Cengiz ÇANDAR Turkey is a country with its president visiting Japan in the Far East and its prime minister in Nakhchivan at the doors of the Caucasus. Internal rifts are a cause of exhaustion. They prevent Turkey from following developments outside so as to decide its route, ascribing meaning to these developments and being able to see the “future” by looking through the global prism.
Two significant developments, which under different circumstances or in a different period would have deserved in-depth discussions, are Israel-Syria contacts being conducted with Turkey’s mediation and Turkey’s role in the “Lebanon equation.” Both were not paid the attention they deserve, in the eye of public opinion.
On our way back from Beirut 10 days ago, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had said that the developments Turkey is involved in are being voiced in the world press in at least 300 news articles, but that the Turkish press downplayed them.
The three misevaluations:
Concerning Turkey’s latest role in Middle Eastern politics three “misevaluations” stand out:
1. According to some who disdain the said developments and follow an ultra-intellectual “cynical” approach, Erdoğan and his government become haughty through an impossible political attempt. Turkey cannot pull this role; the government, especially, is not capable in this.
2. The evaluation represented by the government that Turkey’s rising profile in the Middle East is a “foreign policy success” even which the late President Turgut Özal couldn’t make.
3. The approach reminding the attempts will die in vain due to the ever-growing complexity of the issues in the Middle East.
All of the above are wrong. People in the first group fail to read the world and the region accurately and reflect a “static” approach. Structure of the system the United States being in the center as the “only super state” exposed the limits of this single pole. What’s more, the Bush administration’s political mistakes revealed the “limits” of the United States in the Middle East.
The United States today is not a “central power” having the ability to do anything they want and the way they want. The said limits give regional actors some space for maneuverability and allow them to take “initiatives”. But no conclusion is being reached “despite United States.” and in this sense, the United States maintains to be the determinant factor in the region; however, taking initiative is not conditional upon “U.S. permission”.
The Israeli-Syrian contact under the auspices of Turkey couldn’t be possible without Israel’s attempt to seek U.S. approval even, let alone Turkey. Although the United States made no efforts to curb this initiative but it is known that Washington remains “distant” to any agreement between Israel and Syria. However, Turkey was able to take the initiative. Yet, the U.S. contributions needed for a peace agreement to be signed in the end.
Due to the gaps occur in international system lately, Turkey bares the capacity to act like a regional power, though this is not “despite America” but as being “partially autonomous from the United States”
The second mistake is being made in the opposite direction from the first. Turkey was not invited to the Madrid Peace Conference held after the Gulf War in 1991, despite Özal’s close ties with former U.S. President George Bush. But today, Turkey’s success in bringing Syria together with Israel in Istanbul is actually Erdoğan’s achievement in foreign policy. Besides, Erdoğan’s being invited to the inauguration ceremony of the new Lebanese President recently and seated among the international personas right in front of the podium carries a “symbolic value”.
Therefore, Turkey’s rise in the Middle East politics with an “identity independent from the United States” is being registered by making a reference to the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) success in foreign policy. This is the “static” viewpoint, a comparison made by freezing picture frames, without considering historic conditions, characteristics of the period and changes occurring in time.
In the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference, the Cold War was not ended yet. And the Soviet Union was still alive. In fact, the Soviets attended the conference as the “co-chair” together with the United States. More importantly, in that period we were able to talk about an “Arab World” controlled by “Sunni elites”.
But today, the “Arab World” happens to be collapsed. The most powerful and leader country in the region, Egypt, cannot even resolve the Gaza border issue. The spread of “Iranian influence” in the Middle East is at issue, so the danger of “Shiite crescent” is present. Now due to weakening Arab world in traditional structure, conditions emerged for Turkey and Iran, as two non-Arab powers in the region, to fill the gap.
Turkey today is playing its role the way it is supposed to be, owing this to the collapse of the Saddam regime and increasing Iran’s influence n the region.
Conditions for Turkey, as the sole regional power with the fact that it is part of the “Western alliance” and “neither Shiite nor Arab,” to be involved in the Middle East equation” got matured. As both the Sunni and parliamentary majority leader in Lebanon, Saad Hariri’s, calling Erdoğan and requesting him “not to leave Lebanon and Beirut to Iran” explains everything.
The third mistake is about criticisms based on how a peace treaty is impossible between Syria and Israel in the future. At this point, what is critical as Turkey’s role is whether or not the peace will be reached between Syria and Israeli soon.
The important thing is Turkey’s having an acceptable profile to be a “center of gravity” in the region and its capability to establish a regional “network of reliable affairs” so as to bring two end-points that it is impossible for them to have relations.
After pointing out all these, we should acknowledge the fact that the AKP government was part of this realization. The Erdoğan government, due to its “features of identity,”stands at a point where parties of conflicting interests, both regionally and internationally, seek “conciliation.”
If Turkey hadn’t had such a government, would it have played the role it did play in the Middle East and in international community via the Middle East? This is a big fat question. If Erdoğan is banned from politics and the AKP is closed down, Turkey’s position in the West will be ruined. If this happens whether or not Turkey will be able to maintain its role in the Middle East remains a question.
The more Turkey gets introverted, the more it will lose blood. The more it opens up to the world, the more it will rise.