March 27, 2017
Turkish government’s “zero problems with neighbors” policy was nothing but a public relations stunt. Its “regime change Syria” project has turned into a major foreign and security policy disaster, as predicted.
At present, Ankara’s relations with Washington are under clouds of uncertainty because of differences over Fethullah Gülen’s extradition and YPG’s role in combating ISIS. Secretary Tillerson, addressing the Ministerial Plenary for the Global Coalition Working to Defeat ISIS on March 22, said: “Turkey has pushed ISIS off the Turkey-Syria border through Operation Euphrates Shield. This entire border is now inaccessible to ISIS, and we will ensure that it stays that way…” What that means exactly will no doubt be high on the agenda of the talks Secretary Tillerson will have in Ankara at the end of the month. Criticism directed by Ankara at the gone Obama administration continues and is probably seen as an indirect way of sending messages to its successor.
Reconciliation with Russia seems to be stagnating.
And, relations with regional countries remain at an all-time low.
Under such circumstances, one would expect any government to engage in damage control, reinforce its relations of friendship, partnership and alliance with others and avoid new controversies. The Turkish government has taken a different path. Now, it is fully engaged in an unprecedented war of words with Europe. Media, supportive of the government, is busy writing a narrative of unresolvable conflicts of interest between Turkey and Europe, accusing the latter of cooperating with Turkey’s external and internal enemies. According to this narrative, the campaign of coordinated hostility toward Turkey is being directed from a single center by a “higher mind”. It is also said that the days of European glory are over; the European Union is falling apart and that Turkey’s march forward will continue.
Thirteen years ago, the JDP government had a different narrative. It boasted of having accomplished what its predecessors had failed to achieve for decades. Party leaders returning from EU’s Brussels summit which agreed to launch Turkey’s accession process were given a hero’s welcome by the party faithful. Relations with Europe had reached their zenith.
Eight years ago, when Mr. Obama visited Ankara on his first trip abroad as president he was full of praise for Turkey and was regarded as a great friend, representing the American side of the “model partnership”.
And now, the government is saying that it has been betrayed by both; that Europe had never even thought of embracing Turkey as partner; that all they were after was keeping Turkey at bay and preventing it from getting all too powerful.
This narrative is based on the assumption that Turkey has not changed; that it remains Muslim world’s only secular democracy moving forward resolutely on the path of reform. Thus, it leaves huge gaps to be filled. But one thing is certain: the war of words with Europe only serves Europe’s extreme right to the detriment of millions of Turks living there.
Many in Turkey see the latest confrontation with the West as a costly government maneuver to gather support for the presidential system that will be put to a referendum on April 16. In reality, we already have a de facto presidential system and others are coming to recognize it. Below is the press release on Secretary of State Tillerson’s upcoming visit to Ankara:
“U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will travel to Ankara, Turkey, on March 30, to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other senior Turkish government officials, continuing the United States’ high-level engagement with our NATO Ally. Secretary Tillerson will reaffirm Turkey’s important role in ensuring regional stability, and he will discuss the way forward with our campaign to defeat ISIS in Syria and Iraq.”