Sunday, June 7, 2015

Double Narratives of Turkey’s Foreign Policy towards Middle East:
The Quest of Balancing Interests and Ethics

Just right after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, Turkey aspired to take after Europe since it perceived it as the most suitable political and economic model. Accordingly, After the split with the Arab Countries, Turkey turned into a secular and democratic country unlike the Arab states who remained Islamic and non-democratic[i](Bauer, 2012) and by that the Arab states represented the alter ego of it as they were what Turkey was not what it wants to be. This has led to many twists between Turkey and Arab relations that were characterized by mutual distrust. While the Arab regimes were being toppled down one after another in the recent years, Turkey found itself vacillating between either protecting its interests way or helping scaffold  the increasing need of democracy promotion in these countries that share with it  cultural, historical, and geographical commonalities. Certainly, every choice has its trade-offs that will inevitably affect Turkey in the internal or external scope. A central claim in this context is that although these ties that bind Turkey with the Arab world, these relations cannot be seen and looked at from a simplistic approach due to the overlapping dimensions and the different perspectives the status quo it keeps gaining especially with the crazed Arab Spring aftermaths. The main theme of this is  to argue for is that recent reengagement of Turkey in The Middle East reflects a policy of re-questing this region that once used to be ruled by Ottoman. Within that context, is Turkey trying to conduct an expansionist mercantilist-based campaign in The Middle East or it is trying to reach out to this region so it can fulfill its global mission it shares with many of The Middle East countries.  We put forward that Turkey’s actions interest-based more than they are identity-based ones.

There she goes

When the Arab Spring set off in Tunisia in 2010, Turkey mysteriously kept silent and once the revolution in Egypt burst out. Erdogan, the then Head of the Turkish government rushed into asking Hosni Mubarak to step down from the regime without any hesitation as it was the case in Tunisia. The situation in Libya was more complicated because Turkey was caught between ethics and interest where there were at least 25,000 Turkish workers in Libya. This discrepancy in decision-making maybe described, per se, as double standard and it has put Turkey under the loop of many scholars. That inconsistency in conducting a reliable approach has driven Turkey to lose some of its momentum before of the Arab opinion for some span of time. According to TESEV, Turkey reputation in the Levant countries has dropped from 93% to 44%.
If we look at Turkey’s core activities, it can be described to have that mercantilist-driven approach with the exception that is blended with a soft-power method where it tries to spread its political and economic dominion over Middle East. This strategy was the outcome of the leadership vacuum in the Arab-Muslim world: Egypt falling apart, Saudi Arabia being sedated, Syria being powerless, and Iraq being already torn apart if not by war by internal ethnic and ideological conflicts between the struggling sects.

These successive events and available data in hand were the catalysts of a mercantilist drive of the Turkish arsenal it will be implementing so it can win the Arab world region. This was as soft-power policy that was launched as counter-measure against the clandestine intervention of the West and Israel in the affairs of this region. Basically, that strategy lies in the continuous interloping activities that overlap with those of the West, yet they would be addressed from different perspectives as Ozhan Taha stated it: “The US and Turkey have overlapping concerns and interests in the Middle East. However, it would be too simplistic to expect that the two countries will adopt the same or parallel approaches”[ii] . The rationale behind this is that Turkey wants to seize that opportunity to gain more recognition from the Western friends and foes as legitimate and strategic “intermediate” key-actor between the West and the East. Added to this quest of seeking recognition, it is important to note that Mercantilism has some components of capitalism but this latter is mainly based on free trade model advanced by Adam Smith in his “Wealth of Nations” book. The agendas of modern Turkey that is led by Erdogan rhymes with the theory of Neo-Ottomanism that seeks to get back what it had yet in a more mercantilist way. The reason behind this is that when Turkey looks at ME it remember what it used to be not what it wants to be. Turkey would serve as the Mother country that extracts raw materials whether natural or human ones that are abundant in the Middle East. This process is being eased the  lack of a wise government management in Middle East (ME) and the absence of a fully-fledged democratic system in this region without a strong grass root bases which opens the doors to one negotiator: Turkey. With that said, according to Joshua Muravchik (2004) the number of Arabic countries among the 22 ones which have a freely elected government is technically none”[iii]. Another emergence of mercantilism in Turkish relation toward ME is the way the cycle of raw materials are taken and returned to the Arab countries in a form of commodities that are more expensive than what it has already taken from them. The question that we may ask here is whether the profit is shared by the alleged mother country and the Arab countries or it is only a Turkish monopoly. As for the elements of promulgating laws that can protect that interest, it is likely that Turkey does not have the power to pass laws to other countries to prevent them from creating their own policies that would bridge that gap of management; however, it is using an alternative that compensates for that direct involvement which is soft power. If soft power does not prove effective, Turkey will be left but only with resorting to military intervention. In that framework, Ahmed Davutoğlu in his article ‘‘Turkey’s Foreign Policy’’ stated that enabling both a wise soft power along with military power should be ‘coherent’.[iv]
In addition, it is important to cast light at the alliance of Turkey with the West who deems it the optimal mediator or interpreter of the Middle East and by that the Western fear of losing Turkey is a real one[v].  This leadership hegemony is confirmed by a survey conducted by the University of Maryland, where Turkey rated 54% as the most suitable model among Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Tunisia, Malaysia, and Morocco[vi]. This implies that the fleet of Justice and Development Party (abbreviated as AKP) is playing on the chord of the common cultural identity and it is striving to marry religion at politics. Interestingly, AKP was only founded 14 August 2002 which is relatively a new political identity compared to other parties who have an extended experience in their agenda such as Welfare Party (RP) that held the view that Turkey should be the leader of the Muslim world[vii] . Added to that, while the Arab rulers are laboring to establish a modus vivendi with their respective population in an attempt to strengthen their autocratic patrimonialist system, the Turkish armada is seizing that opportunity and it’s rushing into influencing the top of the government that would be easier for it to overcome due to its autocratic nature. At the same time, it is seeking change at the societal level through different channels like   soap operas and the heroic stances of Erdoğan in many international platforms. Along with that,  alternative diplomacy, was hinted in Ahmet Davutoğlu’s article when he stipulates that “Turkey does have influence in Middle Eastern affairs, and not only at the state level but also at the societal level”[viii]. It is important to notice that Turkey did not show the same enthusiasm for all the parts of ME and the degree of commitment to it was fluctuant according to the region and the benefits it can offer Turkey. For instance, it remained silent and sometimes hesitant in the wake of the Arab Spring[ix]. After a while, it did some repackaging in order to stand as the undisputed leader in ME and it started accordingly to pave the way to spread its wings over the demising Arab economies. Turkey’s wish to rule the ME in its broad sense was clearly uttered in the speech of the then Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu when he stated that Turkey would henceforth lead the movement for change in the Middle East, we will continue to be the leader of this wave… there is a new Middle East and we will be its owner, leader, and servant… irrespective what others say, the new order’s leader and spokesperson will be Turkey[x]. This clear-cut declaration has led many elites in the Arab world to perceive Turkey as an interloper who wants to barge in every affair or as a stooge of the West. Also, Turkey continues its trial and errors operations actions to get the large stake of the Arab world by means of popular diplomacy and cultural Turkish-based events such as soap opera that has revealed the schizophrenic nature of the Arab struggle to balance both tradition and modernity. Indeed, it has succeeded to gain some heart in the Arab world by projecting the image of the opponent who would stand up to Israel. In doing so, the idea of the secular Turkey marketed by the Kemalist movement started to fade away from the Arab opinion, and with this course of actions Turkey is steadily gaining a blazing star status of being the Middle East leader and savior. This image was mainly the result of three seminal factors : Trading Effect, the Marketing of the Turkish democratization as “a work in progress”, and the new strata of Turkish foreign policy[xi].  The afore-mentioned factors are seen by many scholars as stimulating and easing the unspoken Neo-Ottoman project. The trading system factor represents the most important element that inspires its tactics from mercantilism. The second factor is the marketing of democratization achievements in Turkey as: Turkish model, example, or inspiration even though some scholars do not give Turkey that status of being a democratic success story, but they rather consider it as partially liberalized autocracy[xii]. However, as a transition country, the stage of democracy Turkey has reached and the concrete outcomes it has gained has given it the shine of being a discussable transferrable experience to the  Middle East to the extent of claiming this region that once belonged to the Ottoman and should now be taken back under its authority. These Neo-Ottoman views were expressed in Ahmet Davutoğlu book entitled Strategic Depth where he proposes that the leadership is for Ottoman[xiii].  The third factor is the change in the Turkish foreign policy that was characterized right after the Cold War by problems with the neighboring countries such as Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Greece and Turkey was named as the post-cold war warrior accordingly. Turkey, by and large, is seen as secular Muslim led by what is termed as “Muslim Democrat” who rhymes with “Christian Democrats” in Europe. Also, it has a questionable past in Arab-Israel conflict where under its secular leadership was the first Muslim-majority country nation to recognize Israel in 1949, which is antonymic for most of the Arab world opinion. This latter lessens it to be the epitomical model for the ever-changing Middle East. This may cut down the permeability and transversality of influencing the decision-making in the Arab world, with Syria as an example of such relative failure of triggering change at the top level. This means that even if the will is present in Turkey, the resources are not that sufficient for such process.

All these above-cited facts and figures lead us to wonder about the reason why Turkey decided to be reengaged in the Middle East again although it may not be that Promised Land for its re-quest. With the arrival of Justice and Development Party (AKP) to the rule the equilibrium of export and import was positive with the Arab countries, and exchange was going up steadily as the figure shows (Figure 1). In other words, Turkey is trying to catch up what it has already lost and it’s trying to direct the steer towards the Arab world after it has been jilted by the European club who still considers it as a strange entity to the cultural structure of Europe. Turkey’s AKP, offended with these continuous and invalid refusals, decided to go with the wind of the Arab world so it can acquire more negotiation points when bargaining with the Europeans by claiming the understanding and possession of ME.
Figure 1: Turkey’s trade with the Arab Countries (in million USD)[xiv]

AKP, knowing the suitability of the moment in order to raid Middle East with diplomatic visits, started its agenda of visits to ME more than the rest of the world. According to the Turkish Ministry of Affairs the average of visits to the Middle East that were conducted by higher official was about 45 visits from 143, i.e.: around 31.47% and this is only from 2003 till 2011[xv]. What drove Turkey’s foreign policy to thrive and gain momentum in the eyes of the Arab world is the Islamic clout heritage that it shares with it, in which it eased the process of shaping the statute of Turkey as the promised savior that would revive the old glories of the Arab empire or rather the Ottoman Empire. The Return on Investment (ROI) of Turkey in ME  has already paid off and showed some economic fruits, yet the geographic expansionist plans pay-off  will have to wait and will eventually appear in the long run. In that  Turkish expansionism context, the Lebanese ex-Minister Karim Pakradouni warned that the Neo-Ottoman would encourage Ankara to rush directly into a more deepened strategy in taking over Syria if the Syrian Regime is brought down[xvi]

The answers to the research questions that we advanced are straightforward due the pluri-dimensionality of this  relation. Also, while Turkey is trying to decipher Middle East, it is carefully striving to create a zero-sum conflict between ethics and interest. We have to understand that the world of politics is not compatible with arbitrariness nor it gives a room or a chance for gullible decision-makers. According to that basis, Turkey’s quest for Middle East is based on soft power mercantilist-driven approach where it is seeking to stand out as the sole intermediate between the West and Middle East, and by that, being the gate keeper to this region that keeps getting worse day after second. Turkey’s claim for the Middle East to be its own property is due to vacant leadership seat in Arab countries, and consequently, Turkey is taking benefits from that state that was created by a sophisticated Western vacuum machine.

[i] Bauer, Michael and Schiller, Thomas. “The Arab Spring in 2012.” in C-A-Perspectives. Center
for Applied Policy Research. (Munich, Germany: Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität-
München, 2012).
[ii] Ozhan, Taha. "The Arab Spring and Turkey: The Camp David Order vs. the New Middle East." Insight Turkey 13.4 (2011): 55-64.
[iii] Muravchik, Joshua. "Bringing democracy to the Arab world." CURRENT HISTORY-NEW YORK THEN PHILADELPHIA- 103 (2004): 8-10.
[iv] Davutoğlu, Ahmet. "Turkey’s foreign policy vision: An assessment of 2007."Insight Turkey 10.1 (2008): 77-96.
[v] Dede, Alper Y. "The Arab uprisings: debating the Turkish model." Insight Turkey 13.2 (2011): 23-32.
[vi] Telhami, Shibley. "What Do Egyptians Want? Key Findings from the Egyptian Public Opinion Poll." Brookings Institution (2012).
[vii] Öniş, Ziya. "Globalization and party transformation: Turkey’s Justice and Development Party in perspective." Globalizing democracy: party politics in emerging democracies. London: Routledge (2006): 1-27.
[viii] Idem iv
[ix] Idem.
[x] Mecliste gergin Suriye oturumu,” Radikal, April 26, 2012.
[xi] Kirişci, Kemal. "Turkey’s ‘demonstrative effect’and the transformation of the Middle East." Insight Turkey 13.2 (2011): 33-55.
[xii] Brumberg, Daniel. Democratization Versus Liberalization in the Arab World: Dilemmas and Challenges for US Foreign Policy. ARMY WAR COLL STRATEGIC STUDIES INST CARLISLE BARRACKS PA, 2005.
[xiii] Walker, Joshua. "Learning Strategic Depth: Implications of Turkey‘s New Foreign Policy Doctrine‖." Insight Turkey 9.3 (2007): 25-36.
[xiv] Habibi, Nader, and Joshua W. Walker. "What is driving Turkeys Reengagement with the Arab World." Crown Center for Middle East Studies, Brandeis University 49 (2011).
[xv] Idem.
[xvi] أ. سعيدي السعيد. "سياسة تركيا الخارجية في ظل حزب العدالة والتنمية وانعكاساتها على العلاقات التركية-العربية." مجلة الفكر (2014):474.