It is a fact that Turkey is facing various problems in its relations with the U.S. and the EU, particularly within the context of EU accession negotiations and the Council of Europe.
Those living abroad or people like us who hold talks with foreign officials frequently as part of their duty have been witnessing a growing antipathy toward Turkey, especially since the Gezi Park protests. The perception of Turkey in the U.S. and EU between 2002 and 2010 was quite positive, but we see it now dimming.
Indeed, apart from organizations, Turkey has drawn criticism from people in the EU.
Of course, the so-called "one minute" crisis at the Davos summit proved to be a breaking point in this respect. Turkey was acting as a mediator between Israel and Palestine – and particularly Hamas – immediately before this event. As prime minister at the time, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had tried hard to broker a peace deal between Israel and Palestine. This effort was meaningful because Turkey stood at an equal distance from both sides while enjoying prestige in the Muslim world and particularly over Hamas.
But Turkey's efforts were sabotaged by Israel's Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. Images of children bombed on beaches and Israel's hypocritical approach toward Erdoğan disappointed the Turkish administration, which was sensitive to civilian casualties.
Of course, the position of the Jewish lobby, which exerts considerable influence over the media, following the "one minute" crisis is evident. But the issue cannot be explained only through this position. Several complex processes have intertwined to tarnish Turkey's perception in the West.
Chief among them was the Middle East-wide Arab Spring uprisings and the ensuing unraveling of the 1916 Sykes-Picot order along with political disintegration. The Middle East already lost the negative balance it had attained during the Cold War. Discontented people in antidemocratic Arab regimes that were ruled by autocrats like Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Muammar Gadhafi in Libya, hostilities sowed between sects during the colonial era, and the peculiarities of a region that had been terrorized for decades by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict combined to trigger an explosion.
In the face of all these developments, the U.S. and EU wavered between democratic demands, Israel's security and realpolitik interests. For the policies of Mubarak, an ally of Israel and the West, within Egypt were unwarrantable. At the same time, however, it was difficult to predict what course the relations between a post-Mubarak regime and the West would take, how such a regime would treat the pro-Western elites, liberal intelligentsia and Christian minorities in Egypt.
The same dilemma emerged in connection with Syria's Bashar Assad. Assad was a flat-out but secular dictator. Arab nationalism had long waned. He was an acceptable leader to both the West and Russia, and to Iran due to the sectarian affinity. The problem is that he never hesitated to kill civilians in large numbers.
The West has vacillated between democracy and its interests in almost all its choices regarding the Middle East. In the end, short-term interests have come to predominate. General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi's coup in Egypt was supported, or not actively opposed. Ousted President Mohammed Morsi was also involved in controversial practices but the Muslim Brotherhood was in power only for 11 months. Mubarak supporters totally controlled the Egyptian bureaucracy. In other words, Morsi was ousted before he even had full control of the administration and was thus denied a chance to rule the country.
In Syria, the U.S. first seemed determined to topple Assad at any cost and put heavy pressure on Turkey to enter Syria. Erdoğan resisted this pressure and avoided a military operation. What lies behind the U.S. discontent with Erdoğan in recent years is that same disappointment. But the U.S. wanted to support the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and was in agreement with Turkey about this issue. A lot of meetings were held in front of the whole world under the leadership of the U.S.
The fractious structure of the FSA and the involvement of radical Islamists in it was a cause for concern. But a much bigger problem was U.S. President Barack Obama's indecision on Syria. He seemed to waver between the Pentagon and White House security advisers and eventually threw his weight behind his advisers. In fact, when Assad's forces killed 1,300 civilians with chemical weapons in the rebel-held suburb of Eastern Ghouta, Obama stepped back from his statement on the use of chemical weapons, which he had previously described as a red line.
Needless to say, the DAESH factor, which appeared the in summer of 2012, came to be the real breaking point. As a result, Assad turned from a liability into an asset who must be kept in power. Following the Eastern Ghouta scandal, Obama has handed over the job of dealing with the situation to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Assad was saved through a hastily concocted deal to remove Syria's chemical weapons stock. Russia has thus begun to replace Iran as a dynamic force in Syria.
The U.S. has turned a deaf ear to Ankara, one of its closest allies, which has called for "applying pressure for a political solution" and "building a safe zone and no-fly zone in northern Syria." These were the most plausible proposals to emerge since the beginning of the crisis. And not only that, it has also tried to stick Turkey and Erdoğan with the bill for its own failure in Syria. Some elements of the FSA coalition, which had weakened due to the lack of support and the failure to establish a safe zone, began to join DAESH, which is better organized and better resourced thanks to oil revenues after the seizure of mosul and which uses brutal methods to subdue people.
A smear campaign claiming that Turkey provides support to DAESH and is even directly responsible for the creation of DAESH began to be run in influential newspapers like The New York Times, which is close to White House.
The U.S. has left Turkey alone choosing the PKK and the Democratic Union Party (PYD) as his new allies, since it focuses more on East Asia and the South China Sea and it wants to avoid a second Iraq fiasco. That the U.S. is trying to resolve the DAESH problem in Syria through an armed group whose violence has claimed 50,000 lives in Turkey over the last 30 years is the greatest scandal in U.S. foreign policy in recent years. It is clear by now that no chemical weapons were found at all in Iraq and that the invasion of this country was a plot. Tony Blair openly said he felt deep regret for the invasion of Iraq, effectively leaving the U.S. alone. But when facing the destructive and humiliating consequences of its flirtation with the PKK and PYD in the coming years, the U.S. will have only Russia at its side.
From the beginning, Turkey has been trying to explain that solutions to the problems in Syria, Egypt and Palestine should not be military but political in nature and that unless solved at its source, the problem is likely to trigger an enormous refugee crisis that will hold the whole world captive along with extremist groups like DAESH. However, not only is Turkey left alone but is also targeted by perception operations by its closest allies aimed to undermine it.
When the clashes in Syria broke out, Turkey avoided severing diplomatic ties with it for nearly seven months, trying to persuade Assad to implement a series of reforms. But it faced immense pressure from the U.S. Both the U.S. and the EU expected Turkey to unquestioningly align its policies with theirs as a submissive ally. Turkey's approach to these problems was based on a political solution and a win-win formula that prioritizes secularism. Indeed, during his visit to Egypt after the ouster of Mubarak, Erdoğan recommended secularism for Egypt with a view to stem the risk of a coup and unrest, and to help with a smooth transition to democracy. However, the U.S. and the EU have not wanted to see or failed to see how important a role Erdoğan serves as a communication facilitator and bridge between the West and the East.
As Turkey restores its relations with Israel and Russia, it won't compromise the principles it has set down at the outset. On the contrary, it seems to have made its interlocutors accept these principles. And it will be the same with a possible opening with Egypt. Israel fulfilled all three of Turkey's conditions regarding the victims of the deadly attack and Gaza. This is not arm wrestling. A mood of victory after the deal was not allowed, either. On the contrary, Erdoğan stood firm against anti-Israeli circles within the country, defended the deal and refused to budge on the issue. While doing this, he has continuously informed Palestinian leaders about the process and sought their approval. Far from being an enemy of Israel, Turkey has a potential to be its closest partner. Turkey wants to see democratic regimes in the Middle East that are respectful of their citizens. Turkey has been DAESH's biggest enemy from the start and the Turkish brand of Islam is an antidote to DAESH.
Gross injustices, double standards, and biased approaches toward Turkey by the U.S. and the EU today actually just strengthen Turkey. But they bring the most amount of damage to the West itself. If Turkey had not hosted 3 million refugees and spent $10 billion on them, both the death toll would have increased exponentially and the EU would have collapsed in the face of millions of refugees. The greatest humanitarian gesture and democratic success of the 21st century so far belong to Turkey.
Reports on Turkey by both the European Parliament and the Council of Europe, of which I am a member, are biased documents that reveal a desire to interfere with domestic politics in Turkey. We do not claim that Turkish democracy is free from problems. We consider it important to benefit from the Western democracies with which we ally. But on the condition of equality and fairness in relations.
The U.S. and the EU may choose to work not with Turkey but with the PKK from now on. And the issue of visa liberalization is not as important to Turkey's agenda as it seems from afar. But this choice would not weaken Turkey's determination to maintain its territorial integrity, domestic peace, and its secular-democratic order. Not getting support from its friends in its bloody struggle with the PKK and DAESH, Turkey has noted their flirtation with these groups.
We just hope that the new U.S. administration will adopt a more objective approach to Turkey and the EU will overcome petty politics and confusion.
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