This is not always easy to define, and there has been a lot of criticism over EU foreign policy, in particular the role of Foreign Policy Chief Baroness Ashton. Yet the speaker claimed that under Ashton, the EU has had much success, including in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in reconciliation talks between Serbia and Kosovo, in Libya, in Middle East peace talks and even on driving initiatives with Iran. Indeed, he stated that in some respects Ashton’s foreign policy could be cited as more successful than that of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Indeed, it’s quite difficult to immediately think of a successful US foreign policy success story. Clinton’s recent trip to China is testimony to that.
I was thinking about India, which the US sees as a success as it believes it managed to get India to change its Iran policy. India has been walking a precarious line, trying to stay on good terms with US, with whom it has a growing trade and strategic relationship, while retaining close ties with “strategic partner” Iran, with India being the number-two buyer of Iranian crude. When the US and EU sanctions, aimed at ending Iran’s nuclear program, began to squeeze the international banking system, the two countries worked out a system that allowed India to pay nearly half in rupees, which Iran spent on Indian food and pharmaceuticals. The US used its political weight on India’s leadership to crack down on this. India had to cut back its oil imports, apparently accepting subsidized oil from Saudi Arabia instead. Moreover, India was pushed to change its voting pattern at the UN. But while it may have represented a success story for Washington, India’s opposition accused the government of allowing Washington to meddle in India’s foreign policy.
Turkish foreign policy has also gone from days of glory to being recently described as a total failure. While I would not describe it this way, it is clear that Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s “zero-problems with neighbors” approach has not just had teething problems but has lost all its teeth. Turkey was too ambitious and, to a certain degree, too arrogant, trying to “go it alone” in order to prove itself as a regional superstar. Moreover, Ankara spread itself too thin, trying to bring Turkish influence to all four corners of the globe. While Turkey has enjoyed success, including in such far-flung places as South America, in its own neighborhood, success has been harder to achieve. The Arab awakening left Turkey’s policy in tatters and Ankara had to go back to the drawing board.
As I have written in previous columns, Turkey’s policy on Syria has been derailed. Turkey is now facing the consequences. As Turkey was the most vocal in calling on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to leave, both Syria and Iran are now using the Kurdish card to punish Turkey. Turkey’s failure to resolve its own Kurdish issues has undermined its policies and played straight into the hands of its neighbors. Furthermore, Turkey’s failure to adopt a fully pluralistic approach towards opposition groups in Syria has also cost Ankara.
These actions may hobble Ankara’s ambitious plans. It’s no secret that Erdoğan liked the idea of being the region’s “leader.” Additionally, new-boy-on-the-block Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi seems to be making quite an impact on the region. He also has the advantage of being “homegrown,” unlike Erdoğan. While many people were skeptical he would not be able to handle the military, since he took up office he seems to have established civilian control and acted responsibly in the region while sending the message that Egypt is back and intends regain its role as regional leader.
Morsi’s latest initiative to establish a contact group made up of Egypt, Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia to work on the Syrian crisis seems to have sparked interest. Yet, while he supports having Iran at the table (unlike the West), he has also been quite critical of Tehran, throwing out some tough criticism (more than Turkey) at the recent Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit in Tehran.
Although it may still be too early to judge how things will pan out with Israel, the opportunity is there for Morsi to play a strong role in future negotiations between Israel and Palestine, while Turkey’s still-cold relationship with Israel has put it out of the Middle East mediation game. Indeed, unless Turkey manages to resolve its own issues -- most particularly the Kurdish one -- and adopt a more pluralistic and conciliatory approach, it is not totally unlikely that Morsi will take poll position in this region. And this, of course, would have serious consequences for the West, in particular the US, which is nervous to say the least over Morsi’s leadership.