A favourite phrase by Turkish government officials these days is that they are “implementing a foreign policy with a 360 degree outlook which is cemented on friendship”. I’m assuming the message is that they are weighing every possible policy angle before making a decision but the ultimate aim is friendship. Actual policy and reality on the ground strongly contradict this messaging unless they are referring to a foreign policy where we keep going in circles, always ending up right where we started.
The real driver of the current government’s foreign policy – since at least 2009 – hasn’t been a 360 degree outlook but a mixture of incompetence and over-confidence fueled by nationalist populism, nepotizm and a level of hubris that would make the ancient Greeks jealous. The only problem is that while the ancient Greeks are no longer here to compete with us, the wrath of the goddess Nemesis who punishes those committing the sin of hubris, seems to be working like a clockwork. Turkey’s foreign policy – similar to its domestic counterpart – has hit a wall. And without access to foreign loans and international sympathy, it is becoming increasingly difficult to pretend that we are still moving forward. Perhaps that explains why the government is moving in circles.
“Broken clock is right two times a day”
We arrived at this tragic point because of unnecessary risk-taking, overconfidence, and nationalist populism. The current strategy to add hubris to the fire will not work the miracle the government is hoping for.
And speaking of clockwork, we all know the expression that even a broken clock is right two times a day. The steps that Turkey is currently taking to make up ties with neighboring countries such as Israel, the UAE and Saudi Arabia aren’t the achievement the government wants you to believe they are. What changed? We already enjoyed good relations with these countries. Wrecking these relationships only to try and repair them a decade later hardly is an accomplishment that justifies the arrogance of current policy-makers. While the war in Ukraine and other developments have created positive externalities that help Turkey appear like a regional power again, the truth is that nothing changed. The government of Turkey is still not considered a trusted and predictable ally. We have lost our standing in a geography that ranges from the United States to North Africa and all the way to the Indian Ocean.
“Turkey is reaching the end of the road”
Instead of boasting about rapprochement with our neighbors, we should be modestly examining how we put ourselves at odds with the entire region. Especially since our decades-old relationship with NATO countries and with the European Union is now historically inadequate as well due to ill-advised decisions such as the procurement of Russian-made military assets. Instead of taking delivery of the F35 aircraft that we helped manufacture and already paid for, we are left complaining about U.S. Congress not allowing the modernization and re-supply of our old F16 fleet.
Similarly, while we like to boast about Turkey finally becoming an agenda-setting regional powerhouse, we have not been able to translate that perceived power into a single concrete foreign policy accomplishment. Instead of finally solving the Cyprus issue, we are at the brink of military conflict with Greece. And despite appearances, our relationship with other neighbors such as Iran or Russia has never improved either. Even President Erdogan’s doctrine that “the World is bigger than Five” has done little more than scoring political points at home while antagonizing the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.
The truth is that despite the flawed narratives that government-owned media is propagating, Turkey is scarred by years of constant turbulence and is now reaching the end of the road. And with citizens realizing that their Turkish passports are worth even less than Turkey’s currency, going in populist circles will no longer be enough at the ballot. This government promised their citizens visa-liberalization and free travel. Instead, even national athletes and celebrities now have trouble getting a consular appointment, never mind a visa. The government is stuck domestically and internationally. It is time for the government to listen to the voices of reason and put an end to this roller coaster foreign policy based on ideological fantasies. The clock might occasionally point at the right time but re-building trust will require real confidence building measures and a new foreign policy vision; one that is based on reality and doesn’t move in circles.