Diplomacy Is Only Part of the Solution

October 16, 2017

In earlier posts, I have often referred to President Obama’s visit to Turkey in early April, 2009. This is what I said:

“The President arrived in Turkey after attending a G20 summit in London, a NATO summit in Strasbourg and an EU summit in Prague. In other words, this was his first bilateral visit abroad. The following paragraph from the speech he delivered before the Turkish Grand National Assembly reflected the purpose of the visit:

“This morning I had the great privilege of visiting the tomb of your extraordinary founder of your republic. And I was deeply impressed by this beautiful memorial to a man who did so much to shape the course of history. But it is also clear that the greatest monument to Atatürk’s life is not something that can be cast in stone and marble. His greatest legacy is Turkey’s strong, vibrant, secular democracy, and that is the work this assembly carries on today…

“The message: Turkey, with its secular democracy has set an example for the Islamic world. Turkey should continue this path, and others should follow.”

So, I was delighted to read the first two paragraphs of former US assistant secretary of state Philip Gordon’s article in the Financial Times on October 10, 2017, as confirmation of what I had written earlier. He said:

“At the start of the Obama administration, when I took over the Europe portfolio at the state department, one of the brightest spots on the foreign policy horizon was Turkey. Here was a majority Muslim country with a dynamic and popular leader that was reforming its growing economy, expanding press freedoms and easing the once-repressive military establishment out of politics.

“It was eagerly pursuing EU membership and co-operating closely with the US and EU on Afghanistan, Iraq and Middle East peace. So hopeful was Barack Obama that success in Turkey could help demonstrate that it was possible for a Middle Eastern country to be Muslim, democratic and pro-western that he insisted on adding stops in Istanbul and Ankara to his first foreign trip. He told the Turkish parliament that the US and Turkey could build a “model partnership.”

But then, Mr. Gordon came to the present: “Today, less than a decade later, that vision is a shambles — and the relationship is probably beyond repair”.

Indeed, many other observers have also drawn attention to the troubling state of relations between Ankara and Washington. Some in Turkey are now urging the ruling Justice and Development Party (JDP) government to prioritize diplomacy in resolving differences. This is sound advice. The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, like foreign offices elsewhere, has a wealth of experience and dedicated professionals. As a matter of fact, during its earlier years in power the JDP worked closely with the Ministry. It was never misled, never betrayed because the Ministry’s fundamental task has always been the promotion of Turkey’s national interests through reasonable and transparent policies regardless of who is in power.

So, prioritizing diplomacy will no doubt help reduce tensions not only with Washington but many other countries as well. However, this will not resolve the overarching question of chemistry with the West. The JDP government, therefore, needs to ask itself why relations with the West which were once so promising ended up being so problematic; what are causes of the current state of affairs; what were the mistakes committed and make a fair allocation of responsibilities between us and our Western partners. It also needs to reflect upon how its political trajectory might have contributed to the rise of far right in Europe. Unless the government undertakes such a cool-headed study, draws the necessary conclusions and acts with serenity, the downward spiral with the West will continue.

It was only a decade ago that despite lingering doubts and internal controversy the EU launched accession negotiations with the JDP government. Peoples of the region were following the process with envy. With a strong critic of the US invasion of Iraq elected President, Washington’s disappointment with Turkey’s refusal for full cooperation was becoming a thing of the past. It was less than a decade ago that the JDP government had become a facilitator between Syria and Israel. Our relations with neighbors were characterized by a determination to open new avenues of cooperation based on shared interests. And, underlying all of that was the promise of Turkish democracy.


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