Tag Archives: Davutoglu

Istanbul Elections: a Turkish Constitutional Crisis? Davutoglu’s Manifesto

10 May

Istanbul Elections: a Turkish Constitutional Crisis? Davutoglu’s Manifesto

 

[Prefatory Note: There are important recent developments in Turkey. An unprecedented decision by the High Electoral Council(HEC) of Turkey to cancel the outcome of the election of mayor in Istanbul that had been narrowly won by Ekram Imamoglu of the leading opposition party, CHP, or Republican People’s Party. The rerun of the March 31stelection is scheduled for June 23rd. The HEC justified its 7-4 decision by citing ‘electoral irregularities,’ but many in Turkey believe the overturning of the result reflected pressures exerted by the AKP leadership, particularly, its controversial president, Recep Tayip Erdogan and his close circle of advisors, who contend that the earlier election in Istanbul was ‘unlawful.’ An interesting further development is the withdrawal from the rerun of three small minority parties that together gained 2.6% of the vote, which overshadows the .02% margin of victory by Imamoglu on March 31st. It is assumed that this withdrawal from the second election will help Imamoglu win a second time, presuming a fair election.  

One notable consequence of this development have been the public assertions of Ahmet Davutoglu, former head of the governing party, AKP or Justice and Development Party, as well as former Foreign Minister and Prime Minister in the Erdogan-led government that has been running the country since 2002. Davutoglu’s Manifesto, really a statement of critique and a visionary reaffirmation of the original identity of the AKP, was written in response to the election results on March 31st, interpreted as sending a message of disapproval by the voters to the AKP and its leadership. It is significant that Davutoglu voiced his criticisms and hopes as situated within the party, but his Manifesto was released prior to the electoral reversal on May 6th, which underscored the mainline of his criticism that the AKP had lost touch with its own animating values and approach, and was thus losing the confidence of the Turkish citizenry. It should also be observed that there was sharp Kemalist opposition to Erdogan and the AKP ever since the 2002 elections, but what is new is for this criticism to come from a highly respected political figure long associated with the AKP. Whether this prefigures a reformist struggle within the AKP or an entirely new political constellation in Turkey is an unknown at this time, and may be influenced by how the control of Istanbul is finally resolved. In any event, the two statements by Davutoglu are themselves important political texts to be understood both in relation to the June 23rdIstanbul rerun, and in relation to the political future of Turkey during this period of exceptional regional instability and continuing turbulence.

These texts are posted here as suggesting the perspectives of a leading political personality in the Turkish context who is highly respected for his academic achievements as well as his dedication to the ideals of inclusive democracy as the basis of legitimate governance in Turkey. Davutoglu’s book Systemic Earthquake: The Struggle for World Order—Exclusive Populism versus Inclusive Democracy will be published in coming months by Cambridge University Press. It surveys the global scene from an ethically principled perspective that is informed by an impressive grasp of the geopolitical, cultural, and historical dimensions of contemporary world order.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I should mention that Ahmet Davutoglu has been a cherished and admired friend for more than 25 years. I am fully aware that in the present atmosphere any commentary on Turkish political developments is bound to be controversial, and elicit strong reactions pro and contra.] 

 

 

 

 

Ahmet Davutoğlu’s Statement in Response to Annulling & Redoing the March 31, 2019 election for Mayor of Istanbul

 

Despite all the deficiencies of Turkish political life and democracy, the most important power is the legitimacy of the elections.

The most fundamental value of our political future is the voice of the people, and this will be manifested at the ballot box.

Regardless of the excuse given and whatever the rationale, what happened after the March 31st election and the decision of annulment by the High Electoral Council has inflicted damage on these core values.

Elections that are fair and respected to rules and principles are the reference point for our democracy as well as our consciousness of communal belonging. The decision of the High Electoral Council contradicts universal law and established traditions and damages this consciousness. 

The biggest loss for political movements is not the loss of elections but it is the loss of moral superiority as embodied in the social conscience. Now what we should do: To carry out the election process in accordance with our maturity, and avoid further tension and polarization so as to prevent any further deterioration of our democracy.

 

 

 

 

The following text constitutes Professor Ahmet Davutoğlu’s Manifesto, a document based on his observations and proposals in the context of the political conditions prevailing in the wake of the Turkish local elections of 31stMarch 2019:

“We are living through a historical process in which the most intensive transformations of human history are unfurling, communications and interactions between societies have gained extraordinary pace, and great opportunities as well as risks may come into play to the same degree and at the same time. The huge momentum that the flow of history has picked up informs the spirit of the age.

In the coming period, a fundamental differentiation is set to emerge between those who manage and steer this momentum by seizing this spirit of the age, and those who break away from it, only to be dragged headlong through the rapids of history. While countries that manage to overcome internal tensions to pursue a consistent approach and craft a vision in harmony with the zeitgeistshall master the shape of future decades and even centuries, nations whose energies are consumed on their own sterile internal tensions will turn into passive elements in history. Recent crises at national, regional and international levels are in fact the birth pangs emanating from the womb of history.

At the early years of the 2000s, our country, Turkey, achieved a self confidence-boosting democratization, rising economic development and a worldwide international influence as our Justice and Development (AK) Party swept to power on the wings of a vision that embraced the spirit of the age and the nation’s values; Turkey’s performance seized the momentum of the historical flow. However, internal tensions that began with the Gezi events in 2013, continued with the 17/25 December conspiracies of the same year, then took on a more perilous dimension with the trench warfare instigated by the PKK in 2015-2016 before peaking with the attempted coup d’état of 15thJuly 2016, drove our country from a position of vision and enterprise towards one that was reactionary and defensive.

The fact that our party, which remained the only political actor capable of managing this entire process, began to expend its own energy on the provocations and manipulations of certain power centers that disregarded the national will to play a leading role in these conspiratorial processes, served to shake our internal harmony, as well as restricting our capacity to forge and implement a fresh vision.

Today, we find ourselves at a critical threshold. I have communicated my assessments and concerns about our country and party during the critical processes of the past three years to our President verbally and in writing, but I chose not to share them publicly in order to avoid providing ammunition to various circles to indulge in malicious debate.

For the future of our party and our country, the 31stMarch elections and the social and political picture that has emerged in their wake necessitate an open, transparent and level headed accounting before the court of public opinion. With the responsibility I feel as the second chairman of the AK Party and our country’s last democratically elected Prime Minister, I regard it as my inescapable duty to share my views with the beloved people of Turkey on the eve of the 99thAnniversary of the founding of the Turkish Grand National Assembly.

The 31stMarch elections have yielded significant results that require our prudent examination; the electorate issued important messages that we need to consider carefully. It is crucial that these messages on the future of our party and country are properly understood and that the necessary steps are taken. If we fail to take on board the essential messages from changes in the people’s preferences and decisively take the necessary measures, a difficult period awaits both us as the AK Party, and our country. In this context, and in the wake of the election results from the Istanbul and Ankara metropolitan municipalities that are such key symbols of our movement’s popularization and march to power and that have been administered by our personnel for a quarter of a century, we have to face the fact that there has been a visible fall in society’s support for our party and appraise this fact coolly.

First and foremost, we need to recall that the AK Party is not a neophyte political entity that emerged by happenstance in a particular political state of affairs. On the contrary, it is the product of having melded the anonymous legacy created by doggedly overcoming difficult conditions through cross-generational elbow grease and mental struggle, with the people, the nation and history. This is why the justification and future of its existence is not and must not be dependent on the fate, preferences or discretion of any transitory person, limited section of society, or economic interest group. This movement, the deep past of which shows how it rose up on the sweat of past generations, its future based on the hopes of the generations to come, must not be sacrificed to cronyism, increasingly swollen egos and fruitless strife.

We all owe a great deal to the past generations who strengthened the foundations on which our party was built, and the anonymous heroic men and women who carry the burdens of today on their shoulders. I had the honor of seeing the depth of this great legacy on the devoted faces of these anonymous heroes and heroines during the two general election campaigns I fought as Party leader on 7thJune and 1stNovember 2015. I still have a vivid picture in my mind’s eye of the women from Bergama in Izmir who so enthusiastically filled the public square for hours under the rain; the valiant people of Diyarbakır who greeted and embraced me in front of the Great Mosque as we carried on the struggle against the trenches dug by the PKK terror organization in Sur, the city’s historic heart; the elderly Istanbul gentlemen raising their hands to the sky in prayer at our rally in Sancaktepe; the garrulous people of Trabzon who brought their Black Sea exuberance into the main square in the middle of the night; the people of Konya who waved me off to Ankara in sadness on 7thJune just as they did in the jubilation of 1stNovember; and the steadfast people of this country who greeted me in all its 81 provinces.

We owe all our achievements, positions and authority to the voluntary sacrifices of past generations who endured all kinds of ordeals in order to clear our path, to heroic unnamed individuals who worked so ardently in every election, and to our party apparatus for organizing them so vigorously. As I pen these lines I bear the heavy burden of responsibility that comes from such a sense of indebtedness. This is the context in which I present my findings about the future of our party and our country to the conscience of our nation.

  • There are five basic elements that make political movements and parties dominant players on the stage of history: (i) an internally coherent set of principles and values; (ii) a discourse and rhetoric consistent with the spirit of these values; (iii) a network of social relationships open to all sections of society; (iv) a robust organizational structure that is able effectively to manage this network and (v) the free thinking and shared wisdom that enables the development of policies, in line with the spirit of the age.
  • The secret that has distinguished our party from others in our political history and that forms the basis for our extended periods in office lies within these fundamental characteristics. However, the events of recent years have shown that when it comes to these essential elements, serious weaknesses have become ever more pervasive. The drift and disorder observed from every perspective during and after the recent local elections reflect these failings.
  • First of all, the deviations in word and deed from the principles and values upon which political ethics are based constitute a barrier preventing engagement with the conscience of society. The break from any sense of humility through an arrogant, self-centered idiom; the competition between even the smallest-scale politicians to have streets, schools and buildings named after them even while they seek to emphasize their virtue; the effort to do anything to be on the agenda based on an impulse to be constantly visible and recognized; the opening of the widest possible gap between the language used and the attitude exhibited; the crude exploitation of our sacred values in the service of political interests; efforts to establish and consolidate the influence of an entire family and circle by forgetting the fact that assumed duties are exclusive to an individual; the proliferation of all kinds of slander including social media operations in order to destroy people seen as political rivals; lending support through silence to accusations designed to ruin the reputations of people who have devoted a lifetime to the common struggle for this cause; and taking a wrecking ball to the sense of loyalty that we used to regard as our most cherished value: all these things demand our candid consideration.
  • The drift at the level of fundamental values and principles has also directly impacted our political discourse and rhetoric. Our party’s people-oriented, human rights-based, freedom-loving, reformist, inclusive political rhetoric, confident in itself and the future, has been replaced in recent years by a discourse based on statist, security-oriented concerns focused on maintaining the status quo and mere survival.
  • The state is the embodiment of the common will of the people who make up the nation, and cannot survive in the absence of this will. The state is a political organism that exists not beyond us, but through the will of the individuals who make up society as a whole; it is an administrative mechanism that can endure as long as it enjoys social legitimacy. Reinterpreting the principles of the great Sufi Sheikh Edebali, we may say that no state that neglects or deprioritizes fundamental human rights can last.
  • There has evidently been a severe contraction in the social inclusivity and network of relations that had previously lifted our party to the top of the polls nationwide. The results of the last election show that even in conjunction with the main Nationalist party as the “People’s Alliance”, we have got detached from the coastal regions and find ourselves squeezed into an area of political activity tapering into Central Anatolia and the Black Sea. And in Central Anatolia, intra-alliance balances disfavor our party. If this narrowing in geographical and social support is not carefully dealt with in word and deed, it will become a political pincer.
  • The chief factor in preventing such social contraction is the presence of an organization melded into the fabric of society and ready to assume a dynamic role in critical processes. Yet the recent exclusion of and insults against our provincial leaders and organizations, who put themselves bodily at the forefront of the national resistance at the time of the 15thJuly coup has opened up a wound deep in the conscience of our organization.
  • Even more dangerous has been the emergence of a power center that sees itself as being above our party’s institutional bodies, which has tried to overrule the party’s elected officials, committees and institutions as a parallel structure attempting to rule over it, crippling the very essence of organizational institutionalization. The lack of enthusiasm observed in our organization during the last two elections is to some extent the product of frustration and disappointment at the disloyalty shown to organization members who have made such sacrifices for the party.
  • In addition, restricting the authority of individuals directly elected by the people at general and local elections, then forcing them to leave office by means of direct or indirect accusations and pressure, has damaged the institutionalization of politics as well as dealing a severe blow to the principle of the supremacy of the national will and our party’s links with the fabric of society.
  • One of the most important founding principles of our party is the quest for a shared wisdom and reasoning. Thanks to its institutional consultative mechanisms and this quest for shared wisdom, our party gained public favor by overcoming a number of severe crises. Unfortunately, however, the AK Party committees and consultative mechanisms that had functionalized shared wisdom have recently either been entirely disabled or lost their operability by becoming the approval authority for a single view. In this context, our party’s institutional structure should be restored to its real function of fostering the political manifestation of ideas and proposals emanating from our grassroots organizations.
  • Our party and our country, founded on the nation’s tears, labor, hearts and minds, cannot be abandoned to the status-seeking concerns of a narrow, self-serving circle that is a slave to its own ambitions. In this framework, our party’s institutional structure should be strengthened, its consultative and shared wisdom mechanisms operated effectively, our grassroots organizations should have their original qualities and function restored, and our bonds to our people should be rebuilt on the basis of humility without delay.
  • The review to be conducted in the wake of our party’s election results should also cover alliance politics. The development of dialogue, constructive cooperation and mutual understanding between different political parties is of critical importance with respect to our democracy and national unity. In this sense, the close dialogue and cooperative atmosphere embodied by the “Spirit of Yenikapı” (named after the Istanbul square that saw the largest gathering of people in the history of the Republic after the 15thJuly 2016 coup attempt), was correct. However, the election results showed that alliance politics harmed our party in terms of both votes and party identity. Our party failed to reach its objectives in the race within and between alliances and lost control of numerous municipalities.
  • In addition, alliance politics has damaged our distinctively inclusive stance towards all parts of the country and every section of society by confining our party to a narrow political discourse and identity. Our party should therefore analyze the election results and review alliance politics. Its unique political identity and philosophy should be preserved while developing close cooperation with different political parties on a shared agenda for our country.
  • In a nutshell, our party is now in need of a comprehensive renewal. The next four-year period, expected to be election-free, should provide sufficient time for this. If the AK Party undergoes a fundamental process of renewal, it could regain the discourse and the political dynamism that it has lost. Most crucially, it could take back the moral superiority that it is rapidly shedding. This great historical legacy and heritage, independent of transient personalities, cannot be expected to be left unclaimed.

 

  • For the future of our country, I consider it necessary to share my convictions on these matters.
  • Contrary to expectations, the alliance structures accompanying the introduction of the presidential system failed to declutter the political spectrum and have led to the formation of political poles and the destruction of the common values that hold society together. The harsh rhetoric stemming from the confrontational character of the alliance structures has damaged our social peace and shared sense of belonging by elevating political polarization to dangerous levels.
  • Election competitors are not enemies, they are political rivals. And whoever emerges from the ballot, the winner is our nation and democracy.Respecting the result is the duty of politicians before anyone else. Concerns over survival cannot justify a readiness to suspend democracy. On the contrary, the basis of the survival of our state is democratic legitimacy.
  • Unfortunately, we have recently experienced what can happen when rival parties turn into enemies through the rhetoric of survival and polarization and overstep the bounds of political rivalry at an ugly attack that took place at the funeral of a fallen soldier in Ankara, an occasion that should have brought us all together. I repeat my condemnation of this attack on the leader of the opposition and call on everyone to act within the constraints of the democratic order and avoid polarizing political rhetoric.
  • The principal element in nations’ internal peace, the survival of states and the order of societies is a shared sense of belonging. The most fundamental fact that we need to bear in mind is that the Republic of Turkey is the product of a common will and the sense of ownership of its 82 million citizens. Therefore, no one identified as a citizen of the Republic of Turkey, a status crowned with human dignity, should be insulted or defamed by any authority or power, discriminated against on grounds of faith, gender, disability, language, race, political belief, philosophical concepts or lifestyle, or exposed to any kind of hate speech whatsoever.
  • The primary virtue and merit of social order based on such a shared sense of belonging is justice. Social and political orders whose legal structures are not based on a sound philosophy of justice and fail to guarantee people’s lives, minds, beliefs, lineage and property are open to all kinds of internal and external intervention, attack and chaos. The law is not a field of power accumulation but one of power control and moral lines. Attempts to take control of the judiciary should be seen as the greatest crime, whoever does it and under whatever justification.
  • In our recent history, we saw how the power that stopped the coup attempt that threatened our country and its people on the night of 15thJuly 2016 was honorable mass resistance; what carries this resistance to ultimate victory is the proper operation of the scales of justice in the judicial process. No judge or prosecutor should be subject to any kind of interference or criticism when making their judgment or preparing an indictment, beyond the nature of the case and the ultimate measure of justice.
  • The implementation of various criteria by various people in the struggle against the FETO organization, which needs to be uncompromising, only damages that struggle. On this matter, the ‘individual criminal responsibility’ principle that constitutes the most fundamental principle of law needs to be painstakingly safeguarded. The fact that in certain cases there has been no objection to the appointment of alumni of the organization’s schools whose siblings or relatives played an important role in the organization and the coup attempt to the state offices at the highest level while the relative of a low-level clerk is dismissed for some low-level relationship casts a question mark over the struggle against FETO.
  • Turkey’s need for a civilian, democratic and inclusive constitution is greater than ever. Immediately after the presentation of the last constitutional amendment package to the Turkish Grand National Assembly, I expressed my concerns and proposals to the President verbally and in writing. Unfortunately, what has transpired in the meantime has only served to justify my concerns. I regret to say that the new system fails to meet the expectations of the nation in terms either of its structuring or its implementation. In this context, we need to carry out a serious and frank review concerning changes to the system.
  • The starting point for such a review should be the existence and protection of the principle of the rule of law. The capacity to protect the rule of law depends on the rebuilding of the principle of the separation of powers. The duality caused by Turkey being governed by the “12thSeptember Constitution” drawn up following the 1980 military coup led to administrative crises. Although the new system resolves this problem, it undermines the separation of powers principle by giving the executive dominance over the legislature and the judiciary, disabling balance and control mechanisms.
  • In order to guarantee the separation of powers, the legislature must have a balancing autonomy vis-à-vis the executive and judiciary. In this context, the representative power of individual Members of Parliament and their effectiveness in the legislative process should be strengthened by revising the electoral system and the law on political parties.
  • Another issue we need to address in the context of this review is that of the reorganization of the state architecture. The state manifests itself on the stage of history through the conventions and institutions it perpetuates. The natural flow of history obliges us to reorganize these conventions and institutions in line with changing conditions. The balance between continuity and change needs to be meticulously protected in such a reorganization process. Delaying the required change by distorting the balance in favor of continuity leads to stasis and opacity, while tipping it too far in the direction of change leads the state structure to be constantly sent back to the drawing board, weakening the perpetuation of the state.
  • During the process of reorganizing the state, status quo-based institutionalism should be abandoned, institutional culture and memory preserved. This reorganization should be carried out not by means of conjectural, arbitrary and abrupt decisions, but exercising a degree of prudence that takes into account accumulated experience and the requirements of time, as well as mobilizing the sense of shared wisdom.
  • One of the key continuity features of the state architecture in this context is the Presidency’s functioning as representative of the whole of society, embracing all its sections. One of the most sensitive issues we need to bear in mind when transitioning from the parliamentary system that ran contrary to the nature of the 12thSeptember Constitution to a presidential system is the prevention of conflict between the inclusive presidency of our state tradition and a presidential system based on party identity.
  • Although, as we observe in democratic presidential systems, the fact that the President is also the member of a political party is not of itself a problem, the exercise of the role of party leader by the same person gives rise to problems with respect to the functioning of the state as well as party institutionalization. The fact that the President, as a first-degree party in elections, has to get involved in intense and often harsh political polemics as a requirement of the electoral environment causes the Presidency to suffer a psychological rupture with at least half of society, whereas in our state tradition the President should be equidistant from all sections of society.
  • In this framework, the party-affiliated presidency regarded as one of the essential elements of the new system should be re-evaluated independently from the person of the current President, and the predicaments caused by the concurrent operation of the presidential and party leader functions should be removed.
  • Matters such as the redefinition of horizontal institutional communications and vertical hierarchical relationships in the state architecture, elucidation of the role of ministries that appear to be stuck between political/technocratic identities and functions, and determining the status of newly established policy boards in the state architecture, should be clarified. No state architecture that lacks a holistic, inclusive vision and an esthetic functioning mechanism can last.
  • It is clear that due to its geography Turkey faces security tests that cannot be compared to those of any other country. The fact that our army, the most powerful resistance element in these tests, has regained its internal order after overcoming the most profound trauma any army could possibly face on 15thJuly 2016, is beyond appreciation. The most essential transformation now required in order to avoid our country and its people having to face further coup attempts is the democratization of military-political relations to ensure that civilian political will is the ultimate influence and determinant of all bureaucratic mechanisms. In terms of the security risks we face, the justified struggle that we began on 23rdJuly 2015 against the PKK, DAESH and DHKP-C, on 17th-25thDecember 2013 against conspiratorial actions, and on 15thJuly 2016 against FETO in the wake of the attempted coup d’état, must be relentlessly maintained.
  • That said, during the course of this struggle, taking care over the sensitive calibration of the freedom-security balance is of great importance in terms of the adoption of the struggle being undertaken by the general public. Identifying the declaration of differing views with terrorism and equating political differences with treason serves only to damage our national unity as well as dealing a severe blow to democracy, political and economic life by perpetuating the perception of crisis.
  • It is unacceptable that security concerns have evolved to such an extent that after the recent local elections the constitutional right of those who had been dismissed from public office under state of emergency conditions without any court decision having been issued are deprived of their constitutional right to vote and to stand for election. I do not even want to think about what misapplications of executive decisions could result from such arbitrariness in the long term. The Constitution is everyone’s fundamental text, it cannot be interpreted arbitrarily.
  • The reestablishment of our proudly coveted self-confidence and, most importantly, our trust and confidence in one another, is conditional on the earliest possible expansion of the area of freedom. Journalists, academicians, opinion leaders, politicians or anyone who expresses their ideas should never have to face dismissal, stigma, social media lynching or abusive threats. The freedom to criticize and to express ones ideas must be protected to the end.
  • The press, the fundamental element of free thinking and criticism known as the Fourth Estate in developed democracies, has become a propaganda tool under the direction of a single hand. Real freedom of the press is our democracy’s immune system. Destroying it and steering us to media monopolization by means of irregular and repressive methods only serves to narrow Turkey’s intellectual capacity.
  • In this context, a new freedom-security balance should be established in which the areas of freedom are expanded without forfeiting what we have gained in security matters.
  • The strength of civil society manifests itself not in high rise buildings but deep in our conscience. Participatory democracy flourishes in an environment in which civil society influences political institutions legitimately and transparently and supervises public administration. The efforts of secret structures such as FETO to place politics under its tutelage by taking over the power of the state through illegitimate means, and the instrumentalization of the state by taking civil society under its control, damages democracy. The annexation of civil society by the state and the use of various concerns to make it impossible for people to express their views is destroying the spirit and conscience of civil society.
  • The main factor in politics regaining its prestige in the eyes of society in the past was our party’s emphasis on the fight against prohibitions, corruption and poverty. Today, it looks like it will be extremely hard for politics to regain its reputation and its capacity to breathe fresh trust and confidence into society without a frank review on the question of where we currently stand on the matter of these three objectives.
  • The sine qua nonfor the effective governance of a state is that its politics and public administration are based on competence and merit. On the other hand, the spread of cronyism and nepotism in public administration constitutes both the leading cause, and the most striking indication, of all kinds of corruption as well as the arrogance and hubris of power. The proliferation of this corruption makes it impossible for rational control mechanisms to function. For the rational functioning of political institutions and the bureaucracy, close relatives should have no place in the subordinate-superior hierarchy in the state administration, there should be no focus on a person’s origins, region or hometown in personnel recruitment, and exceptional appointments should be clearly and transparently defined.
  • Contrariwise, the reflection of family relationships that should remain in the private sphere in the public and official realm harms family life as well as leading to the emergence of relationships that go beyond the field of legal responsibility. When it comes to benefiting from the possibilities afforded by the state, family members of politicians and public officials should neither be granted any special privileges nor be subject to unwarranted criticism.
  • The most effective solution to all these issues of political ethics is the predominance of the principle of transparency in every area of the life of society. As well as being a moral principle, transparency is also the most fundamental means of preventing any kind of tutelage initiative such as that attempted by FETO. The key factor in preventing all kinds of coup attempt, whatever their objective, is for transparency to predominate in every area of life, from civil society to state institutions, corporate structures to charitable organizations, and traditional local papers to social media.
  • In the reverse case, cases that give the impression of corruption such as the completion of public tenders without society’s knowledge, the effective disablement of the law on tenders and procurement through the use of exceptions and loopholes in the law, and the granting of publically financed public opinion contracts continuously to the same companies needs to be confronted and dealt with as a matter of urgency.
  • Laws on political ethics, transparency, political financing and unearned rental income that include fundamental principles such as the auditable use of public resources, a ban on the use of public resources for personal gain and fame, and the avoidance of any conflicts of interest between public officials’ private economic activities and their public duties, need to be enacted urgently. In this way, the rules of political ethics should be defined in such a way that they will not be left to personal interpretation or any individual’s personal understanding of ethics, and strengthened with robust practices and rules.
  • One of the principal areas of achievement underlying public approval of the AK Party was its economic policy. When the AK Party came to power in 2002, successive economic crises had thrown the country into despair, per capita income had fallen back to the levels of a decade before, and Turkey’s room for maneuver was restricted in many fields, from foreign policy to security.
  • At the root of the dazzling successes recorded in the economy was the restoring of a sense of trust. Today, unfortunately, we see that we are way beneath the level we had attained in the past in this area. The most striking example of this is the fact that in US dollar terms, per capita income in 2018 fell back below its 2007 level. Denying this reality while every section of society is personally experiencing an atmosphere of crisis in the economy serves no purpose other than to shake trust in the government. We cannot manage the economic crisis by denying its existence.
  • A crisis of governance underlies the current economic crisis. Confidence and trust in the government is lost if the view spreads that decisions on economic policy are disconnected from reality, made in defiance of market practices and the laws of economics, and implemented arbitrarily and prejudicially. The economy cannot be brought back to its feet without reestablishing trust and confidence. And self-confidence in economic governance is required before confidence and trust can be restored to society. However, self-confidence must be justified by knowledge and experience; doing what is necessary is essential. Self-confidence that is not backed up by knowledge and experience and propped up by personal close relations only gives the impression of an exaggerated show that appears to lack seriousness.
  • Trying to deal with the situation by addressing sections of society who are anyhow in difficulty in an accusatory and patronizing manner, attempting to create the necessary balances that need to be formed within the rules of the market by applying pressure in spite of the market, and scaring off the global investors from whom we need to benefit for Turkey’s development, are dead ends that need to be avoided at all costs. What our citizens expect from the state in running the economy is not belligerence and turmoil but the protection of their work and business, the food on their table and their wellbeing.
  • The precondition for economic success is the provision of the rule of law in such a manner that puts it beyond dispute. A competitive economy and an entrepreneur-friendly investment environment can only be established when predictability is ensured, rules are applied equally to everyone, and property rights are guaranteed. In turn, this is only possible in a state of law in which the judiciary is impartial, independent, efficient, effective, and above all operates in accordance with universal law.
  • Our party has had a free market economic philosophy ever since the day it was founded. A free market economy is a structure in which the state does not intervene directly and arbitrarily in the economy, and prices are determined by supply and demand. Recent decisions on the running of the economy are moving us away from free market principles. In a market economy the state only guides the economy by setting objective general rules and controlling compliance with these rules. Control and supervision must be independent, impartial and objective and never used as a means of pressure or threat. In this context, problems cannot be resolved through direct intervention in banks’ deposit and lending policies.
  • Bearing in mind that the economy exists not in a vacuum but in an international environment, the urgent realization of the EU visa exemption, which reached its final stage in 2016, and revisions to the Customs Union, will add momentum to the economy.
  • A key component in the AK Party’s economic success story was the process of institutionalization that it implemented in the economy. The recent preference for criteria other than qualifications and merit in appointments to state bodies and an arbitrariness that has made it impossible to preserve institutional memory and culture has seriously harmed this institutionalization.
  • The public finances are entrusted to those who govern the state. I have observed with great sadness that recent practices have given the impression that public administrators are profligate and excessively ostentatious. The growth in non-interest public expenditure and the attempt to conceal the resulting budget deficit with one-off revenues also serves to undermine confidence. Transparency and accountability in public spending must be robustly implemented.
  • Confidence in the data released in decisions related to the economy is an absolute must. Unfortunately, certain recent practices have shaken that confidence. Moreover, when confidence that the economic data completely, accurately and without exception reflects the actual situation is shaken, news and speculation about the resort to non-transparent “back door operation” methods in the market spreads. This leads to excessive fluctuations in exchange and interest rates and the sudden loss of our manufacturers’ hard-earned gains and the income that our workers have made through the sweat of their brow. There can be no greater capital in economic governance than integrity, no greater credit than reputation. The operation of economic governance must be restructured in line with this principle.
  • The solution is to reduce inflation permanently, increase predictability and reduce risks in the economy, and develop an investment environment in which global capital will come safely to Turkey to invest while domestic capital in Turkey will not be forced to seek ways to exit. In such an environment interest rates will fall permanently and the Turkish Lira will gain in strength and standing.
  • Finally, I would like to emphasize that what we now need to do in the face of the significant challenges of recent years is to liberate our minds, renew our psychologies, strengthen our social ties and take the necessary steps for our common future. I call on our party leaders and concerned bodies sensibly and level headedly to assess all these matters and our future vision, to prepare for the future with steadfastness and perseverance without causing our party’s loyal and self-sacrificing base to lose hope, and to stand shoulder to shoulder with our opinion leaders, intellectuals and citizens of every political persuasion in order to determine our common future based on our common conscience, common mind and common will. Today is the day to bring together the mind of the state, the dignity of the people, and the conscience of the nation.”

 

Ahmet Davutoğlu

 

 

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Alternate Worldviews: Davutoğlu, Kissinger, Xi Jinping

25 May

 

[Prefatory Note: This post is a much modified version of a shorter
opinion piece published by the global-e online publication on May 18, 2017. It is a response to and commentary upon an essay of Ahmet
Davuto
ğlu, former foreign minister and prime minister of Turkey, published under the title ‘Response to Ahmet Davutoğlu’s “The Future of National and Global (Dis)order: Exclusive Populism versus Inclusive Global Governance.”’It contrasts the global outlook of Davutoğlu with that of Henry Kissinger, yet does not discuss the specific policies pursued by either of these public figures while they acted on behalf of their respective governments, and ends with an allusion to Xi Jinping’s speech at the World Economic Forum a few months ago.]

 

In his global-e essay of March 30, 2017, Ahmet Davutoğlu provides a provocative and comprehensive assessment of current global trends, and their impact on the future of world order. What sets Davutoğlu’s diagnosis of the global setting apart is his insistence that the current crisis of governance, including the ominous dangers that he identifies, can only be overcome in an enduring manner if it is fully appreciated that present maladies on the surface of world politics are symptoms of deeper structural disorders. He gives particular attention in this regard to the failure of the United States to support a reformist agenda that could help establish global governance on foundations that were effective, legitimate, and humane after the end of the Cold War. Implicit here is the contrast between the benevolent global role played by the U.S. after World War II and its harmful dedication to neoliberal globalization after the end of the Cold War without attending to the historic opportunities and challenges of the 1990s.

 

At first glance, Davutoğlu seems to be echoing the lament of Henry Kissinger, the chief architect of Nixon’s foreign policy during the 1970s. Kissinger plaintively asks, “Are we facing a period in which forces beyond the restraints of any order determine the future?” This is coupled with Kissinger’s underlying worry: “Our age is insistently, at times almost desperately, in pursuit of a concept of world order.” [World Order, Penguin Press, 2014, 2] Not surprisingly for those familiar with Kissinger’s approach, he expresses a nostalgic fondness and airbrushed account of the liberal world order that the U.S. took the lead in establishing after World War II, as well as his signature nostalgia associated with the construction of the European state-centric system of world order in the aftermath of devastating religious wars in the seventeenth century. His idealizing of this post-Westphalian framework is expressed in a language no one in the global south could read without a good belly laugh as it totally ignores the predatory geopolitics by which the West subjugated and exploited much of the non-Western world. According to Kissinger the new golden age of Westphalia after 1945 was reflective of “an American consensus—an inexorably expanding cooperative order of states observing common rules and norms, embracing liberal economic systems, foreswearing territorial conquest, respecting national sovereignty, and adopting participatory and democratic systems of governance.” [p.1]

 

The best Kissinger can offer to repair what he now finds so deeply disturbing is “a modernization of the Westphalian system informed by contemporary realities.” By the latter, he primarily means accommodating the rise of China, and the consequent dewesternization of the global relation of forces. Such an adjustment would require some restructuring, taking steps to integrate non-Western values into the procedures, norms, and institutions of governance facilitating geopolitical cooperation between dominant states. The content of these cooperative relations would emphasize the establishment of mutually beneficial trade and security governing relations among states. For this to happen the liberal West would have to accept the participation of states that based national governance on authoritarian patterns of national governance without passing adverse judgment. Kissinger, never an advocate of ‘democratic peace’ as theory or policy, is consistent in his promotion of a world order that does not pass judgment on the internal public order systems of sovereign states, leaving human rights to one side, and not making the adoption of democracy an ingredient of political legitimacy. In this regard, Kissinger’s version of geopolitics revives the ethos of a pre-World War II realpolitik prior to the sorts of ideas of ‘democracy promotion’ associated with the presidencies of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush

 

What makes the comparison of Kissinger and Davutoğlu of interest is less their overlapping concerns with the current deficiencies of global governance than their differing articulation of alternative explanations and recommendations. Kissinger writing in a post-colonial period where hard and soft power have become more globally dispersed, especially moving toward Asia, considers the challenge mainly to be one of reforming state-centric world order by a process of inter-civilizational accommodation and mutual respect with a particular eye focused on how to properly address the rise of China alongside the partial eclipse of Europe.

 

In contrast, Davutoğlu sees the immediate crisis to be the result of inadequate global responses to a series of four ‘earthquakes’ that have rocked the system in ways that greatly diminished its legitimacy and functionality (that is, the capacity to offer adequate solutions for the major challenges of the historical moment). This sequence of earthquakes (end of Cold War, 9/11 attacks, financial breakdown starting in 2008, and Arab uprisings of 2011) occasioned responses by global leaders that Davutoğlu derides as “short-termism and conjectural politics,” that is, ‘quick fixes,’ which failed to appreciate either underlying causes or structural factors. This meant that the policy remedies adopted did not address the problems presented in ways that would avoid recurrent crises in the future. It is this failure of global leadership to address causes and structures that is partly blamed for the present malaise. Davutoğlu characterizes the present period as marked by “a rising tide of extremism,” constituted by a political spectrum with non-state groups like DAESH (also known as ISIS) at one end and the populist surge producing such dysfunctional statist outcomes as Brexit and Trumpism at the other. Davutoğlu does not treat the ascent of China as a fifth earthquake, exhibiting a conceptual understanding of the complexities and originality of the present global setting, while according less attention to the shift in the geopolitical hierarchy associated primarily with China’s rise.

 

Davutoğlu identifies three sets of disappointing tendencies that clarifies his critique: (1) the American abandonment of the liberal international order that it earlier established and successfully managed; (2) the disappointing reactions by the West to anti-authoritarian national upheavals, illustrated by the tepid reactions of the United States and Europe to the Arab Spring, withholding encouragement and support, despite its declared commitment to democratization and human rights; (3) and the structural numbness illustrated by failing to reform and update existing international institutions in the economic and political spheres, particularly the UN, which has been unable to act effectively because so little has been done to take account of drastic changes in the global landscape over the course of the last 70 years.

 

The comparison here between Davutoğlu and Kissinger reveals fundamental differences of analysis and prescription. Kissinger sees the main challenge as one of geopolitical chaos that needs to be overcome by forging realistic, yet cooperative, relations between the U.S. and China. Although he is not explicit, Kissinger seems to be preoccupied with what Graham Allison influentially labels as ‘the Thucydides trap.’ In such circumstances a reigning dominant state feels its status threatened by an emerging challenger, and the rivalry eventuates in war. In the nuclear age even political realists search for alternatives to such a dire prospect. Additionally, Kissinger clearly believes that unless the U.S. and China can agree on world order there will be chaos even if it not outright war. Underlying this imperative is the idea that dominant states are alone capable of creating order on a global scale, making the UN irrelevant, a distraction, and considering international law as a proposed regulative enterprise to be a house of cards.  

 

Kissinger favors a live and let live geopolitical equilibrium presiding over a state-centric world order that works best if the power of the dominant states is balanced and their core interests served on the basis of a shared understanding of how best to govern the world. In a fundamental sense, by proposing the incorporation of China at the apex of global governance Kissinger is advocating the global expansion of the Westphalian approach that was historically developed to minimize war and maximize stability in Europe. As might be expected, Kissinger utters not a word about justice, human rights, the UN, climate change, and the abolition of nuclear weapons. In effect, Kissinger traverses the future as if embarking on a perilous journey across a normative desert. It is hardly an occasion for surprise that Donald Trump should summon Kissinger to the White House amid the Comey crisis or that Kissinger would make himself available for an Oval Office photo op to shore up the challenged legitimacy of an imploding presidency. Trump knows less about foreign policy than my ten-year old granddaughter so that when he described Kissinger’s visit as ‘an honor’ it is left as a complete mystery why this was so. It is amusing that Trump also described his audience with Pope Francis at The Vatican as an honor. The irony of the pairing should not escape even the most casual scrutiny.

 

Davutoğlu’s offers a far more sophisticated and nuanced response to his equally pessimistic diagnosis of the current global situation. His fears and hopes center on an approach that might be described as ‘normative realism’ or ‘ethical pragmatism.’ In this fundamental respect Davutoğlu analyzes the challenges confronting humanity in light of the international structures that exist. He advocates the adaptation of these structures to current realities, but with a strong normative pull toward the fulfillment of their humane and inclusive democratizing potential. He optimistically hopes that the United States will again play up to its weight on the global stage, especially as a normative leader and problem-solver. For this reason he strongly disapproves of the shrill Trump call of ‘America first’ as well as worries about the varieties of right-wing populism that have led to the rise of ultra-nationalist autocrats throughout the planet.

 

Davutoğlu, a leading political figure in Turkey over the course of the last fifteen years, is both a Turkish nationalist and an internationalist. He urges greater representation for emerging economies and states in international institutions and procedures, and the necessary reforms of procedures and practices to bring this about. No personal achievement during his years as Foreign Minister brought Davutoğlu greater satisfaction than Turkey’s election to term membership in the UN Security Council. For Davutoğlu such a supreme soft power recognition of status on the world stage epitomized a new kind of cosmopolitan nationalism. As Kissinger is (hard)power-oriented, Davutoğlu is people-oriented when it comes to global politics. In this regard, Davutoğlu’s worldview moves in the direction of normative pluralism, incorporating diverse civilizational constructs to the extent possible, globalized by crucial universalist dimensions, particularly with respect to human dignity, human rights, and a diplomacy focused on conflict resolution. Davutoğlu gives scant attention to working out a Kissingerian modus vivendi between dominant state actors, but is receptive to practical solutions and political compromises for the sake of peace, justice, and stability.

 

Although I share Davutoğlu’s diagnosis and overall prescriptions I would take note of several differences that might turn out to be only matters of emphasis if our respective positions were more fully elaborated. I think the most distinctive feature of the current world order crisis is its insufficient capacity to address challenges of global scope, most notably climate change, but also the persistence and slow spread of nuclear weapons as well as the pestilence of chronic poverty. The Westphalian approach to world order was premised on the interplay of geopolitical actors and state-centric territorial sovereignty, and was never until recent decades confronted by threats that imperiled the wellbeing, and possibly, the survival of the whole (species or world) as distinct from the part (state, empire, region, civilization). With nuclear weapons, rather than seeking their abolition, the United States exerts as much control as possible over a geopolitical regime seeking to prevent their proliferation, especially using coercive diplomacy to threaten governments viewed as hostile. Claiming to act on this basis, the United States, in coalition with the United Kingdom, launched a devastating attack in 2003 on Iraq followed by a decade of chaotic occupation. This anti-proliferation outlook presupposes that the principal danger to world peace and stability arises from countries that do not possess the weaponry rather from those that have used, developed, and deployed nuclear weapons. Considered objectively, Iran and North Korea are two countries under threat in ways that make their acquisition of nuclear weapons rationally responsive to upholding their security by deterring attacks. It is time to realize that nonproliferation ethos is precarious, misleading, and self-serving, and contributes to a cleavage that splits human community at its core. This split occurs at the very time when greater confidence in human unity is urgently needed so that shared challenges of global scope can be effectively and fairly addressed.

 

In effect, I am contending that Davutoğlu’s prescriptive vision does not directly address a principal underlying cause of the current crisis—namely, the absence of institutional mechanisms and accompanying political will to promote human and global interests, as well as national and local interests. Under present arrangements and attitudes, global challenges are not being adequately met by geopolitical leadership or by multilateral mechanisms that seek to aggregate national interests. The Paris Climate Change Agreement of 2015 represented a heroic effort to test the outer limits of multilateralism, but it still falls menacingly short of what the scientific consensus informs us as necessary to avoid exceedingly harmful levels of global warming. Given the current geopolitical mood, it seems unlikely that even the inadequate Paris approach will be properly implemented.

 

Similarly, the sputtering response to the situation created by the North Korean crisis should be treated as a wakeup call as to the dangerous dysfunctionality of a militarist approach to nuclear weapons policy, relying on threat diplomacy and punitive sanctions. The only approach that seems likely to be effective and deemed reasonable over time is one based on mutual security considerations, a serious embrace of a denuclearization agenda, and what might be called restorative diplomacy.

 

In the end, I share Davutoğlu’s call for the replacement of ‘international order’ (the Kissinger model) by ‘global governance’ (specified by Davutoğlu as “rule- and value-based, multilateral, consensual, fair, and inclusive form [of] global governance.” Such a shift to a governance focus is sensitive to the role of non-state actors and movements, as well as to the relevance of national ideology and governing style. It rejects a top down geopolitical approach.

 

It could be a hopeful sign that such a way of thinking is gaining ground that a recent speech in the West by the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, moved in Davutoğlu’s, rather than Kissinger’s direction. When Xi addressed the 2017 World Economic Forum in Davos he endorsed a worldview that rejected geopolitics, encouraged an inclusive multipolarity, and advocated nuclear disarmament. As Washington continues to conceive of the Chinese challenge as materialist and military, the real challenge being posed by China seems to be on the level of ideas, values, and survival instincts.

 

 

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Assessing Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s Departure from Government

26 May

 

 

[This post was published in modified form a week ago in Al Jazeera Turka. Since then Binali Yildirim has been selected as the new prime minister of Turkey, reflective of a choice made by President Erdogan. Mr. Yildirim had served for many years in the AKP Government as Minister of Transport, Maritime Affairs, and Communications. He was successful in this post, given credit for the great improvement in the public transport systems in Turkish cities and for modernizing Turkey’s network of inter-city roads and highways. Yildirim is widely regarded as an Erdogan loyalist with a pragmatic approach to politics. Of course, only the future will allow us to discern whether this shift in governmental leadership exerts a discernible influence on the domestic policy agenda and on the regional and global role of Turkey. Issues to watch closely include the approach taken to Syria and ISIS, and whether possibilities for reconciliation with the Kurdish political movement are explored, or are abruptly rejected.

There are two disturbing developments. The first is the parliamentary move to deprive members of their legislative immunity from criminal prosecution, which was explicitly aimed at Kurdish parliamentarians who are members of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), and accused of lending support to PKK terrorism. The other initiative is a call for a constitutional amendment that would end the nonpartisan character of the presidency by allowing the president to be the head of the governing political party, in effect, making Erdogan head of the AKP as well as President of the country. Of course, Erdogan has been indirectly playing this kind of partisan role on a de facto basis, thus the authorization would merely be regularizing a practice that currently violates the spirit, and probably the letter, of the current constitution]   

 

The resignation of Davutoglu seems to be enveloping Turkey in mists of partisan speculation, which opposition forces contend has taken the nation a big step closer to the abyss of autocratic rule. The move does seem clearly dictated by President Recip Tayyip Erdogan’s determined effort to replace the Turkish parliamentary system with a presidential system as legalized through a process constitutional reform.

 

To some extent the confusion surrounding the departure of Davutoglu’s departure from the heights of governmental rule is a reflection of the public posture adopted by the two leaders. On Erdogan’s side we encounter the assertion that “Prime Minister Davutoglu’s decision will be for the better of Turkey and the nation.” This seems at variance with the spirit, if not letter, of Davutoglu’s stark declaration that his resignation “..is not my wish, but it is a necessity.” Possibly, the common ground here is the recognition that the AKP (Justice and Development Party) and the governing process need one clear and undisputed leader for policy purposes, and that explains the apparent downgrading of the prime ministerial post as connected to the overt assertion of the univocal primacy of Erdogan’s presidency.

 

Of course, there are more elaborate speculations and partisan spins, mostly difficult to evaluate, about whether the true explanation of these unsettling events has been friction between these two towering figures who have dominated Turkish politics in the 21st century is a matter of substantive disagreement on any number of issues. Or is this event better explained by reference to the tensions that had developed between Davutoglu and the AKP Parliamentary leadership on more prosaic questions of procedures and appointments. In this latter interpretation, the resignation of Davutoglu, and his replacement by a political figure lacking his international prominence, are enabling Erdogan and the AKP to coordinate their common effort to put the Turkish ship of state in efficient running order from the point of view of the presidency.

 

While Erdogan portrays this dramatic move as ‘Davutoglu’s decision,’ the opposition, always relentless in their often exaggerated criticisms of AKP governance ever since 2002, describes what has happened as a ‘palace coup.’ Reflecting on such an extreme presentation of Davutoglu’s departure suggests its opportunism. The opposition has long decried Erdogan’s takeover of government, portraying Davutoglu during his 20 months of service as head of government as nothing more than being ‘a shadow prime minister,’ sometimes even portraying him unflatteringly as ‘a puppet.’

 

And yet, if Erdogan was actually in full control all along, the resignation, whether voluntary or forced, is merely an outward acknowledgement of the de facto hierarchy that had already made the president the supreme leader of the country. Under these circumstances to treat what happened as a coup is deeply misleading as the resignation creates no alteration in the previously operative structure of political power in Ankara. Additionally, Davutoglu with seeming spontaneity indicated that he would never give voice to criticisms of the president, insisting that he leaves office continuing to have a ‘brotherly’ feeling toward Erdogan. This is hardly the language of someone who has been ousted from power as a result of a coup!

 

What may be really at stake in the course of this reshuffling is streamlining the constitutional restructuring process that seems so high on Erdogan’s agenda. It is to be expected that next prime minister, presumably reflecting Erdogan’s choice, will be a person that possesses sufficient clout with Parliament to push the process through quickly and in accordance with the sort of presidential system that Erdogan favors.

 

There is some reason to suppose that Davutoglu preferred what might be called ‘a republican presidency’ that sacrifices a measure of executive control for the sake of ‘checks and balances’ and ‘separation of powers[ while Erdogan is insistent upon ‘an imperial presidency’ that allows the president to run the show with minimum interference from other branches of government. Assuming that constitutional reform will bring some variant of the presidential system into being, this choice of model is crucial to the sort of political future that awaits the Turkish people. It is hard to imagine an imperial presidency, especially with Erdogan at its head, that manifests sensitivity to human rights, including freedom of expression and the human rights of dissenting individuals. The arrest and prosecution of journalists and academicians in recent months even prior to the adoption of a presidential system does seem to vindicate the worst fears about the fate of Turkish democracy.

 

At the same time maybe the issue is being inflated beyond its true importance. Many informed observers have observed that Erdogan had long since transformed the presidency as set forth in the 1982 Constitution into a vehicle for his unchecked authority. If this is a correct interpretation of the way the Turkish government has been operating in recent years, at least since Erdogan became the first popularly elected president in 2014, then the issue of institutionalization of this style of leadership has mostly to do with the future, and especially with the structure of governance in a post-Erdogan Turkey.

 

However, if the opposition is exaggerating Erdogan’s curent power and governing style, then it is possible that a new constitution, which requires a two-thirds supermajority in Parliament, will enhance the actual, as well as the legal role of the office of president in Turkey. By placing such stress on this move from a parliamentary to a presidential system Erdogan appears to believe that his role would be solidified as well as legitimated if the sort of constitution that he seeks is properly adopted as a reality. This may be the most consequential question bound up with Davutoglu’s resignation, and yet it is sometimes downplayed because of public fascination with the dramatic interaction of these two Turkish political figures, which pushes to one side the question of restructuring the constitutional architecture of the Turkish government.

 

Finally, there is the question of foreign relations. The US State Department has formally avowed that Davutoglu’s resignation is an internal Turkish issue lacking any significance for U.S.-Turkish relations. Of greater concern is Turkey’s far more complex relationship with Europe, and particularly the possible impact on Syrian refugee containment, Turkish visa-free travel rights in Schengen Europe, European promises of a fast track approach to Turkish accession negotiations, and European demands that the Turkish anti-terrorism law be amended so that it cannot be used to pursue journalists and professors.

 

There are also many indications that European leaders were comfortable dealing with Davutoglu on such matters, and are far less willing to cooperate with Erdogan. It also seems that Erdogan on his part is disinclined to satisfy European preconditions for an effective working relationship or speeded up accession talks. At the same time, Turkey and the EU are tied together by the presence of strong interests. 40% of Turkish international trade is with EU countries, and European tourism is a vital source of foreign exchange earnings and sustains the tourist sector in Turkey that was already hurting due to the upsurge of tensions with Russia. Besides, the large Turkish minorities in Germany and elsewhere makes these diplomatic tensions have unsettling domestic ramifications in Europe, including an upsurge in Islamophobia.

 

It should be realized that these questions arise in an historical context where a series of security concerns pose dangerous challenges to Turkish stability and development. These issues of leadership and constitutional structure, although serious are clearly secondary to the great challenges facing the Turkish nation at this point, above all the renewal of Kurdish civil strife and horrific urban warfare, but also the spillovers from the Syrian civil war in the form of ISIS and refugee flows, as well as tensions with Russia and Iran. It is to be hoped that people of good will throughout Turkey can find common ground on the urgency of these matters, and not remain distracted by trying to solve the puzzle of the leadership shakeup that has followed Davutoglu’s forced resignation.

 

 

 

Hopes for the Morning After in Ankara: Taking Stock (2002-2015)

3 Nov

 

The stunningly unexpected electoral triumph of the AKP and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan creates a window of opportunity for Turkey that will not remain open very long. The country is most likely to experience another damaging cycle of polarization of the sort that has been so divisive ever since the AKP first came to power 13 years ago. Only a radical rupture can disturb this tormented continuity by making a determined move toward moderation. Such a rupture will require a convergence of the unlikely from two directions: an embrace of responsible democratic leadership by Erdoğan and the formation of a responsible opposition platform by the various forces that have been battling against the AKP all these years. Only such a dual embrace has any hope of success, one side without reciprocity from the other side will probably only engender anger and frustration.

Ever since the AKP gained electoral leverage in 2002 sufficient to shape the governing process in Turkey, an intense polarization has been evident. It pitted the displaced Kemalist urban elites of the West that had run the country since the founding of the republic in 1923 against the emergent Anatolian elites who gathered their strength from the religious and socially conservative ranks of Turkish society. The Kemalist opposition initially depicted this ongoing struggle for Turkey’s soul and political future as between the democratic secular legacy bequeathed by Kemal Ataturk, and the Islamic militants that supposedly ran the AKP, and thirsted to make Turkey into an Islamic Republic along Iranian lines. Secularists whispered to one another that regardless of its public utterances of adherence to the Constitution what really motivated the AKP was commitment to this secret Islamic agenda. From the beginning, Erdoğan the dominant political figure in the AKP, was an  anathema to secularists. Also, expressive of this oppositional fervor that accompanied the AKP initial electoral victory were secularist objections to the presidential appointment by Parliament of Abdullah Gul, above all complaining that because his wife wore a headscarf he could not properly represent Turkey in diplomatic circles.

In this first phase of polarization the AKP hardly fought back, but rather tried to compile a record that would make the secularist allegations appear irresponsible, and hence largely to blame for poisoning the quality of Turkish political life. The credibility of this style of response was augmented by the high priority initially accorded by the AKP leadership to seeking European Union membership, a goal also espoused by the opposition. This mainstream posture was reinforced by the achievement of economic success along neoliberal lines and through regional and extra-regional activist diplomacy that seemed at once to enhance Turkish prestige in the Middle East and to be dedicated to the peaceful resolution of all international disputes, what was called, it turns out prematurely, ‘zero problems with neighbors.’ These achievements were acknowledged by the Turkish citizenry in a series of electoral victories of the AKP. By and large this Turkish role was also internationally appreciated, as signaled by its election to term membership m the UN Security Council and by a new acknowledgement of Turkey as an important actor.

Yet these AKP achievements did not mollify the opposition. This passivity only added to the frustration of the anti-AKP forces, even rage as power slipped from their hands, with no prospect of recovery in sight. These electoral rejections of the opposition parties created a depressive mood among the secularists who increasingly, yet rarely openly, pinned whatever hopes they had on a military coup that alone was capable of restoring their rightful place at the top of the Turkish political pyramid. A second disruptive strategy in the early years of AKP governance was to seek the closure of the party by accusing the AKP and its leaders of criminal culpability due to their alleged policies of undermining the Kemalist principles embedded in the Turkish Constitution, and the Turkish Constitutional Court came within vote of dissolving the AKP.

Those in the opposition not willing to endorse such radical initiatives as a military or judicial coup, were still deeply dissatisfied with AKP governance. These milder opponents expressed their discontent verbally. They discounted the seeming success of the AKP economically and politically by insisting that the AKP claim to enact democratizing reforms were not sincere, but were adopted cynically to improve the prospect of qualifying for EU membership. The economic success was also discounted as a lucky windfall, an unearned result of policies put into operation under the guidance of Kemal Derviş, and instituted well before the AKP took over the government.

Even in the face of such mean spirited provocations, the AKP did not counter-attack as it could have, but concentrated its energy on the reform process, seeking to insulate the governing process from the notorious ‘deep state’ that had undermined elected governments in the past at the behest of the unaccountable Turkish intelligence services and the armed forces, and on several occasions mandated coups. The civilianization of the Turkish government should have been celebrated by all democratically inclined sectors of society as a major and unexpected achievement. Instead the elimination of the deep state was totally ignored by the opposition, and probably even resented, as it tended to undermine prospects for an extra-constitutional return to power, which was bad news given the unlikelihood in the foreseeable future of any kind of victory via the ballot box. Privately, many secularists regarded the Turkish armed forces as a brake needed to block AKP ambitions and protect the country against an Islamic tsunami.

As allegations of an AKP plan to turn Turkey into a second Iran faded more and more into a domain of implausibility, a new scare scenario was contrived by the hardcore opposition. It centered on the contention that Erdoğan was intent on becoming a second Putin, pushing the country toward autocratic rule and fostering an unacceptable cult of personality. Ignoring AKP achievements with the help of a strong media presence that demonized Erdoğan, contributing to this nihilistic posture of uncompromising polarization, which actually deprived Turkey of what every healthy democracy needs—a responsible party of political opposition that projects alternative policies, programs, including an alternative vision. It was not in the country’s interest to have one hegemonic party govern all these years in what amounted to a political and ideological vacuum, with no credible alternative leadership competing for power.

This overall portrayal of the Turkish scene changed in 2011 due to two major developments. First, the Arab Spring unexpectedly erupted generating waves of instability throughout the entire region. Ankara quickly and enthusiastically welcomed the Arab uprisings, and Erdoğan’s popularity in the region reached peak levels. But when the regional unrest spread to Syria, there soon arose a growing challenge to the zero problems diplomacy as a result of the draconian response of the Damascus regime to the first stirrings of revolt. If we recall that Syria was put forward as the centerpiece of zero problems diplomacy, we can realize that Erdoğan must have felt great pressure to distance Turkey from this display of Syrian brutality. When Ankara’s efforts failed to persuade Bashar al-Assad, the real autocrat next door, to stop killing Syrian civilians and adopt a reform program, the dye was cast. Turkey found itself gradually drawn into the wider regional turmoil by stages, initially in Syria when it sided with the anti-regime insurgents.

Turkish foreign policy had previously been challenged on other fronts, especially by deteriorating relations with Israel that reached a negative climax in 2010 when Israel boarded a Turkish merchant ship, Mavi Marmara, in international waters killing nine Turkish nationals who were taking part in an international humanitarian mission that consisted of several ‘peace boats’ determined to deliver assistance to blockaded Gaza, whose people had been suffering for years from collective punishment.

Secondly, in 2011 the AKP won their biggest electoral victory ever, leading Erdoğan to adopt a more aggressive style that expressed itself in ways that antagonized the opposition even more. He seemed to be disregarding critics and claiming a populist mandate in the spirit of majoritarian democracy, that is, a mode of ruling that stressed effectiveness and central power, and rejected the republican stress on checks and balances. This shift enraged the opposition, and led to the portrayal of Erdoğan as a dark angel intent on destroying Turkish republicanism in the process of becoming a reigning tyrant. After 2011 Erdoğan’s aggressiveness toward the opposition gave polarization a more symmetrical quality for the first time. This polarization was, however, misrepresented in the international media as solely the consequence of Erdoğan’s autocratic ambitions and brash governing style rather than being a belated reaction to an earlier circumstance of unilateral polarization that the opposition to the AKP had foisted upon the country from the first moment that Erdoğan grasped the reins of power.

Anti-AKP waves of harsh criticism, especially in liberal circles of government and media, began blaming Ankara for alienating Israel and the United States, as well as pursuing an imprudent policy toward Syria. The AKP leadership was accused of abandoning its traditional reliance on American guidance, thereby undermining Turkish security. This was coupled with the insistence that the AKP was at last showing its true Islamic and sectarian face, favoring the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, Egypt, and Gaza, pursuing a foreign policy shaped by its Islamic identity rather than based on adherence to secular realism as offering the best approach to the protection of Turkish national interests.

In May of 2013 the Gezi Park demonstrations took place, at first peacefully and later increasingly in confrontational modes, taking slanderous aim at Erdoğan who was being compared by demonstration leaders to Hitler. As the protests against the government intensified after their opening rather mild phase, it became obvious that the ambition of the activists was to create a crisis of legitimacy in Turkey that would produce so much unrest that the country would become ungovernable, and a political process would ensue that brings the military out of the barracks to rescue a country on the brink of collapse. This is what was starting to happen in Egypt, and in a couple of months was consummated by a popularly backed military coup headed by General Abdel Fatah el-Sisi to power. Why not also in Turkey?

 

The government response to Gezi led by Erdoğan was defiant and suppressive, with police relying on excessive force that resulted in the tragic and unwarranted death of several demonstrators and injury to many more. The protests failed to ignite the hoped for groundswell of anti-government activism, although it did reinforce the international impression that Turkey was on its way to becoming a police state and it stimulated the domestic opposition to believe that it could build a powerful anti-AKP movement.

Another factor that riled the atmosphere at this time was the sharp break with the Hizmet movement led by the mysterious Islamic figure, Fetullah Gulen. Formerly allied with the AKP, tensions had been mounting, and exploded in response to the December 2013 Hizmet allegations of widespread corruption in the Erdoğan cabinet leading four ministers to resign, and implications that the trail of corruption if properly followed would lead to Erdoğan and his family. As would be expected, Erdoğan struck back, accusing the Hizmet movement of establishing ‘a parallel government’ that was subverting proper lines of authority and policy in the Turkish state bureaucracy. The claim was made that Gulen followers had succeeded in penetrating the police and the prosecutors’ office, and were responsible for bringing false charges against the military leadership, and doing other subversive things.

This accumulation of tactics designed to undermine the AKP and Erdoğan should be taken into account when addressing his still questionable effort to move toward an executive presidency. After all there were credible reasons for the AKP leadership to believe that it had been multiply targeted: polarization, judicial invalidation via party closure, aborted military coups, popular uprising, parallel government. In reaction, it is not altogether unreasonable for Erdoğan to arrive at the view that only a strong presidency could achieve security and stability that was needed if Turkey was to cope with the many challenges that it faces at home and in the region. It is understandable, but still highly imprudent as deep cleavages in the population persists. Even after the election landslide victory of the AKP and Erdoğan half the country remains deeply alienated, and would be susceptible to temptations of insurrection if these ambitions to revise the Constitution go forward.

In essence, this is an occasion on which Erdoğan alone has the capacity to move the country in a more grounded democratic and peaceful direction, softening if not overcoming polarization. Seizing such an opportunity would require Erdoğan to acknowledge the divided polity that Turkey has become, and to respect widespread fears of authoritarian rule. The most convincing way to do this would be to defer to the prime minister and head of the party, Ahmet Davutoğlu in the formation of a new government, and welcome a working partnership that divided authority harmoniously between these two highly gifted political leaders. It is not encouraging to hear Erdoğan talk vaguely of the added de facto powers that the Turkish presidency has somehow acquired without the benefit of constitutional reform and of his intentions to renew his personal crusade to create an enhanced presidency on a de jure basis.

Also menacing Turkey’s future has been the revived violence of the Kurdish struggle, giving rise to a strong military response. After this electoral outcome it is up to Erdoğan and Davutoğlu to take the initiative in declaring a ceasefire to take effect immediately, to welcome the HDP deputies to the Parliament, and to commit to a reopening of the reconciliation process, possibly even giving some sort of role to the imprisoned PKK leader, Abdullah Öcalan.

Let’s hope than when Erdoğan awakens the morning after his glowing victory, he chooses what is best for Turkey rather than to settle for becoming a grandiose figure who is certain to be both revered and feared. Only if he tames his ambitions will Erdoğan ensure his legacy as a great Turkish leader, second only to Ataturk. Such speculations are admittedly in the realm of the fanciful, but little else seems relevant at this stage if Turkey hopes to find ways to reverse the downward spiral of recent years, and move back from the brink of turmoil that is engulfing much of the region.

Turkish Elections: It’s Not Just Erdoğan!

9 Jun

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The Turkish general election on June 7th ended more or less as the polls predicted. The only small surprise was that the Kurdish Party (HDP) ended with 13% of the vote rather than either falling just below or above the 10% threshold needed for parliamentary participation. By clearing the 10% hurdle, the HDP denies the winner, Erdoğan Justice and Development Party (AKP), the majority required to form a new government. This means either a coalition, currently deemed unlikely and even undesirable, or a minority government with a new set of general elections scheduled in coming months.

 

The spinning of the Turkish election results in the West is rather malicious. It seems designed to generate two kinds of reactions: first, that the outcome was a personal defeat for Erdoğan and the AKP; and secondly, that now Turkey faces a period of instability and uncertainty, an atmosphere supposedly confirmed by a drop in the Turkish stock market and currency value. Such assessments, although not totally wrong, are misleading in dangerous and possibly self-fulfilling ways if taken by the Turkish opposition and the world as the real meaning of what took place. It is disturbingly reminiscent of the effort of the opposition in Egypt to discredit the Morsi presidency as soon as he was elected in mid-2012, generating a crisis of legitimacy despite his electoral victory, setting the stage for a populist revolt and the Sisi-led coup a year later. This undermining of electoral results is one of the most dangerous games being played by certain elements in the United States and the Middle East, and could lead the way to yet another regional disaster.

 

I believe what is most important about the Turkish elections is their affirmation of the growing strength and poise of Turkish democracy. If ever there existed a temptation to manipulate the vote so as to keep the HDP below the 10% margin, it was in this election as it would have enabled the AKP to have the majority in the Turkish Grand National Assembly so as to form a new government on its own and later have the parliament mandate a referendum on the shift to a presidential system in which the governing party would be quite sure to prevail. The fact that enough voters, especially among young and progressive Turkish citizens voted for the HDP, exhibited a healthy resistance to the perceived efforts to consolidate power further in Ankara, especially in the person of Erdoğan.

 

When the Conservatives in Britain won 36% of the vote to 30% for Labour the media called it a landslide, and a decisive vindication of Tory policies. In Turkey, although slipping 6% points (and losing 2.5 million votes compared to 2011), the AKP still prevailed in the election by more than 15%, winning 41.8% of the popular vote, with its closest competitor being the old Ataturk party, the CHP, winning only 25%. It might be well to recall that in 2002 the AKP formed the government although winning only 34% of the overall vote, gathering its majority because 45% of the total ballots were cast for parties that fell below 10% , resulting in their transfer mainly to the AKP.

 

The fact that HDP will now have 79 members in Parliament despite being an overtly Kurdish party is a further healthy development that might make a long overdue reconciliation more attainable. Also notable was the election of 97 women to parliarment along with four Christians, the first Roma ever, and a member of the Yazidi community. Such increased diversification refutes in a very vivid manner the contention that the AKP leadership was gradually turning Turkey into an Islamic republic, a so-called ‘second Iran.’

 

What is so striking about the world media reactions is their failure to note these encouraging developments, or to take balanced account of the dignified acceptance of the public will exhibited by the existing Turkish leadership. The AKP Chairman and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, said simply “This nation’s decision is the best decision,” indicating respect for the outcome. So far, as well, Erdoğan has in no way challenged the vote that was certainly, in part, a defeat for his insistence that the ‘New Turkey’ would be more successful if it shifted to a presidential system. He has not lived up to the Putinesque persona that his detractors have long insisted upon.

 

The other failure of world perception has to do with some attention to some other contextual explanations for some decline in AKP popularity. In the background, is the fact of holding the reins of government in Turkey ever since their surprise victory in 2002, reaffirmed with increasing margins in 2007 and 2011 general elections. It is always a sign of a healthy democracy when a portion of the voters indicate their belief that ‘it time for a change.’ There is truth in the adage that ‘power corrupts,’ and a shift of leadership to a responsible opposition can be a revitalizing development for a country. Unfortunately, a persisting weakness in the Turkish political firmament is the absence of a credible alternative to the AKP. The opposition parties lack leaders of suitable stature or any kind of alternative program that commands widespread support. In this sense, I would suppose that there would have been a larger defection from the AKP in this election if a viable alternative did exist. Why there is no such alternative is something that constructive critics of the AKP should be devoting their attention to rather than giving their energies over to incessant and mean-spirited attacks.

 

There are additional explanations of some loss of voter support by the AKP. Above all, the weakening of the economy, with growth falling to 3% of GNP, or possibly a bit lower, and unemployment rising to 11%. Such a decline in economic performance is a product of many factors, but it certainly disappointed the expectations of many Turks struggling to get along on a day-to-day basis. Also, important is the deep cleavage that developed with the Hizmet Movement led by Fetullah Gulen, whose followers supposedly shifted votes in this election to the CHP and MHP. And finally, the lingering bad taste associated with the government’s excessive use of force in response to the Gezi Park demonstrations of 2013 apparently led many on the left and among the young to vote for the HDP, and may have given this Kurdish party the support it needed to qualify for parliamentary representation and thereby change the political climate in the country.

 

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There are also understandable dissatisfactions in Turkey about Ankara’s Syria policy, which has resulted in both a huge influx of refugees, numbering about 1.5 million, and controversial tactics in lending some support to extremist anti-Assad forces. It is always easy to second-guess what to do in situations of a severe humanitarian/political crisis, and no governmental actor has emerged with a positive reputation in this post-Arab Spring period. Although the Turkish government seems to have made miscalculations, especially underestimating the strength and resilience of the Assad regime, it has more than most regional or global actors pursued a principled position throughout. It has supported democratizing movements, and opposed efforts to restore authoritarianism or to use governmental violence against peaceful demonstrators as in Syria and Egypt.

 

The election results are very new. What will ensue is not yet at all clear. It is a moment for all sides to show leadership and composure, and most of all, Erdoğan and Davutoğlu. Erdoğan, in particular, has been given a rare opportunity to turn electoral defeat into political victory. All he has to do is make a statesmanlike speech, acknowledging the setback for his vision of Turkey’s future but displaying his respect and admiration for the democratic process, and his commitment to maintaining Turkish political stability and working toward economic revival. It would be an opportunity for Erdoğan to put to rest among all except his most ardent enemies, the contention that he is an aspiring autocrat in the Putin mold. In the immediate aftermath of the elections, Erdoğan has so far taken the high road, but without making his response fully evident. At least, he does not lament defeat, but rather acknowledges the will of the electorate expressed by a vote in which 84% of eligible voters took part, and calls on all parties to evaluate the results “healthily and realistically,” adding that “the esteem of our nation is above all else.” Instead of berating the opposition, Erdoğan praised the turnout as exhibiting “the precious nation’s determination for democracy and for reflecting its will at the ballot box.” There was no bombast or recriminations that has sometimes in the past marred Erdoğan’s performance as a leader. It is too early to be sure that this benign mood will persist, but these early signs are hopeful.

 

 

For Davutoğlu the opportunity presented to him is more complex, but still very present. It is his moment to show firm leadership and demonstrate his dedication to a smoothe transition in the interest of the whole country. Without distancing himself from Erdoğan, Davutoğlu can demonstrate that he is quite capable of leading the country, and sensitive to the benefits of parliamentary democracy. Davutoğlu could emerge as a co-leader with Erdoğan that would not only restore confidence in AKP’s competence and underlying commitment to secular democracy, but would show to the Middle East that non-autocratic rule true to a nation’s history and character is possible. Of course, it is also a moment to move forward with the Kurdish peace and reconciliation process and to improve the human rights record of the government, especially showing a greater capacity to respect criticism from the media and political dissenters.

 

Despite the turbulence of the region, the economic troubles of neighbors in the Middle East and Europe, Turkey has enjoyed a period of extraordinary success during these years of AKP governance. The economy tripled in size, the militarized deep state has been dismantled, and overall democracy has been strengthened and diversified in relation to gender and ethnicity. Beyond these national gains, the regional and global standing of Turkey increased dramatically. Perhaps, more than any country, Turkey in this AKP period showed the world that it is possible to pursue an independent line in foreign policy and yet maintain continuity with its most enduring alignments. It is easy to overlook such notable achievements, especially given the polarizing passions of the anti-Erdoğan opposition.

It may also be a time for bringing back the steady hand of Abdullah Gul to the governing process. It would be a further sign of the ability of the AKP to learn from its mistakes, and to provide Turkey with the best possible leadership.

 

In my view, persons of good will throughout the world and in Turkey, should now breathe a sigh of relief, being glad that the AKP plan to establish a presidential Turkey has been put back on the shelf and yet relieved that the AKP was again supported by a significant plurality of Turkish citizens in an impressively free and fair electoral process.

Ahmet Davutoğlu as Turkish Foreign Minister, and Now Prime Minister

30 Aug

[Prefatory Note: The post below is written as a congratulatory message to Ahmet Davutoğlu. ‎ Prior to his entry into government Davutoğlu built a strong following among intellectuals around the world for his scholarly breadth and depth that involved an unusual command over both social science and the humanities, with a special focus on philosophies of history, and their application to the Turkish past and present realities and future prospects. I publish here also a significantly modified article originally written a week ago at the request of AlJazeera Turka, and heretofore only available in Turkish.]

 

The Ascent of Ahmet Davutoğlu

 

Richard Falk

 

So far most commentary on Ahmet Davutoğlu’s selection as Turkey’s new Prime Minister has been focused on what will be his relationship with the country’s new president, Recip Teyyip Erdoğan. Especially opponents of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) tend to portray Davutoğlu as certain to play second fiddle to Erdoğan who is both fiercely resented and feared, and regarded as a ‘Turkish Putin.’ The fact that Erdoğan seems to have handpicked Davutoğlu to succeed him at party leader and prime minister, and acted deliberately to sideline the popular prior president, Abdullah Gul, adds to the concern about what to expect from a government led by Davutoğlu. I believe that such speculation is profoundly wrong, that Davutoğlu is an admirable person of strong beliefs and an adherent of a political vision that has evolved over the years on the basis of study and experience. In my view Davutoğlu will turn out to be a historically significant Turkish leader by virtue of his thoughtful style of governance and through the assertion of his own priorities and programs. Few countries can claim leadership of the quality provided and record achieved by Erdoğan, Davutoğlu, and Gul over the last twelve years.

 

For Davutoğlu to reach the peak of political power is the latest stage in his remarkable ascent within governing circles in Ankara. Coming to government after a deep immersion in the scholarly life of a university professor is unusual enough, but to rise to such a level of prominence and influence without casting aside his academic demeanor is unprecedented, not only in Turkey but anywhere.

Searching for recent comparisons, I can think only of Henry Kissinger, and he never rose above the level of Secretary of State, although he did serve as architect of American foreign policy during Richard Nixon’s presidency, a period of undoubted global leadership. Unlike Davutoglu, Kissinger treated the moral and legal dimensions of foreign policy as instruments of propaganda rather than as matters of principle. Kissinger as a scholar never achieved the distinction nor the national impact that resulted from Davutoğlu’s Strategic Depth, which incidentally, was planned to be the first of three monumental studies, the other two being devoted to historical depth and cultural depth. One of the costs of entering government has been the deferral of this project, which if completed, is almost certain to be a work of exceptional significance.

 

Starting out in 2003 as Chief Advisor to the Foreign Minister, and later to the Prime Minister, Davutolğu’s role as a highly influential and respected expert was quickly recognized. Long before Davutoğlu became Foreign Minister in 2009, he was widely respected in Turkey as the architect of its energetic and effective foreign policy, which was causing a stir in the region and around the world.

 

Davutoğlu’s contributions were particularly notable in three domains of foreign policy. First, he understood and clearly articulated the importance for Turkey to adapt to the new regional setting created by the end of the Cold War, appreciating that it was now possible and desirable for Turkey to be an independent actor in the Middle East and beyond without awaiting clearance from Washington.

 

Secondly, Davutoğlu from almost the beginning of his role in government became Ankara’s chief emissary in trying to clear the path to Turkish membership in the European Union, working out the important ‘Copenhagen Criteria’ that turned out to be also useful as a roadmap for desired domestic reform. This functioned as an important mandate that was linked to a domestic program of reform, which included protecting human rights and featured the containment of the deep state in Turkey during the early years of AKP leadership when relations with the armed forces were tense, and rumors of an impending coup were in the air. Satisfying the EU requirements gave Erdoğan the justification he needed for impressively strengthening the civilian control of government in Turkey. Because of its private sector interests, the Turkish military turned out to be as eager for EU membership as was the AKP, and even the harsh Kemalist opposition went along with this part of the AKP program.

 

Thirdly, these moves to civilianize the Turkish government removed altogether the earlier role played by the Turkish armed forces as custodian of the republic through the medium of coups against elected political leaders. In retrospect, substantially removing the armed forces from the political life was a great step forward in democratizing Turkey even if this momentous development was not acknowledged in Brussels, and elsewhere in Europe. For quite independently Islamophobic reasons Europe was becoming adamantly opposed to accepting Turkey as a member of the EU, no matter how successful the Turkish government might be in satisfying the standards laid down for accession. It might also be noted that the secular opposition in Turkey also has never credited Erdoğan with this achievement, which might turn out to have be his greatest contribution to Turkey’s political development as a vibrant constitutional democracy. While praising this central achievement it needs to be noted that the overall record of the AKP on human rights is mixed, with particularly regrettable encroachments on political freedoms via the imprisonment of journalists, pro-Kurdish activists, and others.

 

From the outset of his time in government, Davutoğlu was also extremely active in doing everything possible to resolve the Israel/Palestinian/Syrian conflicts, and led a comprehensive Turkish effort to bring peace to the region. Davutoğlu’s attempt to have Hamas treated as a normal and legitimate political player after its 2006 electoral victory in Gaza would have saved much grief in the Middle East had it been accepted in Washington and Tel Aviv. After these conflict-resolving initiatives collapsed, Turkey has almost alone in the region played a principled and constructive role by challenging the Israeli blockade of Gaza and seeking to end the collective punishment and humanitarian ordeal of the Palestinian population. This role was resented in the centers of Western power and even in most Arab capitals, but it has endeared Turkey and its leaders to the peoples of the region and beyond. It also gave expression to Davutoğlu’s insistence that a successful Turkish foreign policy should be as principled as possible while at the same time being creatively opportunistic, promoting national interests and values, and in all possible situations seeking engagement rather than confrontation.

 

More famously, and controversially, Davutoğlu saw the opportunities for Turkish outreach in the Arab world, and beyond. Unlike the failed efforts in the 1990s to incorporate the newly independent Central Asian republics in a Turkish sphere of influence, the AKP effectively approached the expansion of trade, investment, and cultural exchanges throughout the region, an approach given the now notorious doctrinal label by Davutoğlu of ‘zero problems with neighbors’ after he became Foreign Minister in 2009. At first ZPN seemed like a brilliant diplomatic stroke, a dramatic effort to rest Turkey’s ambitions on the dynamics of ‘soft power geopolitics,’ that is, providing benefits, attracting others, and not depending for influence on military prowess or coercive diplomacy. Given what appeared to be the frozen authoritarian political realities in the region, constructive engagement with mutual benefits seemed superior to postures of hostility, tension, and non-involvement that had for so long been characteristic of Turkish foreign policy, and descriptive of the sterile political atmosphere throughout the Middle East.

 

Then in early 2011 came the Arab Spring that surprised everyone, including Turkey. It created excitement and turbulence throughout the region, but also the promise of far greater democratic and more patterns of governance. Davutoğlu as much as any statesman in the world welcomed these Arab anti-authoritarian upheavals as benevolent happenings, pointing especially to the extraordinary events in Tunisia and Egypt in early 2011 that overthrew two long serving authoritarian and corrupt leaders by relying on largely nonviolent mass mobilization. Davutoğlu was especially impressed by Arab youth as a revolutionary force that he believed was well attuned to the changing tides of history.

 

This optimism did not last long. Events in Libya, Syria, Bahrain, and Yemen made it clear that there was not going to take place the smooth and quick transitions that deceptively seemed to be taking place in Egypt and Tunisia. It was soon clear that it would become necessary for Turkey to choose sides as between the authoritarian elites seeking to hold onto or restore their power and the earlier Ankara approach of accommodating the governing authorities of Arab states without passing judgment on how these governments treated their own citizenry.

 

Syria posed the most severe challenge in this respect. The Assad regime in Damascus had earlier been the poster child of ZPN, and now dramatized the non-viability of such a posture as the Damascus regime became responsible for committing one atrocity after another against its own people. Turkey abruptly switched sides, losing trust in Assad, and aligning itself with rebel forces. Both the pro and anti-Assad postures proved controversial in Turkey. The main secular opposition party, CHP, accusing Erdoğan of playing sectarian politics by supporting in Syria an insurgency that was increasingly dominated by Sunni militants associated with a Syrian version of the Muslim Brotherhood.

 

Davutoğlu skillfully and reasonably reformulated his ZPN by saying that when a government shoots its own citizens in large numbers, Turkey will side with the people, not the governmental leadership, which lost its legitimacy through its actions. From now on the doctrine associated with his outlook could be more accurately understood as ‘zero problems with people,’ of ZPP. The same logic guided Turkey in its eventual support of the NATO intervention in Libya as the Qaddafi regime seemed poised to engage in genocidal onslaught against the entrapped population of Benghazi to quell a popular uprising. The mass mobilization against the elected Morsi government in Egypt illustrated another kind of difficulty, leading Turkey to stand out in the region, joined only by Qatar, in its refusal to give its blessings to the military coup that brought General Sisi come to power in July 2013.

 

The touchstone of Davutoğlu’s approach to foreign policy is the effort to blend principle and pragmatism in relation to shifting policy contects, doing what is right ethically while at the same time exploring every opportunity to promote Turkish national interests, including enhancing its international reputation as a responsible and strategic player. This blend of goals was well-illustrated by the seemingly frantic Davutoğlu diplomacy in many settings, including the Balkans, Crimea, Armenia, Myanmar, and Latin America, seeking wherever possible to resolve regional conflicts while lending support to humanitarian goals, and in the process establishing Turkey’s claims to be both a constructive international actor and a valuable partner for trade and investment.

 

The most impressive example of such an approach was undoubtedly the major initiative starting in mid-2011 to help out a crisis-ridden Somalia when the rest of the world abandoned the country as a ‘failed state.’ Erdoğan and his wife, together with Davutoğlu, visited Mogadishu at time when it was viewed as dangerously insecure and then put together a serious financial aid package to highlight the continuing Turkish commitment. From this bold and imaginative gesture of solidarity came a major opening to Africa for Turkey, which produced an immediate rise in Turkish prestige that brought with it major opportunities throughout the continent.

 

In reflecting on the Erdoğan/Davutoğlu approach to foreign policy, this Somalia initiative helps explain, as well, how and why Turkey after an absence of 50 years was elected to term membership for 2009-2010 in the UN Security Council with strong African backing. Turkey is again investing an enormous effort to being elected to the Security Council for a 2015-2016 term. It also explains why Istanbul has become a favorite site for major international meetings, often displacing the earlier tendency to choose Western European cities for such gatherings. Both of these involvements at the global level are expressive of Turkey’s ambition to be a global political actor, as well as a strong state and regional influence.

 

Despite an extraordinary record of achievements, the Davutoğlu foreign policy experience also has its share of blemishes, even taking into account the difficulties that all governments faced in adapting to the abrupt sequence of unexpected changes in the Middle East during the last several years. Perhaps because his plate was so full with an array of diverse undertakings, Davutoğlu didn’t sufficiently focus on the daunting complexities of the aftermath of the Arab Spring, leading him to make on behalf of Turkey several costly miscalculations.

 

Undoubtedly the most serious of these blunders concerned Syria, not the underlying impulses, but the lack of nuance. In my view, Turkey’s mistakes can be understood in two phases: first, the excessive enthusiasm attached to the initial effort to dissolve the tensions that had dominated Turkish-Syrian relations for many years, affirming the Assad regime well beyond what was necessary for the normalization of relations thereby creating unrealistic expectations; and secondly, not only repudiating the government in Damascus that had been so recently befriended, but giving all measure of aid and comfort to an ill-defined insurgency without any seeming appreciation of the internal balance of forces in Syria. Ankara acted as if the Assad regime would soon collapse if pushed even slightly by the uprising. Turkey seemed continuously surprised by the resilience of the Assad regime and by the internal, regional, and international support it was receiving. Turkish policy was wrong for several reasons, and embroiled Turkey in a prolonged civil conflict with no end in sight, as well as damaged its image as a prudent and calming diplomatic influence throughout the region.

 

A similar line of criticism can be applied to Davutoğlu’s overall response to the Arab Spring and its aftermath. While it was consistent with the principled side of the foreign policy approach he was pioneering to welcome the events of 2011 in Tunisia and Egypt as transformative, it was premature to pronounce these developments as irreversible, and to anticipate their continuous deepening and regional spread. It soon became evident that Davutoğlu did not adequately appreciate the political will or capabilities of counter-revolutionary forces in the region, and did not seem to take account of the impact of an anti-democratic preoccupation that pervaded the dynastic politics of the well-endowed monarchies in the region. The role of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, for instance, in using their petroleum wealth and political leverage to promote a military takeover and bloody crackdown of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt altered the political balance in several countries, and took an unquestionable precedence over even the sectarian impulses of these political actors in their opposition to Shiite Iran. Shocking in this regard is the tacit strategic compact of these Arab governments with Israel that even went so far as to endorse the 50 day criminal onslaught directed at Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza that commenced on July 8th.

 

More difficult to analyze, but at least somewhat questionable, was the degree to which Turkey, despite trying to pursue its own distinctive brand of diplomacy in this Davutoğlu era also seemed to be going along with some dubious policies of the United States. In this regard, I would mention a limited collaboration with the failed military interventions in Afghanistan, Libya, and of course, Syria. It is also debatable as to whether Turkey should have consented to NATO’s deployment of defensive missile systems on its territory, which Moscow understandably viewed as provocative. What seems called for in the future is greater selectivity in maintaining Turkey’s strong alignments with the United States and NATO.

 

All in all, Ahmet Davutoğlu has had a remarkable run as Foreign Minister, and as Turkey’s new Prime Minister, is almost certain to embellish further his many notable contributions to the success of post-Kemalist Turkey. His thoughtfulness about policymaking combined with his personal integrity and decency combined with the highest levels of professional competence make him a rarity among politicians. I have long been impressed by Davutoğlu’s clear understanding of how Turkey’s effectiveness internationally is an outcome of the confidence generated by domestic success. This requires achieving political stability, economic development, protecting human rights and the environment, as well as creating and the further strengthening of the procedures and substance of an inclusive democracy that is fair and beneficial for all citizens regardless of their ethnic and religious identities. With such leaders committed to this progressive worldview, Turkey can look forward to a bright future. Turkey is poised to play a crucial role as a force for peace and justice in the roiled waters of the Middle East, in surrounding regions and sub-regions, and even in the world.