What kind of place would the world have been if Turkey, the gateway to the Middle East and the intersection of Europe and Asia, had been a representative of a radical right with a strategy based on violence, or if it had been closely aligned with the former Warsaw Pact countries? Have you ever wondered what would have become of the Middle East policies of the Arab world, America, Europe or Israel? Let me bring the picture to life for you. If Turkish foreign policy had taken a different path, the West would still have friends in the Middle East, such as Jordan, but I doubt it would have had a country that was a bastion and a focal point for all manner of strategic relations between the Arab and Western worlds. Turkey has two advantages that set it apart from other “friendly” Muslim countries in the Middle East: its strategic position and its democracy.
That is why there is an important strategy in the foreign policy of Turkey’s 11-year-old Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, which it sums up with the phrase “zero problems with neighbors.” To that strategy was a success in the beginning—at least until the Arab Spring. Of course Turkey made mistakes in its policy, but it would be unwise to lay the blame entirely at Turkey’s door. Only people unaware of a Middle East policy operating through violence could claim such a thing.
The timing of the allegations concerning Hakan Fidan, the Turkish intelligence chief, that came out as Turkey chose China over the US’s Raytheon for a long-range missile defense system—something that it had long wished to add to its armory—has been much debated. The West had been criticizing Turkey’s foreign policy for some time, and various powerful names wished to step this up. This was aimed not only at Prime Minister Erdoğan, but also at President Obama.
The move concerning Turkey from the US names in question came this week.
Two diplomats from the Bipartisan Policy Center, set up by former political figures in the US, were given the job of examining the state of US policy regarding Turkey. The report issued, From Rhetoric to Reality: Reframing U.S. Turkey Policy, provides information showing that Turkey, with its policy of “zero problems with neighbors”, is a problematic country and claims that it is distancing itself from Europe and the US. It indirectly criticizes Obama’s Turkey policy.
The report contains some correct points, but the question is whether Turkey has really abandoned the West. The answer can only be no. It is true that with the change of government in 2002, Turkey drew closer to the Middle East and Arab societies, and even to Africa. That was, in any case, something that needed to happen from Turkey’s point of view. Our forebears, the Ottomans, were not, of course, without error, but Turkey needed to maintain the powerful legacy of this empire that harbored different faiths and ethnic groups in brotherhood. How was a Turkey, which had forgotten that we once lived with Arabs and Iranians within the same borders and which still loves Arab and Persian literature, supposed to bring a spirit of brotherhood to the Middle East?
Of course, Turkey had to win the heart of the Middle East—but that never meant turning its back on the West. As a member of NATO, Turkey has always acted together with the US and Europe in its Middle East policy. The past decade represented Turkey’s most active years in its bid for EU membership and the democratization process was always intended to harmonize with European democracy. Turkey may have different opinions and policies to those of its neighboring Middle Eastern countries, but this has never meant that it has ignored the opinions of those countries.
Moreover, although Turkey’s policy on Syria does not square with that of the West, we need to see that it has led to great outcomes for the West.
A representative of the Syrian National Council who was unsure about attending the Geneva II meeting explicitly said: “We will come to Geneva if Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are there and if Turkey is a guarantor.” Indeed, the secretary embraced the Turkish foreign minister and remarked, “We feel safer in your presence.”
As for the problem with the missiles, the agreement with China is based on a tender bid. Of course, China’s advantage in selling technology was as important as the price in its winning the contract. Turkey has long wanted to obtain that technology: The reluctance of the USA and Europe to go along with that was the main reason for their failure. In any event, it is not a threat for Turkey to enjoy good relations with Shanghai Group countries such as China, and should rather be regarded as a sign of unity.
Just like the writers of the Bipartisan Policy Center report, some American neo-conservatives are rooted in the past. They want to act according to the old familiar picture of the Middle East and to create divisions along the lines of friends and enemies; however, the world has changed. There is no need to be friends with some and enemies with others. Turkey does not have to abandon the West to turn to the Middle East. This can be seen more clearly by looking at the Turkish government’s program for the next two months.
Iraqi foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari, Iranian foreign minister Mohamad Javad Zarif, UN representative Lakhdar Brahimi, the foreign ministers of Great Britain, Bulgaria and Belarus, and the president of Azerbaijan are among those who will be visiting Turkey. Foreign Minister Davutoğlu will be visiting Slovakia, Hungary, Burma, India, the US and Russia. The prime ministers of some ten countries attended this week’s opening of Marmaray, Istanbul’s greatest project. Prime Minister Erdoğan will be setting out on a tour of Europe in November, and as soon as he returns he will be welcoming the king of Norway to Ankara. French president François Hollande will be coming to Turkey in January.
These words by the Palestinian ambassador to Turkey, Nabil Maaruf, are significant: “We do not want Turkey to be another Arab country. We want a Western Turkey.” He is correct. A Turkey that comes from the heart of the Middle East but that is oriented to the West will be a reconciliatory and unifying element for both regions. That is why Turkey has become more European with its democracy, people, culture and laws over the past decade; but in doing this, it has not forgotten that it is a part and a unifying element of the Middle East.
It must not be forgotten that Turkey embraces both the Middle East and the West.
Of course, Turkey is not without its flaws, but it is striving to bring the fine concepts of liberty and democracy that we see in the West, and the US in particular, to the Middle East. It needs to embrace everyone to achieve this goal. That is what peace and unity demand.