If you want to be a high-brow player in the international arena, there are two important caveats to consider: The first is how other actors perceive what you say. The second is the need [to be mindful of the gap] between your rhetoric and your ability to affect developments [on the ground]. To this we should add a third caveat: It is best to avoid foreign policy moves and remarks that pander to domestic political audiences.
From these angles, it is clear that our foreign policy is losing traction. A completely excessive intoxication with power, hubris and emotion is becoming a predictable feature of our foreign policy. The benefits that Turkey could be reaping from its geographical location and its alliances [with regional powers] are being squandered.
An important lesson can be drawn from [Turkish relations with] Syria. Our relations with Syria started to improve after they forced PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan to leave the country. Bilateral relations truly began to blossom when President [Ahmet] Necdet Sezer attended [former Syrian President] Hafez al-Assad’s funeral in 2002. In the wake of the 2005 assisination of Lebanese Prime Minister [Rafik] Hariri, Syria came under intense scrutiny. However, Turkey stood behind Damascus. In a way, the Bashar al-Assad and the Ba’ath regime have accrued a multitude of debts to Turkey. Syria is the country in which Turkey has been the most politically invested over the past nine years. The two countries have signed many treaties and held numerous, joint cabinet meetings. Personal relations between their leaders have warmed.
When the Arab uprisings spread to Syria, the international community naturally expected Turkey to take the lead on this issue. Turkey also acted as if it was in charge and that nobody should worry. In the end, despite all of the warm personal relationships [between Syrian and Turkish officials] and all of its political investments in Syria, Ankara was unsuccessful in getting the Syrian regime to open up to the opposition’s demands. Turkish Foreign Minister [Ahmet] Davutoglu recently said, "If Assad could have been a Gorbachev, he would have succeeded. But he chose to be a Milosevic. It is now too late for him to transform, to become a Gorbachev. He has lost his credibility.”
This half accurate assertion also illustrates that Turkey didn’t possess the adequate power to persuade Assad into changing his ways. Turkey’s claims that it [could play a central role in] influencing this case were exaggerated. Ankara tried unsuccessfully for seven months to persuade Assad to heed the opposition’s demands and avoid [violent confrontation].
When our expectations that Assad and the Ba’ath regime would be open to Turkish counsel did not materialize, our government broke off relations with Assad and his regime. [More than simply withdrawing to our own side], we adopted libelous language and cut all contact [with Syria]. Turkey helped organize the Syrian opposition, and - more gravely - allowed the armed Syrian opposition to take refuge on our territory. The ineffective and disjointed efforts of the Syrian opposition - which could not even come up with a joint platform - further demonstrate the limits to Turkish power.
Today, Iran, which absolutely does not want to give up on the Syrian regime, and Russia, which believes in its right to have a say in regional developments, have much more of actual say in Syria’s future [than Turkey]. By playing its cards cunningly, Moscow has become essential to any possible solution.
The panorama before us as well as statements being uttered around the world indicates that Turkey is not a primary determinant of regional developments. It didn’t have to be that way.