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Re: [alpha] INSIGHT - TURKEY - AKP's foreign policy
« on: June 04, 2013, 19:20:19 PM »
Re: [alpha] INSIGHT - TURKEY - AKP's foreign policy

Released on 2012-10-18 17:00 GMT

Email-ID    73390
Date    2011-06-02 19:04:18
From    [email protected]
To    [email protected]
My comments below
On 6/1/2011 5:02 PM, Michael Wilson wrote:

PUBLICATION: background/analysis
Head of DC arm of SETA, main AKP think tank; strong supporter of AKP,
close to Davutoglu
Reliability : B

Just came back from a nearly 3 hour lunch with this Turkish source. He
heads up the AKP's premier think tank SETA from DC and is supposed to
act as the face of Turkey's foreign policy in US. He and Davutoglu are
close (the source is always defending Davutoglu and thinks (our) George
and D are soul mates) and had just come back from Ankara, where had
spent a lot of hours working with Davutoglu. SETA is undergoing a major
expansion right now. Instead of just being a Turkish think tank, they
are turning into a regional think tank with offices in Cairo, Brussels
and Moscow (in addition to their current 2 in DC and Ankara.) AKP is
throwing money at the institute, trying to make it into a stronger
foreign policy arm of the government. Having been involved in a major
project to develop a think tank a few years back, I know this is one
massive financial undertaking! Even for a single office and now we are
looking at expansion from 2 to 5. Where are the funds coming from?
Surely, they can't use state funds. AKP and Gulen have limited funds as
well and which are dedicated to ongoing expensese and projects. Either
this is coming from pro-AKP Turkish businessmen or perhaps money from
like-minded Khaleeji sources. (side note - i asked why those
locations; he said Turkey wouldn't want to be in the Caucasus because
it's better not to 'offend' Russia in its periphery; Cairo is good b/c
it allow Turkey extension into Arab world, North Africa especially;
Turkey can reach into Iraq just fine from Ankara and SETA doesn't want
to be seen as an intel outlet in these countries either.) Cairo has been
chosen because it is THE place where the Turks (esp AKP) want to expand
in keeping with their foreign policy and for historical reasons. They
now see an opportunity in the form of the transition towards a
multi-party political system. There is a lot to be gained by shaping the
thinking there. I recall not too long ago that Gamal Mubarak once said
that Egypt is willing to accept Turkey as a major regional player but
not Iran. Many within the Egyptian civilian sector see Turkey as a model
for political development where Islamists can secualrists can co-exist
in a political framework. Likewise, the Egyptian military in the
post-Mubarak period will be looking at TSK in terms of how it was able
to guide the democratic process. Plus, if you are based in Cairo, you
get a good sense of the geopolitical currents flowing through the Arab
world. Egypt is now moving to be the main owner of the
Israeli-Palestinian issue. It also helps mitigate the tensions stemming
from the fact that Egypt doesn't really want itself or the Arab world to
come under Turkish hegemony So there are lots of advanatges of being in
the Egyptian capital. Brussels makes sense because of the NATO
relationship. Keep in mind that NATO membership places limits on how far
Turkey can press for an independent foreign policy. So, AKP will want to
see how it can deal with that situation. Being in Brussels helps shape
the thinking in NATO. Much better than to have an office in London,
Paris, or Berlin. Moscow is not just because they don't want to piss off
the Russians by opening an office in the Caucuses. The Kremlin is a
major power that the Turks will always have to deal with. Besides, the
Turkish state, AKP, SET, all have considerable presence in Baku. And
just as Ankara office deals with Iraq it can also deal with Caucuses.
What would be interesting is to find out their linkages into Iran. There
are some think tanks in Tehran and I am almost certain there are
relationship between those and SETA.

Turkey, specifically the AKP, is in overdrive right now. Davutoglu says
it's all overwhelming, but that Turkey should recognize the opportunity
that has opened up. It was very difficult, for example, for Turkey to
expand influence into North Africa before. AKP did not have good
relations with Egypt, virtually nothing with Tunisia, etc. Now, it's
open access. SETA has been organizing all kinds of conferences --
notably focusing on "reformed" Islamists - for opposition groups in
nearly every Arab country. Some of this stuff is likely being worked out
with the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, which I am
affiliated with. CSID works with DoS, NED, USIP, CIPE, and other such
entities in DC. The focus is on post-Islamist elements who share the AKP
ideological position on the interplay between religion and public
affairs. They bring them to Ankara, give them tours of the ministries,
have them observe parliamentary proceedings, teach them governance, etc.
(They don't publicize the events, but the source said the NED funded one
of these conferences with a Jordanian institute and wanted Turkey to
take charge of it.) This has been ongoing for a while. In 2006, I was
part of the organizing committee involving SETA and the International
Institute of Islamic Thought that organized a conference on Security,
Democracy, and Governance. Back then there was just the SETA office in
Ankara. The activities since then have expanded tremendously. Turkey's
internal security forces are training security forces in countries like
Syria in how to deal with civil disobedience (ie. dont shoot
protestors). AKP's natural preference is to raise 'reformed' or
moderate Islamist political opposition in these countries, with Turkey
serving as the model. It is in the Turkish (AKP) interest to help
moderate Islamist forces make the journey towards post-Islamism. Helps
them control Islamists in the region and the Arab states. Helps them
tell U.S. let us manage this for you. Syria will be difficult because
the MB there is not organzied as it is mostly an exiled entity. Egypt
will be much more easy especially with the younger generation of the MB
eager to emulate the post-Islamist experience of the AKP.

The source's attitude on this issue was something that I noticed a lot
back when I was in Turkey. It's this whole 'all Arabs want to be like
Turks' attitude during the region. The Arabs are seen as backwards, and
if you talk to the Turkish military folks, they're seen as dirty, not
even worth dealing with. But the AKP says since we have the Islamist
linkage, we bring down the barriers between Turkey and the Islamic
world, we CAN work with them, do business with them, teach them how to
govern democratically and bring their militaries under civilian control,
but they will always be inferior to us. As he put it, this whole Arab
Spring will be a Turkish Spring, meaning that Turkey will transform the
Arab Spring into the AKP model and they will all be grateful for it.
This dynamic is much more nuanced. The Arabs are backward is a lot more
a Persian and South Asian sentiment than it is a Turkish one. It exists
within Turkey but among the Kemalist old guard given that Ataturk based
his movement on a rejection of the Arab religio-cultural heritage. That
said, there has been a lot of contact between Turkish and Arab peoples
due to frequent back and forth travel, which helped in changing the
attitude. We have to keep in mind that on the Arab side there has also
been a historical contempt for the Turks who were seen as Isti'maar
(imperialists) given 4 centuries of Ottoman rule, which finally ended
with the Arab alignment with the British and French in WWI. That Arab
attitude has also been tempered over the decades. Islamism has indeed
played a key role in undoing such attitudes but there is also the
increasing religiousity within Turkey and the Arab world that has
allowed for the rekindling of the Islamic bond. This is not be confused
with pan-Islamism, which is a political tendency. There is also the
diversity within the Arab world that shapes this budding relationship.
Saudi Arabia and the GCC states look at Turkey differently than say
Egypt, Iraq, and the Levantine Arab states. The Turks are unlikely to be
able to play the role of Big Brother in a significant way because of
these differences. The fact that the incumbents states have not been
swept away and we are looking at an evolutionary process of change in
the region means that Turkey will have to navigate carefully between the
states and the non-state actors, especially moderate Islamists.
AKP doesn't really have strong ties with the Ikhwan (MB) in these
countries, nor does Gulen, but they are working on building those ties
now. This is not exactly true. AKP have long historical ties with the MB
(going back to the days when the former mentor of Erdogan/Gul, the late
Necemittin Erbakan launched his first political party in the late
60s/early 70s) but indirectly. I am part of this informal int'l network
of moderate Islamists and post-Islamists that stretches from
Indonesia/Malaysia to North America and from the Russian Muslim regions
to Africa. The Egyptian and Syrian MBs (Jordan is a bit different) have
long been locked down by their respective governments and AKP and its
predecessors Fazeelat, Refah, etc were locked down by the Turkish
military. But they did communicate via the western diaspora of the MB
and its allies. So, yes while organizational ties are not there (just as
the ones between the various MBs in the Arab countries) but broader and
strong linkages exist. Another source I was talking to the other day (a
former Gulenist) explained to me the big ideological differences between
Gulen movement and the MB, where the Gulenists do not agree with the
Sayyid Qutb line of thinking on political Islam and believe that
Islamists should stay out of governance. This again is very simplistic
view of things. First, Sayyid Qutb is an extremely misunderstood
individual, especially because of the way he has been painted as the
ideological godfather of al-Qaeda in the post-9/11 world. Second, Qutbi
thinking forms one of many strands in the MB. Third, Qutb was a passing
phenomenon as far as the MB is concerned. MB is much closer to the AKP
than is generally acknowledged, especially with the youth and the
younger generations pushing for AKP as a template to be emulated He was
explaining to me how this was drilled into them growing up by the
Gulenist mentors and how that posed a big ideological barrier between
the movement and the MB (note the MB never set up in Turkey.) Wrong. AKP
is the successor to the Turkish counterparts of the MB. The difference
in political conditions in Turkey and the Arab states has obviously
shaped them differently. The Turkish Islamists have evolved much more
quickly because of secularism and democracy while the MBs have been left
behind because of the autocratic socialism of the Arab states. We also
need to remember that Gulen is an offshoot of the original Turkish
Islamist movement. It doesn't speak for Saadet or AKP. You can argue
that this aversion to 'political' Islam by the Gulenists is not as
strong anymore given that the Gulenists rely on AKP as their main
political vehicle and you even have 2 Gulenists running this time in
Turkey's election in Istanbul. Gulen is a social movement so it is not
technically Islamist. Thus far it has relied on AKP by infiltrating the
party and the other sectors of the state through the back door. I am
certain that this is not the first time Gulenites are running for
office. There are many AKPites who are Gulenists. The difference this
time around maybe that these guys might Point is, AKP and its allies are
encouraging Islamist opposition groups in these countries to emerge from
the Arab Spring and wants to mold them according to its own model of
moderate Islam (you can imagine how this would greatly complicate things
with Israel and US.) I don't think the U.S. and Israel would be
completely averse to this. They have no real choice in the matter. So,
from their pov it is better to have Turkish style Islamists than Arab or
South Asian types. I know the Obama administration is definitely looking
at it this way and I also believe the Israelis are too smart and best
placed to realize this.

The source said Turkey is putting an unbelievable amount of pressure on
Syria to engage in real reforms. It's not that AKP is trying to
overthrow Assad, but they see a bigger security risk in having the
Syrian regime suppress the opposition. He was saying how an increasing
number of PKK are coming from Syria, and that SYria's policies toward
its Kurds lead to radicalization, which creates security problems for
Turkey. The Turks know the regime will fall if it didn't alter course.
They don't want that to happen. Like I said before the Syrian opposition
is not in a position where the Turks can simply back them and they can
replace the al-Assad regime. The Turkish nightmare is a Libya on their
door step and are thus frustrated with the way in which the Syrians
aren't cooeprating to avoid a potential meltdown. Bashar's second
speech was written by the Turks. The policy on citizenship for Kurds was
pushed by AKP, and Bashar listened. Recall I said that the last Turkish
delegation that went to Damascus to discuss the domestic situation was
made up of second tier officials whose job it is to operationalize
things already agreed upon by the top leaderships. So, it makes sense
for al-Assad's thinking to be shaped by the Turks AKP wants to see more,
real reforms that allow for a legalized opposition. That's why AKP is
giving the opposition groups in Syria a platform in Turkey - to
intimidate the al Assad regime and build up links with developing
alternatives to the Al Assads. It doesn't mean that the political
transition will happen overnight, but Turkey is trying to push the
regime to open up politically and allow for competition to enable these
other political groups, like the MB. (SETA has been the main group
organizing these conferences with the Syrian opposition.)

He says that the US is pushing Turkey to pressure Syria harder, and that
the pressure is coming from the top. Turkey is pushing back saying that
they want to deal with Syria on their terms and that they don't want to
push the Syrian regime over the edge.

AKP wants to help Egypt rise in the region. It's not that Turkey views
Egypt right now as a serious competitor, but it thinks that if Egypt
could get its shit together under Turkish tutelage, then that will allow
Turkey to better manage the region, especially when it comes to
controlling and reforming Hamas, dealing with Libya, Tunisia, etc.
(Interesting to note that the Turks are thinking along these lines
already - just as US is looking to Turkey to share the burden, Turkey is
already looking to develop proxies to share the burden within the
region.) Things will go very badly if the military in Egypt doesn't
follow through with its promises in the elections. Turkey wants to make
sure the opposition, especially the MB, is given the room to rise. It
doesn't matter if Israel doesn't like it -- that's Israel's problem.

He expressed frustration a lot throughout the discussion - that the US
still views Turkey as junior, and tells it 'do this' or 'do that' in its
foreign policy. The AKP doesn't like being treated that way, which
results in a lot of issues when Turkish and US officials meet. Davutoglu
feels that the security issues in the Persian Gulf region are
exaggerated, and that the US plays up the Persian-Arab divide in trying
to get Turkey to do something. From AKP's point of view, the question
is, 'what do you want us to do?' The AKP wants to tame the sectarian
conflict, not exacerbate it by openly taking sides and making Iran out
as the big, bad threat.

This broadened up into a discussion on Davutoglu's 'zero problems with
neighbors' foreign policy. The source explained how a lot of people see
this foreign policy as naive, but he says Davutoglu is not as naive as
he appears. He may be an academic, but he's cunning. He knows he has
problems iwth neighbors, but in his view, it doesn't serve Turkey's
purposes to articulate those problems and brand neighbors as rivals. If
Turkey tells its neighbors taht its whole strategic purpose is to
resolve its problems and remove conflict, then it feels that it can work
with them more effectively. this is the approach it takes with Iran,
Russia, etc., avoiding confrontation. He said how on the surface, Turkey
won't take aggressive action against Iran, but in the meantime of course
AKP will bolster the Sunnis in Iraq. I countered that that assumes that
events in Turkey's neighborhood will occur according to Turkey's
timeline and when Turkey is ready to deal with those problems - the
world doesn't work that way. When problems push up against Turkey's
interests, Turkey will have to respond one way or another, even if it
doesn't seem 'neighborly.' Overall, the impression I get is that the
AKP's foreign policy guys are still under the impression that this
Davutoglu foreign policy doctrine is still the best way to go about
conducting foreign policy. There is very little attention paid to the
prioritization of foreign policy interests. Turkey still seems to be
running around trying to put out fires and seize opportunities but is
still severely lacking focus and discipline. What Davutoglu does
understand, according to the source, is that the best way for Turkey to
learn is by doing. Davutoglu apparently compares Turkey's experience to
the US post WWII when US didn't even have an intel agency. He believes
that all of these regional developments will push Turkey into action and
force Turkey to learn quickly how to manage its neighborhood.

(Side note - Davutoglu doesn't want to translate his 500 page book on
Strategic Depth into English, though it's been translated into Arabic
and Russian. I asked why, especially since English is the lingua franca,
wouldn't more people understand Turkey's foreign policy choices if they
could read the book that the foreign policy chief wrote? He didn't want
to give into the idea that English is the lingua franca - you can still
sense this strong aversion to recognizing US power and wanting to assert
Turkey independently of the US.)

He thinks AKP will win big in the next election. There is really not
much the secularist establishment can do to undermine their support. As
long as the economy is okay, the AKP is secure. The ideological and
political divisions within TUrkey are so severe still. This was
especially clear following the assassination attempt against Erdogan
recently. He talks with disgust about how the military could never do
what the AKP has done in the past decade. When teh military ran things,
they only cared about themselves whereas the AKP build trust between the
state and the people. He said that the secularist groups still refuse to
deal with Islamic countries. Even when SETA tries to reach out to the
secularist think tanks, business associations for projects in places
like Tunisia, Egypt, etc., they reject them with the attitude that Arabs
are beneath them, we don't need to work with them. He says (and this is
what davutoglu argues) that the AKP's mentality is what allows Turkish
foreign policy to expand.

The military doesn't have much option of trying to undermine AKP in the
lead-up to elections. He pointed out the leaks recently on how some
retired members within the military had meetings with PKK leadership,
the allegation being that the military 'deep state' is trying to
orchestrate attacks and undermine AKP's Kurdish policy.