Sunday, October 26, 2014

Turkish foreign policy hits another cul-de-sac by SUAT KINIKLIOĞLU | Today's Zaman

October 22, 2014, Wednesday, The events of the last few days have been extraordinary, to write the least.

The United States-led coalition's determination to combat the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and defend Kobani -- Washington's shift towards engaging directly with the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in northern Syria -- signifies an important shift in the region. The US has decided that it needs to help save Kobani regardless of what President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan thinks about the town. Patience in Washington has run out with Ankara's short-sighted policy of strangling the Kobani Kurds into submission. President Barack Obama “notified” his Turkish counterpart just hours before US cargo planes dropped off ammunition and medicine to the Kurds defending the city.

The Turkish position on Kobani was untenable from the beginning. There seems to be a serious miscalculation on Ankara's behalf about the extent of world attention to the defense of Kobani. Also, the strategy to force the PYD into conditions it could not accept was a short-sighted gamble. The government failed to understand the US position properly and underestimated the PYD's effectiveness in having its position articulated properly in the international media.

Given Ankara's bad image since the Gezi protests as well as the Dec. 17 and 25 graft scandals, this was no surprise. Ankara's unwillingness to help support the Kurds against ISIL with the hope to squeeze them into submission has failed utterly. Ankara thus missed an important opportunity. Instead of aiding the Kobani Kurds and becoming an indispensable actor in the shaping of Rojava, Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu have succeeded in alienating everyone, and now find themselves very much alone.

The Erdoğan-Davutoğlu duo has led Turkey into yet another foreign policy failure. Apart from the embarrassment of failing to help people defending their city against head-cutting barbarians, Ankara has also misjudged the mood in Washington. Turkish-American relations are under duress. Many in the US establishment have come to the conclusion that while Turkey is officially a member of NATO, the current government in Ankara does not share the alliance's values.

The initial response to that was, of course, a shift to a more “transactional” mode with Ankara. This mode has endured for a number of years. However, what we now see is that Washington is taking this a step further, as evidenced by the air drops to Kobani, and is taking unilateral action. Erdoğan ends up being “notified” at the last minute.

For the last four years, the Erdoğan-Davutoğlu foreign policy has been putting Turkey into a very difficult situation. The gap between discourse and the capacity of our foreign policy has been very much exposed. Turkey's influence and deterrence capacity has been seriously eroded. Foreign policy has never been in such disarray, and has never been so exploited for domestic political ends. Erdoğan and Davutoğlu resemble drunk drivers who hit a tree and get back on the road, only to hit another tree soon thereafter.

What will it take for them to understand that the very premise of their foreign policy is a cul-de-sac?

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