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August 27, 2013, Tuesday

Turkey: so ‘preciously’ ensnared

As the international community discusses means of engagement to deal with the Syrian quagmire, its prospective operational set-up will be, more than any other example in history, based on a “coalition of the unwilling.”

It's not that the world doesn't want Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gone, but among Syria's neighbors, the visions have become so schizophrenic that it is no longer possible to maintain unity on any crucial issue. All the key players have openly positioned themselves on often opposite lines with Egypt and Syria as the poles and with the ongoing, open-ended Palestinian conflict.

This complex prospect blurs the path to taking successful action in Syria and achieving whatever the US and its allies set as their objectives; no one can predict the consequences any longer.

The most puzzling part of this picture seems to be Turkey. Despite hardships, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United Arab Emirates did not have to maneuver in any unexpected way. Turkey has increasingly been dragged into a vortex of almost existential reflection of its radically changed foreign policy. Such a clash between the reality and illusion, blended with obstinacy and populism, should be cause for concern. External elements have caused a polluted mixture of domestic and foreign policy for the first time since the invasion of Cyprus in 1974.

“Some do not like a powerful Turkey,” said Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recently, at one of his popular rallies. “They know that if Turkey again becomes powerful, history will rise [to its feet]. Thus, we shall have to cut our own umbilical cord.” Meaning, Turkey has to do it under its own steam. So the eyebrow-raising term “precious loneliness” was not coined coincidentally.

Who are the “they” that Erdoğan refers to? In another speech, he went even further to help us to figure it out and he added a warning to all who beg to differ. Erdoğan said, “… those who cannot utter even a single sentence against those who come from thousands of kilometers away to intervene in the geography of the Middle East, those who drink the blood and petrol of this geography, [and who] dare to criticize Turkey … ”

İbrahim Kalın, chief advisor to the prime minister, rejects the notion of a “state of limbo” in which Turkey has lost much of its soft power and is left with almost no diplomatic leverage for mediation due to sheer “emotionalism.” He says, “Those who claim it are wrong,” adding, “When did defending humanity, dignity, transparency and fairness become emotional foreign policy?”

The charm of these words is obvious, but they do not seem to apply much to the realpolitik context of today.

No matter how you may argue against regional isolation by coining other terms, it will always be the perceptions that matter.

“Mr. Erdoğan is behaving increasingly erratically,” wrote Gideon Rachman in the Financial Times yesterday.

Not quite, perhaps. Erdoğan is of the belief that the way he addresses his large, unconditionally devoted electoral base at home should be exactly the same as when he issues criticism in outbursts at the entire world. It is this very illusionary conviction that has put Turkish foreign policy into uncharted waters since 2009, cementing the international perception of a systemic, erratic pattern.

But the real challenge comes now. How will Ankara now defend the view that it will be part of a coalition that is led by those who drink the blood and oil of the geography next door? Where does “precious loneliness” apply and where does it not?

And the grand confusion in the Justice and Development Party (AKP) echelons comes from their subconscious.

One who seemed to wake up from the pipe dream was a staunchly pro-government columnist, Salih Tuna, who wrote this the other day in the Yeni Şafak daily:

“Is there anything that the USA did mind, other than its own interests and its eternal ally, Israel? Are you all aware that Saudi Arabia does not even conceal its synchronized cooperation with Israel on Egypt, Syria and Iran? That is why I call it ‘Saudi Israel'. What should be done, then? Shall we desperately watch the cruelty of Assad and his chemical attacks on children? Or, will we have to agree that ‘external powers' must launch attacks to save them? How can we disentangle ourselves from being so ensnared?”  

The last question says it all.

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