Monday, December 22, 2008

Davutoğlu's Dominos

Ahmet Davutoğlu is Erdoğan's chief foreign policy advisor. From the Washington Post's David Ignatius:
As Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey's leading foreign policy strategist, explains the series of political choices that are ahead in the Middle East next year, he might be describing a row of dominoes. If they fall in the right direction, good things could happen. But if they start toppling the wrong way, watch out.

Davutoglu's domino theory deserves careful attention from Barack Obama's team as it thinks about Middle East strategy. The Turkish official knows his stuff. As the top adviser to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, he has managed Turkey's successful mediation between Syria and Israel as well as other delicate diplomacy in this messy part of the world.

Davutoglu spoke with me Wednesday in the Dolmabahce Palace on the shores of the Bosporus. The Ottoman setting was appropriate. For Davutoglu has overseen a shift in Turkish diplomacy over the past several years -- away from Europe and toward the surrounding region that, until a century ago, was governed from this ancient city. This change of emphasis upsets some Turks, but I'll get to that later.

What's intriguing about Davutoglu's analysis is that it involves a series of elections. That's good news for a region that has had too little democracy. The bad news is that voters may make choices that confound U.S. policy -- and that make peace in the region more difficult.

"We want the world community to understand that these elections are important, and that they will affect the Obama presidency," explains Davutoglu.

. . . .

Davutoglu says his slogan is "zero problems on our borders." The next few months will test whether that optimistic strategy is viable.

As I noted earlier, not everyone here is enthusiastic about the Turkish government's new stress on regional diplomacy. Critics argue that although Erdogan is still officially committed to joining the European Union, he is actually abandoning that goal. "They have lost enthusiasm on the E.U. All their energy now is on regional politics," contends Sedat Ergin, editor of the daily newspaper Milliyet.

Some Turks also worry that as Erdogan turns away from Europe, he is becoming less tolerant of his opponents. Critics cite his call in September for a boycott of Milliyet and other papers that had reported on a corruption case in Germany involving members of his party. "His limit of tolerance for freedom of the press and freedom of expression is pretty low," argues Soli Ozel, a columnist for Sabah newspaper.

Davutoglu stresses that Turkey's new regional role isn't a throwback to the days of the Ottoman pashas. The world has changed. Democracy rules. But that doesn't guarantee people will vote the way the United States wants.
For full article, click here. For Turkey's shifting foreign policy focus, see my recent analysis in Foreign Policy in Focus.

No comments: