Monday, November 16, 2009

Is Turkey drifting away or navigating its way? (I)

   Since the Justice and the Development Party, or AKP, came to power in 2002, there have been many articles and discussions that questioned AKP's “real” intentions, and whether some of AKP's foreign policies should be taken as signs of Turkey leaving the Western alliance.
The AKP establishment, if I may call it this way, has strongly opposed such scenarios and has given many instances to prove that AKP aims to make Turkey a strong part of the western world and if EU, concomitantly with ever-stronger ties with the eastern and the Muslim world. And if one takes a closer look into this paradigm and hotly debated question, one finds plenty of arguments to support both sides.
Therefore, when this unavoidable question was posed to me last week, I felt obliged to delve into the underlying cogency or reasoning of the AKP leadership, and I found it useful to enter into the discussion in light of this underlying assumption, that I believe what drives the AKP leadership to view and conduct its foreign policy. That underlying assumption is the pragmatist modality of the AKP foreign policy makers, which suggests that of 'what works' policies are the main driving force for this leadership in order to be able to navigate in this difficult geographical set up in which Turkey is situated. I hope that I will able to analyze this difficult question diligently and in an impartial fashion, as it gets increasingly harder to find such objective analyses of this question nowadays.
 First, I think the AKP administration, as said in the previous paragraph, should be taken primarily as a pragmatist administration, rather than an ideological one. I would even argue that this is the most pragmatist administration Turkey has ever seen. In terms of this pragmatic modus regarding foreign relations, the AKP sometimes comes into view as the most liberal and most Western government in Turkey's history and sometimes the most conservative and pro-Islamic. Though one must confess, AKP is most successful, while it plays its pro-Islamic role, which suits it much better and appears to be genuine, because of the electors it addresses and also because of the ideologies that the many leaders of AKP have been fed and raised into.
 It is true that today the administration in Turkey aims to capitalize the Turkish Republic's Ottoman links, and while doing that they never needed to hide this sentiment. If one wishes to emphasize one of these identities more than the others, and would like to call this administration a newborn Ottomanist, or neo-Ottomanist, I think this could be possible as well, even though as far as I know and hear, Mr. Ahmet Davutoğlu, himself, never used the term neo-Ottomanism.
Albeit we have witnessed in the recent history that the same AKP administration utilized Turkey's secular identity in many instances as well, when it sees it fit. However, it is possible to view that the AKP administration likes to emphasize Turkey's secular identity more while it engages with the Western world and the religious, historic and democratic identity more while it engages with the Muslim countries. This pattern is also another glimpse of its pragmatism.
 I can elaborate on this argument with pure speculation to make my point clear. And it is not a product of an outrageous imagination to think that when the leaders of the AKP visit another Muslim country or are visited by one of them, behind closed doors they quite possibly would emphasize and refer to the common religious identity, let's say, against the Western hegemony, to further the relations. At the same time, again as a pure conjecture, it is not so far off the chart to think that the same Turkish political leaders, when they engage with a Western leader, would turn to Turkey's secular identity and emphasize how different Turkey is from those backward countries in the region in following a progressive path, whatever that path may be.
 However, one matter is established and for that there is no need for any speculation, and that is that today's Turkey strives to calculate its moves and likes to play a pro-active, pre-emptive role while charming the immediate neighbors in a wide variety of foreign affairs. This makes the AKP administration very unique and different from past administrations.
The biggest reason for these pro-active policies, I believe, is to level Turkey as one of those regional powers like in the other parts of the world. Turkish foreign policy thinkers including Davutoğlu, the Turkish Foreign Minister, as a leading actor, apparently believes that Turkey has enough tools in its toolbox to play this role. Its history, growing economy, relatively vast population, geographical location with its advantages or complications, religious identity as well as secular one, lead them to think that Turkey is indeed up to the task of being a regional power.
Turkey is trying to unlock its historic impasse with Armenia and looking for better relations with the Kurdish autonomy in northern Iraq as well as the Kurdish population within Turkey. It also supported the reunification talks in Cyprus, especially during the referendum in 2004, contrary to the state establishment views; and it still maintains a persistent approach for full membership of the EU by appointing a minister for the accession talks, even though the appointment came very late. Hence, it can be argued that Turkey is trying to advance its profile both in the East and the West. Turkey with ever-improving relations with the Balkan countries, contrary to arguments that it only engages with the Muslim world, even though the Muslim world visits are more apparent and have brought tangible results so far, tries to engineer "East and West together" paradigm to reclaim a regional power status it once held in the Ottoman times. And I think the AKP administration should be credited with these intense engagement policies. In light of these developments, it is safe to say that Turkey now has a self-confident and outward looking administration, rather than an inward looking traditional one, whether one likes many parts of this approach or not.
 That being said, I do believe that this strategic deep thinking and multi-dimensional approach incorporates many hazards. And sometimes having too much self or miscalculated confidence would disillusion this team about the country's real power and with that it carries enormous risks. And if this self-confidence spirit is mismanaged, some of its consequences may be quite traumatic.
Next: Analyzing AKP's foreign policy re-orientation in light of the relationship with Syria, Iran and Israel.

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