Turkey’s new Prime Foreign Minister

New Turkish President, former PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan (l) and new PM Ahmet Davutoglu (r)

While we were busy fighting Hamas in Gaza, new developments were taking place in another quasi-enemy of Israel, Turkey.

In presidential elections held a few weeks ago in Turkey, the previous Prime Minister, our old “pal” Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was elected President. He proceeded to nominate our other old pal, the previous Foreign Minister Ahmed Davutoglu, as the new Prime Minister.

Daniel Pipes is not impressed with Davutoglu’s election and “bastes” Turkey’s new Prime Minister:

As Recep Tayyip Erdoğan ascends today to the presidency of Turkey, his hand-picked successor, Ahmet Davutoğlu, simultaneously assumes Erdoğan’s old job of prime minister. What do these changes portend for Turkey and its foreign policy? In two words: nothing good.

What struck me most was the boastful optimism and complete self-assurance of Davutoğlu, former professor of international relations and an Islamist ideologue. He not only implied that Turkey had waited breathlessly for him and his grand vision but he also displayed an unconcealed delight at finding himself in a position to apply his academic theories to the great canvas of international politics. (This privilege occurs surprisingly rarely.) In sum, that conversation inspired neither my confidence nor my admiration.

While Davutoğlu has done remarkably well for himself in the intervening years, he did so exclusively as consigliere to his sole patron, Erdoğan. His record, by contrast, has been one of inconsistent policy and consistent failure, a failure so abject it borders on fiasco. Under Davutoğlu’s stewardship, Ankara’s relations with Western countries have almost universally soured, while those with Iran, Iraq, Syria, Israel, Egypt, and Libya, among other Middle Eastern states, have plummeted. To top it off, Turkish rule is endangered even in its own northern Cypriot satrapy.

As Turkey’s 26th prime minister, Davutoğlu faces a bubble economy perilously near collapse, a breakdown in the rule of law, a country inflamed by Erdoğan’s divisive rule, a hostile Gülen movement, and a divided AKP, all converging within an increasingly Islamist (and therefore uncivil) country. Moreover, the foreign policy problems that Davutoğlu himself created still continue, especially the ISIS hostage emergency in Mosul.

The unfortunate Davutoğlu brings to mind a cleanup crew arriving at the party at 4 a.m., facing a mess created by now-departed revelers. Happily, the contentious and autocratic Erdoğan no longer holds Turkey’s key governmental position; but his placing the country in the unsteady hands of a loyalist of proven incompetence brings many new concerns for the Turks, their neighbors, and all who wish the country well.

Burak Bekdil of the Hurriyet Daily News provides us with a Turkish insider’s look at Turkey’s politics. He has a more positive impression of Davutoglu (though damning him with faint praise in the process), calling him the “Prime Foreign Minister”:

When the world’s foreign policy intelligentsia had the habit of mentioning his name with euphemisms such as “Turkey’s Kissinger,” “champion of Turkey’s greatness” and “always the hero of his own narrative”; here, in this column, he was one day “Dr. Strangelove,” another day, “The Man Who Made Tomorrow,” and another day, “The Man Who Rides the Thunder.” One title was “Dr. Davutoğlu of Turkey or the [atomic] bomb party,” borrowed from Graham Greene’s “Dr. Fischer of Geneva or the Bomb Party.” Once, this column portrayed Turkey’s foreign policy like “a not-so-funny Turkish opera buffa with the main characters resembling those of [Miguel de] Cervantes’s famous book.”

All of which should suffice to make this columnist, to put it mildly, a not-so-favorite for Mr. Davutoğlu.

All the same, the criticism of Professor Davutoğlu in this column has never been personal. On the contrary, this columnist knows well enough that Mr. Davutoğlu is a fine gentleman; an honest, modest, hard-working man who wants the best for his nation – although not always in the most realistic way.

Perhaps most importantly, Mr. Davutoğlu is Turkey’s first prime minister – after the late Bülent Ecevit – who is purely free of any corruption allegations. Mr. Davutoğlu is Mr. Clean.

Unfortunately, the fundamentals of Mr. Davutoğlu’s foreign policy will not miraculously metamorphosize into reason from blind ideology.

But Mr. Davutoğlu could be Mr. Erdoğan’s unwilling gift to Turkey, especially if he, with his intellectual honesty, reviewed the applicability of his faith in Turkish Sunni supremacy into 21st century polity in the former Ottoman lands. Or if he stopped viewing Turkey’s foreign relations with the former Ottoman lands as Turkey’s domestic affairs. Or if he stopped believing he has the holy mission to correct the “incorrect” flow of history.

Under Mr. Davutoğlu’s Foreign Ministry, Turkey earned an international reputation that “its bark is worse than its bite.” As prime minister, he should work much harder to reverse that line – the prime president minister permitting.

He could start improving Turkey’s reputation by putting the local Jewish community at ease after they were demanded to denounce Israel. Turkey’s Jewish intellectuals decried being targeted over the Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza in an open letter:

A group of Turkish-Jewish intellectuals have denounced being targeted over Israel’s recent operations in Gaza, describing attempts to hold them responsible for Israel’s policies as “racist.”

Prominent figures such as scholar and columnist Soli Özel, leftist writer Roni Margulies, economist Cem Behar and former radio host and activist Avi Haligua, stressed their opposition to Israel’s actions in a letter released Aug. 29. However, they also added that no one should expect unity of opinion in a community of 20,000 people, and expressed their wish that their opinion not be interpreted based on their identity.

Kol hakavod to those Jewish intellectuals on their open letter though I find it very sad, not to say suspicious, that they prefaced their letter with a pro-forma statement of opposition to Israel’s actions anyway, as if without this opposition their views will not be taken into account.

Abe Foxman of the ADL correctly noted that asking the Jews to denounce Israel “reeks of antisemitism“.

Turkey has to go a long way to prove to Israel that it can be trusted as an honest broker, and it has a very long way to show the West that it can be a useful and trustworthy ally in the fight against the barbaric hordes of ISIS. I have my doubts that things will change much with the new/old constellation in Turkish politics.

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