Failed coup takes toll on Turkey’s foreign policy

Sunday 16/07/2017
Mutual calculations. Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan shake hands prior to their talks in Putin’s residence in Sochi, last May. (AP)

Istanbul - The consequences of the failed coup in Turkey in­creased Ankara’s interna­tional isolation, exposing shortcomings in the gov­ernment’s sometimes overambitious foreign policy, analysts said.
NATO member and EU hopeful Turkey had expected an outpour­ing of solidarity after the coup at­tempt one year ago aimed at ousting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and which Ankara blames on the US-based Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen.
Ties with Brussels, however, were bruised and Turkey’s long-running EU membership bid set back as the European Union reacted with alarm to the post-coup purge that has seen tens of thousands of people arrested.
US President Donald Trump’s administration has given no sign that Turkey has seen the end of the rancour that marked ties between Washington and Ankara under Presi­dent Barack Obama.
Add to this the fact that the diplo­matic crisis in the Gulf risks wreck­ing Turkey’s efforts to keep a tight strategic alliance with Qatar without upsetting Saudi Arabia.
“Turkey has been somewhat iso­lated diplomatically since the July 2016 failed coup, both because NATO partners were taken by sur­prise and because the subsequent purge went far beyond anything that could be expected,” said Marc Pierini, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe.
“The crisis between Saudi Arabia and its allies and Qatar only adds to the host of problems Turkey is fac­ing on the diplomatic front.”
Ankara’s precarious position is a far cry from what it enjoyed a dec­ade ago, when Erdogan was consid­ered an essential mediator in almost every crisis and was courted by both the European Union and the United States.
For former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey was a centre of the Islamic world and deserved in­fluence from Bosnia to Arabia in lands Istanbul controlled under the Ottoman Empire.
Turkey had high hopes that the “Arab spring” uprisings would bring into power Sunni Muslim govern­ments that would be under Turk­ish influence but the ousting of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi and failure to unseat Syria’s Bashar As­sad put paid to these goals.
“The picture today is a very differ­ent one,” said Kemal Kirisci of the Brookings Institution, a Washing­ton think-tank. “It is characterised by the ever-increasing disputes that Turkey is having with countries in its neighbourhood and beyond.”
Turkey has sought to join the Eu­ropean Union and its predecessor for the last half century, in an ago­nisingly slow process in which An­kara watched on enviously as post- Communist states joined the bloc with far less fuss.
Erdogan has sometimes made Brussels seem like a strategic enemy rather than partner, with attacks bubbling with venom in the run-up to an April 16 referendum on en­hancing his powers.
Victory in that referendum hand­ed Erdogan powers that critics fear will create one-man rule and take Ankara inexorably away from Euro­pean values.
“The bases for a deeper political alliance through EU membership remain as they have always been. It will be up to Turkey’s leaders, at some point in the future, to return to their earlier ambitions,” said Pierini, a former EU ambassador to Ankara.
Despite the controversies sur­rounding Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric, Turkish officials fell over themselves to welcome the busi­ness tycoon as US leader, predicting a new page in relations.
However, no progress materialised on the vexed issue of Turkey’s desire to secure the extradition of Gulen, who denies any link to the coup, or US support for a Kurdish militia in Syria that Ankara sees as terrorists.
A much-touted visit by Erdogan to Washington to iron out these is­sues was overshadowed by a fracas involving his bodyguards that led to arrest warrants for 12 members of his security detail.
“While Ankara was very optimis­tic about the Trump presidency, none of Turkey’s expectations from the new US administration were even partially fulfilled,” said Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, director of the An­kara office of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.
In this context, the Saudi-led move to isolate Qatar over its alleged support for terrorism — claims that both Doha and Ankara reject — was the last thing Turkey needed.
Turkey had to some extent re­paired ties with Saudi Arabia after a downturn in relations following Riyadh’s support for the ousting of the pro-Ankara Morsi in Egypt. Now it finds itself dealing with a new en­vironment in the Gulf, especially af­ter the surprise elevation of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz as next in line for the Sau­di throne.
Qatar has emerged as possibly Turkey’s number one ally, with An­kara even setting up a military base in the emirate and Erdogan build­ing a strong bond with Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani.
Kirisci said the crisis was “deeply disturbing for Turkey,” with Riyadh snubbing Ankara’s efforts at media­tion.
Turkey is increasingly banking on a close relationship with Russia and has made much of a multipolar foreign policy, vastly expanding its diplomatic presence in Africa. Mos­cow, however, could prove a rickety crutch on which to rest Turkey’s for­eign policy.
“Turkish foreign policy is under­going a severe test,” said a European diplomatic source. “Things are go­ing better with Russia but this is not a relationship that is founded on confidence.”
(Agence France-Presse)