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May 04, 2012, Friday

Ahmet Davutoğlu’s light is dimming

These days, the foreign and domestic policies of a country are heavily intertwined. One decision on foreign policy may have a big impact on domestic politics as well. In recent years, Turkish foreign policy has been dominating domestic politics.

Apart from few criticisms in its early stages, Turkey’s strategy of “zero problems with neighbors” was unanimously welcomed by all parties in the country. Even the opposition parties approved, saying Turkish foreign policy was on the right track. The policy’s architect, Ahmet Davutoğlu, was one of the few political figures whose views all parties agreed with. During his election campaign, mayors from opposition parties welcomed him and put their support behind him, something unusual in Turkish domestic politics.

Davutoğlu obviously deserved to take credit for his policy and indeed took it all. Davutoğlu, as a person who wears many hats -- that of an academic, an inspirational community leader, an influential thinker and a politician -- was preparing himself for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s position after the prime minister become president of Turkey in 2014.

People who are close to Davutoğlu, and his students from the Science and Art Foundation, a foundation established by Davutoğlu and his friends back in the 1980s to support students pursuing graduate studies and conducting research around the world, are tirelessly working to prepare for the post-Erdoğan period and believe Davutoğlu is the number one candidate for the post of prime minister.

The fact that Mr. Davutoğlu is a successful academic, politician and thinker indeed makes him the most likely candidate for the post.

However, the Arab Spring deeply changed the political equation in Turkey. One of the points in Davutoğlu’s foreign policy strategy was to anticipate averse developments in the Middle East and former Ottoman territories and take measures before the situation escalates in order to solve likely problems.

Turkey with Davutoğlu in charge of foreign policy, like other countries, failed to anticipate the developments of the Arab Spring. In Tunisia, Turkey failed to utter even one word on what its position was during the early stages of the revolution. Davutoğlu’s visionary policies once again failed to anticipate that the Arab Spring would hit Egypt so quickly. But one thing Turkey did do right under Davutoğlu’s leadership is to call on Hosni Mubarak to leave his office earlier than other countries. Davutoğlu also developed a contingency plan for Egypt, seeking to establish an alliance with this country. Given that Egyptian nationalism is on the rise, Davutoğlu’s plan is less likely to work.

In Syria, it was an absolute failure. One of the big words Davutoğlu used for his policy was anticipation, and yet it failed to anticipate that Assad would resist this much. Even worse, Turkey has no Plan B in place for Syria.

Given the fact that Turkey’s closest ally was Syria and that Turkey failed to anticipate the Assad regime’s capacity to resist is a big blow to Davutoğlu’s very claim of “anticipating developments before they happen.”

It seems Turkey’s failure to anticipate the direction of the developments in Syria and adopting too soft of a position toward Iran as well as Iran’s move to take Turkey outside of the foreign policy game in the region, with regard to its nuclear talks and Syria, one could argue that the shining days of Davutoğlu are over. All this will of course affect his ambitions to be the next prime minister of Turkey after Erdoğan.

Davutoğlu’s circles and his close students have been continuously polishing his name and preparing him and themselves for the day when he takes over from Erdoğan, but it is not that easy anymore. If the crisis in Syria continues for another year or so, it will directly affect Davutoğlu’s ambitious plan to be the next prime minister of Turkey.

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