Turkey Is Right But Not Effective

Joost Lagendijk
August 11, 2013

In his column on the Turkish daily Today's Zaman, PN Member Joost Lagendijk reflects this time on the critics that the Turkish government faces because of its policies with regard to Syria and Egypt. And he explains why he thinks that "Turkey is right but not effective".

Joost Lagendijk has been Member of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2009. He is now living and working in Turkey as a columnist for the Turkish dailies Zaman and Today's Zaman.


Over the last couple of weeks, the Turkish government has been severely criticized over its policies with regard to Syria and Egypt.

Especially so-called foreign policy realists, at home and abroad, claim that Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan and his Foreign Minister Davutoğlu have made two crucial mistakes and that Turkey is paying dearly for that with a loss of influence and growing isolation in the region: Turkey has been too tough on Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and too soft on ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi.

Ankara’s critics believe that especially Davutoğlu is too much of a liberal idealist who puts human rights before national interests and has forgotten that foreign policy should not be driven by principles but by state interests.   

Let me explain why I fundamentally disagree with this view. According to me Turkey did, and still does, basically the right thing in both cases.

On Syria, as I have said before, I think Turkey made the mistake by thinking for too long it could influence the extremely oppressive minority regime in Damascus. After Assad refused to introduce reforms and started killing his own people, I honestly do not see which other options were available to the Turkish government other than supporting the political and military opposition against Assad. Suggesting a “realist” policy of sitting on the fence while 100,000 Syrians are being killed and many more flee the country, is both naïve and deeply immoral.

It is true that by choosing the side of the anti-Assad forces, Turkey has lost the capacity to act as an honest broker in this conflict. But is there anybody out there who realistically believes there is still something to negotiate? In my view, we have long passed that point. The key question is not whether Assad can stay around in one way or the other but which forces are going to dominate a post-Assad Syria. There Turkey has not always drawn the line very carefully and that explains partly why it has not been very successful in putting the non-jihadist, moderate and Syrian origin opposition fighters in pole position.

At the moment there is a lot of speculation about the rise of al Qaeda linked terrorist groups in Syria, sponsored by foreign, radical Salafi financiers, outmaneuvering the Free Syrian Army (FSA) that is backed by Turkey. Other analysts claim that the situation on the ground is not so clear and the lines between the different groups are blurred and often depend on local, opportunistic choices. It is not easy for Turkey to act effectively in that minefield, also because Ankara has not been able to convince other FSA supporters such as the US, France and the UK to be more forthcoming. Striking a deal with the Syrian Kurds, uniting them against both Assad and the foreign fighters, might prove to be one of the most helpful contributions by Ankara in the desired and inevitable downfall of the Syrian dictatorship.

We move on to Egypt and the military coup against Morsi. Yes, Turkey should have been more critical, now and then, about the many mistakes made by the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) leader when he was in office. But was there any other option than strongly condemning the coup and siding with the MB? Again, my problem is not with Ankara’s principled position but with the lack of impact on the actual situation in Egypt. We know the EU is doing its utmost to convince the Egyptian army and their civilian puppet government to stop their violent crackdown on the MB. Why is Turkey not much more active on the other side of the equation? Ankara should be talking to Morsi and his people, trying to move the Islamists out of their understandable mood of anger and self-sacrifice into a more cooperative attitude that will allow them to play a role in the new political setup. President Gül wrote an interesting piece last week in the Financial Times in which he outlined a scenario that could prevent further bloodshed and keep the MB on board in the transition process. It would be good to see Erdoğan and Davutoğlu openly using their moral and political leverage on the MB in similar fashion to supplement the efforts of others and stop Egypt falling into the abyss.

Being right is one thing. Being effective is another.


Originally published on todayszaman.com.

Photo by Claire_Sambrook.

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