This article was published in Arab News on December 5, 2018.
Turkey reaping the whirlwind of misguided foreign policy
Turkey was busy sowing the wind with its Middle East policies since the early stages of the Arab Spring. Chronologically, it started by supporting Muhammad Mursi when he was elected in the first free elections in Egypt. This was the right move. However, this support continued when Mursi made mistakes.
He was ousted by Gen. Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Turkey was rightly critical, because elected leaders should not be overthrown by military coups. Turkey’s Egypt policy started to stumble after that. When a military takeover becomes successful and establishes its authority, other countries eventually find a way to establish normal relations. Turkey remained as the sole country in the world that considers Mursi the legitimate president of the Arab Republic of Egypt. This is not sustainable.
In Iraq, Turkey established good relations with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Both sides benefited from these relations, but Turkey went one step further by signing two agreements with the KRG despite the opposition of the central authorities in Baghdad — one for the deployment of Turkish troops is Bashiqa, northern Iraq, and the other for the transport of oil extracted in the KRG region to terminals in the Turkish Mediterranean city of Iskenderun.
In Syria, Turkey joined the international community in supporting the opposition. When Western countries noticed that the weapons and ammunition provided to the opposition were ending up in the hands of extremist factions, they stopped the supply. Turkey could not adapt its policy to this change, and fighters belonging to extremist factions used Turkey’s territory to join their comrades in Syria, benefiting from the lack of sufficient border measures. Ankara continued to work diligently to overthrow the Syrian regime — and it has become one of the last countries to give up its insistence on this endeavor. This attitude will make the recovery of Turkish-Syrian relations all the more difficult after the crisis.
Turkey also alienated the Syrian Kurds by failing to work out a scheme for cooperation.
Throughout the region, Ankara has antagonized potential allies and missed opportunities to normalize relations, meaning Turkey is no longer a country whose friendship is sought.
On Nov. 24, 2015, Turkey shot down a Russian jet fighter over Syria for having violated Turkish air space for a period of 17 seconds. Then-Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu defiantly announced that Turkey protected its air space and would do the same if this happened again.
Turkey also got involved unnecessarily in an intra-Arab conflict between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Arab countries consider such disputes among themselves as a family affair and do not like non-Arab countries interfering. Turkey supported Qatar when it could have stayed equidistant to both sides.
Now, having sown the wind for several years, Turkey is facing the consequences. It is deprived of the cooperation of such an important actor in the Middle East as Egypt. Turkey could contribute a lot to the stability of the region by cooperating with Egypt, but these two major players are unfortunately on opposing sides in almost every case pertaining to the stability of the region. Their friendly peoples deserve better relations — the decision-makers are duty-bound to put an end to this situation.
In Iraq, Turkey distanced itself from the KRG’s initiative to declare independence, but its earlier antagonism of Baghdad will leave unavoidable scars in their future relations. In Syria, Turkey missed the opportunity of playing a positive role in the normalization of the situation. Now it is cooperating with major actors such as Russia and Iran, but the restitution of mutual confidence with Syria to its pre-crisis status will take a long time, even once the country stabilizes.
Turkey could opt for working out a trilateral cooperation between Ankara, Damascus and the Syrian Kurds. This is not an impossible mission because it could obtain the backing of the international community to persuade the Kurds not to attempt to change the demographic composition of the Syrian lands they control. The Syrian Kurds have become a headache for Turkey, because they cooperated with the US and obtained from them a huge quantity of military equipment by using the fight against Daesh as a pretext.
In its relations with Russia, Turkey had to pay a heavy economic bill because of the jet fighter incident. The apology that Turkey made alleviated the situation to a certain extent, but the damage has been done. It will take years to eliminate all the negative effects.
In the Gulf region, Turkey is no longer a country whose friendship is sought. Ankara would do better in going back to its traditional non-interference policy in intra-Arab affairs.
Turkey missed these opportunities and is now reaping the whirlwind.