London – Global Strat View saw a panel of distinguished political figures, journalists, commentators and academics explore and discuss Turkey’s aggressive present-day Foreign Policy and its aim to dominate the Middle East; the effects of which have not only been felt in neighbouring countries Greece and Armenia, but also in Europe and the US.
Hosted by Brian J Karem, American journalist and author, and political analyst for CNN, the discussion opened with Senator Leo Housakos, Canadian politician and a Conservative member of the Senate of Canada, who talked about the fact that the International Community is dealing with the growing role of a “state that’s gone rogue.” He described Western foreign policy as having deviated from the principles of freedom and democracy to short term commercial gain. Turkey now competes with Iran to be the largest Islamic power. He went on to illustrate how at one point in recent history, Turkish Foreign Policy was so “malleable” that it wanted to join the EU; now it has done a 180 degree turn and asserts its strategy to reinstate the power of the Ottoman Empire in an aggressive and provocative way.
Professor Gerard J Libaridian who served as Senior Advisor to the former President of Armenia from 1991 to 1997 and was then appointed Director of Armenian Studies Program at the University of Michigan responded to the question of why Erdogan wanted to join the EU and then veered away from this aim of his. Was he always a fundamentalist or did he evolve into extremism? His response was as follows: “There are a number of strains in his (Erdogan’s) Foreign Policy. The first is a desire to re-create the Ottoman Empire. There is also a strain of ethnicity and the third is pan Islamic– all of which are a logical conclusion of a securitised state. This includes violation of international law and violation of neighbouring territory…” Professor Libaridian went on to add, “…countries that matter to Turkey such as the US, Canada and the EU, must take measures that go ‘beyond immediate commercial and other interests.”
Former US Ambassador and Coordinator for Eurasian Energy Diplomacy for the US government Steven R. Mann talked about the fact that Azerbaijan’s victory was greatly assisted by Turkey and its participation in recent events have raised its profile, similar to its position in the world of international politics during the late 1990s.
Ergun Babahan, Journalist and Former Editor-in-Chief of the Turkish newspaper Sabah, expanded upon Steven Mann’s comments by using the architecture of Turkey’s Armenian policies in the late 1950s – ethnic cleansing and war, to draw a parallel with present day Turkish Foreign Policy. He stated that the party in power today has the same political ideology as that of the government who terrorized Armenia. Some of Erdogan’s policies are energy-driven such as in the Eastern Mediterranean and Libya, yet with the new Biden administration, Erdogan has tempered his Islamic leanings. He’s changeable but has always been aggressive.
Greek-Canadian Journalist Zoe Koulouris talked from a personal viewpoint about Turkish attempts to influence. “When I lived in Greece for almost 15 years, Turkey was always trying to influence and dominate Greece, while Greece is often used as a scapegoat within the EU.” She went on to add, “I have Armenian friends with PTSD as a result of the genocide…” illustrating how Turkey’s attempts to extend its influence results in death, destruction and conflict.
Senator Leo Housakos spoke eloquently of how Turkey is a member of NATO and the question of whether it should be expelled from NATO. He stated, “Without a doubt. Over the last few decades our Western powers have been more and more lenient…If you allow these individuals to encroach…if we allow bullies and tyrants to operate and we appease them, they will think they can get away with it…There is blood on the hands of the Canadian government.”
In contrast, Former Ambassador Steven R. Mann spoke about Turkey being a military alliance, stating, “No, it shouldn’t be kicked out of NATO.”
Summarising the Senator’s and the Ambassador’s opposing viewpoints, Gerard Libaridian posed the question: “Do you mitigate, control and soften the behaviour or reject it?”
When Brian Karem posed the question: “Is Russia trying to get to the East via Turkey?” Senator Housakos replied,
“If you’re not willing to protect freedom, then it calls into question the legitimacy of NATO.” He went on to observe, “Turkey does the heavy lifting for Putin.”
Journalist Zoe Koulouris added, “If you’re going to have a member that is breaking the rules, then that’s not fair. If Greece enters Turkish waters, they get a slap on the wrist. When Turkey does the same it gets away with it…Germany is selling arms to Turkey, such as undetectable submarines…” She made the point that Germany has a vested interest in keeping quiet about Turkey’s acts of aggression, as do other member states of NATO.
Ergun Babahan expanded upon Zoe Koulouris’s statement by saying, “Since World War I Germany supported Turkey in every way. If Germany however changes it policy towards Turkey, then things will change overnight. I believe the EU could put more pressure on Turkey than NATO. US presidents have a tendency to treat Turkey fairly.”
US Policy Under Incoming Biden Presidency
This led on to the question asked by India America Today as to whether Turkish Foreign Policy will change under the new Biden administration.
Gerard Libaridian said, “The US has been withdrawing from the world scene for some time now…as a result of China’s growing influence and protecting US resources. We have to look at US-Turkey relations as a result of US Foreign Policy.”
Senator Housakos stated, “I don’t believe Trump was the root of the disease…he was a symptom. People are beginning to lose faith. When we are pushing Foreign Policy on just economic issues, we lose track…I would like to see a principled Foreign Policy coming from Biden.”
Zoe Koulouris stated, “Armenia is landlocked. They’ve asked for help and haven’t got it. We talk about our ethics, but we turn a blind eye.”
However, Ergun Babahan made the point; “When Biden was elected, Erdogan tried to appease him by introducing some reforms.”
It seems as though Turkey’s Foreign Policy is far more flexible than it initially appears, with perhaps Erdogan trying to please, or appease everyone.
The question was also asked of the panel about the future status of the Kurds.
Ergun Babahan stated, “Turkey played the Kurds against each other very well.”
Gerard Libaridian expanded upon this statement by saying, “Turkey will continue to oppress the Kurds and I don’t think anyone cares…The last time I met the President of Armenia I told him no European country, no America will help you. Democracy is not what drives countries. Just because you’re a democratic country, don’t expect help.”
When the panel was asked whether Turkey’s aim and game is to ally with Russia, the issue seemed to be more the fact that Turkey’s focus is to play one side against the other – Russia against the US.
Steven Mann responded with, “I don’t see it as playing against each other in a Machiavellian way. Even if I think the US should be tough on Ankara it will have no effect unless we have the EU behind it. But even then, China is the fly in the ointment.” He drew the conclusion that Turkey was going to have to be more of a diplomatic task for Biden.
Zoe Koulouris however took a more direct stance. She stated, “I don’t know if diplomatic strategy will work. Commercial interests are what is an issue. The EU is not united. How would this then work? They need to be tougher.”
The discussion went on to analyse the fact that Erdogan has already made Turkey a pariah state. Azerbaijan took advantage of Russia and Turkey, using the fact that everyone is discombobulated. Somewhere along the line democracy has transformed into greed. China, Turkey and Russia will continue to be crazy in the Wild West because there is no cohesion.
As Gerard Libaridian succinctly pointed out, “We have a New World Order characterised by total disorder…For Western democracies, they have to come together and re-visualise the world…and act in a united manner.”
Choose Your Battles
When asked the question as to what extent has Trump damaged the cause of dealing with Turkey, Steven Mann responded as follows, “Trump as a would-be tough guy wants to be friends with bona fide tough guys – Putin and Erdogan. A new administration will have to choose its shots. The US and Canada will have to prioritise. We will have to use the ‘carrot and stick’ approach with Turkey rather than – ‘you’re out of the club.’”
Senator Housakos said, “Trump talked tough and then made back door deals. The President of Canada does great selfies with everyone but doesn’t take a stand. All we get from our government is, ‘We monitor this with concern.’ Nobody walks the talk.”
Ergun Babahan observed that, “Erdogan could reach Trump even when he was playing golf. Erdogan won’t be able to have it all with Biden like he did with Trump.”
When asked the penultimate question of will there be improvement in the issue of Turkey and the international community, Steven Mann replied,
“I think so and I hope so. Biden is bringing the A-Team to US Foreign Policy and this leaves me hopeful.”
Perhaps there is light at the end of the Eastern tunnel…or at least, a glimmer of hope on the horizon.