Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan became Turkey’s first directly elected president Aug. 10, setting off speculation as to who he will anoint as his successor. Ahmet Davutoglu, the foreign minister, is seen as a top contender for the job when Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) meets to elect a new leader Aug. 27. The choice may seem odd, however. Davutoglu is blamed by many for ruining Turkey’s foreign affairs. His much vaunted “zero problems with neighbors” policy lies in tatters. For the first time in the republic's history, Turkey does not have an ambassador in Cairo or Tel Aviv. Relations with the United States have cooled over Erdogan’s tirades against Israel, his alleged support for jihadists in Syria and the brutality with which he suppressed mass anti-government protests last year. The Islamic State continues to hold 49 members of the Turkish consulate hostage in Mosul. Turkey’s soft power is fading fast.
Yet, when Davutoglu became foreign minister in January 2009 after serving as Erdogan’s chief foreign policy adviser for seven years, he was the darling of the international media. Charming and knowledgeable, he was courted by fellow diplomats who hung onto his every word. Davutoglu’s magnum opus — "Stratejik Derinlik" (“Strategic Depth”) published in 2001, before the AKP government came to power, and never translated into English — on his vision of a new regional order, in which borders would melt and Turkey would take center stage, was hailed as a work of genius. Until the conflict in Syria erupted, and Turkey began arming and training rebels to overthrow the country’s President Bashar al-Assad, Erdogan (with his brawn) and Davutoglu (with his brains) inspired millions in the Arab street and beyond.