While Erdogan rises to the presidency, his ally and foreign minister Davutoglu is set to be the new Turkish prime minister. His intellectual gifts are matched only by his political failures.
ISTANBUL — The name Ahmet Davutoglu, now set to become Turkey's next prime minister, first came to my attention many years ago in an intellectual Islamic magazine. He wrote long and insightful articles, thinking outside the box on international politics with a completely different perspective.
One day, I asked a friend of mine who worked at the magazine: “Who is this Ahmet Davutoglu?” My friend described him as extremely well prepared, with top academic credentials and foreign language skills. "He is someone who has proven himself to both the East and the West.”
I also wound up reading Davutoglu's sharp critiques on Samuel Huntington's famous “Clash of Civilizations” thesis. My friends and I loved the pieces: “This is how you answer the West,” we would tell each other.
Then I met Davutoglu; we had conversations. He would speak about even the smallest matter in detail. “There are five reasons,” he would say, and then break the five points into 15, or even more. It was sometimes hard to follow what he was saying — and impossible not to be impressed.
Davutoglu, of course, went on to become a key member of the Justice and Development party (AKP) party, ultimately serving as Turkish Foreign Ministry since 2009. His political rise was a development that brought hope. Even if he could put into practice just 10% of his bright theories, it would be more than enough.
And he had a good start:
• He embraced the lands Turkey had turned its back on.
• He looked to make friends with all of our closest neighbors.
• He even turned Syria, a longtime antagonist, into a close friend, and the route across the border from Gaziantep-to-Aleppo filled with travelers.
• Fewer countries demanded an entry visa from Turkish citizens.
• “We are from Turkey” was a very cool thing to say in Beirut.
In short, his theories on a new Turkish role in the world were becoming a reality — and it was good. Then, we woke up from this sweet dream and the nightmare began.
• The neighbors became hostiles, one by one.
• Turkey and Syria arrived at the brink of war.
• Relations were tense with Iran and Iraq.
• Turkey became the only country to both have problems with Israel and demonize Hezbollah.
• All attempts made regarding Egypt were a fiasco.
• There were even problems with the Arabs of the Gulf.
• The West was left watching it all unfold with sudden surprise.
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Davutoglu with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif — Photo: VOA
Why did this happen? How did Davutoglu fail after seeming to be on the verge of such great success? Now, it is my turn to prepare the answer in five points, which Davutoglu may divide into 15 if he so chooses.
1. Davutoglu did not, could not or did not want to recognize that there were other outside global forces that had cleared an area in the Middle East for the AKP government to enter, and his earlier successes were largely because of this.
2. Instead of practicing politics that were in line with the relative power of Turkey, he practiced politics that would require far more than the power Turkey actually possesses. Then, when he was challenged many times to put his money where his mouth is, he was left with no other answer than “No one should try to test our power.”
3. He could not understand that the Middle East does not stand still as it might seem in academic textbooks. He did not learn the lessons from the adventures of many mighty men who tried to conquer the Middle East, and ended in tragedy. He could not grasp the challenge that he was facing the most complicated and dangerous area in the world.
4. In the first term, he was following the hope of a “peaceful and prosperous Middle East,” and in the second term he cast Turkey as a power broker, saying “Not a single leaf stirs in the Middle East without our knowledge.”
5. While he was supposed to not repeat the mistakes of the traditional foreign politics of Turkey, he simply dismantled it. He could not benefit from the experienced corps of Turkish diplomats, and ultimately failed to understand that there are times in diplomacy when tradition is the most precious value.