BY ZEYNEP GURCANLI
It is possible to express the foreign policy pursued by President Erdogan since his prime ministership with a single term: a policy of balance.
Erdogan used to use the rivalry, hostility, or tension between states as a means of balancing his foreign policy. Of course, many shifts were also made to establish the “balance.” As a result, this unpredictable foreign policy in the name of “balance” has made the AK Party government unreliable over the years, even for countries that are competing with each other and are even officially at war.
Here are concrete examples of this:
The US administration has not invited Erdogan to the Oval Office despite the Turkish president’s insistence. Erdogan, who managed to establish good relations with every President who came to power in the USA, could not have the same effect on Biden. Leading up to the 2023 elections, the Biden administration has made it clear that it does not want to give Erdogan any trump card that he can use in domestic politics. Despite insistence from the Turkish side, Erdogan has not been invited to the White House, where Biden hosts many world leaders, big and small. On top of that, the Biden administration has been discussing a clear political difference between “Turkey” and the “Erdogan government” lately. The United States is ready to sell F-16 warplanes so that NATO member Turkey’s air defense system does not collapse. However, the Erdogan government’s unpredictable foreign policy moves have hampered even this much-desired sale by the Washington administration.
PUTIN’S “AKKUYU MOVE” BEFORE SOCHI
Erdogan also tends to approach Russia in order to “balance” against the US administration. This is why he was eager to go to Sochi and have a second meeting with the Russian leader, less than a month after his bilateral meeting with Putin in Tehran. However, a step taken by Putin just days before his Sochi visit revealed that Moscow is approaching the Erdogan administration just like the Americans. Putin’s rejection of the Turkish companies at the Akkuyu nuclear power plant, turning the plant into a “Russian nuclear power plant outside of Russia” rendered the “success/ successes” that the AK Party government hoped to achieve from this visit null even before the Sochi visit began. Obviously, the Moscow administration, instead of “investing ” in Erdogan and the AK Party government, whose situation did not look very good in opinion polls for planned 2023 elections. The Russians have begun assuming there will be a change in power. Russia’s plan to send the $15 billion promised for the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant to Turkey before the expected maturity can only be interpreted as a step to hold things steady with the AK Party government until the spring-summer of 2023. It is as if Putin is actually the one establishing the “balance.”
Iran’s show of strength in Syria: a flag
We know about Erdogan’s visit to Tehran. Iranian officials have very clearly opposed the possibility of a new Turkish cross-border operation in northern Syria. However, Iran did not stop there. Erdogan named two towns for the possible operation: Tel Rifat and Membiç. The Iranians had the Iranian flag hoisted on the town’s tallest flagpole through Shiite militias in Tel Rifat. The meaning of this is clear: the Tehran administration has revealed that Iran will be on the opposite side in a Turkish military operation against Tel Rifat. Of course, Ankara’s flirtation with Israel also had an impact on Tehran’s clear opposition to the AK Party’s plans to invade Syria before the election.
UNEXPECTED STATEMENT FROM ISRAEL: TURKEY SHOULD NOT CARRY OUT A NEW OPERATION IN SYRIA
However, the interesting thing is that the normalization that the AK Party government entered into with Israel at the expense of opposing Iran does not seem to have worked either. Despite phone calls and frequent visits between Ankara and Tel Aviv, Israel did something it had never done before and stood up openly against Turkey’s carrying out a new operation in Syria. The Israeli press indicated that the “Israeli government asked the US to pressure Ankara not to carry out a cross-border operation in Syria.”
THE MUCH-ANTICIPATED ARAB CAPITAL NEVER CAME
The AK Party government turned to the Arab world, with which it had poor relations until recently, in order to alleviate the economic crisis in the country before the 2023 elections. First, peace was made with the United Arab Emirates, which was called by Erdogan the “financier of the July 15 coup attempt.” Then came the Saudi Crown Prince, MBS, who was declared the “instigator” of the Khashoggi murder.
However, Arab countries must have sensed the desperation of the AK Party government. Arab leaders hosted at the Presidential Palace in Ankara never made that much anticipated “capital transfer.” It is meaningful that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, who was welcomed with turquoise carpets in Turkey, dispersed the metro-dollars promised the AKP government to other states last week. The Saudi Prince signed an investment agreement worth 30 billion dollars in Egypt, which he visited just before he came to Turkey. During his visit to Athens last week, he signed agreements worth 4 billion dollars and promised there would be more to come. In his visit to Ankara, however, he signed a “swap agreement,” which is a loan, and that hasn’t even been realized.
The AK Party government itself defined the problems created by the unpredictable diplomatic moves over the years as “precious solitude.” However, this isolation is quite clearly no longer “precious” to the AKP government and has created something of an issue of survival.