Press TV has conducted an interview with Huseyn Bagci, a professor at the Middle East University in Ankara, to discuss Turkey’s current stance on the developments unfolding in Syria.
It’s been two years, let’s do a reality check here. Why did Turkey decide to go for regime change in neighboring country Syria? This for the first time, the foreign policy, did they get in return what they wanted? Has this gamble paid off for them?
I think the foreign policy in Syria has been [a matter of] miscalculation, in your question you put rightly what went wrong.
Turkey was supporting the Syrian reform process in the last 10 years and just after this Arab Spring, the Turkish-Syrian relations crumbled down and probably after Libya’s event, Turkey was thinking that Turkey should be in front, ahead of these developments and was thinking that the Syrian regime would collapse immediately, which was a mistake, and I think in the last three years we can only speak about the failure of Turkish foreign policy in the Syrian case to be realistic.
On the other hand, Turkey was trying to have a type of policy, the values in general, should be applied and Turkey was supporting the opposition forces in Syria, which created a lot of problems for Turkey now domestically, not only more than 400,000 Syrians fled to Turkey, but also the Turkish border which is more than 900 kilometers, is very difficult to control and Turkey is experiencing very unprecedented, I will say, developments in the long run. So, in Turkish domestic politics, the government is strongly criticized for the Syrian policy.
There is still no support for the government’s policy in Syria and now with all these developments in Egypt also, Turkey is more and more, getting along, if you want, in the region. Also, left not only by some Arab countries like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan, etc., but also by the United States of America, because of these Israeli accusations by the Turkish Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip Erdogan] behind the Egyptian advance, Turkey is there. I think suddenly Turkey was the rising star in the Middle East in the last 10 years, but now this rising star is getting in a lot of trouble and we can only say that the loneliness of Turkey is the reality of today.
I’m going to ask you a very simple question. Who needs who more? Turkey needs the United States more or the United States needs Turkey more?
In this case, Turkey needs the United States more. You have been talking about a possible shift in Turkish foreign policy. I mean, a shift into what? To what direction? With the European Union, Turkey is going to have more difficulties. There is a lot of credibility. With the Arab countries Turkey is also having different policies in the case of Egypt. With Israel, Turkey is in a way, in conflict with the United States of America.
If Turkey is entering into a conflict with the United States, Turkey is going to do a big mistake. I would not suggest to the government to go into confrontation with the United States of America.
Turkey cannot look to the north, to Russia. So Turkey will only look inward and this is not good for Turkey. Turkey should be a global player, not an inward-looking country closing herself outside and being in conflict with all the neighboring countries. This is not healthy.
The US is a strategic partner of Turkey. Of course the United States of America needs Turkey for certain policies in a regional and global sense, but America is the leader of the world at the moment and part of the United Nations Security Council. So there cannot be any decision taken against the will of the United States of America.
Let me ask you this. What was wrong with zero problems with neighbors? What was wrong with that foreign policy? I mean, Turkey was known to be a somewhat, before what happened to Syria, kind of like a mediator. You know, bridging the gap between the East and the West. We noticed that in particular when it came to Iran and the Tehran nuclear deal, Turkey was an active player on that and the United States and the West was looking to Turkey. What was wrong with that stance of zero problems with neighbors?
I would say it is the Arab Spring responsible for this. The Arab Spring created such an environment that Turkey had to change the direction and hoping that those Arab countries would democratize themselves, but that was not totally the case.
So, Turkey had in the entire last decade, very good relations with the entire Arab leaders, authoritarian Arab leaders. And about the policies, zero problems with neighboring countries, was good on the paper but not good on the field after the Arab Spring.
I think the Turkish foreign policy with the zero problems will not function anymore and this is the biggest disappointment of my dear colleague Turkish Foreign Minister Mr. Ahmet Davutoglu.
Do you think Turkey is in the process of reversing its foreign policy direction or backtracking a little bit and trying to make sure that it is going to keep its borders with its neighbors more cordial in the way it deals with it?
I think it will depend on whether Turkish prime minister Erdogan is going to choose the policy of confrontation with Israel and the United States of America. It would be very difficult in order to include Saudi Arabia. If Turkey is going to have three countries as potential enemies or not partners, then it will have some difficulties. I think the US is still global player, Turkey is really supporting [ousted Egyptian President Mohamed] Morsi and Ikhwan [Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood] and this is the Turkish prime minister was calling back the Turkish ambassador. Now we do not have any ambassador in Egypt. Turkey does not have three ambassadors in Israel, Egypt, and in Syria. And those three countries have been the countries where Turkey had been negotiating, mediating, just a couple of years ago.
So, Turkey is now in a really, foreign policy turbulence. I think Tayyip Erdogan’s insistence to continue to have this policy in Egypt to support Morsi is fine from an ethical point of view, from the moral point of view, but is not acceptable from a realistic point of view. It is an Egyptian problem and Turkey cannot change the regime. Turkey cannot intervene there. Turkey is overextending and showing overself-confidence in the region. And I think this is not good for Turkish prime minister.
The Turkish prime minister is now alone. I underline this so nobody is supporting him. Even Hamas was talking the neutrality in the case of Egypt. Turkey is the only country among the Islamic conference. This is something wrong. There is no explanation of Tayyip Erdogan’s foreign policy insisting on this mistake. The Egyptian’s democracy is not a Turkish problem. It should not be a domestic problem for Turkey. The problem is Prime Minister Erdogan is considering Hamas, Egypt and the Syrian issue as a Turkish domestic issue and this is very dangerous in the long run.
I need to ask you this, because there are some questions surrounding it. You know there was a press conference that Prime Minister Erdogan had with [US President] Barack Obama outside the White House lawn. This is going back a month or two months ago. I remember distinctly when Erdogan was talking about relationship between Turkey and the United States, and there’s some analysts who have come out and said Turkey went there with one of the primary goals being that it wanted the US to intervene in Syria and there was so much talk about this no-fly zone happening. Do you think that there were false promises given by the United States, even up to this day, that we are going to go in, let’s say through a no-fly zone and that’s why Erdogan is sticking his neck out and his country’s neck out for the situation in Syria?
Yes, I think you’re right. And your analysis is also right. The prime minister was speaking just two days ago in a way that why then did the West want us to get involved in Syria. That means he considers himself now manipulated, speculated, and even betrayed, if you want, by the United States of America.
This is also the anger of the Turkish prime minister in his recent statements towards the US. But America is not interested to intervene in Syria because it costs a lot... They have Afghanistan and Iraq experience and even in American public there would be no yes for any new involvement in Syria, because China, Iran, and Russia are supporting, backing, of course, Syria, including India I would say, many people forget about India who is also silent on this. Why Bashar al-Assad is supported is this. Because Bashar al-Assad is representing now the fight of the secular forces in the Middle East against the radical Islamists.
With the developments in Egypt, there is a general tendency in the West to think that the radical Islamists do not have any interest to live in a democratic country, but they want to establish a state of religion, a Sharia state. So, the West is changing the position now, because democracy is the product, the social product of the West and they are interested that the democracy is suffering under this radical movements and exactly for this reason General el-Sisi in Egypt and Bashar al-Assad in Syria are supported also by these non-Western civilizations, India, China, even I could include here Russia. So, Bashar al-Assad is getting stronger in the United Nations they will be no support against him and the United States of America will not intervene in the Middle East because of this. I can say President Barack Obama cannot dare to intervene there.