Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government is increasingly isolating Turkey in the region by taking sides and pursuing a foreign policy that includes “offensive language,” which is diminishing Turkey’s ability to have a positive influence in the Middle East, writes Today’s Zaman.
According to analysts Turkey’s image as a “role model” with a successful democracy in the region has long since faded away with the anti-democratic measures that have been implemented, such as the government tightening the grip on the judiciary, its control over the media and limiting freedom of expression.
Erdoğan is hoping to get the title of the president of the Turkish Republic at the Aug. 10 presidential election. As the election approaches, his language has become even sharper, and has therefore been attracting more criticism and trouble around the world. His recent “inflammatory comments” with regard to the Gaza conflict have also prompted harsh criticism from US officials.
The Turkish prime minister even got into a battle of words with US Department of State spokespersons last week over the Israel-Palestine conflict.
The Turkish government and its strategic ally, the United States, have been publicly exchanging increasingly critical remarks about each other’s policies in the region, with US officials warning that “offensive” remarks by Prime Minister Erdoğan damage Turkey’s international standing.
Recently, Erdoğan responded to a US statement that criticized his strong anti-Israeli rhetoric condemning the deadly attacks on Gaza as “offensive and wrong,” by stating that the US has been making more offensive statements, with its insistence that Israel is exercising its right to self-defense.
During a press briefing on Friday, US State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the US believes Erdoğan’s statements are “offensive” and that his “provocative rhetoric is unhelpful and distracts from urgent efforts to bring about a cease-fire” between Hamas — which governs Gaza — and Israel, following Erdoğan’s statements that Israel is “committing genocide.”
Deputy Spokeswoman Marie Harf said on Monday that she agrees with Psaki about “how offensive and awful these comments were, and that they quite frankly hurt Turkey’s international standing.”
US Secretary of State John Kerry has also, in talks with his Turkish counterpart , Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmet Davutoğlu, expressed concerns over “inflammatory” Turkish statements regarding Israeli air strikes and an ongoing ground offensive in Gaza, according to Harf.
Apart from Kerry’s call with Davutoğlu on Tuesday, Harf said senior US officials in Washington and Ankara have also raised the country’s concerns with Turkish counterparts.
Erdoğan ‘contributing to tensions in the region’
Speaking to Today’s Zaman, Republican People’s Party (CHP) Deputy Chairman Faruk Loğoğlu said the ruling AK Party’s pursuit of a self-limiting foreign policy is hurting itself and diminishing the size of Turkey’s influence.
“Erdoğan and Davutoğlu’s remarks and actions are limiting Turkey’s political weight in the region, and Turkey is increasingly isolated as a result. It is losing its capacity to play a positive role either in the Middle East peace process or in terms of bilateral relations with Syria and Iraq,” said Loğoğlu. He added that the government’s actions are only contributing to the tension in the region.
Kerry arrived in Cairo on Monday to meet with Egyptian officials to discuss the Gaza conflict and ongoing efforts to reach a cease-fire agreement. However, there were no immediate plans for meetings with officials from Turkey, a previously valued regional power.
Erdoğan recently admitted that he no longer calls the US President Barack Obama directly as in the past, but is only able to talk to Vice President Joe Biden. Following the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) taking hostage 49 Turks in Turkey’s Consulate General in Mosul, including diplomatic staff, special forces and their dependents, Erdoğan called the White House with the intention of discussing this issue with Obama, but the call was forwarded to Biden, according to sources. Erdoğan was told Obama was unable to take the call and Erdoğan ended up talking to the vice president.
In a recent TV interview Erdoğan mentioned that he no longer talks to Obama on the phone, but he claimed that it is because Erdoğan does not agree with some of Obama’s foreign policy choices in the region. “I do not understand the American approach with regards to Egypt, Syria and Palestine,” said Erdoğan, referring to differences between Turkey and the US on regional issues. When asked about whether these differences have put Erdoğan and Obama at odds, Erdoğan answered, “Unfortunately, yes, to tell you the truth.”
Erdoğan said he talks about Iraq issues with Vice President Biden from time to time, adding that either one of them initiates the call.
“I have called him [Obama] directly before,” admitted Erdoğan, but he also stated that since Erdoğan’s expectations from the US in regards to Syria have not materialized he talks to Biden. Turkey has expected military action from the US to topple the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria since the civil war started.
“Those who talk about democracy are killing democracy. Either we did not learn what democracy is about, or they still don’t know what democracy means, or they are trying to impose some kind of democracy based on their interests,” said Erdoğan.
Turkey’s foreign policy choices in recent years have led it to become the odd man out in the region, as it has preferred to pursue a policy of “burning bridges” rather than “agreeing to disagree” on disputed issues with regional countries.
Turkey has lost a strong regional ally in Egypt at a time when Turkey is already under stress due to the ongoing war in Syria and has cold relations with Iraq. In addition to this, Turkey losing the Gulf states as allies due to its Egypt policy was another backlash for Turkey. Ankara has been at odds with Cairo since the overthrow of Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi, last July. The Turkish government’s strident rhetoric regarding the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) leader has not only harmed its relations with Egypt but also with other Arab nations. Turkey has been one of the harshest critics of the Egyptian coup.
But the Gulf countries are not only concerned about the Turkish government’s close ties with the MB in Egypt. They are also watching relations with Hamas, an offshoot of the MB. Turkey is capable of playing a positive role in the Gaza conflict due to its close ties to Hamas. To some observers, Erdoğan is playing the Gaza card to garner sympathy from voters before the presidential election in Turkey.
When asked about whether the inflammatory comments rule Turkey out as a mediator in the Gaza conflict, Marie Harf said: “No, no. But… it does hurt their ability to play a constructive role here. But no, I wouldn’t rule it out. Obviously, we believe they can play a role, but these comments certainly do not help.”