A satirized portrayal of the leaders of the opposition bloc, known as the "table for six." (Illustration by Erhan Yalvaç)

Turkish opposition’s West-integrated foreign policy

The opposition appears to have been apologizing for Türkiye’s foreign policy in response to the various forms of criticism that the Western media printed about the country in recent years.

The opposition bloc’s search for a presidential candidate casts a shadow on their statement regarding standard policies. In truth, one’s vision for the republic’s next century is no less important than who contests the presidential election. Attempts by opposition parties, which have different ideologies, not to cross each other’s red lines, however, seem to have deprived their policy document of identity and ambition. At the same time, those considerations ostensibly stopped that document from being concise and striking.

The opposition’s lack of ambition and clarity was felt most acutely in foreign policy and national security. In this sense, the opposition’s potential candidate (if the relevant parties can pick one) will find it most difficult to talk about Libya, Syria, terrorist organizations like the PKK, its Syrian affiliate the YPG and Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), and the various sources of tension with the West.

In contrast, the People’s Alliance unveiled the “Century of Türkiye,” its vision for the future, and remains strongest in foreign policy, national security, and defense. Moreover, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s diplomatic achievements in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earned the electorate’s appreciation. Of course, a government’s success in foreign policy, national security and defense may seem minimally influential over voters. Still, they create a favorable atmosphere vis-à-vis the people’s faith in the country’s leadership.

Having developed an ambiguous and unambitious foreign policy perspective, the “table for six” implicitly admitted that it could not compete with Erdoğan. Meanwhile, Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA) Chairperson Ali Babacan proudly said that their policy document would impress the Europeans to publicly admit that the opposition’s main concern was being on the same page as the West.

Indeed, the opposition appears to have been apologizing for Türkiye’s foreign policy in response to the various forms of criticism that the Western media printed about the country in recent years. Those accusations included cliches like Erdoğan’s Türkiye drifting away from the West, fueling tensions among NATO allies, using hard power in its neighborhood, and militarizing and personalizing its foreign policy.

Reflecting those accusations, the opposition bloc’s policy document communicated a backlash against the Turkish president’s leader-to-leader diplomacy. Accordingly, the opposition leaders pledged to establish an “institutional” framework in relations with the United States and Russia.

The opposition’s belief that Türkiye can de-escalate tensions with the West through negotiations alone signals that they are naïve and largely unaware of what is happening. In contrast, Erdoğan builds on two decades of experience in negotiations with his counterparts in the U.S., NATO, and the European Union. Indeed, Türkiye experiences tensions with its allies due to Erdoğan’s commitment to equality in bilateral relations.

Expressly, Türkiye has disagreed with countries harboring PKK and FETÖ terrorists. The government rejected Greece’s maximalist demands in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean – only to be labeled “difficult.” In Syria and Libya, it resorted to hard power to defend its vital interests.

Erdoğan turns to leader-to-leader diplomacy when all institutional mechanisms fail. In the face of international crises, he distinguishes himself as a leader with the help of his vast experience.

The biggest mistake

At this point, the opposition needs to analyze the Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) foreign policy rationally. Craving the West’s approval is no way to defend Türkiye’s interests. To deny the necessity of hard power in an increasingly uncertain world is to place the country’s gains at risk. The assumption that Türkiye can address its neighborhood’s various threats and dangers with dialogue alone would only deprive the country of its relations on equal footing.

Those folks, who are currently telling Westerners that they intend to side with the West regarding sanctions against Russia, are playing a dangerous game. To undermine Türkiye’s autonomy in the name of harmony with the West is a surefire way to fuel risks and reverse gains in the next century. Instead, the Western alliance must be made to recognize the new Turkish reality.

[Daily Sabah, February 06 2023]

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