Analysis: Davutoğlu’s report card on foreign policy, a list of failures

While academic-turned-diplomat Ahmet Davutoğlu, the foreign minister of Turkey since 2009, was nominated to become the leader of the ruling party and the prime minister on Thursday, his signature foreign policy of “zero problems with neighbors” — that has been mocked as “zero neighbors” — will leave a legacy of failure in the Middle East and beyond – reports Today’s Zaman.

Turkey’s hostage crisis entered its 71st day on Thursday and there is still no word about the release of the 49 people who were taken hostage at Turkey’s Mosul Consulate General in June by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), while the public and the media are not able to ask about the issue due to a gag order imposed by the government.

To the dismay of opposition parties and worried relatives of the abducted Turkish citizens, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) officials — and especially Davutoğlu — do not seem to be taking any responsibility, instead focusing mostly on internal politics.

Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, in an exclusive interview with Sunday’s Zaman, pointed out that Davutoğlu and President-elect Recep Tayyip Erdoğan are responsible for the problems at Turkey’s southern and eastern borders.

Turkey has been accused of directly or indirectly supporting the ISIL militants by the opposition and Western media. “It was they [the Turkish government] who helped ISIL to grow. Now they say they are ‘sensitive’ about the issue because they have hostages in the hands of ISIL,” Kılıçdaroğlu said on Wednesday. He said Erdoğan and Davutoğlu are responsible for what’s happening in Syria and Iraq.

“Turkey has grown lonely in the world. It has grown lonely in the Middle East, Far East, the US and Europe. I once called Davutoğlu a small-time minister. I still call him that. And he will be recognized as being so,” said Kılıçdaroğlu.

Davutoğlu served as the foreign minister at a very turbulent time for the Middle East and dealt with the Arab Spring, the civil war in Syria and the swift advance of ISIL in Iraq. Turkey’s relations with Egypt, Syria, Israel, Iraq and Iran have significantly deteriorated and Davutoğlu’s “zero problems with neighbors” policy went down the drain.

‘Success anywhere?’

A European ambassador in Ankara told Sunday’s Zaman that it is indeed very difficult to think of a foreign policy area in which Davutoğlu would be considered a success. The ambassador said that Davutoğlu’s failures in the Middle East are so significant that it reduces the importance of other foreign policy issues.

Another diplomat made similar comments to the Reuters news agency: “In the Middle East he [Davutoğlu] is basically persona non grata … they’re [Turkey] isolated. Countries like Egypt are hardly going to be happy if he is prime minister and Erdoğan is president,” a European diplomat told Reuters.

When it comes to Turkey’s relations with the West, they do not appear very bright, either. The recent eavesdropping scandal with Germany reveals that Turkey is not considered a trusted partner although it is a NATO ally.

The German magazine Der Spiegel reported last Saturday that Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service (BND) has been spying on Turkey since 2009.
 
German officials have not denied the allegations and have chosen to remain silent, while Turkey awaits a “comprehensive and satisfactory” explanation of the eavesdropping scandal that it called “worrisome.”

CHP İzmir deputy and CHP Deputy Chairman Aytun Çıray on Wednesday accused the Turkish government of being impotent and said: “We only know about the recently leaked voice recordings. Who knows which powers possess what sort of voice recordings? This is a hostage administration… They [the AK Party] are incapable of governing Turkey.”

While some Turkish officials have been increasingly talking about cutting ties with the European Union, Turkish foreign policy seems to have shifted its focus toward Russia, China and the former Soviet republics.

The relationship with the US is in no better condition. Due to Erdoğan’s harsh, inflammatory rhetoric against Egypt and Israel, Turkey’s capacity to influence events in the region has diminished. US officials have publicly warned Erdoğan not to damage Turkey’s international standing. But foreign policy experts agree that Turkey will have to pursue a “more balanced” foreign policy from now on and try to mend its ties with the world.

When it comes to Kılıçdaroğlu’s question — Why is Davutoğlu being rewarded by the prime ministry? — a European diplomat said: “Davutoğlu is certainly someone that Erdoğan can control because he doesn’t have his own constituency. Erdoğan made him. He’s about the most amenable prime minister that could be chosen,” according to Reuters.
 
There are five censure motions against Davutoğlu.
 
The CHP accuses Davutoğlu of “degrading Turkey’s prestige in both the regional and international arenas, leading Turkish foreign policy into a dead end, dragging the country into a war-like atmosphere and facilitating the activities of international terrorist organizations in almost every city of Turkey.”

Davutoğlu is reportedly not liked by many within the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) either, as he is seen as responsible for the foreign policy failures, but Erdoğan’s support is sufficient to make him the chairman of the party and the prime minister. Nor does Davutoğlu have grassroots support. He previously served as a consultant to the prime minister, rather than coming to the office following an election.
 
There are many problematic relationships on the foreign policy front. Turkey’s relationship with Israel has been very poor since a Gaza-bound aid flotilla was attacked by Israeli forces in May 2010, ultimately killing nine Turkish citizens and a Turkish-American. Diplomatic ties between Turkey and Israel were downgraded, with the Israeli ambassador being expelled from Ankara in September 2011 after Israel refused to apologize for the killings. Israel formally apologized in 2013 for what it called “operational mistakes” that might have led to the deaths of the victims.

In May, Erdoğan said there was a need for normalization in the Middle East and expressed his hope that steps would be taken to stabilize Turkish-Israeli relations in 2014-2015, adding that the Foreign Ministry was working hard to do so.

Turkey and Israel have been negotiating a compensation deal, but an agreement has not been forthcoming. Especially after Israel’s recent Gaza offense, the future of Israeli-Turkish relations promises to remain troubled in the near future.

Lost cases

Turkey’s foreign policy missteps in recent years have led to it becoming 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 lost the Gulf states as allies in backlash over its Egypt policy. Ankara has been at odds with Cairo since the overthrow of Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi in July 2013. 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.
 
Turkey policy miscalculations have also advanced the Kurdish ambition of independence. Emboldening their position in the region as a military power against ISIL in the eyes of the West, the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) has begun voicing its dream of independence. KRG President Massoud Barzani has even claimed that Turkey will not block an independent Kurdish state in the region. For Turkey, an independent Kurdish state has long been considered “a line that should not be crossed.” In June, Barzani called for a referendum on independence and asked the Kurdish parliament in Arbil to work on a date for this.

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About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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