It was a very good event and I enjoyed the comments, which helped us all understand what drives Turkish foreign policy. I attempted to explain the background to the last decade and how it is relevant today. Yet, what troubles me most about the foreign policy discourse in this country is the extreme exploitation of this field for domestic political purposes. This is not new nor is it solely a Turkish problem. It is rather common in an era of globalization where the boundaries of foreign and domestic politics are no longer as clear as they used to be.
The Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) policies toward Syria are a good point to start. At the beginning of the Syrian conflict CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu warned against any sort of involvement by Turkey. Then, a CHP delegation was invited to Damascus and obtained an audience with President Bashar al-Assad. Upon the return of this delegation it was announced that there was no real revolution in Syria and that life was normal there. This delegation described the Syrian opposition as being “hijacked by gangs close to al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood.” A second CHP delegation visited Syria and was even bolder in its assessment of events there. This time the delegation consisted of female deputies and other officials from the party’s women’s branch. Their announcements upon their return from Damascus argued that “the imperialist West was about to divide Syria.” The CHP’s deputy chairwoman and party spokeswoman Birgül Ayman Güler announced that all was fine in Syria and that economic sanctions against the Syrian regime ought to be lifted. Apart from being ignorant of the fact that they had been conveniently exploited by the Syrian regime, the position they took upon their return is raising significant questions about conscience, politics and responsibility.
I have no qualms with those who criticize the Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) policy on Syria. There are certainly aspects that are open to criticism. However, I find it extremely distasteful and irresponsible to take positions which are clearly motivated by domestic political considerations rather than responsible assessments. How can Turkey’s main opposition allow itself to be exploited by the Assad regime so blatantly and utilized for the regime’s desperate attempts to win over Turkish hearts and minds? It is one thing to criticize government policy, but where is the opposition’s human conscience if it fails to criticize the brutality of the Syrian regime? How is the CHP expecting to win an election with such policies when there is such overwhelming condemnation in Turkey for the violence against the Syrian people? The CHP finds itself in agreement with Iran, Russia and the murderous regime in Damascus.
I understand those who counsel caution and point to the complexities in Syria. They are right – it is extremely complex. However, I have no tolerance whatsoever for people who come back from Damascus and preach to us that there is no revolution at hand and that the unspeakable crimes committed by this regime are nothing but a hunt for Salafist terrorists. Where is your conscience as a responsible political movement? Do you not have the slightest concern about the human suffering that is occurring on a daily basis? Do you have to oppose all foreign policy measures just because they are taken by the current government? What sort of image does that provide of an opposition party -- one that has been losing election after election.
Turkey needs a credible and responsible opposition. The way to earn that title does not mean opposing any foreign policy measure taken by the government. It requires constructive and credible arguments, not endorsing what Mr. Assad is doing in Syria. Governments can and should be criticized, but we must not compromise on our basic values for short-term political gains.