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Turkey’s foreign policy in free fall

Problems with four neighbors

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Turkey's foreign policy vision is best captured by its foreign minister's motto: "Zero problems with neighbors."

But with the predominantly Muslim country facing escalating crises with Syria, Iran, Iraq and Israel, Turkish opposition leaders say the rhetoric has not matched the reality.

"The claim of the government was to pursue a policy of having 'zero problems with neighbors,' and now we are having all sorts of problems with all our neighbors," said Faik Oztrak, deputy chairman of Turkey's Republican People's Party (CHP).

In recent months, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government has:

• Taken a lead role in pressuring Syrian President Bashar Assad to resign, imposing sanctions on Syria and hosting refugees and opposition leaders.

• Agreed to host NATO missile defense radar installations intended to protect Europe from Iranian missiles. Iran, in response, has threatened to take out the Turkish sites if the U.S. or Israel attack its nuclear program.

• Launched airstrikes on Kurdish rebel safe havens in northern Iraq in retaliation for terrorist attacks carried out by the Kurdistan Workers' Party, inflaming Turkish border tensions with Iraq.

• Expelled the Israeli ambassador after the Jewish state refused to apologize for a 2010 raid on a Gaza-bound convoy that killed nine Turkish nationals.

The conflicts are a sharp departure from last year, when Turkey's relations with many of its neighbors were at a new high.

CHP elder statesman Faruk Logoglu, who served as Turkey's ambassador to the U.S. from 2001 to 2005, said his country's foreign policy has failed, adding that Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu "cannot point to a single accomplishment."

Mr. Logoglu reserved particularly harsh criticism for the Erdogan administration's Syria policy.

"We agree with the government's goals but not the approach," he said, railing against sanctions that he argued hurt ordinary Syrians and Turkish businesses.

He also claimed that the government's "unfettered support for the opposition," including providing refuge to its leaders, is "condemning Syria to a protracted civil war."

Mr. Davutoglu responded to criticism of the government's Syria policy last week, saying he is still committed to the zero-problems motto.

"But we cannot remain silent if one of our neighbors oppress its people," the foreign minister said.

Ayse Gulsun, a CHP member of parliament, said the problem with Turkey's leaders is that "they are always changing their minds."

"One day they are with Iran - alone in the world - and the day after they change their mind and decide to host the NATO radar," she said. "One day, we have very good relations with Syria, and the next day they've scrapped all relations."

Ms. Gulsun also said the government has erred in scrapping its longtime alliance with Israel.

"The traditional diplomatic way of Turkey was to find a balance between Israel and the Arab world," she said. "It was good because Turkey was the only country in the Muslim world to have the same relations with Israel and other Arab countries. But it's changed now, and we don't know the result."

One result of Mr. Erdogan's foreign policy has been a surge in his popularity throughout the region.

Last month, for the second year in a row, Mr. Erdogan emerged as the most-admired world leader in Arab countries, according to the 2011 Annual Arab Public Opinion Survey, conducted by the Brookings Institution's Shibley Telhami.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

About the Author

Ben Birnbaum

Ben Birnbaum is a reporter covering foreign affairs for The Washington Times. Prior to joining The Times, Birnbaum worked as a reporter-researcher at the New Republic. A Boston-area native, he graduated magna cum laude from Cornell University with a degree in government and psychology. He won multiple collegiate journalism awards for his articles and columns in the Cornell Daily Sun.

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