood that dribbled out of the sheep that were slaughtered in lieu of him in small village in Van, Eastern city of Turkey, has dried. President Obama did not have a chance to call his counterparts in Ankara until nearly a month since he was inaugurated. He called Palestine leader Mahmoud Abbas along with Egypt, Israel, and Jordan leaders the first day he was in the office. Though there is a happy chanting in Turkish media for this Obama call to Turkish leaders, in fact this belated call might be seen as a dire foretell implication about Turkey’s relative magnitude for sober eyes.

Joe Biden, the Vice President and the president of the Senate, and about all of the other American Congress Democratic leaders’ foreign policy postures might come very haughty to the traditional Turkish stances. Before we are getting into a might-be US-Turkish nerve-racking phase, Turkish policy makers need to search out ‘risk management’ locution out of dictionaries and try to asses would be damage control policies in advance. Setting up a new crises team and making ready alternative B and C plans for potential menacing scenarios would be a start. These indemnity plans should be in play because Turkish politicians recently have proven from the top-down that they are not very good when it comes to edgy circumstances. What is worse; they might have to encounter loads of these tense moments before long and if their spines are found not to be made of steel, this time Turkey might find herself in the streets of one-dimensional wonders that was certainly not wished-for.

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