Burak Bekdil/Turkey: “Zero Problems with Neighbors”


Turkey: “Zero Problems with Neighbors”
Burak Bekdil/Gatestone Institute
April 6, 2015

 After losing Syria, Iran, Lebanon, and Egypt, Turkey has now lost Libya.
More U.S. politicians are realizing that their country’s old staunch ally, Turkey, has turned into an unstable, unreliable, authoritarian and part-time friend that has the habit of sending shipments of arms to Middle Eastern Islamists of a variety of radical behavior.

In a speech in December 2011, Turkey’s then foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu (now Prime Minister) said that Turkey’s Middle East foreign policy had pushed an “isolated” Israel to “kneel down” before the Turkish Republic. He also claimed that his own “zero problems with neighbors” policy would succeed.

More than three years later, however, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has admitted to Turkey’s own isolation. “I do not mind isolation in the world,” Erdogan said, and claimed that “other world leaders might be jealous of him.”

Apparently, Messrs Erdogan and Davutoglu may have failed in formulating a realistic foreign policy calculus, but they have proven their skills in black humor.  Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (left) is the architect of Turkey’s “zero problems with neighbors” policy, which ironically has led Turkey to have no ambassador in Israel, Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Cyprus and Armenia. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (right) says, “I do not mind isolation in the world,” claiming that other world leaders might be jealous of him.

In a speech in parliament on March 24, opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu said that the government’s “foreign policy has collapsed … Turkey is entirely isolated … For the first time in its history Turkey does not have ambassadors in four capitals [in its region].” Turkey is, in fact, the only country in the world that does not have ambassadors in all of Israel, Egypt, Syria, Yemen and Libya (in addition to two non-Muslim neighbors, Cyprus and Armenia). But there is more.

One of Erdogan’s (and Davutoglu’s) strategic policy goals was to fulfill a long-time Turkish dream: full membership in the European Union (EU). A recent report by an independent body revealed how Turkey’s regional isolation in the Middle East echoes on the EU front as well. The Independent Turkish Commission, a non-governmental organization led by former Finnish president, Martti Ahtisaari, reported on March 17 that the EU and Turkey were in fact drifting apart instead of drawing closer together, “due to growing authoritarianism, stuttering growth and faltering Kurdish peace process” in Turkey.

The commission summarized it all in one line: Turkey is no longer “the rising regional star.” The commission’s diagnosis was extremely realistic: “With a 900-kilometer border with Syria, [Turkey] is hosting nearly two million Syrian refugees and is vulnerable to attacks and infiltration by the Islamic State. Tensions with both Iran and Israel have become deeply entrenched, and the country has become increasingly dependent on energy from a revanchist Russia.”

Indeed, while trying obsessively to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Turkey has created its own Peshawar (a restive, terror-stricken Afghan region) along its border with Syria by supporting various jihadist groups, at the price of suspicious (and belated) looks from its Western and NATO allies.  Additionally, after losing Syria, Iran, Lebanon and Egypt, Turkey has now lost Libya.

In late February, Libya’s internationally recognized government accused Turkey of sending weapons to Islamist groups in the country, and said it would stop dealing with Turkey. Libya’s prime minister, Abdullah al-Thinni, did not even resort to any diplomatic language: “Turkey is a state that is not dealing honestly with us. It’s exporting weapons to us so the Libyan people kill each other.” A few days earlier, al-Thinni’s government had said it would end all contracts with Turkish companies. That means a loss of billions of dollars worth of business, mostly for Turkey’s construction companies.

Against that backdrop, more U.S. politicians are realizing that their country’s old staunch ally, Turkey, has turned into an unstable, unreliable, authoritarian and part-time friend that has the habit of sending shipments of arms to Middle Eastern Islamists of a variety of radical behavior.
In an unusual move, a group of 74 U.S. Senators sent an unprecedented letter to Secretary of State John Kerry on March 18, to express their concern over “deviations from the basic principles of democracy in Turkey.” The signatories — who make up three fourths of the U.S. Senate — said: “We write to express our deep concern about the persistence of human rights violations in Turkey.” About a month earlier, 90 members of the US Congress had sent a similar letter to Kerry.

Erdogan’s response was typically Erdogan. He accused the U.S. Congress for being “for hire.” Turkey’s pro-Erdogan media claimed the U.S. senators who signed the letter had been bribed.  A few days after the Senators’ letter to Kerry, the U.S. administration expressed concerns over “Turkey’s press freedom violations, as well as its interference with freedom of assembly and the administration of justice.”  U.S. State Department Press Office Director Jeff Rathke said that the U.S. remains concerned about freedom of expression and assembly in Turkey.
Not surprisingly, Turkey’s international isolation is growing exponentially. But Prime Minister Davutoglu remains a useful tool in forecasting regional developments. Whatever he predicts, any smart man should go and bet on the opposite option.

 **Burak Bekdil, based in Ankara, is a Turkish columnist for the Hürriyet Daily and a Fellow at the Middle East Forum.