Focus on foreign affairs is needed

10 Nisan 2014

Bu yazı 10.04.2014 tarihinde Hurriyet Daily News Gazetesi'nde yayımlanmıştır.

The foreign policy of any country naturally flows from its domestic political system. It is true for any country that politicians will foremost focus on domestic political developments and economic problems and that international issues come after. Finally, in every country, elections usher in a period of exclusive focus on domestic issues. Very rarely do international politics become an issue during elections.

Turkey has just finished particularly acrimonious local elections and is preparing for equally difficult general elections, coupled with presidential elections along the way. Taken together, they will determine the future of the political system and the governing elite of the country for at least the next decade. As a result, Turkey will continue to focus mostly on domestic issues at a time when international developments and turbulence around the country are demanding urgent attention.

Beyond all the perils around the country, ranging from a civil war to an annexation of a territory, Turkey’s relations with the United States are going through a rocky period. The government’s responses to various internal developments, starting with the Gezi Park protests last summer and ending in recent corruption allegations, as well as restrictions on social media, have damaged Turkey’s standing in Washington.

Added to these are the still very fragile state of Turkish-Israeli relations even after the personal intervention of the U.S. president to get an apology from Israel’s prime minister, tension over diverging policies on Syria, Turkey’s decision to choose a Chinese company to build its long-range missile defense system and open criticism of the various policies of the Turkish government by the U.S. administration. Most recently, it likened Turkey’s blocking of Twitter to “21st century book burning.”

A similar disenchantment can be observed in Turkey’s relations with the EU. The union has criticized Turkey several times since last summer, and the tone of these criticisms is increasing. A meeting of the Turkey-EU Association Committee has been postponed, and Turkey’s EU minister just announced that Turkey was not expecting the opening of a new chapter in negotiations until at least the Italian presidency, which starts in July 2014.

On top of everything, a number of anti-Turkey resolutions have been drafted and presented to the U.S. Congress. In addition to the yearly “Armenian genocide” draft, which was presented to the Senate on April 3, several resolutions were introduced to both sides of Congress over the last 15 days, condemning Turkey for restricting free expression and Internet freedom on social media. Also, various groups of Congressmen came together at different times to publicly condemn Turkey’s alleged involvement with radical groups in Syria, restrictions on the Internet and media freedoms and expressions of “anti-American feelings.” The list is growing and increasingly resembles the ganging up of Congressmen against Turkey just before the arms embargo of 1975.

All these are happening at a time when Turkey is changing its envoy to Washington. The newly appointed ambassador, Serdar Kılıç, has not yet arrived, whereas former Ambassador Namık Tan has already left. Thus Turkey is facing an important diplomatic challenge with a chargé d’affaires in Washington. Besides, there seems to be no scheduled high-level meetings soon between the representatives of Turkey and the U.S. to tackle the issues at hand. In the absence of such connection, statements from Congressmen, Turkish parliamentarians and the interviews given to each other’s press by high-ranging diplomats can and are only serving to further complicate the relationship.

Turkey urgently needs to refocus its attention on its international relations, especially on its delicate connection with the U.S. The stars are aligning ominously.