Turkey's foreign policy and the rhetoric that presumably went to support it, has, during the past several years, aimed less at achieving foreign policy goals and more at consolidating voters' support for the Ankara government.
Self-aggrandizing behavior has predominantly shaped policy and
functioned to please the Turks' passion for a return to their glorious
Assertive and confrontational diplomatic language and playing the
tough guy of the neighborhood may have helped garner popular support for
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party
(AKP), but after years of "loud barking and no biting", Turkey has
effectively become the victim of its own narrative.
In 2010, Turkey froze diplomatic relations with Israel and promised
"internationally to isolate the Jewish state", and never to restore ties
unless, along with two other conditions, Jerusalem removed its naval
blockade of Gaza to prevent weapons from being brought in that would be
used to attack Israel. Turkey's prime minister at the time, Ahmet
Davutoglu, said Israel would "kneel down to us".
In 2016, after rounds of diplomatic contacts, Turkey and Israel agreed
to normalize their relations. The blockade of Gaza, to prevent
shipments of weaponry to be used by Gazans in terror attacks remains in
In 2012, Davutoglu claimed that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's
days in power were numbered, "not by years but by weeks or months". In
2016, Davutoglu had to step down as prime minister, but Erdogan's and
his worst regional nemesis, Assad, is in power to this day, enjoying
increased Russian and Iranian backing. In 2012, Erdogan said
that "we will soon go to Damascus to pray at the Umayyad mosque" -- a
political symbol of Assad's downfall and his replacement by pro-Turkey
Sunni groups. That prayer remains to be performed.
In November 2015, shortly after Turkey shot down a Russian Su-24
military jet and cited violation of its airspace, Erdogan warned Russia
"not to play with fire." As for the Russian demands for an apology, Erdogan said it was Turkey that deserved an apology because its airspace had been violated, and that Turkey would not apologize to Russia.
In June 2016, just half a year after Russia imposed a slew of economic sanctions on Turkey, Erdogan apologized to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Erdogan and his government have countless times warned
the United States not to side with the Syrian Kurds --whom Turkey views
as a terrorist group-- in the allied fight against radical jihadists of
ISIL's Islamic State. In March 2017, Washington denied that Syrian
Kurds were a terrorist group and pledged continued support for them.
Erdogan's Turkey has done more than enough to show that its bark is
worse than its bite. Yet it keeps barking badly. This time, the enemy to
bark at, not bite, is Europe. This is the first time that Erdogan is
openly challenging a concerted European stand.
In a recent row
between several European capitals and Ankara over Erdogan's ambitions
to hold political rallies across Europe to address millions of Turkish
expatriates, the Turkish president said he would ignore that he was unwelcome in Germany and would go there to speak to his Turkish fans.
the Dutch government deported one of Erdogan's ministers who had gone
uninvited to the Netherlands to speak to the Turkish community there.
Germany launched two investigations into alleged Turkish spying on German soil.
Similarly, Switzerland opened a criminal investigation into allegations that Erdogan's government had spied on expatriate Turks.
In Copenhagen, the Danish government summoned the Turkish ambassador over claims that Danish-Turkish citizens were being denounced over views critical of Erdogan.
The barking kept on. In Turkey, Erdogan warned
that Europeans would not be able to walk the streets safely if European
nations persist in what he called "arrogant conduct." That comment
caused the EU to summon the Turkish ambassador in Brussels to explain
Erdogan's threatening language.
Farther east, in the rich European bloc, several hundred Bulgarians
blocked the three main checkpoints at the Bulgarian-Turkish border to prevent Turks
with Bulgarian passports, but who were living in Turkey, from voting in
Bulgarian elections. The protesters claimed that Turkish officials were
forcing expatriate voters to support a pro-Ankara party.
Meanwhile, at the EU's southeast flank, Greece said that its armed forces were ready to respond to any Turkish threat to the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity.
What happened to Erdogan's promised "bite" that he could go to
Germany to speak to the Turkish community despite repeated German
warnings that he would not be welcome? "I will not go to Germany," he said on March 23.
Erdogan may be winning hearts and minds in Turkey with his
neo-Ottoman Turkey "barks." But too few foreign capitals find his
threats serious, too few politicians think that he is convincing and too
many people tend to believe Turkey's bark is worse than its bite.
The recent wave of European constraints against Erdogan shows that,
for the first time in recent years, Europe does not seem to fear
Erdogan's bluffing and thuggishness.
At the moment, Erdogan's priority is to win the referendum on April
16 that he hopes will change the constitution so that he can be
Sultan-for-life. Picking fights with "infidel" Europeans might help him
garner more support from conservative and nationalist Turks.
When the voting is done, however, he will have to face the reality
that an alliance cannot function forever with one party constantly
blackmailing the other.