Reconsidering Turkey’s Policy Priorities
On Thursday, November 13, 2014, the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) hosted a roundtable discussion with Professor İlter Turan entitled “Reconsidering Turkey’s Policy Priorities.” Ivan Vejvoda, GMF’s senior vice president of programs, opened the conversation. He emphasized the timeliness of this topic, given Turkey’s unique position between Europe and the Middle East and the rise of the Islamic State Group in Syria and Iraq.
Turan began by introducing his most recent article, “Turkey Hesitates to Revise External Priorities,” which highlights the Turkish government’s external contradictions and internal uncertainty. In this piece, Turan defines the two ‘cardinal rules’ of foreign policy that Turkey has violated: not injecting domestic considerations and avoiding ideologically-driven motivations. He explained that Turkey’s aspirations for external leadership, the management of its internal diversity and its de-facto presidency in a parliamentary-style system are three hurdles that the nation must overcome in order to shape a more coherent, effective foreign policy. Turan elaborated on Turkey’s external leadership, describing its post-Cold War relationship with the Middle East as an “honest broker,” but also noted the subsequent degradation of this status with the advent of the Arab Spring, during which Turkey reacted poorly to Egypt and alienated many Arab countries who viewed Turkey as meddling. Its misjudgment of Bashar Al-Assad’s regime and underestimation of Russia’s support further weakened its regional position. Turan also discussed domestic factors briefly, underscoring the troubled history with Kurdish minorities and the government’s structural and cultural intransigence in addressing the country’s multiculturalism, which has come to the forefront as the Kurds continue to take up arms against the Islamic State.
In the following Q & A session, Turan described the rise of the Islamic State as beneficial for Middle Eastern governments, who were able to use it as a distraction, and said it is generally accepted that Turkey initially viewed as the Islamic State as a positive change given its challenge to al-Assad. Turning to the West, he illustrated how fear and mistrust between the U.S. and Turkey has resulted in U.S. reluctance to commit its resources and Turkey’s resistance to act against the Islamic State Group. Turan concluded the discussion by acknowledging the nuanced role Turkey plays in the region, especially in response to the Islamic State Group, and expressing optimism for the resolution of internal impediments to Turkish foreign policy.