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Turkey

Turkey's Foreign Policy, And A Crisis Of Identity

Influential abroad? A pro-Erdogan rally in Gaza in March
Influential abroad? A pro-Erdogan rally in Gaza in March
Suat Kiniklioglu

ANKARA — Turkish foreign policy is having a serious identity crisis.

The Turkey that had largely achieved an equilibrium in its relations with the West and the East, a shining star in the international arena between 2003 and 2010, unfortunately no longer exists. The high morale and sense of moral superiority of being a country with a developing democracy and growing economy is nowhere to be found.

Let us not be too gentle with ourselves. Today, we are a country with weaker ties to the West, conflicts with neighbors, limited vision due to a religious sectarian mentality and the inability to effectively react to developments. Even ordinary citizens are aware that there is a great difference between the country's current capacity and its past ambitions of exerting influential foreign policy.

From Syria to Egypt, Iraq to Gaza, the contrast between what we say and what happens on the field is striking. Even the traditional consumers of domestic policy rhetorics such as “Erdogan: a world leader” or “Turkey: a global power” are unhappy. Because they also know that we have said that “our patience should not be tested” several times and now we no longer possess neither deterrence nor plausibility.

Turkish citizens also see the destructiveness of the emerging terrorist organization called ISIS, which has taken our diplomats, their families and special forces members hostage in Mosul — just 100 kilometers away from our border. They also see that although we have set ourselves on a path for “zero problems with neighbors,” we are now without ambassadors in some of the most important capitals of the Middle East.

In addition to these foreign factors, there are also the reverberations at home. Even as the Foreign Ministry's stature diminishes, there is a new vanity that considers everything before the AKP era as “elitist” — while we should see it as only natural to benefit from previous experience.

Our diplomats are restless and suffering low morale. There is a with-us-or-against-us division at the Foreign Ministry, as whispered rumors in Ankara talk about how “trustworthy parties” keep parallel reports at some embassies and work as snitches for the government against the ambassadors.

There are many other examples, and Turkey finds itself with a foreign policy that is completely stuck. Rather than trying to explain this situation by listing a series of recent events, we should acknowledge that the problem has deeper roots.

We live in a country where the government defines our national interests not within the frame of a nation, but within the paradigm of Ummah, the community of Muslims. The problem is that the government follows the idea of a Sunni Ummah ideal with a neo-Ottoman twist, instead of securing the nation's interests and priorities. They imagine Turkey will be the head of this imaginary Ummah.

Of course, this policy has virtually nothing to do with what is happening on the ground, and persisting on this path may cause us serious damage.

Today, the real issue that should be driving our foreign policy is the domestic conflict on identity, and how that connects with other countries. The issue is using foreign policy as a tool for the fight at home, which is hurting Turkey's credibility, its traditional alliances and reputation. Turkey's national interests are being hurt and the country's effectiveness degraded.

This situation limits our means for helping others in need, like those in Gaza.

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