Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Ankara's Libya missteps

The fight in Libya proved to be much harder to deal with for countries both in the West and East. Turkey has been no exception to that, especially as a Muslim member country of NATO which has aspirations to lead the Middle East at the same time as having extensive interests in Libya.
“We welcome Turkey to the world of double standards as a regional leader,” said one Washington-based Turkey observer this week when I asked him to comment on Turkey’s approach to Libya. According to this expert, someone who sat and talked with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recently, Turkey’s sharp and abrupt oppositions to the sanctions on Libyan regime, then the NATO involvement and any foreign intervention mostly stemmed from Erdoğan’s “emotional reactions.”
Indeed, Erdoğan’s “What has NATO got to do in Libya?” inveigh will not easily fade from memories, when we observe now that same Turkish administration contributing the largest fleet to implement a naval blockade of Libya in support of the United Nations' arms embargo.
Another Turkey observer in Washington described Turkey’s Libya policy in the following fashion, “From the beginning of the Libyan crisis, Turkish foreign policy has resembled a car that is going in the wrong direction at 200 kilometers per hour, at the same time trying to convince the other cars that they are going in the wrong direction.”
At the start of the crisis, Turkey articulated extensively about its immediate concerns in Libya, pointing to its tens of thousands of citizens, along with billions of dollars in investments. Ankara’s legitimate concerns were well understood in Washington in those weeks, and its cautious steps also appeared justified in the first period. After all, Ankara had every right to look after its own interests as a foreign state, like any other.
Though Ankara's real issue, along with its knee-jerk sharp opposition to intervention calls, was its inability to adjust its position according to rapidly changing international public opinion that gained momentum against Gadhafi over the weeks. Erdoğan, following the military operation, finally stated at beginning of this week that he privately told Gadhafi to step down three weeks ago to alleviate mounting criticism against his administration’s soft take on Gadhafi’s ruthless actions.
Turkey also missed the chance by not taking a lead role to rally behind the United Nations Security Council resolution vocally, when Gadhafi forces were taking back other cities and getting closer to Benghazi to wipe out the rebels.
Instead of emphasizing this imminent and clear humanitarian situation and taking an active part with the coalition forces as an aspiring regional power, the Justice and Development Party, or AKP’s top foreign officials mounted very vague accusations against the West for it is pursuing its own “oil interest” and also failing to overcome its Orientalist mindset.
Erdoğan’s top foreign policy adviser İbrahim Kalın’s recent columns in Today’s Zaman open a wide window of opportunity to read Ankara’s ideological stand point on the matter. Kalın’s “Overcoming Orientalism and Eurocentrism in the Middle East” piece especially argues this mindset and states that “the soft revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt and the uprisings in Libya, Bahrain, Yemen and other places have one thing in common: Arabs do not want to be ruled by dictators. This is the first lesson for Arab Orientalism.”
The real dilemma here is for Kalın that it is Washington, and Ankara's nowadays much disfavoring capital Paris, who took the initiative to stop dictator's forces at the outskirts of Benghazi, with starting its aerial bombing campaign while Turkey’s foreign minister was calling for “no foreign intervention.”
Another argument used by Ankara is that it is Nicolas Sarkozy, an unpopular French leader who appears to be trailing other presidential candidates in his country, who pressured U.S. President Obama to start the air strike campaign last weekend, when actually Turkey was working on a diplomatic solution.
When I conveyed this argument to a Washington expert who was familiar with the decision-making process that went on at the White House’s National Security Council last weekend, he chuckled and stated, “Nobody in the world would pressure a U.S. president into a conflict that he is not entirely comfortable with the reasons, particularly at a time when there are two wars to handle.”
This expert added, “It took hours at the NSC to work on that decision when Obama's Latin America travel plans were ongoing.” Obama also risks big with this intervention, an operation that appears to have a real potential to drag into the open-ended conflict, while he was supposed to end the wars and solve budget woes.
As a Muslim member of NATO, and with its heavy ties with Libya, Turkey had a big stake over the affairs related to Libya, and its long hours of diplomacy especially on Thursday in Brussels ought to be respected. Turkey’s cautions about civilian causalities in Libya also is very dignified and makes a lot of sense when considering civilian death news reports in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Now that the decision has been reached by NATO members to take charge of the no-fly zone imposition over Libyan airspace, and there is a real possibility in the coming days of also taking over the mission of protecting civilians against the Gadhafi regime, Turkey’s role will be equally crucial with regard to use of force if necessary to deter Gadhafi forces from slaughtering rebels.
At any rate, Turkey once more has become an actor within NATO to threaten to block a major decision, following the Lisbon NATO summit in late last year where Turkey had serious issues with the concept of the missile defense shield and also previously had serious objections during the appointment process of current NATO chief Rasmussen.
Ankara's pointed statements about the West’s intentions on Libya also continued to draw a picture of Turkey in Washington that is increasingly at odds with the Western interests and general understandings with the world affairs.
Whether the pattern of Turkey’s opposing posture at stages like NATO is a signal of changing ideologies of the country, plain unpreparedness before the rapidly evolving Arab world or pure conflicting national interests is up for a debate. The answer well maybe a mix of all three.
 Even in case of a greatly disturbed dictator who openly threatens to show "no mercy" on his own citizens, the AKP foreign policy team ran to borrow good old “Orientalism” arguments, in addition to fueling lots of conspiracy theories to catch fires among the Turkish public and foreign policy writers.
It is true that no living creature in the world is able to predict what the next step in Libya is. Though the revolt fever appears to be catching in Syria, Erdoğan's great friend’s land, and promising to get even closer to Ankara’s heart without any sign of an end in sight.
For region and Turkey’s salvation, it can be only hoped that Libya missteps would give Davutoglu’s team a good wake up call to work on a comprehensive foreign policy principals that can respond and support Arab peoples' universal demands in clear terms even if every country that is dealing with revolts has its own set of circumstances.
TESEV survey in Washington
On Thursday morning, the Center for American Progress, a think tank that is closely aligned with the current Obama administration, hosted Dr. Mensur Akgün and the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation, or TESEV, to present their survey, called “the perception of Turkey in the Middle East 2010.” The survey follows last year’s first-ever survey taken in seven Middle Eastern countries, plus Iran.
The survey was taken before the wave of revolts began, and with a sample size of on average less than 300 people in each country. TESEV’s survey puts Turkey’s favorability rate among Arab people at 80 percent in 2010, following 75 percent in 2009.
According to the same survey, Turkey’s “Muslim background” is the most important reason for Arabs to consider it as a model by 15 percentage points, followed by its economy, then democracy and vocal support for Palestinians cause.
It is known that Turkey’s Foreign Ministry was quite happy with the results of the survey, which consists of high favorability rates as well as other remarkably high perceptions towards Turkey.
The next survey will be definitely very telling about Turkey’s performance when it comes to the big Arab Spring of 2011.

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Guest - Libyan
2011-03-31 19:31:50
  Libyan people are very skeptical and cautious about Erdogan, even more so than they are of the West. They think he has neo-Ottoman designs on us, already proven by the billions of contacts paid for inferior quality construction projects. Turkish business will not be welcome in a free-Libya due to his gross disregard for Libyan lives.  

Guest - mok10501
2011-03-28 07:33:33
  @Yacoov; Do you want him to get in front of the wall and shake it?  

Guest - mok10501
2011-03-28 07:29:58
  Apparently the interest of Mr. Sarkozy and the party who joined him in a very quick pull of the trigger was more important than the Turk's monetary interest. None of them however were careful enough like the Turks who were strongly stressed the possible casualties( the west calls it collateral damage) when you bomb a country like this. Who's going to pay for the damages?  

Guest - katie
2011-03-27 20:07:57
  What is this word 'missteps' , where does it come from because it is not used by the English, maybe it's American or a quaint Turkish error? Surely the word you're all using should be 'mistakes' ?  

Guest - expat tr
2011-03-27 17:55:39
  @Gerard, sorry, religion has nothing to do with this situation except for those that try and make it a rallying point. Moral right is moral right, human decency, treating your fellow man like you want to be treated. All great religions truly see it this way, so no argument, religion has nothing to do with this as they all agree on it. Just do the just thing, stop this tyrant dictator, and then move on to help those in Syria next and get rid of that tinpot murdering dictator too.  

Guest - Gerard
2011-03-27 14:57:30
  A well written and well balanced assessment of the political situation in Turkey. As an American, I can sympatizie with the difficult role that a Muslim country has in balancing its international role with religious sentiment in the Middle East. Westerners are frequently confused by the seemingly contradictary statements made by AKP politicians and it is right that this author criticises these confusing positions.  

Guest - TurkishBelgian
2011-03-27 00:14:52
  Who cares anyway what you have to say? Things have changed in a little short time as 6 days, Turkey played this NATO card in its advantage and put France in its place. Thats the LATEST news. Erdogan and Davutoglu made missteps, but those are old news in todays Libya politics.  

Guest - Troy21
2011-03-26 17:12:25
  Turkey's flip-flop in connection with Libya is proof of its extremely weak position that falsifies the proverb that "you can bring a horse to the water but you cannot make it drink." The coalision allies will still do their thing, no matter what Turkey's objections are in NATO.  

Guest - Yaacov
2011-03-26 13:44:19
  You put your left foot in, you take your left foot out, you put your right foot in and you shake it all about! You do the hokey-pokey and you turn yourself around, and that's what it's all about! I'm describing FM Davutoglu's method of developing Turkey's foreign policy, of course. Another day, another fiasco!  

Guest - Cautious
2011-03-26 11:55:59
  Spot on article - Turkey hasn't had a single foreign policy success - jumps from on photo op press conference to the next - time to fire the FM and all of the current advisers and bring in a professional. Time for Erdogan to quick acting like an emotional/petulant child and stop talking about Turkey being a regional leader and actually do some leading for a change.  

Guest - foo bar
2011-03-26 08:43:54
  quite a silly anti Erdogan article that provides no insight whatsoever.  

Guest - Christoph
2011-03-26 03:36:26
  Turkey's missteps and miscalculations are easy to understand when you recognize that FM Davutoglu doesn't have a clue what he's doing and as a consequence stumbles from policy disaster to policy disaster. He has presided over an almost unbroken series of foreign policy screw-ups since he assumed office. Any other FM would have been fired long ago, but Davutoglu embraces the one requirement that PM Erdogan values more than any other-he's a devout Muslim. That trumps his atrocious job performance, at least in Erdogan's eyes. The AKP party will probably easily win reelection in Turkey, but they have already been relegated to Persona Non Grata by europe-and probably NATO. Watch for Turkey to continue the drift away from europe, the EU and the west in the next AKP administration. Next stop, Sharia-light.  

Guest - H.KEMAL
2011-03-26 00:37:17
  I think the title is misleading and it should read "Sarkozy Libya missteps". This is a man, who is the president of one of the major EU countries . Who has acted like a rank amateur, firstly he misjudged Tunisia uprising then topped that bit of French foreign policy cock up, by doing much the same in Egypt . He then further compounded his mistakes, by mistiming the call for Gadhafi exit from Libya. He then had to resort to desperate measures in bombing Gadhafi troops when they rolled up outside the gates of Benghazi . All in all we can safely claim, the French president has even outdone himself in playing, the role of the emperor without any clothes . He has made himself look ridiculous and has tainted the reputation of France. In short a complete disaster .

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