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Turkey goes from honest broker to Iranian ally

Mahir Zeynalov

Published: Updated:

A few years ago, Turkey was the only country that could talk to everyone in a Middle East where distrust among nations is a prevailing mentality. Mishandling crises in most states hit by the mass uprising, Ankara was left alone. Officials in Ankara preferred to describe its international standing “precious loneliness.”

For centuries, building alliances to balance against threatening states has been at the heart of successful foreign policy-making. The very gauge of success in foreign policy is to what extent a state can build coalitions to pursue common security interests. If a state is lonely and isolated, no matter how moral its policies are, it will have to shoulder the entire burden of securing itself. The Turkish government, however, points to “moral motives” behind its policies instead of its dire results.

Judging a statesman’s motives, Hans J. Morgenthau wrote in 1948, one can say that he will not intentionally pursue policies that are morally wrong, but nothing could be said about the probability of their success. “If we want to know the moral and political qualities of his actions, we must know them, not his motives. How often have statesmen been motivated by the desire to improve the world, and ended by making it worse? And how often have they sought one goal, and ended by achieving something they neither expected nor desired?” Morgenthau said.

Turkey-Iraq thaw

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu is very skilled at building coalitions with other nations but he proved to be an unsuccessful statesman in handling crises because his policies are too emotive-laden. Feeling the heat of doing politics in the Middle East, nevertheless, Turkey’s loneliness won’t last long.

As a first step in this direction, Ankara is looking forward to reconciling with Iraq as both countries are facing a multitude of challenges piling up along their troubled borders due to the crisis in Syria, now approaching its third year. This week, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari traveled to Ankara to prepare the ground for rapprochement. His Turkish counterpart is expected to travel to Baghdad in November, Davutoğlu’s first visit since March 2011. Davutoğlu said in a joint news conference that both nations have achieved a new momentum in relations and that there is a really strong will on both sides to take this further.

Shift in power balance

Possible reconciliation between Iraq and Turkey is part of a wider shift in the balance of power in the Middle East. Recent developments in the region made it necessary for both neighbors to bury hostilities and build an alliance. Iran is at the center of this change.

Possible reconciliation between Iraq and Turkey is part of a wider shift in the balance of power in the Middle East

Mahir Zeynalov

For decades, major U.S. policy in the Middle East was to make sure that no regional hegemon emerges in the area and dominates energy reserves. Since the 1979 Iranian revolution, the U.S. has pursued policies to contain Iran as a rising threat to Gulf nations. Iran’s influence gathered significant steam when mass uprisings brought governments in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt that were not necessarily friendly to Gulf nations and particularly Saudi Arabia, Iran’s arch foe. With Syrian President Bashar al-Assad going nowhere, governments in Beirut and Baghdad also helped Iran extend its influence.

Tehran’s honeymoon didn’t last long. The military coup in Egypt on July 3, backed by the Gulf nations, was a turning point and significantly shifted the balance of power against Iran. This was not a development Washington cheered because the U.S. policy in the region has always been to prevent any state from dominating others. As a result, the U.S. backed down from hitting Syria for its use of chemical weapons against civilians and there are strong signs of possible reconciliation between Tehran and Washington. Both developments angered Saudis. A senior Saudi prince warned last week that his country will “shift away” from its chief ally, the United States.

Iran is now building coalition against what it sees a rising threat from the Gulf and Egypt. It is slowly drifting towards the U.S. while also pushing Iraq, its close ally, to come to good terms with Turkey.

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Mahir Zeynalov is an Istanbul-based journalist with English-language daily Today's Zaman. He is also the managing editor of the Caucasus International magazine. You can follow him on Twitter @MahirZeynalov

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.