Increasingly Isolated Turkey No Longer a Regional Model

Despite Turkey's achievements and status as a regional power, the former model for the region is finding itself isolated and ineffectual. A war with Syria is looming, relations with Iraq are strained and Iran regards Turkey as an enemy. Koray Caliskan writes that Turkey is becoming the lonely man of the Middle East.

al-monitor Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan addresses the audience during a ceremony at the Turkish Aerospace Industries in Ankara June 27, 2012. Photo by REUTERS/Umit Bektas.

Topics covered

turkish-syrian relations, pkk, assad

Jul 2, 2012

Let’s look at the general panorama of the region. In Syria, we are almost at war. In Iraq, we erroneously supported the Sunni candidate even though we knew that he was going to lose the elections. We rented and furnished a house for their vice president, who is on the run. We bomb, rebuild, bomb and rebuild Iraqi Kurdistan over and over again. Iran doesn’t listen to us except when it wants to use us as a messenger. They are skilled in diplomacy, and if Iran is attacked, they will hit Kurecik (a NATO radar installation in Turkey). They view us as an enemy. As for Armenia, you know all about that.

Let’s go to North Africa. Morocco is calm. They don’t know where we are. Tunisia is doing well and there is nothing we can teach them. Libya is disintegrating and on its way to becoming a cantonal state. Egypt is our competition, but it is unstable. “Mind your business,” they tell us. We can’t even go to Palestine after our disagreement with Israel, and Israel prefers to talk with Jordan regarding the Palestinian issue. Yemen is distant, ineffectual, poor and beautiful.

So who listens to us? Iran used to, when we claimed to be a regional, global or whatever power. We even tried to solve their uranium problem. Did they listen? No. We were Iraq’s big brother. Their president fought with their vice president, but they threatened us when we tried to mediate. What happened in Syria? Assad told us to watch our step and shot down our plane. We used to be a mediator in the Palestinian issue. We used to bring them relief supplies and made Palestine and Israel sit down to hold dialogue. Those were the days.

But we do do some things right. We are now friends and brothers with Saudi Arabia, but they don’t listen to us either. Instead, Saudi Arabia, a religious state created by the US, makes us listen. Who are they? The financier and supporter of Salafists and the Muslim Brotherhood, and a dictatorial regime that occupied Bahrain when the Arab Spring arrived there. How come nobody knows all of this? Saudi Arabia is the Syria of the Gulf, but even worse. It occupies neighbors and now it is thinking of annexing them. A global embarrassment, a political remnant of the Middle Ages that oppresses women, workers and children.

So what happened to Turkey, the model country of the Middle East? Some Turkish newspapers are full of endless bragging of what we have achieved. But you don’t see any of that in Al-Hayat, As-Safir or Al-Ahram.

Read their columns. If you only knew what they say about us. Never mind taking Turkey as a model, they are making fun of us. They say Turkey is a country that tries to build democracy in another country before solving its own Kurdish problem, with illusions of Ottomanism and suffering from bouts of grandeur. Turkey is considered an ineffectual and conceited country that is arguing with all of its neighbors. They say we lost a plane and learned our limits. Turkey couldn’t do anything regarding the Mavi Marmara flotilla affair, and it can’t do anything now either, they say. After all, Turks couldn’t even get a simple “excuse me” from Israel.

Turkey has greatly changed in the last ten years. The military withdrew further into their barracks, but the police and prosecutors are running loose. We arrested a 75-year-old grandmother who doesn’t even speak Turkish on charges of organizing terror.

How was it before? True, it wasn’t all roses then either. For example, remember the 1998 PKK crisis in Syria. Turkey could have been right or wrong, but it had power and used it.

Hosni Mubarak rushed to Ankara then and barely saved Assad. Turkey told Syria: “Either you solve this problem or I am coming to do it for you.” Whatever we wanted, we got it. This is capacity and power. And now?

How did we lose this capacity? Why do we have no friends other than the US and Saudi Arabia, despite all of these pompous claims of power? Why can’t we manage to have a policy of soft power? Why were our people killed in the Mavi Marmara affair and the Syrian crisis when it comes to hard power?

It would be wrong to say that we are the sole source of these problems. It is not always easy to take the right steps in this ever-changing world, but the wrong steps should be equally difficult to take as well. In the Mavi Marmara affair, we were right but ended up as the injured party. We knew where it was all going in Syria. We shouldn’t have violated their airspace, should not have become the headquarters of the opposition and the engine for regime change. We were in the right but again, we ended up as the injured party.

Instead of using shuttle diplomacy to engage the international community, we opted for a foreign policy that made our neighbors turn against us. Now we want to change the rules of engagement. In these days, we can’t even run our National University Administration; we fight with our neighbors for every conceivable reason and appointed a non-diplomat as the ambassador to Poland.

There are those who say we should turn off the electricity that we sell to Syria. How can you not giggle at this suggestion? With whose natural gas are we producing this electricity? Just as we were beginning to believe that we are no longer the sick man of Europe, we are becoming the lonely man of the Middle East. Isn’t it time to take a deep breath and start rethinking some issues?

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