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Goodbye Mr. Zero Problems: The End Of Davutoglu Era In Turkish Foreign Policy – OpEd

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The Davutoglu-era will be remembered as a missed opportunity in Turkish foreign policy. Expectations exceeded the political capacity of an emerging power to the point that it began to harm the overall political stability of the country. Turkey’s next phase of foreign policy orientation will be restoring the broken relationships in the Middle East.

By Dr. Ulas Doga Eralp*

The abrupt end to Ahmet Davutoglu’s gig as prime minister following Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s intervention marks the end of an era in Turkish Foreign Policy. For that reason it would be worthwhile evaluating how his signature foreign policy objective “zero problems with the neighbors” endured.

When Davutoglu first started flirting with politics, his title was foreign policy advisor to prime minister Erdogan. At the time he was aware that he had a once-in-a-life-time opportunity to put his theories into practice as a politician-turned-academician. His book “strategic depth” identified pillars of strength for an affluent Turkish foreign policy in its neighborhood. The basic premise suggested that Turkey’s competitive advantage in comparison to big powers was the legacy of Ottoman Empire, which allowed a common mental and emotive space for connecting countries in the region. According to Davutoglu, the problems between countries of the region was superimposed by former imperial powers and thus were superficial. If the countries could start talking they would appreciate their common heritage and get past beyond real politik. Turkey had the potential to initiate this change.

Ankara has actually initiated a number of peace processes in the Western Balkans, as well as in the MENA region. Trilateral consultation mechanisms between Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia and Croatia have been constructive initiatives that supported regional integration into Trans-Atlantic and European bodies. Even with the long-time non-friend, Armenia, there were collateral talks aimed at reopening borders. Turkish mediation had its high point in May 2010 with a joint initiative with Brazil concerning the Iranian nuclear talks. Although Washington rejected the deal, it has brought the potential of emerging powers as peacemakers to the international spotlight for the first time. Similarly, the Turkish mediated indirect talks between Israel and Syria over control of the Golan Heights were almost about to bear fruit had it not been for Israel’s operation Cast Lead in Gaza at the end of 2008. Turkish-Israeli relations started going downhill afterwards, the most notable incident being the Mavi Marmara flotilla crisis in June 2010 when Israeli commandos killed Turkish citizens delivering humanitarian aid to Gaza. Relations between the countries never fully-recovered.

Everything changed for the worse for Davutoglu’s “Zero Problems Vision” with the Arab Spring. Davutoglu misinterpreted the events as a confirmation of his Weltanschauung. Davutoglu literally thought he was on the right side of history and, after an initial hesitation, Ankara gave its full support to all rebels across the board in the Arab Spring countries. For a while there was talk about Turkey being a model democracy for the Arab Spring countries. Davutoglu seemed to be quite pleased with that analogy. Nevertheless, Davutoglu’s unequivocal support to the Muslim Brotherhood leadership in Egypt – even after the military coup pushed Ankara off the drawing board – undid all previous efforts to build long-lasting economic and strategic relationships. Similarly in Libya Ankara sided with anti-Qaddafi rebels even after Jihadists captured the movement. The new Libyan government – the less Islamist one – cancelled contracts for Turkish companies worth billions of USD.

Yet the greatest fallout that facilitated Davutoglu’s downfall has been his delusional Syria policy. When Assad started cracking down on pro-democracy protesters in 2011 Davutoglu personally travelled to Damascus and tried to convince Assad to put an end to the regime violence. Assad has not paid much attention to Davutoglu’s recommendations and carried on with what has ended-up being the drawn out civil war, the greatest humanitarian tragedy of our times. Davutoglu’s response to Assad’s rebuttal was to provide logistical and, according to many, military support to rebels, most of whom gradually shifted their objectives to violent Jihadist notions of glory and martyrdom. Turkey opened its borders to millions of Syrian refugees, setting up refugee camps. Davutoglu later entered into a last minute bargain with the European Union that quelled the flow of refugees into Europe while receiving a pledge for the removal of visas for Turkish citizens from the EU in 2016. The EU-Turkey deal received a lot of criticism from human rights groups for having violated a number of UN Conventions that gave the right to seek asylum to anyone who escapes violence.

The Davutoglu-era will be remembered as a missed opportunity in Turkish foreign policy. Expectations exceeded the political capacity of an emerging power to the point that it began to harm the overall political stability of the country. Turkey’s next phase of foreign policy orientation will be restoring the broken relationships in the Middle East.

*Dr. Ulas Doga Eralp is a scholar and practitioner of international conflict, human rights, development and democratization. He has a PhD from the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution from George Mason University, and currently works as a Professorial Lecturer at the International Peace and Conflict Resolution Program of the School of International Service (SIS) at American University in Washington, DC.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of TransConflict.


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JTW

JTW

JTW - the Journal of Turkish Weekly - is a respected Turkish news source in English language on international politics. Established in 2004, JTW is published by Ankara-based Turkish think tank International Strategic Research Organization (USAK).

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