The Turkish opposition is unhappy with the normalization process with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel. Ironically, they used to criticize the government for the tensions that arose with these countries when defending Turkey’s national interests. Indeed, opposition leaders claimed that Turkey was “out of friends”. Likewise, they opposed Turkey’s military presence in Syria, Libya and Karabakh, saying the country had “nothing to do there”. Affirming that the tensions with the United States (over the YPG/PKK, the Gülenist terrorist group (FETÖ) and the S-400 agreement) and the European Union (over Turkish interests in the Eastern Mediterranean) hurt the country, the opposition promised a new era of diplomacy.
Turkey, however, has never been hostile to countries with which it experienced tensions. Ankara has only looked out for its own interests. The country has also used its military to fight terrorism and promote stability. Ankara’s actions in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Karabakh testify to this. More recently, the Turkish government has pursued normalization with some countries abandoning their anti-Turkish policies due to changes in the global and regional system.
The Gulf States and Israel are witnessing Iran’s rise to power with deep concern. Yet Turkey remains very concerned about Palestine and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Nevertheless, the opposition continues to target the normalization process by associating it with a “lack of principle”, “inconsistency” and “concessions”.
The Turkish people are already familiar with the opposition’s problematic approach to issues of national security and national interest, with an eye to scoring political points quite frequently on the home front. The fact that the main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), voted against military operations in Iraq and Syria reflects this attitude. Yet the most interesting criticism of normalization with the UAE came from Ali Babacan, who chairs the Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA). He reminded the public that the government had accused that country of being “behind the July 15, 2016 coup attempt”.
Digest the CHP speech
As I have already noted, Turkey has not subscribed to a hostile or subversive policy towards its adversaries. It gave diplomacy a chance when these nations abandoned such policies. The obvious question here is whether the mastermind behind this question has forgotten that the founder of FETÖ continues to live in the United States without facing a single investigation. What course of action do they expect from Turkey, if not diplomacy? If anything, Babacan should answer the following question: how can he bear CHP Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s past description of July 15 as a “controlled coup” (not to mention his anti- hijab), since the former Minister of Finance took his place at the Kılıçdaroğlu round table? ?
Needless to say, the opposition is unhappy as they believe the normalization policy is helping the government regain its strength. What really bothers them, however, is that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), under the leadership of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has always been able to communicate its foreign policy to its base and present it as a success. Indeed, the President was able to explain to the Turkish people the reasons for Turkey’s application for EU membership as well as the escalation with the bloc members regarding Turkey’s interests and sovereignty. . He is able to explain why Turkey bought the S-400 air defense system and argued with Washington over the YPG/PKK and FETÖ, just as he effectively communicated his engagement with the administration of former US President Donald Trump as well as his desire to start a new chapter with the administration of US President Joe Biden. Erdoğan accomplished the same while criticizing (and pursuing normalization with) the United Arab Emirates, Israel and Egypt.
The Turkish President owes this success to his authenticity, his flexibility, his autonomy, his ability to accurately interpret changing circumstances, his leader-to-leader diplomacy and his commitment to capacity building. More importantly, Erdoğan managed to strike a balance between domestic politics, foreign policy and the economy.
Domestic politics refers to all the political choices, services and discourses related to questions of identity, reform, the fight against terrorism and defence. Foreign policy covers Turkey’s diplomatic relations, alliances and tensions with major powers as well as military interventions, the capacity of its defense industry and its critical discourse on the international system. Finally, the economy refers to growth, exports, job creation, income distribution and well-being.
At a time when Turkey is facing inflation, there are obviously problems in all three areas – starting with the economy. Yet challenges were not lacking in the past either. Nevertheless, Erdoğan proved able to manage these processes while taking into account how they interact with each other. He thus won all the elections in which he participated and successfully adopted constitutional amendments. His hard work and leadership skills facilitated these accomplishments. Certainly, Erdoğan is expected to deliver a similar performance in the 2023 elections.