By Gokhan Bacik
March 29, 2015
Turkey is isolated. A few years ago, Turkey was the major power in the region's dynamics. Today, Turkey does not figure in any major equation of Middle Eastern politics. It is either Saudi Arabia or Iran that is the constant or variable of that equation. Ironically, Turkey seems to have become a state desperately seeking allies to help it out of isolation.
Most recently, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan criticized Iran harshly for dominating the region. This is a rare diplomatic confession. President Erdoğan accused Iran of trying to dominate the Middle East and urged Tehran to withdraw forces from Yemen, Syria and Iraq. It is sad to hear Turkish officials asking Iran to leave Yemen, Syria and Iraq, the very countries once known as Turkey's back garden.
The consistency issue is worse. It was not long ago that President Erdoğan declared Tehran his second home. How is it that Erdoğan's second home is Turkey's main headache in foreign policy? Isn't this a major foreign policy fiasco?
Reacting to Turkey, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said, “It is better for those who have caused irreparable damage with their strategic blunders and ambitious policies to adopt responsible policies aimed at using existing capacities to establish peace and convergence in the region.” This is a pretty harsh response, frankly speaking: Iran is accusing Turkey of “strategic blunders and ambitious policies.”
The Ottomans ruled Yemen for almost 400 years. Both Syria and Iraq were under Ottoman rule for nearly as long a time. Turkey's admission of Iran's dominant role in these countries, despite the historical depth of Turkey's association with them, is dramatic. Where is the Turkish model? Where is the Turkish soft power? How is it that a country like Iran, with its serious isolation problem, can dominate such a big geography?
Turkey has lost its regional momentum. The Arab bloc supported by the West is organizing a military operation in Yemen. Turkey has no serious role in this story. More dramatic is the rise of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi's Egypt. Egypt is a leading state in the campaign, sending its warships to the region. Having no serious stake, the only part Turkey gets in this story is a supporting spectator role in the operation led by Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
Failures in foreign policy are the routine events of politics. They are normal. Many events can cause diplomatic failures. However, the main causes of the current fiasco in Turkish foreign policy are the superlative-scorching mistakes of Turkish leaders. The Islamists of Turkey have long criticized the Kemalist elites for not understanding Middle Eastern societies. Ironically, Kemalist foreign policy never put Turkey into such an isolated position. The problems the Turkish Islamists have created in foreign policy are scandalous even in comparison with those of the former Kemalist period.
But there is worse. Despite their endless mistakes, the Turkish Islamists still believe that their doings are perfect. That signals that there is zero hope. They are likely to continue their Islamist agenda. And they think it is possible to satisfy the West with simple diplomatic maneuvers. Turkey needs foreign investment in its economy, and its politicians curse foreign countries every day! Most probably, the Turkish Islamists believe that Western politicians are shallow-minded guys who don't get the point of their pragmatic moves.
Even a person who has little knowledge of international politics would faint upon listening to the Turkish politicians who lead Turkish foreign policy. Are they living in a dream? Or are they desperate?
In any sense, President Erdoğan's admission of Iran's importance is a major indicator of the crisis in Turkish foreign policy. Turkey, once the self-styled regional leader, now admits that Iran is dominating the region. Indeed, this Turkish admission should be music to Iranian ears. So it is time to focus on how Iran is actually taking it. Rather than wasting time with the Turkish mistakes, students of international politics should be watching the dynamics of Iranian foreign policy.