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One country at a time, Erdogan is burning his bridges

Turkey's burned all its credit and it is no longer a functioning democracy. With eroded soft power, I wonder what it can offer to the region.

Mahir Zeynalov

Published: Updated:

Turkey's biggest tragedy is its ultra-arrogant foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, who is very skilled in dramatizing foreign policy agenda items. While lobbying for a certain foreign policy action, Davutoğlu always picks an emotional story and manipulates people to win support for his misguided policies.

Unlike domestic politics, foreign policy is an area where you are sometimes forced to act in a reckless way and ignore many human rights abuses to avoid giving a greater damage to both your national interests and those involved in the matter.

It is ironic, however, that Davutoğlu appears to care for the "oppressed Muslims" abroad, but most of his actions are calculated to cause them more damage in his consistently failing foreign policy decisions. Hardly can anyone point to a single foreign policy success of Davutoğlu. In areas where he is inching toward a success, his bellicose prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, comes to a "rescue."

Erdoğan's damaging role

On Egypt, for example, the Turkish government decided to reconcile with the army-backed Egyptian government shortly after bloody August crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood. Davutoğlu then said they were ready to meet with army chief Abdal Fattah al-Sisi if they could have talks with deposed Egyptian President Mohammad Mursi.

In upcoming months, we will see a revived foreign policy, in which the Turkish government will try to show to its critics that it is not isolated. Turkey's burned all its credit and it is no longer a functioning democracy. With eroded soft power, I wonder what it can offer to the region. At the moment, it appears nothing.

Maher Zeynalov

This would give Ankara, after their consistent bashing of the Egyptian government, legitimacy to meet with Sisi. For weeks, Davutoğlu and his diplomats were trying hard to normalize ties with Egypt. Suddenly, Erdoğan, before departing for Russia, said "he doesn't respect those who try Mursi."

These remarks sent chills across Cairo and the government there expelled the Turkish ambassador the next day. Davutoğlu's weeks-long diplomatic attempts were destroyed by Erdoğan with a single gaffe.

Another similar gaffe came in Kosovo when Erdoğan told a crowd of his supporters that Kosovo is Turkey and Turkey is Kosovo. Serbia immediately condemned the remarks and suspended the three-way talks that have been key in promoting peace and stability in a region plagued with bloody conflicts in 1990s.

The three-ways talks were part of Davutoğlu's 5-year shuttle diplomacy and it was destroyed by Erdoğan in a matter of seconds. When Erdoğan starts talking about foreign policy, it is most likely that he will say something that is not compatible with a diplomatic etiquette.

Davutoğlu is an idealist. He believes that there are millions of people in Turkey's Muslim neighborhood who would welcome Turkey as a savior. All these promises by Turkey in the course of the Great Arab Turmoil were revealed to be hollow slogans. Failing to walk its talk, Turkey's credibility has sank tremendously. The tragedy is Davutoğlu still believes he was right.

Reviving foreign policy

Although Turkey is isolated in the world, Erdoğan and Davutoğlu seek to return to heydays when Ankara could talk to everyone -- its biggest source of power. With a leader like Erdoğan, who makes remarks almost about everything without thinking about its consequences, it seems almost impossible that it could move forward.

To start again, Turkey needs to polish its credentials. In the current circumstances, no state will trust Turkey again.

On South Caucasus, Turkey's foreign policy was a disaster beyond description. Ankara believes that a letter of condolences and an offer to make deported Armenians a citizen would do the trick. It would also open the way for normalization with Armenia.

The world's biggest Armenian diaspora organization rejected Erdoğan's condolences as a "ploy." Simply put, there is no single Turkish diplomat at the Foreign Ministry who has any idea how the South Caucasus runs.

On the Balkans, it could be argued that Turkey was more or less successful in promoting peace and cooperation. Nations such as Serbia were interested in Turkey's mediation to bury hostilities because of their bid to join the European Union.

Despite all these diplomatic efforts, which were ruined by Erdoğan's gaffe anyway, Americans and Russians have much more influence in the Balkans than the Turks.

Blind support for Muslim Brotherhood

Ankara's foreign policy nightmare was its misguided advice and blind support for the Muslim Brotherhood. It is true that despite all of its mistakes and anti-democratic policies, the way the Muslim Brotherhood and Mursi were deposed has no place in normal democracies.

Turkey, like Tunisia for instance, could harshly condemn the military coup and then help the Muslim Brotherhood to reintegrate into the government again. But a series of misguided advice by Ankara only provoked the army to crush the Brotherhood.

The Brotherhood was right but failed to act intelligently. The smart political action would have been the one that prevented a military coup.

Turkey's public support for the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran also rang alarm bells in the Gulf. Even if a Muslim region that is irked by Turkey's policies, how can Ankara be successful elsewhere?

Most of the support for the Muslim Brotherhood was calculated for domestic consumption and it sold well at home. Erdoğan and his supporters exploited Turks' sensitivity and blood of Egyptians to increase the government's popularity.

Now Davutoğlu and his diplomats are working overtime to normalize ties with other countries. Israel stands at the middle of this policy and Erdoğan acknowledged last week that there is a notable progress in normalization of relations. Elections in Iraq and Afghanistan will also largely determine Ankara's policy regarding these countries.

In upcoming months, we will see a revived foreign policy, in which the Turkish government will try to show to its critics that it is not isolated. Turkey's burned all its credit and it is no longer a functioning democracy. With eroded soft power, I wonder what it can offer to the region. At the moment, it appears nothing.


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Mahir Zeynalov is a journalist with Turkish 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.