6 Mart 2009
Busy touring Turkey for local elections, I wonder whether Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who claims to be the "voice of the quiet masses," is aware of the fact that he is scheduled to leave for London in couple of weeks. A newspaper has recently run a photograph showing him looking at the ceiling during the G-20 summit last November, together with a comment complaining of his indifference to the economic crisis and a note that he went to the Washington summit unprepared.
Maybe one should not be so unfair to the prime minister. Apparently most of the participants went to the summit unprepared as the first meeting after the first wave of global economic meltdown, gathering the leaders of the world’s most developed 20 countries has ended without concrete results.
In order to avoid the same outcome the British Government has been pushing the participating countries to come prepared this time.
As far as Turkey is concerned, it looks like the British are concerned that, preoccupied with the local elections, the Turkish government might not grasp the importance of the summit. Turkish Treasury officials have been actively participating in the working groups that have been formed following the Washington summit. But at the end of the day the governments are decisive on the outcomes.
4 Mart 2009
Turkish government tries to explain its policy on al-Bashir in terms of real politics. First of all there is a belief that what lies behind the prosecution of al-Bashir is partly some of the western countries desire to see Sudan dismantled so that they can better exploit the riches of that country. For those who are not familiar with the issue let’s remind at this stage that the Christian south is rich with oil whereas the north, where the central government is located, is predominantly Muslim. The Turkish government is for the territorial unity of Sudan. It looks like the government is of the view that the presence of al-Bashir is indispensable to keep Sudan’s territorial integrity. Once he is gone, the Turkish side believes that Sudan will slide into civil war and the dismemberment will be inevitable. The Turkish side also reminds of the reaction of the 53-nation African Union, which said earlier this month it would lobby for a one year suspension of the case, which it argued could threaten the peace process in Sudan. The Turkish side claims that even the south does not want to see al-Bashir gone. The atrocities in Darfur have been raised with al-Bashir’s government, according to Turkish officials. But they are not a reason to suspend relations with al-Bashir. Actually there is a need for influential actors and if one wants to remain an influential actor, then it’s better to maintain good relations.
According to the critics of this policy, it is wrong to "invest" in al-Bashir. Although AKP opponents also share the view that some Western countries would like to see Sudan divided, they do not share the argument that al-Bashir is indispensable to keeping the territorial unity of the country. "al-Bashir keeps the country by killing, terrorizing people and spreading fear. It is inevitable that he will be toppled from the government at one stage," says one critic familiar with Turkish policy in Africa. According to critics, there are two driving forces behind the AKP’s policies: business deals of some businessmen close to the AKP and religious affinity. Meanwhile AKP opponents are also pointing to the fact that while Abdullah Gül followed a more cautious policy on Sudan while he was foreign minister, it has been Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s position that has been decisive on the policies for Sudan. The requests from al-Bashir to send envoys to Turkey were turned down while Gül was foreign minister. The sale of small arms and ammunition was suspended during the same period, despite objections from some AKP parliamentarians. The ruling of the ICC might be decisive on Turkey’s future policy on Sudan. Although Turkey is not a signatory to the ICC’s founding Rome Statute, it will be extremely difficult to defend having a working relationship with al-Bashir, if the Court in The Hague, issues an arrest warrant.
27 Şubat 2009
It seems however that the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, under criticism for cronyism, is set to gets its grips on the last stronghold of the bureaucracy, which has so far remained more or less immune to politics.
I had previously mentioned the fact that top positions in some departments in the ministry, like the Caucasus, have been left unfilled for at least more than a year. Foreign Minister Ali Babacan had not offered any explanation for holding the appointments for such a long time but most believed that instead of relying on the ministry’s internal merit system, he was rather in search of "names he could trust," diplomats who he can say is, "one of us."
I raised the issue with Minister Babacan during the luncheon held Wednesday by the Foreign Economic Relations Council. This is the answer I got: "I am coming from the business world. Businessmen would understand this. The important thing is to do business, to have results. It is only natural for any government to work with a team it can trust, a team that works. Sometimes a person does the work of 10 people. Sometimes 10 people cannot do the job of one person."
Referring to the fact that I gave the example of the Caucasus department where two top posts have been waiting to be filled for more than a year, Babacan added, "The success of our policies on the Caucasus issue is appreciated by everybody. This is teamwork."
Now, one could see this answer from a positive angle and congratulate the handful of diplomats in the Caucasus department for their miraculous work worth the performance of a bigger team.
But there is the other side of the coin. While the minister praises a handful of diplomats for their outstanding work, he in a way, insults the rest of the ministry by confessing that he could not find two diplomats that could fill the top two positions in a political department. Where will he find those "talented," or should I say "pious" enough personalities to fill these positions? From outside of the ministry?
By openly saying that he is looking for people he can trust and that if he cannot find them, he will leave these positions vacant, Babacan confesses, without having any feeling of shame, to cronyism. He might as well let us know what his criteria for "trust" are.
There have been rumors in the capital that some diplomats have gotten in to the habit of refraining from taking alcohol under the presence of politicians from the AKP. The number of those going to Friday prayer from among diplomats has even increased some say.
We will see in the future what kind of a contribution the pious or those who pretend to be pious diplomats will bring to Turkish foreign policy.
As to the present foreign policy situation, Babacan’s answers to questions on current issues carried two important clues. The first was on the question of U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq. Although the Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson denied any request from Washington to use Turkish territory for the troop withdrawal, Babacan made it clear that the government is willing to offer its assistance. It is unimaginable for the United States to not raise the issue with Ankara. There are unofficial talks, a source close to the ministry told me. Apparently, Washington refrains from raising the issue officially with fear that it can share the same faith with the Bush administration when the latter asked to open a front from Turkey. Concerned that Turkey can come up with a list of requests or a bill with lots of zeros, Obama administration is said to have kept the discussions low profile.
Another clue given by Babacan is the fact that Ankara is waiting for the French and the Americans to knock on its door for the return of France to NATO’s military structure. Although it remains an open secret that France will get two top military positions within the Alliance, in return for its come back, he said that the modalities of the French decision to rejoin NATO’s military wing is not yet clear. "There will be a give and take between France and NATO. And we are ready for the talks," he said.
Personally my reading of his message is that although the government might not go as far as creating obstacles to the modalities when it will be officially raised within NATO, it is nevertheless expecting some kind of negotiation to take place between Ankara, Paris and Washington.
10 Şubat 2009
Why is Sarkozy being so discreet? Could it be because France’s return to the military wing is a deal struck behind the scenes between Paris and Washington under the benevolent consent of both London and Berlin?
It seems that United States and France has struck a deal whereby Washington agreed that two top NATO posts will be given to French generals. None of the members of the Alliance seem to object to that deal. Except Turkey.
France would like to rejoin the military structures of NATO by a simple statement. "France withdrew from the Alliance’s military wing by a simple statement. So all it takes to return is a simple statement," say the French. "It is not that simple," say the Turks. Legally, Turkey’s objection seems a bit questionable. According to a Reuters story, Alliance officials say any decision to rejoin the structures is a decision "for France rather than one requiring a consensus vote by the 26 NATO members." "Nothing prevents a French official to come and sit at a meeting of the military officials," a diplomat familiar with NATO structures told me. But top NATO posts are certainly not distributed by the U.S. and it certainly requires the consent of Alliance members."This is not a legal issue. This is a political issue," said a Turkish official. Apparently, the Turkish government feels a bit na?ve sitting peacefully at a NATO table and being acquiescent to French re-entry, while the latter is so openly obstructing Turkish entry to the European Union.
Basically, the Turks want a gesture from the French. The expectation is for the French to have a more favorable attitude on opening new chapters at accession talks. Ankara also expects a better understanding of Turkish positions on the contentious issues of European Security and Defense Policy. The fact that Turkey is perceived by the EU countries as obstructing cooperation between the EU and NATO, irks Ankara which believes that the problem actually stems from the fact that the EU has not remained loyal to previously agreed arrangements.
Apparently, the French has not taken up this issue with Turkey on bilateral basis. They have asked for intervention from the Americans. And now the Turks are expecting Washington to mediate. The Turkish bureaucracy is hoping that Washington would rather try to convince the French for some kind of a gesture instead of bluntly telling the Turkish side not to raise a dissenting voice.
The issue will first of all prove to be a test case for the ability of the new US administration to mediate. We will see to what degree the Obama administration would be willing to spend efforts to make a case for the Turks. Because let’s face it; if Washington is not sympathetic to the Turkish case, it will be highly difficult for Turkey to stand up and openly obstruct French re-entry. At least the Turkish administration seems to be unfavorable to a brinkmanship approach.
The issue will also prove to be a test case for the AKP government’s or Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s style of diplomacy. Will the Prime Minister continue his Kasımpaşa style and call for "eye for an eye" approach or will he endorse a more sophisticated course of action. We’ll stay tuned.
6 Şubat 2009
"Relaxed like a Turk," is written under a not very relaxed looking Turkish diplomat. In other words the profile of a Turkish diplomat is depicted as one that does not feel as "one of us," who is always suspicious something is cooking behind his back.
"Mon cher," is the general word used with a negative connotation to depict a Turkish diplomat. As Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has implied, the general image of a Turkish diplomat at home is one that is doing nothing but hopping from one cocktail to the other with a whisky glass in his hands. The perception of Turkish diplomats abroad is however, totally different than the one at home.
Especially on multilateral platforms where consensus is the key word, Turkish diplomats are known to be very intransigent and inflexible. Probably, the use of the expression "red lines," (meaning being close to discussion from a certain point) in diplomacy is a Turkish innovation.
I have known many diplomats that have contributed to that perception. For this reason, I was particularly happy to see Erdoğan defy the strong "no solution in Cyprus" lobby in the foreign ministry bureaucracy. Erdoğan’s whole strategy was based on breaking the image of "Turkish intransigence in Cyprus." He gave the message to the world that Turkey would do much more than the Greek side to find a solution to the problem.
Nowadays Erdoğan has been suggesting for Turkish diplomats to behave more aggressively. He seems to propagate a confrontational attitude to a one that is consensus seeking. And he does so at a time when as the non permanent member of the Security Council, Turkish diplomacy should be excelling on consensus building.
This obviously is not the only contradiction in prime minister’s recent behavior. He has been arguing for dialogue with Hamas. "Until Hamas renounces terrorism we won’t talk to Hamas," says the international community. "How can you exclude Hamas, which came to power through elections?" asks Erdoğan. This is the same person who said he won’t talk to Democratic Society Party, or DTP, until it stops supporting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party. Do we need to remind him that the DTP entered the parliament through elections?
It is not for the first time that Israel has heard from Turkish officials the need to talk to Hamas, the need to lift the embargo on Gaza strip. But obviously a diplomatic rhetoric was used while conveying these messages. Prime Minister has apparently decided that diplomatic rhetoric is not effective enough. But as of today, his aggressive behavior has not led to a change in Israel’s views on Hamas. To the contrary, we might even have reached the point where Israel might review its relations with Turkey.
Shimon Perez has personally used his credit many times on behalf of Turkey. He personally worked for Turkey and I am among those convinced that he is a statesman that genuinely believes in the importance of Turkey. He absolutely did not deserve being told that "he knows very well how to kill people."
There is no doubt that Turkish-Israeli relations will suffer from the Davos episode in the short- and mid-term. I am, however, among those who believe that the two countries will overcome this crisis. Obviously the strategic interdependence is the key reason why the two countries will not let relations go down the slope. But most probably the Israeli administration also questions to what degree Prime Minister’s recent rhetoric will prevail over the whole foreign policy of Turkey in the mid- to long-term. In fact this is the question the international community started to ask more frequently. Foreign observers are waiting for the aftermath of the local elections to find the answer.
23 Ocak 2009
While Arabs cheer Erdoğan’s rhetoric, Turkey’s efforts to stop the war in Gaza have not gone unnoticed in the West. Ahmet Davutoğlu, Erdoğan’s adviser’s close contacts with the main Arab players in the region seems to have even impressed the French. Apparently, the French officials, who were active in peace efforts, are appreciative of Turkish contribution to the declaration of dual cease-fire.
Turkey is actually set for mission impossible in its Middle Eastern policies. On the one hand it is trying to reconcile Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, or PA. On the other hand it is trying to unite the Arab world divided between those who wishes Hamas to be accepted as a reality and those who oppose Hamas.
Not only those in the Arab world but even those in the Western world realize the need to accept Hamas as a player; that the corrupted regime of the Palestinian authority has lost even the support of those living in West Bank. They accept the fact that Israel’s disproportionate action will not serve peace. But only Erdoğan talks about all this openly. While every other country pursues a policy based on more fine-tuning, Erdoğan carries his heart on his sleeve. "I am emotional. My emotionalism is for the ones in Gaza," said Erdoğan. But; leaders have no luxury of being emotional while conducting their policies.
The prime minister said Israel kept Hamas officials for the "well-being" of Mahmoud Abbas. "We did not hold elections for the well-being of Mr. Abbas. Elections were held for democracy, Mr. Abbas has to live with the consequences of the elections," he said. This, to my knowledge is the first time a Turkish official openly criticizes the PA. I am certain that the PA must have been warned many times by the Turkish officials about their mistakesÉbehind the scenes. What is the right method? To warn behind the scenes or to criticize in front of the world? Which one is result oriented? Trying to pull Hamas to a more moderate line with efforts behind the scenes or to publicly endorse Hamas to the point of being seen in the world as Hamas’ supporter?
Also, another relevant question is obviously whether Erdoğan is pursuing a result oriented policy or whether he is after electoral gains.
Erdoğan gave the latest example of his highly questionable rhetoric in Brussels. He linked the opening of entry talks on energy chapter with the Nabucco natural gas pipeline project. "If we are faced with a situation where the energy chapter is blocked, we would, of course, review our position," he said.
Although Erdoğan had to readjust his rhetoric, Turkey could not avoid being accused as black mailing the European Union. The Turkish diplomats have been "quietly and politely," telling the EU that while the 27 nation bloc is getting ready to enter a highly encompassing cooperation with Turkey on Nabucco, it is a contradiction that the bloc is letting a small country (Greek Cyprus) hijack talks on the energy chapter. And that it should be EU’s job to deal with this contradiction and that the opening of entry talks will certainly help the outcome of talks on the Nabucco project. What is being said diplomatically might be seen as amounting to what Erdoğan said openly. Actually it is not. But even if the two messages meant the same thing, with Erdoğan’s rhetoric, you can be sure of being accused of abusing your position and not certain to get the result you want. But of course being result oriented is one thing playing to the crowds is another.
16 Ocak 2009
The answer could be either pessimistic or optimistic depending on the way you look at the subject. If one has to take the performance of Ali Babacan, who tried to carry both the hats of foreign minister and chief negotiator, as a reference point, then there is reason to be optimistic. Let aside personalities and personal performances, the government was told time and again that it was a huge mistake to put both responsibilities on the shoulders of one person. In this respect an important mistake has been corrected although belatedly. Well, better late than never.
No doubt Bağış will give his all to this "very visible" job to use the opportunity to the widest extent to advance his political career. But can he get a result. If one looks to the issue from this aspect, then there is reason to be pessimistic. Bağış took over the job at a time when the Turkish Ğ EU relations plunged to their lowest point.
Global economic meltdown has now been added to the institutional crisis within the EU, which certainly will make it even more difficult to push the case for Turkish membership. Elections for the European Parliament in June to be followed by elections in Germany in autumn will not provide the best opportunities to advance Turkey’s case either. To the contrary, anti Turkish slogans will be part of some circle’s electoral campaigns.
It will not be possible to start negotiations in new chapters this year. Ankara has so far opened talks in 10 of the 35 policy areas. Talks on a dozen policy areas are frozen due the trade row with the Greek Cypriot administration and French veto. Starting talks on the remaining chapters will prove difficult due to not political but this time technical difficulties related to Turkey’s preparedness.
The second half of 2009 is the official deadline to solve the trade row with Greek Cypriots. The EU will review the accession process if Turkey does not change its decision to keep its ports closed to Greek Cypriot use under a custom union pact with the EU.
For now, no one expects the leaders of the two communities on the island to reach a solution by the second half of the year. Similarly no one expects the Turkish government to make a unilateral move and open its ports to Greek shipping in the absence of a solution.
In this case Turkey does not have the luxury of saying, "I will deliver neither on the reforms nor on the Cyprus issue." It is a known fact that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is categorically opposed to making any unilateral move on the Cyprus issue. This leaves behind the reforms.
In this respect Bağış can play an important role. But his job will be quite difficult. It is known that Prime Minister Erdoğan is against a speedy reform process. He is so frustrated by the negative attitude of some European capitals to Turkish bid for membership that, he does not want any pressure exerted on state institutions for the adoption of the acquis communautaire, the EU’s body of law. He has objected to the time table set in the national program prepared by the EU National Secretariat.
This is the critical point where Bağış, a close advisor to the prime minister can make a difference. Babacan, who is known to be closer to President Abdullah Gül than Erdoğan had neither the time, energy nor the willingness to convince the prime minister. And even if he had the willingness, he lacked the necessary influence over the prime minister. Egemen, who has a better access to the prime minister, can do a better job to convince him on the necessity of reviving the reform process. No one is expecting Bağış to take the EU car to full speed when he gets on the wheel. At this stage, we will be content if he keeps the car in second gear and avoids slipping into neutral..
10 Ocak 2009
Then I came across a Turkish friend. "Isn’t it weird," he told me, "Erdoğan talks about mediation. How can you mediate between two sides, while you are praising one side and slamming the other side? Even I who has no notion of diplomacy find this absurd."
The Justice and Development Party’s government is the best suited for a mediation effort between Israel and the Arabs. The AKP enjoys unprecedented respect from the Arab world. Although the AKP is less fond of Israel, it has been pragmatic enough to understand the strategic importance of Israel. The indirect talks initiated by Turkey between Israel and Syria demonstrate its diplomatic agility.
There has been serious progress in the talks and the Turkish side is frustrated that Israel’s operation has ruined the process.
The fact that Israel’s operation came just days after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert posed with Erdoğan arm in arm in Ankara has made Erdoğan furious. No one would have expected Israel to warn Turkey in advance of the operation. But it was his wish to come for a farewell visit to Turkey and at best, he could have canceled it. It was a big mistake on the part of Israel to go ahead with the visit. Had Erdoğan reacted differently, it would have damaged Turkey’s image in the Arab world.
Israel must also understand that it can not find a single soul in Turkey that can find the bloodbath in Gaza justifiable. Comparisons with the Kurdish issue is becoming irrelevant. Turkey can’t lecture us while it is bombing n. Iraq, say some Israeli circles. If some Israelis want to draw comparisons, then they should rather realize that Turkey has finally understood that terrorism can not be solved with military measures alone. While it is fighting the PKK, it is also trying to reconcile with its Kurdish people in order to stop PKK recruiting militants from the local population. While the Turkish jets were bombing targets in n. Iraq, the government started Kurdish broadcasting in state TV. Israel’s policy has done nothing but strengthen Hamas’s hand.
Hamas on the other hand obviously does not merit having such an open political support from Turkey. Just ask anybody in the world a list of countries that support or recognize the legitimacy of Hamas. Turkey will rank in the first five countries, after Iran and Syria. This obviously is casting doubt on Turkey’s long lasting alliance with the West as it is perceived to be breaking with Western policy. Obviously Turkey dose not need to follow Western policy line from A to Z. It might believe excluding Hamas is not the right policy. But rather than trying to give legitimacy to Hamas openly Turkey could make its point to its allies behind closed doors. Turkey should not forget that it is part of the Western alliance and that it needs the Jewish lobby in its relations with the West. When comes April, I can imagine the government instructing its Ambassador to Israel to mobilize the Israeli government to stop the Armenian initiatives in the U.S. Congress. I can hear some Israelis telling Turkish Ambassador to go talk to Hamas to lobby the Congress.
Erdoğan’s harsh statements against Israel, have certainly not gone unnoticed in Israel. The government in Israel has preferred to keep quiet. Not that Erdoğan’s words have not created resentment. Israel preferred to remain calm because a collision course and a public war of words with would have made the anti Ğ Israeli lobby happy. But I am sure Israeli government as well as the Jewish lobby in America will not forget these statements.
Erdoğan can remain assured that his sentiments are supported by millions in Turkey and in fact all over the world. But as the leader of a country he does not have the luxury of being the conscience of the street and speak emotionally. He has to weigh his words and never forget that it might have repercussions in the future. Alienating Israel does not make this country change its policies. Similarly giving open support to Hamas does not help the situation either.
Erdoğan needs to not just think strategically but also speak strategically.