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Commentary

'Turkey's Kissinger' Leads Foreign-Policy Balancing Act

Ahmet Davutoglu
Ahmet Davutoglu
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By Abbas Djavadi
During a recent televised discussion on foreign policy, six former Turkish foreign ministers recently gave Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu's performance eight out of a maximum of 10 points. The six included some harsh Social Democrat critics of the current Justice and Development (AK) party government.

Even before his promotion from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's special adviser to foreign minister in April, Davutoglu was regarded as the eminence grise behind Turkish foreign policy, and was occasionally even referred to as "Turkey's Kissinger." The Turks love to see their personalities, cities, and performances positively compared with the world's most famous, but Davutoglu doesn't like the comparison.

Still, the 51-year old professor of political science is considered the architect of the new active foreign policy that the AK party has been pursuing since coming to power in 2002: "zero problems" with the neighbors while continuing to maintain traditionally good relations with the West.

The West, Russia, and most members of the international community were pleased when Turkey and Armenia on October 10 signed accords, still to be ratified by the two countries' parliaments, to restore diplomatic ties and open borders after almost a century of enmity. The accords were widely attributed to Davutoglu's personal planning and implementation.

In 2008, he mediated similar indirect talks between Israel and Syria in an effort to take first steps towards a Middle East peace. The effort was met with skepticism by the Bush administration and produced no tangible results, for reasons beyond Ankara's control.

Meanwhile, Turkey's increasingly good relations with Russia and Iran have raised some eyebrows in the West. At the same time, Prime Minister Erdogan's occasionally outrageous criticism of the Israeli operation against Gaza last winter, as well as the exclusion of Israel from a NATO air drill in Turkish skies two weeks ago, have led conservatives in Washington and Europe to ask if Ankara is rethinking its traditionally good relations with Israel. Discussing a potential Israeli attack on Iran, U.S. analyst Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute recently affirmed boldly that "Turkey is now on Iran's side."

Rebalancing, Not Shifting

Since the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1923, Ankara has leaned increasingly towards the West while maintaining no more than functioning good relations with its neighbors. Davutoglu describes Turkey's new foreign policy initiative as a Turkish version of the German Ostpolitik of the 1960s. "Turkey is a natural part of the European continent and culture," he wrote in his book "Strategic Depth," published 10 years ago.

Echoing U.S. President Barack Obama, Davutoglu recently said that Ankara and Washington enjoy a "model partnership." With regard to Turkey's relations with her neighbors and regional policy, on the other hand, he said "zero-problem-based relations" must be transformed into "maximum mutual-interest-based ones."

Both Davutoglu and Erdogan have their roots in Turkey's traditional, conservative, and Islamic thinking. However, improving relations with neighboring states and playing an increasingly leading role in the region seems to be based on real political influence and economic and energy interests, rather than prestige and nostalgia for the old Ottoman Empire, as some suggest. Erdogan and Davutoglu have attracted billions of dollars in Arab investment into Turkey and plan to make the country a main oil and gas corridor between the East and Europe.

While Muslim and non-Muslim neighbors view Ankara's balancing act with both appreciation and suspicion, many in the West suspect that Turkish efforts to promote "mutual interests" between "rogue states" such as Iran and Syria and the West will ultimately end in Turkey's betrayal of Western values and commitments. Others, including the Turkish opposition, even suggest that the ruling AK is tacitly pursuing that goal.

But Davutoglu denies that the axis of Turkey's foreign policy is shifting. A region that is increasingly peaceful, with countries cooperating with one another, is good for the West and the world, he said recently. "This is an exceptional and unique role Turkey could play."

Abbas Djavadi is associate director of broadcasting at RFE/RL. The views expressed in this commentary are his own, and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL
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by: Orhan Ertugruloglu from: the Netherlands
October 30, 2009 16:35
I don't know what plan Minister for foreign affairs Mr. Davutoglu have in mind. But I know that Turkey up till now derived its influence from his closeness to the Islamic world and his dialogue with Israel.
A Turkey that ruined her relations with Israel might get a pat on the back from the Arab and Muslim world but could not be considered as a country of much influence in the region. Turkey in the past has always kept the equilibrium between the Arab world and Israel. Now I wonder if this equilibrium is disturbed. By turning her back to Israel Turkey will be losing her part that she would like to play in the Middle East. 'cos Turkey would be no different from other aggressive states. Where do you think Turkey is heading?

by: Sam H.
October 31, 2009 06:32
Turkey is taking a constructive role that is benefiting it and the whole region. It's criticism of Israel is not "outrageous" as this article portrays it to be. Turkey is simply recognizing right from wrong, lets not forget how many innocent Gazans were killed by Israel in December; and lets not forget that Israel occupies Syrian lands and the ball is in it's court to make peace. As for as Iran is concerned, Turkey has not stated that it is willing to attack Israel with Iran for anyone to make such a bold statement such as, "Turkey is now on Iran's side." Turkey is simply taking care of it's geostrategic interests and developing mutually beneficial relationships with it's neighbors while condemning what it sees as being blatant infringements of international law by Israel.

by: JP from: Paris
October 31, 2009 09:16
I believe Turkey simply wants peace in its neighborhood. Others may be keen to shake these countries up, but from Turkey's perspective its better when bombs are not falling.

by: John Harduny from: Reston, VA
October 31, 2009 14:18
Turkey is moving back to its Seljuk and Ottoman roots. They want to revive an empire that was bitterly hated by all of the region's peoples for centuries. In order to execute this transition smoothly, Turks disguise their foreign policy agenda under hypocritical banners such as "peace with neighbors," "zero problem." Everyone knows what "zero problems" means - when you are dead there are no problems indeed.

by: Orhan Ertugruloglu from: the Netherlands
November 01, 2009 08:37
The AKP came to power in 2002 and Turkey is shifting from the West to the East and deviating form its traditional foreign policy since then. Leading newspapers in the West and decision makers in major Western capitals are seriously concerned about the recent shift of attitude in Turkish Foreign Policy. This shift of policy became more visible after the 2007 elections and has ardently been advocated by Mr.Davutoglu in 2009. I think this change of course in Turkish Foreign Policy is mainly based on Erdogan's stance towards Iran and Israel. Mr. Erdogan's hate to the State of Israel is a proven fact. Plus Mr Erdogan and his Minister for Foreign Affairs mr. Davutoglu are openly defending the nuclear policy of Iran and by doing so contradicting with the West . This deviation from her traditional Foreign Policy will seriously affect Turkey's relations with the West and have repercussions on Turkey in the long run.

by: Nostrum
November 01, 2009 10:42
"Turkey is a natural part of the European continent and culture"??? What a nonsense, Turkey is a natural part of the Middle East and culture. European culture stops at Bulgaria, which is also closer to Asian than European mentality.

by: Sanne
November 01, 2009 14:23
If 'European culture stops at Bulgaria' then why Cyprius is member of EU?
Then Cyprius is part of middle east. Nonsense.

I think Turkey is tired of waiting for EU and they have noticed that they will benefit much more if they turn to East. Maybe someday Turkey will refuse EU membership and it will not surprise.

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