During past months, the government in Turkey has been taking unstable and shaky positions in supporting Takfiri terrorism in the region and, at the same time, it has decided to stay away from a US-led coalition formed to fighting the terrorists. In doing so, Ankara has been setting preconditions for its participation in the aforesaid coalition by emphasizing the necessity for the coalition to attack the Syrian government and topple the government of President Bashar Assad as well. All these issues have brought the country’s regional policy to the worse possible conditions it has experienced during the past three years. On the one hand, the European Union has been refraining from accepting Turkey as a new member while the United States has been mounting pressure on Ankara to join the above-mentioned coalition. On the other hand, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is now feeling the threat of the ISIS terrorists, which were actually fostered by his own government, behind Turkey’s borders. In the following interview, Mohammad Farhad Koleini, a senior strategy analyst has evaluated Turkey’s regional policies in the light of the above realities. The complete text of the interview follows.
Q: How do you see the situation of Turkey’s regional policy under new circumstances, especially in view of the current regional developments?
A: Following its domestic elections, Turkey is still continuing with its past behavior in the area of foreign and regional policy despite limited, but serious differences that exist among high-ranking Turkish decision-makers in this regard. It should be noted that there is a contradiction between regional realism and an idealistic view to gaining regional power.
Following the empowerment of the ISIS and its prominent role in asymmetrical equations and geopolitics of Syria and Iraq, Turkey first chose to play a limited game with its main tactic being to continue the regional game without the involvement of the NATO. Later on, it preferred to play a de facto role in the not-so-strong coalition forged by the West in the region. At the same time, Turkey has been setting conditions for playing a more active role within the framework of the coalition while having its own concerns about the consequences of the new situation in the region.
All the above developments clearly prove that Erdogan is still far from being so politically mature as to choose an unwavering road map, and is still trying to deal with the situation by taking transient positions while following a double-standard tactical policy toward regional developments. As a result, the security-based behavior of the Turkish government still overshadows its political and even military behavior and this is not a desirable situation from the viewpoint of some high-ranking officials in Turkey. Mr. Erdogan, however, is aware of how fragile Turkey’s domestic situation is in theoretical terms.
Q: Turkey has been taking vacillating positions on various regional issues during the past months, including on the issue of the ISIS, the situation in the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani, and the best way of interacting with Syria. Its officials have been at times issuing warnings to the West, while showing intentional delay in their tactical reactions to regional developments. At some occasions, they have even tried to put artificial stress on their official positions. In your opinion, does this behavior by Turkey is indicative of a non-coherent or a coherent policy?
A: Unfortunately, Turkey has proven that it is quite capable of making the same mistakes time and time again. The country has been more or less paying a price for such mistakes in the past, for example, with regards to the Armenians and the situation in Cyprus. Of course, every country enjoys its own software capacity for recognition of its interests. Also, their ability to combine their own capacities with various and diversified variables within the country and for combining those capacities with opportunities that exist outside the country in order to repel the threats has been quite different at various junctures.
It seems that David’s matrix has not been able to help Turkey analyze the situation in the region in all its dimensions. Today, the Tel Aviv regime is availing itself of the situation in the region and is shifting territorial crises by taking them as far from its near borders as possible. As a result, the issue of creating tension along Turkey’s borders is in essence a clear effort by powerful currents in the West to protect Israel. The West’s commitment to this regime is not limited to military security, but has been also extended to security of energy as well.
Turkey is currently taking different stances on each and every one of the issues that have been mentioned above. As I said before, Ankara is suffering from lack of coherence in its policies and its inability to correctly understand the roles played by individual actors has made Turkish officials take hasty positions. Of course, Turkey enjoys a lot of capacities and they are still capable of mending their ways. This, however, would depend on the degree to which they would be ready to give in to rational expectations.
Q: Do you see any clear solution to boost regional understanding of countries in order to contain the ongoing crises in the Middle East?
A: Iran has been always positive toward suitable and proportionate cooperation with Turkey, Egypt and even Saudi Arabia against extremism. The West has its own concerns about the extremism, which emanate from its own special interests. Therefore, the quality of their concerns is basically different from the concerns held by regional countries and has nothing to do with the future outlook of cooperation among those countries. At the end of the day, they do not reckon on regional countries even as a spare tire and this is, of course, one of the clear and blatant mistakes made by some Western states.
They are apparently ignoring the fact that every regional crisis needs regional solutions and transregional interventions will lead to no acceptable result and, on the opposite, will only cause further escalation of the crisis. The threat of the ISIS is firstly posed to the region and then to the entire world. At the same time, the agenda followed by the Western countries seeks to firstly impose the Western states’ plans on the region before doing a suitable assessment of the situation of the regional countries. Turkey, which is a neighbor to three countries of Iran, Iraq and Syria should have noticed this fact better than others.
Q: What would you propose as the most urgent and highest political priority which would help to change conditions that are currently governing Iran's relations with Turkey?
A: Iran and Turkey are considered as two friendly and neighboring countries with profound understanding of each other. For years, the two countries have shown that they are quite capable of prevailing over their problems, either directly or through indirect methods, without any need to following scenarios imposed by other actors. Such a huge infrastructure of mutual relations cannot be compared in importance to any tactical issue. Turkey is well aware that in view of the importance of tourism and trade and transit through its soil, the country has still maintained its relative importance. In order to regain its full importance, however, it should avoid repeating the same mistakes frequently because it cannot live in the neighborhood of major crises such as those that are currently going on in Iraq and Syria. For these reasons, Ankara should not turn ambiguity into one of the main components of its future policy. Having a maximum degree of tension with neighboring countries is also not beneficial to Turkish government. It should be noted that the software aspect of Turkey’s national security has been already damaged while stability of Turkey is of utmost importance to Iran. The Turkish officials should note that relations between Iran and Turkey should not be overshadowed by a handful of irrational positions.
Key Words: Turkey, Incoherent Policy, US-Led Coalition, European Union, Turkey’s Regional Policy, Kobani, ISIS, Iran, Koleini