Perhaps, rather, the meaning of the word “loneliness” has changed without anyone realizing it. All the hyperbole about Turkey being dragged into the “swamp” of the Middle East, being left out in the cold, gambling and losing a dangerous bet, etc., refers less to the facts on the ground as to misplaced criticism and the petty calculations of domestic politics. Part of it is neo-Orientalism masquerading as strategic analysis.
Let’s look at the facts first. By supporting the Arab revolutions, Turkey won the minds and hearts of people in the Arab and Muslim world. It also gained the confidence of the new players. New political leadership has emerged in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, and all of them now have good relations with Turkey. From the Nahda movement in Tunisia to President Mohamed Mursi of Egypt, the new political cadres have a political vision for the Middle East and for global politics similar to that of Turkey.
Turkey has good relations with the Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Bahrain and works closely with them on various political, economic and security issues, including the case of Syria. As Yemen undergoes a slow and painful political transformation, Turkey is quietly helping the Yemeni political leadership while developing new areas of cooperation.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan distanced himself from Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki after Maliki began to take draconian measures against his opponents, alienating Sunnis and Kurds and creating a political deadlock in the country. The critics seem to forget that the cooling of relations between Erdoğan and Maliki are a result of the spillover of Iraq’s domestic political crisis. I believe the current crisis will soon be overcome and all political actors in Iraq will return to consensus politics.
Turkey differs in opinion with Iran on Syria, but this is not the end of Turkish-Iranian relations. Both countries understand each other’s strategic significance.
Now, let’s turn to Syria, where the new punch line is that Turkey has been left alone. Critics claim that Turkey has gambled and lost in Syria, as if the game is already over and the winners have been announced. Turkey, they argue, has been left out in the cold by its friends and allies, including the Americans, Saudis, Qataris, Europeans, etc. Some further argue that the forces of neo-imperialism are pushing Turkey into a war with Syria, which would further mire Turkey in the proxy wars of the Middle East.
These criticisms would have merited serious consideration had they been backed by the facts on the ground, but that is not the case. To claim that Turkey is all alone with regards to Syria is also to claim that the opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime are alone and that the Assad regime has many supporters. Is this really the case? How many countries stand behind Bashar al-Assad today?
The Assad regime has lost its legitimacy in the eyes of the vast majority of the Syrian people, most Arabs and Muslims and the rest of the world. The last three meetings of the Friends of Syria group, held in Tunis, İstanbul and Paris, brought together close to a hundred countries and international organizations.
The “lonely Turkey” discourse is a by-product of Turkish domestic politics. The main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), insinuates that the Arab uprisings are a neo-imperialist plot. Before he left for the Socialist International convention in South Africa last week, CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said on CNN-Turk that “freedom and democracy are the new games of imperialism” and that “the Turkish public should be made aware of this.” These startling comments reveal the CHP’s “global vision.”
By contrast, Socialist International, of which Kılıçdaroğlu is now a deputy chairman, gave its full support to the Arab revolutions. The final communiqué released by Socialist International on Sept. 1 said, “Since the outset of these movements, the Socialist International placed itself at the side of those in the Arab world who fight for our common objectives and principles of social justice, human rights, freedom of speech and expression, and representative democracy and our commitment to this cause remains undiminished.”
With regards to Syria, Socialist International was quite unambiguous. It said, “The continued brutalisation of the Syrian people is an affront to humanity, and the Assad regime which bears responsibility for the deaths of tens of thousands of Syrian civilians has lost all legitimacy.”
The Assad regime has wasted one opportunity after another to make Syria a democratic, pluralist and prosperous country. Its brutal tactics against the Syrian people have already claimed more than 20,000 lives, injuring and displacing hundreds of thousands more. The so-called strategic calculations by politicians, produced and consumed on a daily basis, cannot hide this human cost.