Turkey Aims to Regain Past Position as Governance Model by Cooperating with Anti-Daesh Coalition

Friday, October 16, 2015

Hossein Mofidi Ahmadi, Ph.D. in International Relations &
Visiting Researcher at the Center for Middle East Strategic Studies

During recent weeks, various dimensions and goals of Turkey’s military operations against Daesh and its cooperation with anti-Daesh coalition have drawn more attention, and have developed into new dimensions after the beginning of Russia’s operations and strong presence in Syria. It seems that out of different factors, Turkey’s effort to reclaim its undermined position as a country with a claim to offering the best governance model in the region has been behind this change of approach. This issue has become especially important after historic agreement between Iran and the P5+1 group of countries over Iran's nuclear program.

Analysts of regional issues have mentioned various factors to explain why Turkey has become more cooperative with anti-Daesh coalition. A viewpoint in this regard is that Turkey is trying to create a security belt along its southern borders and recent terrorist attacks in Ankara will probably shore up this viewpoint. There is another viewpoint, however, which believes that the terrorist operations simply provided a smoke screen, which would allow Turkey to take action for reducing the power of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Syrian Kurds. Another important viewpoint emphasizes the ruling Justice and Development Party’s effort to regain a dominant position in the forthcoming early elections.

Evidently, none of the above factors and viewpoints can be categorically ignored and rejected. However, Turkey’s effort to regain its undermined past position as a country that claimed to be offering the best governing model in the region, has been a key factor in this change of approach, though it has received less attention. This issue has been especially of higher importance following Iran's historic agreement with the P5+1 group of countries over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.

Few analysts could be found who would not consider political developments known as the Arab Spring as a turning point in actions and behavior of important actors in the Middle East and North Africa. In the meantime, Turkish officials have been promoting this viewpoint, of course in an unofficial manner, that the model of governance arising from the existing political structure in Turkey is the best model for the region. They argued that this model combined freedom seeking with the quest for Islamic identity, thus releasing regional citizens from the indecision of which they suffered when trying to choose between the existing dominant totalitarian models, and other models, which were potentially Islamist and actually theocratic. According to opinion polls, which were conducted in early years of the Arab Spring developments, it seemed that the model of governance proposed by the Turkish officials was actually attractive for a major part of political and cultural elites as well as the public opinion in the region.

During recent years, Turkey’s approach to such issues as how to deal with the Syria crisis, as well as its attitude toward the growing role of the Syrian Kurdish forces in fighting Daesh have drawn fire from Western countries. On the other hand, Turkey’s domestic and foreign policies in recent years have been severely criticized by the elite and the public opinion in the region and many analysts clearly noted that the policy of “minimizing problems with neighboring countries to zero,” which was the main foreign policy strategy arising from Turkey’s model of governance, is dead.

It should be noted that the high position that Turkey enjoyed in regional public opinion polls coincided with a period in which the country was successfully going through the process of Europeanization. Within this framework, the way Turkey dealt with developments resulting from Arab revolutions at the beginning of those developments was affected by its hybrid identity and was based on this idea that Turkey has both Islamic and European identities and its people saw these two identity layers not contradictory, but coexistent. They especially argued that the European identity was a requisite for the existence of the Islamic identity.

Developments in recent years have made it totally clear for Turkish officials that the more they drift away from the West and lose the possibility of taking advantage of software and hardware capacities of the European Union, NATO, and the United States, the more they would lose their influence in the region and the ability to manage regional crisis, as a result of which, their model of governance would lose its credit. One reason for more cooperation between of Turkey with the West is this very new understanding on the part of the Turkish officials. Turkish officials believe that this behavior will reduce criticism from the West and help the country’s governance model to regain its past standing in the region.

Another important point with regard to this new understanding is the dynamism related to Iran's historic deal with the P5+1 group of countries over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. Turkey has not ignored the possibility of Iran turning into the most important or, at least, one of the most important strategic partners of the West in the medium and long terms. Turkish officials maintain that such a development along with possible prominence of more moderate and pragmatic streaks in Iran's model of governance, will most probably increase attraction of this model and institutions arising from it in the post-Arab Spring era. This is exactly the point where, out of all possible factors, the new understanding of the adverse effects of distancing from the West, and the concern about emergence of Iran as a new serious rival, cause Turkey to get more in line with regional strategies of the West.

Key WordsTurkey, Governance Model, Anti-Daesh Coalition, Russia, Iran, P5+1, Iran's Nuclear Program, Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Syrian Kurds, Arab Spring, Middle East, North Africa, European Union, NATO, US, Mofidi Ahmadi

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*Photo Credit: Islamic Invitation Turkey