IAHIN – Turkey no longer inspires

Turkey no longer inspiresGraham E Fuller, who, in part as a CIA official, studied the Middle East for nearly 40 years, has an exceptional place among Turkey and Middle East specialists in the US. His articles and books are indispensable reading for those who want to understand the region’s complexities.

His latest book, titled “Turkey and the Arab Spring: Leadership in the Middle East” (Bozorg Press, 2014), is a highly valuable study for those looking to get a grasp on Turkish politics. Since it is impossible to sufficiently convey its richness in a column, I shall only attempt to comment on some of its main arguments.

Fuller describes the difficulties involved in analyzing the region under current, rapidly changing circumstances: “If I had published this book in 2010, I would have emphasized the growing attention in the region on Turkey, which achieved remarkable prosperity and democratization during the past decade. If I had published it in 2012, I would have emphasized the exciting democratic change the Arab Spring had triggered in the Arab countries, which appeared to lead them to new partnerships with Turkey.

But in a book that is being published in early 2014, I feel the necessity to underline the ‘flux, uncertainty and even regression’ that is experienced in the Arab countries as well as, if temporarily, in Turkey.”Fuller also discusses the state Turkey found itself in at the end of 2013, writing: “The Turkish government moved into an unanticipated series of corruption charges and political tensions in which the extraordinary successes of the AKP [Justice and Development Party] in power seemed to have run their course the prime minister lost his vision and political touch the AKP’s inevitable loss of the reins of power now beckons in future elections.

Yet Turkey’s crises will be resolved via the electoral process. And for all its turmoil, Turkey still remains the only state that offers a credible model of modern governance in the entire region including the Middle East, the Balkans, east into Asia, the independent states of the former Soviet Union and South into Africa”Building on the above observation, Fuller raises the following argument: “In today’s world nation states are moving towards regional integration around certain centers of attraction.

In the Middle East there is a strong search for Arab or Muslim unity. Although there is a long way to go, although the autocratic regimes of the region will have to democratize before this can happen, Turkey can in the future become the center of attraction for economic and cultural integration in the Ottoman geography, because with its industrialized and globalized economy and consolidating democracy it is the only country in the region which has the potential to lead the way.

Fuller’s argument reminds me of the late Samuel P Huntington’s thesis in the mid-1990s stating Turkey should stop attempting in vain to integrate with the European Union and instead try to assume the leadership of the Muslim Middle East, which is badly suffering from a lack of such. This argument seems to be as removed from the facts on the ground as it was two decades ago.

Although much less so today, Turkey is still attracted by European integration. The truth that cries out today is that ethnic and religious divides are pushing the Muslim Middle East towards further fragmentation rather than unification.

The post-Islamist AKP government has certainly flirted with the idea of leadership in the region, but as it stands, Ankara finds itself, to a great extent, isolated. It is at the same time highly questionable whether the vast majority of Turkey’s population has wishes that go beyond the attainment of greater prosperity and freedom at home and whether that population supports a possible role of regional leadership.

It is true that Turkey under the first two terms of AKP rule — through liberalizing and democratizing reforms at home and a foreign policy that sought to aance economic interdependence and to find negotiated, diplomatic solutions to conflicts in the region — did become a source of inspiration for the peoples of the region. Today, however, Turkey, on course to become an increasingly corrupt autocracy, has entirely lost that quality.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman