And the Loser Is…

March 7, 2018

The world is in disarray. The Arab Spring threw the Middle East in chaos. Then came the Ukraine conflict and Russia’s annexation of Crimea. As the Syrian conflict moved up on the international agenda the former receded. Despite on and off official statements on the unacceptability of Crimea’s annexation, everybody knows that there will be no going back. With a steadily rising China and a resurgent Russia “global realignment” has become a current topic. Now, moreover, there is talk about “Cold War II” and growing investment in military power. The rise of populism and authoritarianism has led to a pessimistic outlook regarding the future of democracy. The EU, a major global economic power, remains divided and ineffective as a foreign policy actor. Its public discourse on democracy and the rule of law has weakened. For a variety of reasons including migration, values are undergoing change.

President Putin has ruled over Russia for the last eighteen years. Though much has been said on Mr. Putin’s unpredictability, he has remained on a steady course in restoring Russia’s global status as a major power. Last Friday in Kaliningrad, he said that if he had an opportunity to change something in the history of Russia, he would like to prevent the disintegration of the Soviet Union. He stressed, however, that he does not want to change the present day for another historical period. The Georgian and Ukrainian conflicts which were mishandled by their leaders and the West have shown that West’s further expansion towards the east would come at a high cost. Kiev has finally stripped Mikheil Saakashvili of his Ukrainian citizenship and deported him. His being made the governor of Odessa was already appalling to start with and his stay in the country has led to nothing but trouble.

In his book “On China” Henry Kissinger said, “No other country can claim so long a continuous civilization, or such an intimate link to its ancient past and classical principles of strategy and statesmanship.” Indeed China, while rising as a global economic power, has wisely refrained from getting involved in international conflicts and has remained principled and predictable by current international standards. President Xi Jinping emphasizes a desire to “protect multilateralism”.  But, his emerging as China’s leader-for-life has disappointed those who believed that China would become more democratic as it became wealthier.

The U.S., China and Russia continue to engage in competition as global powers. Yet, all three must see the impossibility of making decisive interventions in the immediate periphery of the other two as shown by the Georgia and Ukraine conflicts. This is also true for South China Sea disputes and North Korea’s nuclear program.

Ever since Mr. Donald Trump was officially sworn in as the 45th President of the U.S. the world has been at a loss in trying to understand what exactly he represents and where he is going to take world’s leading power. Words often associated with the Trump White House are “chaos”, turmoil”, “confusion”, “tumult” and “disarray”. Let alone the staff of the White House, even top administration officials are not secure in their positions. At least Washington’s European allies must have been puzzled by the prominent roles given to family members in the Trump administration. Moreover, last Sunday’s New York Times editorial carried the title “Donald Trump Sure Has a Problem with Democracy”.

The following is from the April 2016 Obama interview by Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic:

“Where am I controversial? When it comes to the use of military power. That is the source of the controversy. There’s a playbook in Washington that presidents are supposed to follow. It’s a playbook that comes out of the foreign-policy establishment. And the playbook prescribes responses to different events, and these responses tend to be militarized responses. Where America is directly threatened, the playbook works. But the playbook can also be a trap that can lead to bad decisions. In the midst of an international challenge like Syria, you get judged harshly if you don’t follow the playbook, even if there are good reasons why it does not apply.”

President Donald Trump calls the invasion of Iraq in 2003 “the single worst decision ever made.” Does that mean he agrees with President Obama because the U.S. has a history of failed external interventions or is that part of his endless assault on his predecessors? Would an administration with the military in ascendancy reverse what President Obama had come to represent? What about the U.S. maintaining a military presence in Syria focused on ensuring that ISIS cannot re-emerge? Would U.S. foreign policy continue to be the subject of Mr. Trump’s confusing and contradictory tweets? Would decades-long policies be upended? What about the future of relations with Washington’s European allies? How might potential trade wars impact the already troubled relations? Would failure to resolve transatlantic differences provide Russia with an opportunity to drive a wedge between two sides of the Atlantic? After all, Europe unlike the U.S. has huge trade with Russia and remains largely dependent on Russian energy sources.

Such questions with no answers create global uncertainty and provide ground for the discussion on Washington’s declining world leadership. Not every question in international politics may find a precise answer but these are fundamental ones.

In view of the many international challenges, world’s three major powers need to agree on an agenda of peace, sooner than later. Otherwise, all would lose. And, this must start in Syria. In recent weeks attention focused on the tragedy in Eastern Ghouta. Yet, what was said about the plight of the Syrian people could barely mask the power games dimension of the conflict. With no Ataturk to lead them to salvation, Syrians continue to be the world’s biggest losers.

As for Turkey, we continue to wage war against the world. One day one hears about our desire to restore relations with Germany, the next day we target the U.S. in strong language. We are always on the right side of everything and others on the wrong. How we got here is behind us. We are busy with today and do not seem worry about tomorrow and beyond except domestic politics. Nobody seems to care about our dangerous polarization.

On March 3, the Kremlin published “in part”, the message   of congratulations President Putin had sent to President Rumen Radev on the “140th anniversary of Bulgaria’s liberation from Ottoman oppression”. A few days later, it was reported that Saudi Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman, during his visit to Egypt, referred to Turkey, Iran and Qatar as the “devil’s triangle” and said Turkey’s neo-Ottomans are after reviving the Caliphate using the Muslim Brotherhood. Mr. Putin’s message and the words attributed to Prince Salman, even if they are somehow “clarified”, show that Turkey’s political leadership’s glorification of our Ottoman past, particularly in a foreign policy context, is not well-received anywhere. This is no surprise when one looks at the history of the Middle East, particularly the First World War.

In a world in disarray, Turkey needs lots and lots of friends not new adversaries.

 

 

 

 

 

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About Ali Tuygan

Ali Tuygan is a graduate of the Faculty of Political Sciences of Ankara University. He joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in January 1967. Between various positions he held in Ankara, he served at the Turkish Embassy in Brussels, NATO International Staff, Turkish Embassies in Washington and Baghdad and the Turkish Delegation to NATO. From 1986 to 1989 he was Principal Private Secretary to the President of the Republic. He then served as ambassador to Ottawa, Riyadh and Athens. In 1997 he was honored with a decoration by the Italian President. Between these assignments abroad he served twice as Deputy Undersecretary for Political Affairs. In 2004 he was appointed Undersecretary where he remained until the end of 2006 before going to his last foreign assignment as Ambassador to UNESCO. He retired in 2009. In April 2013 he published a book entitled “Gönüllü Diplomat, Dışişlerinde Kırk Yıl” (“Diplomat by Choice, Forty Years in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs”) in which he elaborated on the diplomatic profession and the main issues on the global agenda. He has published articles in Turkish periodicals and newspapers.
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