ABDULLAH – Much ado about little in foreign policy

Much ado about little in foreign policyTurkeyand#39s political Islamist-ruled government is very much obsessed with inflating the number of bilateral deals it signs during high level visits and exchanges, when in fact most, if not all of these deals contain little in terms of substance and value.Pushing Turkeyand#39s partners and allies into committing to a flurry of deals that are heavy on theatrics and light on substance has become a new pattern in the conduct of foreign policy during these Islamistsand#39 rule.

This new tactic is largely designed to play to the Turkish domestic audience rather than to produce meaningful engagement with Turkeyand#39s counterparts.Sometimes the target figure for the number of deals is set by a higher political authority and an aance team of negotiators is sent to secure these deals, however shallow they may be, in the lead up to official visits.

At times, the agreement is broken into several pieces to increase the number of andldquodealsandrdquo so political leaders can brag about the high number signed when the visit is over Two examples are Iraq in 2009, when some 40 agreements were signed, and Syria in 2009, with some 50 agreements. More can be cited with respect to Greece, Russia, Egypt and others that improved neither the tone nor the substance of bilateral ties.

Both Turkish President Recep Tayyip ErdoIan and his proxy, aenturist Prime Minister Ahmet DavutoIlu, love to pose for photo-ops during long signing ceremonies for each and every document, flanked by an array of senior Turkish officials who accompany them during bilateral exchanges with foreign leaders. There is certainly an element of hubris in their behavior, and they appear to be trying to project an imperial posture and have importance placed more on the form of the agreements than their substance.

If, during their talks, the negotiators fail to obtain a satisfactory figure for the number of agreements to be signed during the visit, ErdoIan and DavutoIlu personally appeal to their counterparts at the last minute in their meetings to add a couple of more deals, for the sole purpose of announcing to the public later that Turkey signed a huge number of agreements, as part of their efforts to project an image of the nationand#39s grandeur under their rule.This, however, exposes how shallow the foreign policy vision of the current government in Turkey is, dominated by ideological Islamist zealots and pro-Iranian figureheads.

That is why these agreements are treated as easy to shelve when the going gets tough for Turkeyand#39s leaders, as happened in the cases of Egypt, Iraq and Syria The old habit dies hard unfortunately, and bragging about a large number of deals that are big on formality but small on substance has been a hallmark of Turkish domestic politics in recent years.Given that most of these agreements are not actually deals in a real sense but rather calls for joint studies, evaluations and cooperation schemes, Turkey has given an impression to partners and allies that it is not actually interested in committing to a true, meaningful and calculated diplomatic engagement to boost ties with a long-term vision.

When they are examined, many of the agreements fall into three categories. They are either repackaged deals that were presented as if they were new, or preliminary deals and Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) that may not reach to the final stage of becoming fully-fledged agreement or agreements that have little substance.

Unfortunately, this shallow approach by Turkey has reinforced a negative perception on the part of its partners that the Turkish government is really motivated by a desire to orchestrate a public relations blitz in its own national media by using and abusing its foreign policy relations.Another drawback to this ill-thought-out policy is that the Turkish government is spreading itself thinly by creating multiple agreements that are hard to follow and put into practice.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as other government ministries and agencies, waste their resources by working hard on the logistics of securing such deals when, in fact, it should be working on substantive deals, notwithstanding that they may take longer to finalize.Political Islamist zealots do not understand the concept of andldquodeliverables,andrdquo as they are more focused on putting on a show in the same way that they treat religion — as mere symbolism This bolsters the view that the Turkish government lacks both the political will and the capacity to become an active global partner to work with others on a range of issues.

As a result, Turkeyand#39s partners are led to believe that it is difficult to have substance in their relationship with Turkey while sincerely trying to improve the quality of cooperation between themThe way many of Turkeyand#39s partners respond to this policy is to keep engaging with Turkey, in an attempt to balance their interests, without actually committing to anything in substance. In other words, they play the Turkish game with full knowledge of the constraints imposed on this theatrical game by political ideologues in Ankara Perhaps they decide to enter into deals with Turkey hoping that they will lock themselves into future benefits, if and when Turkey, under different leadership, decides to make the best of these deals by eventually starting to cooperate.

The Turkish Islamistsand#39 stance may be popular with the domestic audience in the short run. They may like the populist and nationalist feelings that are deliberately hyped and pumped by the pro-government media They love to exaggerate Turkeyand#39s strength and influence in its own neighborhood and the world.

Just this week, DavutoIlu claimed Turkey is the global power that leads all the major powers under the presidency of the G20 that was assumed by Turkey on Dec. 1Sadly, Turkeyand#39s approach fuels more skepticism, and even cynicism, about Turkeyand#39s real intentions in its bilateral and regional policies.

Reasonable actors in foreign policy look for tangible results rather than mere symbolism Yet the current firebrand leaders of Turkey look for nonsense niches in the guise of principled approaches that make Turkey a laughing stock in the region and the world.The same fallacy can also be seen in Turkeyand#39s huge appetite to be involved in each and every regional and multinational organization to a varying degree, without putting much effort into fulfilling the obligations that naturally come with membership.

DavutoIlu often touts the frequent flier miles he has clocked during foreign visits or the number of new embassies he opened as evidence that Turkeyand#39s influence in the world is increasing. He talks about how little sleep he gets because of his hectic schedule in the service of the nation.

The obsession with numbers reflects itself in many other areas as well.Unfortunately, the political Islamistsand#39 policy that feels not completely thought through and that is not substance-driven is not helping to aance Turkeyand#39s national interests.

It will eventually backfire on Turkey. In a way, it already has.

Turkey has been very much insulated and isolated in world affairs, despite the fact that it could and should be doing much betterThis has led to a not-so-favorable foreign policy environment for Turkey to pursue ambitious political, economic and social development goals on the home front. This is the major damage these leaders have inflicted upon Turkey.

In the end, ErdoIan and DavutoIlu have fallen into the trap of their overblown ambitions, the flattery of having a large number of deals and not-so-well-thought-out enthusiasm for foreign policy goals.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman