Dimitar Bechev’s essay for the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) blog on Turkey stuck between a rock and a hard place. (Read the full essay here. Excerpt below.) Some interesting details — about the cash/weapons flow, Alevi/Alawite conflations, and the pitfalls of having foreign policy too closely connected to domestic policy. it’s good when it’s good, a virtuous circle, but when foreign policy breaks down, it becomes a devil’s knot.
…At the recent Istanbul Forum (an annual get-together run by STRATIM – an outfit chaired by ECFR’s good friend Suat Kınıklıoğlu) experts were deeply concerned that Turkey is becoming frustrated by its inability to do anything about the weapons and cash flowing from Qatar and Saudi Arabia (its informal allies who similarly support the Free Syrian Army (FSA) which end up in the hands of radicals and perhaps even the PKK. Assad’s narrative of the conflict is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. In such a situation the threat for Turkey would be to turn into Syria’s Pakistan – a volatile state on the verge of failure with violence prone to spilling over a lawless frontier. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, in other words, with neither intervention, nor non-intervention doing Ankara any good. Indeed the war in Syria is already exacerbating the Kurdish issue in Turkey as well as the relations between the Sunni majority and the Alevi community. (Alevis are not the same as Assad’s Alawis, but the distinction gets increasingly blurred, especially after Erdoğan recently blamed the leader of the largest opposition party Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, an Alevi Kurd, of acting out of solidarity with his co-religionists in Damascus.)
Whose fault it this? Many point an accusing finger at Foreign Minister Davutoğlu for maneuvering Turkey into this uncomfortable corner. Of course it’s more complex than that, though it is certainly true that currently it’s PM Erdoğan and the Chief of General Staff General Necdet Özel doing the bidding. I would point out at a more long-term tendency: the linkage between domestic politics and foreign policy that deepened in the AKP decade. In the old days, the two formed a virtuous circle. Foreign policy activism generated domestic support for the party. For instance, the talk about the Turkish model for the Arab Spring countries legitimated the government’s policy at home. Now foreign exposure is backfiring. The intrusion into the webs of Middle Eastern politics is raising tensions and increasing polarisation at home, with the end result of constraining the capacity of Turkey to act in an increasingly complicated and challenging environment.