AKP’s 10 Years Foreign Policy: From Where To Where? – Emre Güntekin
Ten years has passed since AKP’s rise to power. In this ten years period, major changes have taken place in the political life and the historical dynamics of Turkey. While the old fault lines were broken, new ones appeared. On the one hand the purges directed to Kemalist military-civilian bureaucracy, on the other hand attacks oriented to laborers and the oppressed, outside conflicts… The neo-liberal process beginning on September 12 reached to peak and now it affects even the smallest detail of the social life. It is necessary to evaluate AKP in many aspects, as the most aggressive ruling party Turkish capitalist system has ever seen.
AKP and Foreign Policy
If we go back to the first period of AKP’s government, we will see that the most important driving force for AKP was the relationships with EU. While AKP manipulated EU membership process as the main legitimate tool for the discourse of democratization, even several leftist groups found themselves stood behind this discourse. On the other hand the key issue for AKP was to create balance against military and nationalist bureaucracy which destroyed Refah Partisi (the welfare party) five years ago by taking EU’s support in this period. The reforms carried out consecutively with the hope to join EU, led to an illusion of democratization in this aspect. However, we saw that the underlying pragmatic concerns of AKP’s EU convergence process soon revealed itself. The start-up of the negotiations for full membership to EU on December 17, 2004 caused a great happiness nearly as if Turkey joined to EU; it is understood in current situation that the dream of accession to EU is not sine-qua-non for AKP. This fact is the result of losing the position as centre of attraction for EU as well as not being in need of the relationship with EU for AKP. It is very clear that today EU which cannot overcome their own structural economic crisis and cannot provide solutions to resolve the crisis for the countries like Greece and Spain, is not a centre of attraction for AKP looking for more powerful partners. In this state, it can be said that EU won’t be willing to incorporate an ambitious partner such as AKP and there is a mutual step back.
Fundamentally, AKP’s approach to EU can be assumed as a first sign of a basic orientation which will continue throughout the later years: Each step in foreign policy serves to the aim of the increase of social support and the establishment of hegemony in domestic politics. We can observe the examples of this attitude in the “one minute” ascent of Tayyip Erdoğan, in the Blue Marmara massacre and in the slogans as model country, Turkey raised in the process of Arab Spring.
While talking to the foreign policy orientation of the AKP, the road of its relationship with USA shouldn’t be skipped over. AKP and Tayyip Erdoğan started to the negotiations with the White House before coming to power (in answer to the pursuit of a moderate Islamic government loyal to the market economy after February, 28; not like the example of Necmettin Erbakan and his National View movement- Milli Görüş- that was problematic with the West). Even while Erdoğan did not have any title, he could be welcomed by Bush at the White House. Moreover, it was realized soon that AKP was an important partner for the clearance of pro-Eurasian political orientations and nationalist politics that can create trouble in the relations with USA.
The coordination of USA with AKP maintained with a few exceptions under the ten year government of AKP. The most important accident (misfortune!) in the relations with USA was the rejection of allowance by the parliament for the use of Turkish territory by USA in the war against Iraq on March 1, 2003. In this process, while USA was oiling AKP’s hand for this allowance, the parliament was split into two parts and the resolution was denied.
The response of USA to this rejection was to put a sack over Turkish soldiers’ heads in Suleymaniye, as remembered.
Although AKP and USA administration often stressed the relationship of strategic partnership during the 10 years old period, it is possible to say from the lessons of these ten years: USA reserves the right to use stick against AKP (as illustrated in near past in the scene that Obama held a baseball bat while talking with Erdoğan on the phone).
While the main determinant in the process was the foreign policy orientations of USA, AKP functioned as the younger brother who had to act in accordance with these orientations, and when it attempted to raise its voice AKP was silenced by his older brother. For instance, Blue Marmara incident… Even though AKP hardened rhetoric against Israel and brought it to the level of provoking motive of Islamist base, AKP didn’t increase the tension to the level of impairing relations totally or putting an end to military partnership with Israel. The most striking thing in this period was the adjustment of Gülen community on AKP. After the massacre, Fethullah Gülen pointed out his view on the possible boundaries of the discourse of AKP against Israel by the statement, ‘to act without the consent of Israel means revolt to authority’.
AKP government tried to use ‘one minute’ and ‘Blue Marmara’ incidents both to prove its “leadership” to the Muslim countries and peoples, and to reinforce its discourse of regional leadership for Turkey. The posters of Tayyip Erdoğan appeared in the demonstrations in Gaza and in other Arab countries stroke AKP’s ego quite. By the way in Turkey, AKP supporters carried out to the airport at midnight by the metropolitan municipality welcomed Erdoğan coming from Davos –after “one minute” ascent. We can say that both inside and outside, in this process, AKP’s foreign policy triumphs and especially Ahmet Davutoğlu’s ”zero problem with neighbors” politics lived its golden years.
However, AKP’s policies of regional leadership and “zero problem with neighbors” bogged down in a short span of time, like the every step of AKP in foreign policy. The main blow to AKP in this regard was the insurrection wave of Arab peoples against dictators. While dictators like Mubarak, Bin Ali, Kaddafi were overthrown one after another, the struggle initiated by the Arab peoples took hold of the whole geography of the Middle East and North Africa. The contradictions of AKP appeared here: AKP which intended to be model for the region had no problem with these dictators. While AKP showed parallelism with Mubarak’s pro-American policy, it developed close relations with Kaddafi and Erdoğan went on holiday with Syrian president Esad against whom AKP now supports the war. In fact, the assertion of AKP as a role model didn’t mean anything beyond the attempt to draw the boundaries of the struggle of the peoples in the region. Islamist coming to power in Egypt and Tunisia took AKP as role model but it should not be forgotten that the same Islamists including the Muslim Brotherhood is an another obstacle in front of the desire of masses to change. On the other hand, as process continued, the illusoriness of AKP went away. The rejection of Tayyip Erdoğan’s desires to make a speech in Tahrir square and to go to Gaza border by Muslim Brotherhood should be read as that new political forces advancing rapidly aren’t pleased of his ambitious foreign policy attacks.
However, today, we see that the foreign policy of AKP fully turns into a swamp now.While the policy of “zero problem with neighbors” is returning to the conflicts of various degrees with all neighbors, the desire of AKP to take initiative in the region is restricted perceptibly.Here, the contradictions determinative in foreign politics of AKP are effective to a large extent. As remembered, Erdoğan who objected to interference of NATO to Libya by saying “what will NATO do in Libya?” at the beginning, became a severe supporter of interference one week after this statement and also send aid ships. After he failed to join the interference process in Libya, AKP hovered over Syria like a vulture. AKP, on the one hand, drifts Turkey into to a war and on the other hand irritates imperialist countries, like Russia or sometimes USA. To leave Turkey alone as the incidents like ‘the plane crash’ and Akçakale, and to push Turkey outside the process should be read as a diplomatic message. Obama’s baseball bat shows the main axis of the matter. Obama stated who the boss is and who has the stick on the hand, with a non-diplomatic way to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who makes attacks endangering USA’s plans in Syria issue.
In current situation it seems that AKP used its all ammunition in foreign policy. Now EU -which even has a ministry-, is no more than a big lie. There is no concrete development in the Cyprus problem and Armenian matter which often put on agenda in the first period, and it will not seem to be. The claim of regional leadership is too much for AKP and Turkey which was slapped again and again. The policy of ‘zero problem with neighbors’ turned to war with all neighbors somehow. Reaching the bottom of strategic depth, Turkey, the role model come to the same level in regard to democracy with the most backward Gulf regimes in the region. While all these clear realities appear in front of us, AKP has no determinant power in foreign policy beyond Erdoğan’s ambitions.