Speaking to the website of the Strategic Council on Foreign Relations, Dr. Ali Haji Mohammadi outlined the early goals of Turkey in Syria, saying: At the beginning of the coming to power of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), multidimensional foreign policy was one of the most important principles in the Turkish foreign policy, according to which Turkey should pursue an active and multidimensional approach, but because of its actions in Syria and some other policies, Ankara is now facing a passive and unidimensional policy under a single parameter, namely exit from crisis and conflict management, and not let its growing economy be damaged. Unlike the past, it can no longer “synchronize” its relationships with different actors and serve its purpose very well.
He described Turkey’s efforts before the Syrian crisis to follow a policy of détente with Bashar al-Assad government and gain access to its markets, increase bilateral trade volume and economic interdependence, gradual cultural and political influence and relieve historical tensions, and said: These require long-term and clear policies. It was costly and was not compatible with Turkey’s ambitions in Syria and the region and the rush to become a country-centered region.
After the region’s crises, Turkey’s goal was to overthrow Bashar al-Assad and bring a pro-Turkish government to power and turn Syria into one of the driving axes of Turkey’s relations in the region, but the conditions in Syria took a turn that terrorism, Syria, Iraq, the whole region and Turkey itself face serious challenges, and in its current state Turkey faces the challenge of terrorism, the Syrian refugee crisis and at the same time the Kurdish separatist dilemma near its borders that may endanger its domestic security. In sum, the challenges facing Turkey are not comparable to its achievements.
As for the policies that Turkey should pursue in the future to reduce challenges and bring peace to the region, Haji Mohammadi noted: Turkey does not need a new paradigm in its foreign policy, especially in Syria, but a rethinking and return to some basic foreign policy principles. Justice and Development Party, especially “zeroing in on problems with neighbors” and improving relations with them on the basis of proximity and non-interference and proactive diplomacy rather than pre-emptive diplomacy can save Turkey out of the current status.
Turkey should take advantage of the crisis experiences in Syria and Iraq, with a deeper political maturity and experience of recent developments, place “security for all” policy on the agenda and, as in the past, consider the security of all countries and groups as the pillar of its security in the region and play an effective role against insecurity of neighboring countries, because, the recent developments in the region have shown that the crisis and insecurity in Syria and Iraq or the challenge of sanctions on Iran also threaten Turkey’s security and economy and poses major challenges to the Turkish economy.
Haji Mohammadi considered the use of diplomatic channels before any military intervention and the use of soft power and economic power as other necessary policies before Turkish statesmen. Turkey’s interests are critical, but balanced and coordinated relations with regional and international actors are needed to manage and prevent any conflict in relations in a region where there are always all elements of challenge and conflicts or are created by trans-regional countries.
He added that Turkey should re-establish its multidimensional partnership framework by normalizing relations with its neighbors and playing an effective role in crisis prevention rather than response and reaction to crises, increasing interactions with regional actors and further maintain a balance with trans-regional powers. It should enter a new phase to take more initiatives in politics and economics for the benefit of Turkey and the region. The starting point of this change of attitude is Syria, and the time is now.
Turkey’s cooperation with the Syrian government, Iran, Iraq and partly with Russia can both address regional challenges and enable Turkey to return to its important regional role, the analyst said.
He added: Although the creation of a safe zone can be considered a temporary relative and local success for Turkey, in the long run, without the intelligent and constructive cooperation of neighboring countries, especially the countries involved in the Kurdish issue, this success will not last long.
“The presence of Turkey unlike the presence of Iran and Russia is not the wish of the Syrian people and the legitimate government of Syria,” said Haji Mohammadi. It is on this basis that under international agreements Turkey’s presence in Syria is considered to be unlawful and illegal, so it seeks to legitimize its invasion and presence in Syria and expects NATO to support Turkey as one of its key members. It has provided the space and opportunity to justify it.
Noting that pressures and criticisms of NATO and Turkey were bilateral, he said Turkey’s presence in Syria will be long-term under the NATO support. Otherwise, given the dangers it poses for the Turkish government, it does not appear that Turkey can have a long-term presence in Syria, so Turkey’s continued presence in Syria will be short-lived unless Turkey faces US and to some extent Russia and NATO support.
At the same time, he said that Turkey’s presence in Syria will entail special problems and threats for the Ankara government. He added that Turkey unlike the Arab governments and Iran and the region, has little oil and gas resources and its economy relies on good governance and efficient administration and privileged geopolitical position. It relies on tourism, certain industries and foreign investment, especially from the US, so it will counteract any factor that could endanger its economy and will even avoid countermeasures against the US. History has shown that Turkey and the United States would negotiate on numerous issues and give concessions to each other.