Public scrutiny of foreign policy is the backbone of democracy. Criticism, when firmly rooted in a rational analysis of the balance of power and national interest, can be constructive. However, when critiques resort to populism, however, they become ideological. I describe such ideologically-motivated counter-narratives, which ignore the moving tides of the international arena and serve to snip at all attempts at activism in the bud, as based upon little more than an urban legend. Many opposition figures conveniently ignore the skill with which Turkey's political leadership are able to adapt to changing realities, making proposals that are either romantic and detached from reality, or prone to distorting the government's pragmatic approach to foreign policy. What lies at the heart of this resistance, however, lies the goal of limiting Turkey's influence overseas.
Never in the 17 years of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) rule has there been a shortage of urban myths about its foreign policy. Before then prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's walked off the stage at the 2009 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, there were two very popular views about the government's foreign policy. Some believed that Erdoğan was a "pro-American" politician who was tasked with implementing the "Greater Middle East Project." Still, others claimed that the AK Party was dismantling Kemalism in cahoots with the West. Given Erdoğan's current critics often describe him as anti-Western and neo-Kemalist, it should go without saying that these accusations proved completely baseless.
In the wake of Erdoğan's "one-minute" moment and his government's response to Israel's deadly attack on Turkish citizens aboard the Mavi Marmara in 2010, a fresh set of urban legends hit the shelves – mainly revolving around the assessment that Turkey was "drifting away" from the West and adopting an Islamist foreign policy. In the immediate aftermath of the Arab Spring, that accusation gave way to a naïve view of the "Turkish model." From 2013 onwards, however, critics turned to an amalgamation of allegations over authoritarianism, dictatorship, Islamism, neo-Ottomanism, an axis shift and Turkey's drift away from the West.
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