Monday, November 23, 2009

Can Turkey be lost? (III)


In this final analysis I will try to shed light on the question of whether the discussions over worries of “losing Turkey” have any merit or not. As I argued in my previous two columns, the Justice and the Development Party, or AKP, most of the time adopts a political strategy that applies a pragmatist modality to achieve its ends. The AKP, when viewed as a pure political force, appears to be looking after its constituencies' well-being to increase Turkey’s bilateral ties with the surrounding countries to boost either the economic ends, or prove that Turkey values “zero problems” with its neighbors and therefore is a peaceful country.

Still, I would like to argue, this “what works” paradigm also contains various dangers, as it depends on from what angle one looks at the developments in the region and also considering that the upshot of these dealings are not at all self-evident. In other words, since Turkey likes to play several games at once, so that when things don't go well on one front, it can leap into others. Nonetheless, I argue that, in case of a dramatic turn of events in one of those games, results of such an unusual and sudden change could create circumstances that may leave the Turkish foreign policy makers in awe and shock mode. Consequently, if the AKP's conspicuous navigating style of viewing foreign affairs, at the last account, is not managed diligently and cautiously, it can lead to various unforeseeable inferences and it can push Turkey to align itself more closely with the more ideologically driven axis of a less-democratic world even if the intentions are not flagrantly driven in that direction.

This dramatic scenario is not just limited to the unfolding nuclear talks and debates between the West and the Iranian regime or to a rift between Turkey and the European Union, which might stem from deteriorating EU full membership prospects. In the case of the Iranian conundrum, it appears from Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's remarks that mutual treaties with the Iranian leadership and the increasing trade volume between the two countries drives Turkey into such a pragmatic road with Iran, on which making a U-turn becomes more difficult. Turkey has been investing huge political capital in this "friendship,” and a speedy departure from close camaraderie with Ahmadinejad will become more costly in the future.

Yet, the behavior of the policymakers of today's Turkey, regarding their foreign affairs modality, does not necessarily suggest that they are ideologically pushing Turkey to align itself with only one orbit. I also argue forcefully that the AKP's unprincipled or non-anchored orientation toward questions of a great moment leaves, rightly so, its critics striving to figure out what its “real” tendencies or commitments are, and urges them to constantly make cases to prove “one” certain identity. While the alertness over Turkey's assertive role is increasing in the West and the East simultaneously, Turkey also is learning to use and maximize its influence in the areas in its proximity with these unidentifiable approaches. Turkey mostly gets away with this paradoxical affinity, with the absence of an ideological, compressed identity.

We do not have room here to argue that pragmatism as an American school of philosophy whose one of the main doctrines is that "truth is pre-eminently to be tested by the practical consequences of belief." In terms of this philosophical pragmatism, the secular establishment of Turkey comes across as the antipode of the pragmatist governing style. The secular establishment in those decades following the new Turkish Republic since its founding, clinched to the principle of secularism, a distorted one, and of “Westernism,” a very vague one, while viewing the circumstances of the real world surrounding Turkey. And, consequently, these various administrations strove to make a clear break with the Muslim world, by either trying to ignore this vast neighborhood or looked down upon it.

So, if we revisit today's events, I believe the real question is how the Western world can win today's pragmatist Turkey as opposed to why Turkey is leaving the West. Or, how can the Westerners be confident of Turkey's supporting role and make sure that Turkey will go on its democratic escapade to the final destination as a fully accountable, transparent and secular country. I am afraid, answers also depend more on the policies that are made by the Western countries rather than on the Turkish side.

The first steps of this Western assertive role should be to draw up the chair on which Prime Minister Erdoğan will sit when he visits the Oval Office in the beginning of December. In this visit, and in the future, Obama has to extend some tangible offers; in other words, laid out some pragmatic reasons for Turkey to stay unswayed when the moments of great importance to the Western world arrives, such as the Iran question.

Do we see this happening? For example, does the EU seem sensible while addressing Turkey's worries? Sadly, the answer is no. While Sarkozy, the rhapsodic leader of France, or Angela Merkel, the murky leader of Germany, are stubbornly pushing Turkey in the opposite direction, many policymakers in those countries, at the same time, are ironically asking why Turkey is turning its head to the East.

The Turkish political leaders still remember what happened when Turkey sided with American forces during the first Gulf War, which became very costly for Turkey's economic interests. Now, Turkey, intentionally or not, raises its bargaining chip to see palpable undertakings in order to be convinced that it should close ranks with the Western world for any given case. With increased trade relations with Iran, Turkey's pragmatic leaders want to see some real offers on the table, regarding the road map with the EU or some real incentives from the American friends, instead of a mere ideological rhetoric of "with us or against us."

Remember, pragmatism doesn't reject principles or ideologies, but certifies that there can be various principles to pick and choose. And thanks to our common genius philosophical journey, there are enough principles to do just that from the various schools and the religions. Unless Turkey hears principles, which lead to real economic gains or to conciliation with the governing rules that help Turkey to navigate its own interests, guide the region to peaceable interactions with several parties and work toward not only one specific group's interests, any order imposed from the outside will be met with great suspicion.

Turkey's pragmatic outlook will continue, even if the Turkish leaders understand that a nuclear-armed Iran will cause the greatest threat to Turkey in the long run. The Turkish foreign policy makers are just starting to enjoy this game of pragmatism; and pragmatism, in general, tends not to be a search for long-run benefits, and damages it might cause are not at all self-evident in the short run. And this final consequence also works for the pragmatists.

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