Last week, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu wrote for The Guardian of London about his approach to foreign policy.
The context, Davutoglu explained, was a “natural” history, “flowing” from “abnormalities” --- such as the division of peoples of the region by colonialism and Cold War --- to democracies spreading in the Middle East. In the course of time, he says, an ordinary Turk or Arab can change the history but you are bound to lose if you resist the “momentum of the history” which is giving the “dignity” of this region back.
For a second, you might think of Karl Marx rising from his grave, but Davutoglu moves quickly to his agenda:
*An emergency plan --- save people, normalize life and restore the political system.
*For restoration, “self-confidence” is needed to say that “this region is ours, and we will be the rebuilders of it".
*“Give back dignity to people”, reconstruct political systems on the basis of democracy, transparency and accountability, and treat security and freedom together.
Don't miss Davutoglu's key word. It is ”us”, as “the rebuilders”, who have been “divided” by “abnormalities”. “Us”, the people of the region, should be under no direct intervention imposed by the West, even though “Us” have been rebuilding our political systems in line with the Western values of democracy and economic liberalisation.
And it is Ankara, with its “zero problem with neighbours” policy and diplomatic agenda, that takes a big step to advance its credibility by speaking for "us".
Ankara's romantic voice has been pragmatic as well. When Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak was the target, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ministers were urging him publicly to step down. When it was Libya's Muammar Qaddafi killing his people, the reaction was no different. Backed by the UN resolution and the Arab League, Ankara was ready to give support to NATO.
However, Turkey's role --- given the possibility of civilian deaths from coalition airstrikes and memories of Iraq and Afghanistan --- had to be distinct. So Davutoglu limited Turkey’s role in NATO by merely giving support for arms embargo and humanitarian support with five ships and one submarine. Ankara also took on the role of “protecting power” in Libya, with Turkey’s embassy in Tripoli acting as a consulate for American, British, Australian, and Italian citizens in the country.
And Turkey has challenged partners to shift approach. Responding to French Interior Minister Claude Gueant’s declaration of a “crusade”, Davutoglu said that this was no way to legimitize an operation with such discourses and urged every effort to put operations under one umbrella rather than pursuing unilateral initiatives.
At the same time, Ankara has to balance its Libyan approach with its strategic relations with Syria and Iran. While Tehran has been able to deal with the Green Movement, Syria now faces internal turmoil, with more than 100 people killed in a week.
This could be the red line for Davutoglu's "momentum of history". If the Assad regime is lost, Ankara will suffer not just because of the effects its regional policy but also the gap that may be filled by the insurgent PKK in southern Turkey.
And the ripples are being felt inside the country. On Wednesday, Selahattin Demirtas, co-chair of the opposition Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) called for civil disobedience: “The government will not solve this problem. We want intervention in the process through civil politics, the democratic power of the people, and civil-disobedience actions. We will continue until solid steps are taken on the groups’ four main demands. These demands are education in mother tongue, the release of political prisoners, an end to military and political operations [against Kurds] and the elimination of the 10 percent [election] threshold.”
In response, police raided the outlet of the BDP, “Democratic Solution and Peace”, in Batman, attacking with water cannons and taking 50 persons into custody.
Erdogan's AKP needs to take quick decisions, given the approach of elections . The risk of another bloody confrontation with PKK is not far away as long as the isolation of the Kurdish people continues to be isolated. Ankara, with no concrete solution to its issues with minorities, will struggle with the credibility it seeks as a regional power.
That is the hard-hearted and hard-headed response to Ahmet Davutoglu's "romantic realism".