Turkish foreign policy was applauded by neighbouring countries as well as powerful nations like the United States of America, the United Kingdom and other notable super power states around the globe.
In 2010, President Barrack Obama declared Turkey as a great Muslim Democracy and a critically important model for other Muslim countries in the region, and in 2012 the same Obama declared President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey as one of the top five leaders in the World the United States has forged greater ties and close relationships with.
Perhaps, the recognition which was made possible when the increase in production and upscale of the economy of Turkey became a leading factor in the undoing of President Erdogan who, by today, is in the black books of many nations seen to have friendly relations with Turkey in the past.
Turkey became a trading and economic hub for many nations, including Nigeria. For instance, Turkish textiles have become a household name in Nigeria; Turkish vegetable oil, Turkish furniture and in fact, every good product in the Nigerian market has links with Turkey.
Sad as it may sound, Turkey is one of the most democratically, economically and politically unstable countries in the world today, largely, due to poor governance and insensitivity on the part of the leaders.
The stability and consolidation of Turkey’s political and economic sphere lost grip when Erdogan began to undermine the relevance of the people of Turkey. No leader anywhere in the world undermines his people and expects to enjoy a successful reign.
The crux of the matter is this: Turkey’s foreign policy is no longer about Turkey but about Erdogan. Floundering at home and abroad, the Turkish president has embarked on an illiberal course at home, undermining what can be admittedly termed flawed institutions and reconstituting them in his image. His omnipresence and unchallenged position means that foreign policy is the product of his worldview, whims and preferences. As it stands, no one can challenge him. The systematic approach of the early years gave way to indulgence; this, more than anything, explains the ups and downs of the Turkish foreign policy.
It wasn’t long ago that Turkish foreign policy was the talk of the town. Defined by the catchy phrase of “zero problems with the neighbours,” Turkey aimed to improve its relations with its neighbours and, slowly, emerged as the dominant regional power. It was a classic case of enhancing soft power through democratisation and economic reforms at home, coupled with shrewd diplomacy aimed at establishing Ankara as a mediator in the region’s conflicts.
This policy lies in ruins today. It is the victim of the unpredictable turn-around in the Arab Spring, especially in Syria – no thanks to the hubris and miscalculations in domestic and foreign policy. With the exception of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Northern Iraq, Turkey’s relations with almost all of her neighbours have soured.
At the same time, tensions with the United States, European Union and Russia have all dramatically increased. If Ankara has any sway today, it is mostly because of its geography — which gives it proximity to Syria and the refugee calamity — and its willingness to use strong-arm tactics in diplomatic transactions.
So, how did Turkey’s international ambitions fall apart? It’s a question with multiple answers. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s grandiose ideas of his role in the world, his desire to transform Turkey into a strong presidential system and the collapse of the Kurdish peace process, itself a casualty of the Syrian crisis, have all contributed to damaging Ankara’s once-promising foreign policy.
Even before the Arab Spring, there were signs that Turkey’s foreign policy was faltering. In 2009, after almost seven years of conservative rule, Turkey’s accomplishments are noteworthy: rapid economic growth, the transformation of Istanbul into an international hub, democratisation at home and the domestication of the powerful military establishment. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) went from electoral victory to electoral victory, as ordinary citizens were seduced by his accomplishments and turned off by a hapless opposition.
Having consolidated his position at home, especially after the 2007 elections, Erdogan became more of a risk-taker. He initiated a calculated public showdown with Israeli President, Shimon Peres at the 2009 World Economic Forum, in which he angrily castigated Israel’s policy in Gaza, which threw relations between the two countries into a tailspin. However, it also paid off tremendous dividends in the Arab world, as Erdogan and Turkey’s popularity skyrocketed, and Arabs flocked to Turkey for tourism and in search of investment opportunities.
Turkey, however, wanted to be more than a model. The rise in Egypt, Tunisia and Syria of the Muslim Brotherhood, with which the AKP leadership had enjoyed close relations, opened the possibility of an active role for Ankara as the movement’s most powerful regional ally. The Arab Spring, in effect allowed for the Turkish leadership to imagine itself as the region’s leading power: As then-Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu put it, Turkey “will lead the winds of change in the Middle East … not just as a friend but as a country which is seen as one articulating the ideas of change and of the new order.”