Friday, January 7, 2011
Nowadays, it is hard escape the name of Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, let alone his policies, while discussing Turkey’s place in world politics with government officials and academics alike. Dr. Ahmet Davutoğlu, whether one likes his vision of the present, future or even the past, occupies a considerable position among contemporary statesmen.
That is why, every once in a while, especially if it is the beginning of a new year or decade, it is tenable to give a grilling on the past and weigh in on expectations for the future. In that perspective, Davutoğlu’s series of major speeches in recent weeks, whether in Washington or Erzurum, in which Turkey’s third ambassadors’ meeting was held this week (Davutoğlu's speeches are available on the Turkish Foreign Ministry's website), have been very helpful in shedding light on Turkey’s new proactive role and its performance during the last decade.
It was Mark Parris, a former U.S. ambassador to Ankara, who first called Davutoğlu Turkey’s Henry Kissinger, a powerful U.S. statesman from the recent past. If nothing else, the similarity in both men’s style – especially in terms of interpreting history for their own countries and drawing parallels or creating assignments for the future – proves Parris right. Davutoğlu, in addition to applying countless historic references into Turkey’s future foreign policy vision, also uses them to legitimize those for new beginners.
For instance, Henry Kissinger, in his book of genius, “Diplomacy,” describes Ottoman Turkey as the weakest link but one that had to be protected against other major powers, therefore resulting in its survival for an extra two hundred years. In Davutoğlu’s paradigm, for the same reason, Turkey should not, or must not, be allowed to be designated the same passive actor like it was prior to World War I, in which Ottoman Turkey was used like a pawn by other great powers.
While narrating new Turkey’s story both to the world and its own citizens (which Davutoğlu says both need to hear), according to a Turkish political science professor who is a careful Davutoğlu observer, he also seems to be at ease with reconciling this narrative with Ataturk’s vision of a secular state. Davutoğlu finds Ataturk’s slogan “peace at home, peace in the world” perfectly coherent with the work of his administration as it seeks to prevent conflict around Turkey.
For Davutoğlu, in reality, 21st century international diplomacy started in 1989 when the Iron Curtain fell. Since then, Davutoğlu argues, a new phase continued into the next decade, in which the rest of the century will be structured by "city planners" like clear sighted wise men. Davutoğlu mentions the G20 as one of the most significant groups of this new decade and Turkey’s growing economy and clout in other countries’ economy as also playing an important role.
In that sense, not only classic diplomacy, but energy, climate and economic diplomacy will also have more sway in boosting a country’s influence in the international arena.
Davutoğlu is urging Turkish diplomacy to adjust to the new times and transform its identity from a simple or traditional firefighter, who only puts out fires when they occur, to a sort of “wise firefighter,” who can also sense upcoming devastation and preempt it from happening. Because it is a wise country, Turkey will not only “react” to events but will bring its own interpretation to problems. To do so, Turkey must be one of those city planners who will design the future, because, Davutoğlu argues, the planners of the last 200 years did a pretty bad job in terms of preventing fires.
During the speech, it was surprising to hear Davutoğlu cite the “flotilla attack” as one of those moments when Turkish diplomacy failed to live up to its potential role of being a “wise firefighter” in 2010.
Davutoğlu praised Turkish diplomats’ quick response to that particular event in the early hours of the crisis, but also said they acted in roles equivalent to mere extinguishers in the tragedy. In Davutoğlu’s rhetoric, the “flotilla incident” was given as a sample to prove what happens if and when Turkey does things unwisely.
Davutoğlu has been accused for sometime of being utopian in his ambitious characterization of Turkey’s real weight, portraying it as an ultimate mediator between East and West or North and South. He also had to endure criticism for his aspiring rhetoric which always seemed to disregard the manpower that his foreign ministry has vs. needs.
Obviously bothered by being called as “utopian,” or “dreamer,” in Erzurum, Davutoğlu not only used more of a down to earth kind of dialogue, but he also directly responded to those critiques, just like he did in Washington.
Davutoğlu, in Erzurum, while emphasizing “integration” with neighboring countries big and small, argued that integration should happen on “equal” terms and affirmed that Turkey does not seek to dominate any country, but is working towards an “equal future.”
Davutoğlu also announced that number of Turkish diplomats currently reached 1868, almost a one third increase within just two year, but still third of that United Kingdom currently employs. To address understaffing issues effectively, the Foreign Ministry, in addition to increasing the number of diplomats, a series of legal changes to the Foreign Ministry’s organization law which were adopted by Parliament in last summer.
While drawing parallels with beginning of the 20th century, Davutoğlu sounded as if he expects that just like a hundred years ago the future will bring monumental changes that could potentially create new havoc around Turkey.
The financial crises that started more than two years ago, according to Davutoğlu, still have the contingency to become social and political crises.
Since the Cold War ended so have the static alliances and Turkey must convert itself into a dynamic country. This is exactly what Turkey is striving to do, Davutoğlu concluded.
When looking back on 2010, Davutoğlu gave a pass to Turkish diplomacy. Turkey’s visibility has increased, Davutoğlu reminded us. Indeed, if we were to believe that “there is no bad advertising,” Turkey had a good PR year in terms of gaining more recognition.
In the beginning of a new year, and the dawning of a new decade, Davutoğlu’s vision seems to be somewhat softened and more adjustable to the real world in front of his first class diplomats. Davutoğlu sounded as though reconciled with Turkey’s secular past and Atatürk’s vision, rather than condescending toward neighbors while affirming that are all are on equal footing.
Until an opposition emerges that incorporates a vision that can compete with Davutoğlu’s interpretations of the past, present and future, Davutoğlu will surely remain a strong figure with the backing of a strong and stable administration.
Davutoğlu presented his arguments well enough to make most feel like his administration's rule would continue for a quiet sometime.