Here is my TZ column… on Turkey, ISIL and Iraq:
A foreign policy expert anonymously offered this “insider view” in Sunday’s Zaman on June 14: “Turkey has always denied the reports that it has allowed terrorists to use the Turkey-Syria border as a transit point. But Turkey’s denial could not prevent the emergence of a belief that Turkey condoned terrorists going into Syria to fight against Assad regime. But ISIL [ Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant] is a threat to Turkey, too, with plots for attacks inside Turkey. The people who direct Turkish foreign policy must have finally changed their position, but in the meantime, ISIL took off and became powerful. Turkish foreign policy is very late in addressing the threat of ISIL. They should have acted months ago.”
This is a reminder that the most active player in policies which involve “regime change” in any neighborhood is the one that ends up paying the bill. The US did it in Vietnam and Iraq, and Soviet Russia did it in Afghanistan. If “regime change” includes also a miscalculation, a blend of naivety and romanticism coupled with overreaching ambitions, the subject in the question runs into trouble, which may have lengthy consequences.
This is what happened to Turkey in Syria. While its zero problem neighborhood policy did not produce any tangible results in soft power formats, it ventured such an act to help topple the brutal regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — and failed. And, now, it continues with a heavy bag of vandal Salafist groups — symbolizing the entry of the Islamic Medieval age of infighting and destruction — less able than before to be part of major conflict resolution.
Iraqi Kurdistan, arguably the only part where one can note success in the “zero problems” context, risks also being lost, if wrong and untimely moves are taken, now that ISIL’s advance has brought Iraq to a breaking point. Mosul’s fall to Salafist-dominated armed groups and Kirkuk taken over by KRG Peshmergas are key events that signal some sort of irreversibility to the earlier status quo.
The Justice and Development Party (AKP) government’s choices have always been dominated by a state of mind that resembled ideological hallucination: Priorities in the Middle East forced it to abandon the main tenets of soft power, particularly that of inclusivity. The temptations to build up an Ottoman-like sphere of influence stemmed from a false equality between Salafism and Wahabism in Arab lands and the benevolent Sufism of Anatolia. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu since approximately 2010 ignored the fact that the Salafi and Wahhabi segment saw Ottomans and its traditions as the enemy, accusing them of the “defeat” of Islam worldwide.
As Tayfun Atay, a respected sociologist on religion, put it in his powerful article in the Radikal daily: “Only three years ago, Erdoğan talked about the benediction of secularism for Islam when in Egypt and Tunisia, figuring in the Middle East and elsewhere as a unique example of ‘secular Islam.’ He received criticism from Salafi and Muslim Brotherhood circles, and in time, returned from the Middle East undergoing ‘salafisation,’ abandoning his own traditional and historic roots of religion. They [AKP, yb — Yavuz Baydar — this is his insert :)) ] turned down a historic chance of architecting a ‘liberal Islam,’ sociologically crucial ‘secular Islam,’ which would mark a global turning point. They disappointed, indeed made ashamed, all those leftist, liberal, socialist, conservative Muslim and non-Muslim circles who believed, trusted and supported them. They had come to power based on a social consensus and disintegrated the society with almost no chance of consensus left. Now they are struggling to deal with this internal disintegration, as they try to stave of a ‘war within Islam’ across the border to spill over to our territory.”
What a colleague called Afghanistanization abroad and Pakistanization at home now is the result of a shift in the AKP three years ago and the huge misreading of the events. It is now at the stage of obstinacy and denial.
Therefore, any reasoning about regional policy in Ankara should require cautious reading. ISIL’s move, its carving up a huge land between Syria and Iraq, exposes Turkey’s vulnerabilities and its limitations even further.
Given the stakes, the AKP has only one rational way out: Make peace with the Kurds of both Iraq and Syria and endorse their state-building along its border.