By Kaveh L Afrasiabi
ISTANBUL - As Turkey's principal energy partners, Russia and Iran provide roughly 70% of Turkey's energy imports, yet both Tehran and Moscow are about to send Ankara the chills of negative reactions if Turkey goes ahead with its threat of sanctions on Syria.
Already, Turkey's embrace of the bid by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to station an anti-missile radar on its territory has angered both Russia and Iran.
Further, its talk of sanctions on Syria over an ongoing bloody crackdown on protests has potentially widened a notch or two the cracks in Ankara's good neighborly approach toward two important neighbors who do not subscribe to Turkey's complete
loss of confidence in the embattled Bashar al-Assad regime. Henceforth, some backlashes in the form of contractions in Turkey's relations with both Russia and Iran may be inevitable.
Clearly, this puts Turkey's much-cherished foreign policy doctrine of "zero problems" with neighbors in serious jeopardy, in light of brewing problems in Eastern Mediterranean, where Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened military action in response to Cyprus' off-shore oil exploration activities - that have proceeded with United States backing irrespective of Turkey's warning.
In his recent meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in New York, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was told that the US supported Cyprus right to off-shore energy exploration, led by a US company, and naturally one wonders what this will mean for Ankara's repeated sermons on the "compatibility" of US and Turkish approaches to regional issues.
Perhaps a main problem with Davutoglu's foreign policy doctrine has been an undifferentiated notion of "problems", lumping together the minor and major (ie, strategic or geopolitical), short- and long-term problems, as a result of which on the surface today's multiplication of Turkey's problems with its neighbors, as well as near neighbors such as Israel, appear to have effectively nullified that doctrine.
It is given that foreign policy is too complicated and complex an affair to ever completely fit theoretical parameters and the gaps between theory and practice are too often unavoidable. Still, it is by virtue of Turkey's often self-congratulatory over-conceptualization of its foreign policy behavior that today a certain measure of cognitive dissonance in the foreign policy realm has emerged that is partly-self inflicted, bound to damage Turkey's external image.
After all, it is rather difficult to see how Turkey's rhetoric of gunboat diplomacy and coercive sanctions fit in with the soft power approach championed by Davutoglu. Turkey for some time, relying on its multi-regional identity, tried to be everything to everyone and, instead, today finds itself in a potentially precarious situation of not satisfying anyone, including the Europeans who have for all practical purposes put Turkey's bid for membership in the European Union on indefinite hold.
Still, despite the blunt rebuff by the EU, Turkey continues to cling to its membership in the "Western club" that is NATO, while simultaneously trying to further integrate itself in Middle Eastern affairs and even harboring the ambition of leading the volatile region.
But, bypassing the attention of Turkey's leadership is the simple yet delicate point that a bulk of the Middle East does not subscribe to the Western security approach toward the region and, therefore, as long as Turkey is regarded as part of a Western alliance there will be structural limits to how far it can succeed in shaping the "new Middle East".
Overcoming those limits call for the adoption by Turkey of an independent security outlook that does not echo NATO's stance for instance, hardly in the cards, or one might say, foreign policy tool kits in today's Turkey.
Consequently, there are signs of incoherence accumulating all over the substance of Turkish foreign policy, such as the coincidence of economic interdependence with Iran coupled with a Turkey-Iran falling out on regional issues. Instead of "strategic depth", a favorite catch-word of Davutoglu and his foreign policy team, what Turkey may soon achieve is its exact opposite - deep strategic insecurity caused by the mushrooming of its problems with various neighbors, some of which are attributable to Turkey's rather hasty diplomacy on such issues as the proper response to the ongoing Syrian crisis.
Turkey is bound to lose a great deal of its appeal as conflict mediator in the region if it continues to alienate neighbors like Iran and Syria by pursuit of regime change in Damascus. This is in light of its willingness to host Syrian opposition groups which are now setting up shop in Turkey for a Libya-style transitional government, thus overlooking the major differences between Libya and Syria. (See Does Gaddafi's fate await Assad? Asia Times Online, August 25, 2011).
The idea of new "strategic depth" for a NATO country in the increasingly assertive Middle East should be regarded as an anachronism that simply serves the growing well of suspicion toward Turkey.
Iran in particular, a bastion of counter-Western hegemony for decades, will never consent to Turkey's expansion of its influence to the Persian Gulf as long as Turkey lacks a non-Western-centric security approach. In retrospect, it appears that Davutoglu in his book Strategic Depth has underestimated the severity of forces opposed to Turkey's quest for gaining a new strategic foothold in the Middle East.
Despite his shortcomings, Davutoglu remains one of the most dynamic diplomats from the developing world today.
Thus, while it is premature to conclude that Davutoglu's design of a new foreign policy orientation has failed, it is on the other hand relatively obvious that it is in a state of semi-crisis that could conceivably worsen in the coming weeks and months, depending on developments in the Middle East and the Mediterranean. The bottom line is that Davutoglu's conceptualization has proved insufficiently sophisticated and theoretically ill-nourished, its taxonomy and theoretical framework in dire need of rethinking.
To elaborate, since becoming foreign minister in 2009, Davutoglu has repeatedly expressed optimism that Turkey could soon jump the ladder of success among nations by elevating its status from the 17th largest economy in the world to the 10th, an optimism born and bred by Turkey's vibrant economy, nodal point as a transit hub, etc.
This puts too much emphasis on "going it alone" as a national economy, without sufficient infusion of a truly regionalist approach, exemplified by the minimal attention accorded to the regional organization, the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), by Davutoglu. ECO comprises Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
And yet, the ECO, if integrated further and if it succeeded to act as a meaningful economic bloc, could overnight realize Davutoglu's dream, still infected as it is by a 19th century obsession with purely national power.
In turn, this calls for a more vigorous devotion of attention and resources to the building blocs of an ECO region sadly lacking in today's Turkey, that never tires of pushing for EU membership, even though the advantages of non-membership may be actually increasing, given the various, and serious, economic woes gripping the eurozone today.
One reason this may never happen however is that Turkey's multiple regional identities implicate it in a limited regional engagement in Asia and the Middle East. If Erdogan really wishes to see Turkey come out as first in the Middle East rather than the last in Europe, then a proper course of action would be to jettison altogether the rhetoric on Turkey's primacy that actually serves no purpose other than to raise red flags in the region regarding Turkey's ambitions, often portrayed as "neo-Ottomanism".
A new "tanzimat" or restructuring in Turkey's foreign policy is definitely called for, that in turn depends on a cognitive re-mapping away from the restrictive present framework that harbors vacuous elements, as well as the above-mentioned signs of incoherence....