But this did not happen. The Sept. 11 incident that took place in the first year of his presidency and the trauma associated with it changed everything; the influence of this incident was so huge that Bush, who had previously pledged to remain less involved in global affairs and become more focused on internal affairs waged two wars. This devastated the economy due to the budget deficits it caused; in addition, this also contributed to the exacerbation of the American image in the world due to scandals in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.
The most important slogan that summarized the approach of the Bush administration to world affairs was “You are either with us or against.” Under this approach, which dismissed the grey areas between black and white, the world was composed of enemies and friends.
This dilemma that faced Bush was that while he dreamt of focusing on domestic problems, he had to pursue an aggressive foreign policy. This is a good example that shows that regardless of your good intentions, circumstances and conditions may turn everything upside down.
During the same period, Turkey implemented the opposite of the Bush doctrine in foreign policy. Unlike the US, which divided the world into two separate camps, Turkey was able to develop good ties with different actors in the world and had the rare opportunity to experience three luxuries in this period, mostly thanks to external circumstances.
First, Turkey improved its ties with both the West and East. In the year where it started membership negotiations with the European Union, Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu was elected secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation where Turkey nominated a candidate for the first time. Despite the impact of the Iraqi War, Turkey also had normal relations with the US, while developing ties with Syria and Iran, which Washington defined as parts of the axis of evil. At a time when strong emphasis was placed upon notions like culture, civilization and religion because of the Sept. 11 incident, its relations with the West raised its image in the Islamic world and the Middle East, while its good relations with the Islamic world contributed to its role in the West.
The sabotaged Iranian nuclear swap deal and Turkey’s opposition to the sanctions in the UN Security Council meeting in response to this weakened Turkey’s hands in talks with NATO over the missile defense system; this forced Turkey to make critical choices not consistent with its discourse of an independent foreign policy. Turkey still wants to have good relations with Iran, NATO and the US at the same time; but this does not seem possible anymore.
Second, Turkey had good relations with Arabs and Israel at the same time. This was a major factor why Turkey’s role in regional disputes was praised and acknowledged by both parties. Besides, the ties between Israel and Ankara were mutual, and unlike the passive type of bilateral relations of the late 1990s, which undermined Turkey’s interests and contributed to the agenda of Israel, they placed emphasis upon Turkey’s priorities as well. Having good relations with both parties contributed to Turkey’s role in Syrian-Israeli and Palestinian-Israeli disputes. This relationship did not erase Arab interest in Turkey and did not become a problem in the improvement of relations with Iran. However, the Gaza attack, which disappointed Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who was focused on the peace initiative with Syria, the one minute showdown and the Mavi Marmara tragedy ended this luxury.
Turkey also enjoyed another luxury in the Middle East up until the Arab Spring. Turkey had good ties with authoritarian regimes, including Mubarak’s Egypt and Assad’s Syria; on the other hand, the people saw it as a proper model, owing to its economic success, democratic transformation, civil society and its proactive foreign policy style that raised its image in the West and the East. Turkey did not have to make a choice between the regimes and the people. Thanks to this, economic ties improved and Turks and Arab started getting to know each other. Turkish soap operas became popular in Arab countries, bridging the gap between the peoples. However, the Arab Spring took this luxury away from Turkey. Now it had to make a choice between dictators like Assad, Mubarak and Gaddafi and the people who were demanding more freedom.
The crises we are experiencing right now in Syria and elsewhere are the results of this change. We could discuss what part of this situation is attributable to conjecture and what other part to the choices. Regardless of the reason, we have to analyze this properly and offer new concepts based on the changing circumstances.