As a result of the unfolding dynamics—in recent years it seems that not only is Turkey subjected to some internal instability but also it has a group of states with which it cannot seem to manage its relations with. The Turkish quagmire in lieu of all the states as well as some non-state actors with which the Turkish relations today stand at a crossroad. Turkey is overplaying its importance and this is going to complicate its vulnerable position in the future.
Turkey is an important state, be it in the international realm or the regional arena. During the period of Ottoman Empire—the state was in fact at the center stage of all Muslim Political dynamics. Even at the time of the First World War before the disintegration of the Empire or soon after the disintegration and under the sound leadership of Ataturk—Turkey grew in political importance. The way it carried forward its secular agenda for stability has become an important example everywhere. And if one quickly shifts to the 21st century then one will find that Turkey as a state has been central to many regional and international dynamics.
The policy of ‘Strategic Depth’ which focused on Turkey’s supreme advantage due to its prime location, its neighbors being influenced by the state with its use of soft power for all economic purposes which would ultimately lead to peace and was considered to be at best, phenomenal. Moreover Turkey then became a formidable champion within Middle East during the Arab Spring when the Turkish Model was put forth the crumbling and flailing Middle Eastern states. But perhaps the most characteristic feature within Turkey was their policy of ‘Zero Problem Policy with Neighbors’. Particularly in Middle East this policy met with considerable promise as it moved forward with even pace.
The year 2015 saw that Turkey has completely left the policy in a crumbling state and thus began the Turkish doom as it pitted deep into a quagmire. The Turkish quagmire is in fact an intricate one because it seems that it is an end in itself and the whirling relationship dynamics of Turkey with some core states is pointing to a very gruesome and complex state of affairs. It is pertinent to discuss the Turkish quagmire in lieu of all the states as well as some non-state actors with which the Turkish relations today stand at a crossroad.
The United States: Turkey and the U.S. are both NATO states and as intriguing as it sounds, the relations the two have currently are volatile and shaky. A number of reasons can be attached to this factor; the foremost idea could be that what we see today between US and Turkey is both a clash of interest as well as a clash of the leadership. For the US leadership in the face of Obama—Erdoğan started as someone who could change so many for the two blocs and ultimately became an authoritarian who was out to show the world his own might.
Their initial bitterness could be seen over the fact that Turkey covertly did engage with IS and did wish to use them as their proxy. This turned out as deleterious thing for their relation with the US. The reciprocation of this was the use of Kurds as a proxy to ward off IS by the U.S. Thus their relationship became ripe with cracks at areas which made the foundation of their friendship vulnerable. The mighty blow was felt when the July 15th coup attempt took place and a new era in the US-Turkey partnership was ushered wherein the partnership took the form of antagonism as the Erdoğan believed that two forces are responsible for this attempt; Gullen and the entity giving power to Gullen i.e. the U.S.
Now all eyes are pinned to the coming political theater of Trump. Turkey was anticipating this win because they do believe that the uncertainty which Trump can bring to the table could be good for the two states. But it must be kept in mind that uncertainty if paired with instability can seldom make anything work. And more so, the worsening situation with a NATO partner which has been a longstanding ally, not to forget a superpower, can only mean trouble for Turkey.
Russia: Turkey and Russia have a much disorganized relationship. Sometimes there is a lingering cooperation and at others there is a sense of impending doom as conflictual stances prevail. Moreover their relationship has always met with the goriest circumstances. To be precise, their relationship dynamics within the grounds of Middle East are different than Central Asia. While a sense of political competition prevailed among them in Central Asia, the economic dependency is much admiring. As for Middle East, a clash of interests and policy which were at the highest after the ‘Apology issue’ in 2015 somewhat changed drastically after the failed coup attempt.
The two states moved towards rapprochement and were managing this pretty well, planning to forge an alliance to end the Syrian crisis when the Russian Ambassador was assassinated by a Turkish policeman on 19th December 2016. This perhaps will have more negative implications for Turkey as the latter state gradually might run out of people to blame. Even if they pin it on Gullen network—Russia and importantly Putin will eventually become weary of the oscillating and violence prone behavior of Turkey which constantly targets Russians—knowingly or otherwise.
Iran: Turkey and Iran yet again give us an insight into fluctuating relations in the past, present and even in the future to come. In fact the history of the cracks between them can be found around 200 years back over the control of Mesopotamia. Today the two happen to be dwelling on sectarian conflict as both are representative of different sects of Islam. But this is only one side of the coin; the other side tells us another story. When the Syrian crisis began the two sides belonged to conflicting blocs. Yet after the coup attempt in Turkey it was speculated that the two states will move forward because of some underlying notions that it would be mutually beneficial to both Turkey and Iran.
Some reasons were attributed to how both have common foes in the face of ISIS and the Kurds and if they are together for a greater cooperation for the sake of Syria and their own interests a tough partnership between them could surface. Yet things are not Utopian in a globe which is run by Realism. The reality is that power is the main feature of both sides’ policies and this power is mostly conflicting. And where this power is supreme there is mistrust as well which is easily perceivable between the two states. The game of scoring influence in Middle East is one which can bring both sides to each other’s throat.
The ‘neo-Ottoman’ ideology’ according to Iran, versus the establishment of the Shiite version of the Persian domination according to Turkey will constrain the relationship between the two. And to put oil into the fire, the November 24th attack near al-Bab which killed some Turkish soldiers was reported to have Iranian drone involved. This factor leads to a movement which resembles a collision between the two—only it will be fought in a proxy v/s proxy way in both Iraq and Syria.
Israel: The outgoing year 2016, was the year when Turkey and Israel normalized their relations after a long bitter hostility following the Flotilla incident. Yet it seems that even today there is not so much of an open rapprochement but only a peace which seems wisely calculated and a need of the time. For one, his views are tilting towards anti-Semitism and so much so that a large amount of the population is divided over this issue. The Jewish populations seem to be at odds with the hostile anti-Jew elements.
For another, Erdoğan has had an ideological affinity towards Hamas and he is not in the mood anytime soon to let go off it. The ‘peace’ made recently between the two seems to be as strong as the weakest link and here, the weakest link is more than one. It seems that here pragmatism takes a step back and the hostility takes charge. The idea of how much the two need each other is the only thing that perhaps keeps the bond alive, otherwise Turkey is one mess away from exploding into a tumultuous state.
European Union: And as always the murky relations between Turkey and EU have maintained. Not only is Turkey fuming at the failure of EU to allow it membership but EU is also in a miasma regarding Turkey and its gradual turning into an authoritarian state under Erdoğan. The latter in turn is really suspecting of the Western powers in which he sees EU as well, to be perpetuating instability in Turkey. The relations are stigmatized first because the EU and Turkey are at constant daggers drawn on the question of refugees. The EU is not at all trusting of Turkey and a large part which contributes to this is the fact that EU itself is going through some internal fissures and it sees Turkey as a baggage. The situation will perhaps only get worse because Turkey is after all turning more and more authoritarian—much to the displeasure of EU.