It has been a chaotic year with no or little progress in overcoming world’s outstanding challenges: U.S.-Russia tensions, Middle East turmoil with numerous sub-titles, Ukraine conflict, the future of the JCPOA, North Korea’s nuclear program, migration, trade wars, climate change.
On December 13, German Foreign Minister Heiko Mass issued a statement on the conclusion of the first round of UN-sponsored talks between the parties to the conflict in Yemen. He said, “This could not have been done without the United Nations.” The reality is, this could not have been done without Jamal Khashoggi.
Unfortunately, there is more.
The rift between the establishment and those who feel excluded has widened. Polarization is spreading. Populism and authoritarianism are on the rise even in some EU countries. Democracy is desperate for a victory somewhere. In recent days, four opposition lawmakers were assaulted in Hungary. Does that mean that the Copenhagen criteria become a thing of the past once a country is a member of the EU?
Such challenges call for enlightened leadership. Yet, Washington remains in disarray with a global ripple effect. The tumultuous past week does not bode well for President Trump’s future.
The EU looks distracted. Brexit is on an uncertain path. Angela Merkel, Europe’s de facto leader, will not seek another term as chancellor. Thus, a symbol of stability will be gone. Transatlantic consultation/cooperation no longer seems assured.
One hears less about multilateralism and more about “we are first” policies. It goes without saying that national interests come first for all countries. They always have. But, “our interests first” kind of an arrogant public discourse undermines dialogue, compromise, give-and-take without which progress on any issue becomes mission impossible.
As for Turkey, 2018 was another lost year. We keep backsliding on democracy. We suffer from extreme polarization, economic downturn, disregard for professionalism in public service. Judy Dempsey’s description of the UK and Brexit fits Turkey a hundred times better: “… there is no longer a centre. There is no longer a narrative to create a dialogue.” (*)
Our foreign and security policy is in deep trouble. Our misguided foray into the Syrian conflict continues to exact a heavy price. It has failed to prove a “Turkey first” policy. Some observers in the U.S. have called President Trump’s surprise decision to withdraw troops from Syria “a victory for Turkey”. Perhaps they need to remember that Turkey is now home to 3.5 million Syrian refugees and has so far spent 32 billion dollars to meet their needs. If the pullout with so many unknowns is a victory, it is a Pyrrhic one at best.
We have few friends if any. We enjoyed excellent relations with Russia. Now, a signal from Moscow regarding the restoration visa-free travel is making headlines. We are not on the same page in Syria.
As a matter of fact, our headlines are dominated by three words: the adjectives “feci” and “korkunç” and the noun “müjde”. The former two mean “horrific”, “ghastly” and the latter “good tidings”, “an out of the blue gift”. “Feci” and “korkunç” are used to describe accidents causing loss of life like the recent train accident near Ankara, crime, violence against women, street fights, stabbings. “Müjde” is used to report announcements by the government to mollify the public, the turning of the so-called “new pages”.
No one worries about city planning, our potholed streets and broken sidewalks, lack of respect for traffic rules.
What is appalling is that the Justice and Development Party (JDP) has been in power for the last sixteen years. In 2005 they launched the accession process with the EU. Regardless of the outcome, this enhanced Turkey’s global standing. At the time, Turkey was experiencing rapid economic growth. We had friends. And now we are here. Yet, they admit no mistakes. They love blame games. Before blaming others, they should ask themselves “how did we get here?” Because, if they had “other plans” to start with, this can’t possibly be where they wished to arrive at. The government still says that EU membership remains a strategic priority. This is not even a joke.
As for the main opposition, with no substantive position on anything, they happen to be JDP’s greatest fortune.
The foregoing reflects a pessimistic mood in what is supposed to be a “festive season”. To have hope, the people of Turkey must look at the past, think of our War of Independence fought against the victors of the First World War under Ataturk’s leadership, abolishment of the decadent sultanate, the declaration of the Republic, the far-reaching reforms which earned Turkey world’s respect and his motto “peace at home, peace in the world”. Because there remains no other source of inspiration.
(*) Britain, France, and the State of the EU
Ali Tuygan, Ambassador (Ret’d) and former Undersecretary of the Turkish Foreign Ministry. The article is also published on his blog: https://diplomaticopinion.com/2018/12/25/2018-in-retrospect/