in March 2003, Turkish foreign policy and security advisors face one of
its most serious regional challenges ever. It required Turkey
to formulate new conceptual approach to its regional and international
position and to make an adjustment to actual capabilities on the ground.
The main Challenge was the need of Turkish
policy makers, civilians and generals, to take into account that the
world’s reigning power, the United States, was no longer on the other
side of the Atlantic, but just over the border in Iraq.
new reality in addition to the proximity of Turkey to the world’s
greatest energy game made military solutions anachronistic and harmful.
Occasional raids in pursuit of Kurdish guerillas were left as face
saving, internally, for public consumption and as a tool to prevent
internal military dismay among young and militant officers.
The American invasion took
place only a few months after the AKP and Tayyip Erdogan had been
elected. Based on a new petit bourgeoisies support and promising a new,
specific social program, the AKP took office without experience or a
clear approach to foreign policy issues. Yet the new leadership soon had
to deal with the greatest challenge to
since 1945 –its relations with the US.
The invasion and subsequent
occupation caused a breakdown within Iraq
and chaos in the wider region. It accelerated the empowerment of Iran
and its allies in the
and encouraged radical religious elements. From a Turkish perspective,
the effects of the invasion were particularly destructive. For at least
a decade, public relations had been based on the claim that Turkey
was the key to regional stability.
also presented itself as the only country capable of bridging religious
and ethnic groups in the area linking
The invasion and the establishment of a puppet regime in
led to a balkanization that destabilized the very sensitive
Iraqi-Turkish border area, with its large Kurdish population.
reluctance to grant the Americans support and assistance at the start of
the invasion and reality on the ground led the US
to view the Kurds as allies. The Kurdish groups were granted freedom to
administer their affairs and to commence a process of Kurdifying
at the expense of its Arabs and Turkmen. The result was that Turkey
lost its ability to influence northern
and American policy in the area.
It may be argued that AKP adopt
a strategy that did not conform to Turkey’s
international interests. It is, however important to take into account
the needs of the AKP leadership to respond to the expectations of their
constituency and to shape a policy that would meet the challenges both
in the international arena and on the complex domestic front. Creating a
neo-Ottomanist policy was meant to do this on both levels. It included a
demand that Turkish special position in Iraq
should be recognized. However, the gains from this have been limited and
mainly theoretical. In practice, the Turks have come to terms with the
situation in northern Iraq,
the creation of Kurdish autonomy, and Turkey’s
reduced ability to intervene. This is mostly restricted to carrying out
limited cross-border operations, to search for PKK militants.
Furthermore, while small-scale hot-pursuit operations may be advocated
for security reasons, a large-scale invasion of
could invoke an Iranian counter-operation that would eventually set both
regional actors on a collision course. In spite of the good relations
with Teheran, one should not forget that
is a major security concern for
is becoming a major economic actor in the development and rebuilding of
and is even involved in strengthening Kurdish autonomy in the north.
After all, even Prime
Minister Erdoğan indicated that the Kurdish problem is primarily a
domestic Turkish problem, and its origins are not to be found in
It is mainly a political problem and thus requires a political solution.
Support for the Turkmen, fights against PKK rebels in Iraq
– all these, without downplaying their significance, were meant to
signal to the US
and the world that
remained an important regional player.