Does the Turkish opposition have a foreign policy?

Does the Turkish opposition have a foreign policy?
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The Turkish opposition struggles to differentiate itself from the government when it comes to foreign policy
In an article he wrote for Serbestiyet, Selim Kuneralp commented on the lack of concrete foreign policy ambitions of the opposition. While criticizing the failures of the Erdogan government in foreign policy, he emphasizes that the opposition should not repeat the same foreign policy lines of the government. The opposition should not be afraid of negative reactions from the government and instead clearly state its own potential goals, aims, and policies.

It has been written and said many times that the government’s foreign policy lacks goals, vision and common sense. Indeed, the baffling changes, sometimes involving 180 or even 360 degree turns, surprise both the public and those who follow our country from outside and those who try to make sense of what is done. Especially lately this spinning top has started to turn very fast. Usually, this situation is attributed to the government's search for external financial support in response to the gradual worsening of economic conditions.

The policy of the government to quarrel with almost all of our partners and neighbors, especially in recent years, has gone bankrupt and lost its credibility; in the event of a change in power in the elections to be held next year, the brainstorming of ideas about what would or would not change in Turkey has begun. However, the material needed for estimations is unfortunately very limited. It is difficult to say that there is concrete information about what the new government's goals will be, if the government changes.

It is a frequently mentioned issue that foreign policy decisions do not actually affect the election results. Indeed, during the first 80 years of the republic, until the establishment of the AKP government, political parties and governments inspired by all kinds of views ruled the country, but a great stability in foreign policy was maintained, and the governments that came and went continued the same line.

This stability continued during the first years of the AKP in power. Both the military establishment still having political power during the first years and the then-President Sezer embracing the classical state institutions and his approach to the conservative continuation of the foreign policy attributed to the state prevented serious deviations. Abdullah Gül, who came later, also tried to keep the country away from the decisions based on adventure and ideological obsession, despite his AKP origin.

In the later periods, all control was lost. The country quickly started to distance itself from the West, turned to Islamism, with the secularism principle set aside Turkey sought to become the leader of the Sunni Islamic world. If there is such a world, it cannot be said that they are looking for a leader. Expensive mistakes such as S-400 were made, hostile statements were made against neighbors, steps were taken back when faced with sanctions, as moving away from the West, Russia was approached; while getting along before, they picked a fight with Assad, then rapprochement was attempted, etc. Since the subject of our article is not the foreign policy mistakes of the government, I will not go into further details on this topic.

As all these mistakes were made one after another, as the country was drifting away from its traditional line towards adventures, the silence of the opposition parties has been striking. Probably because they are also hostile towards the West to a large extent, they were also reluctant to oppose these. Even during the S-400 disaster, which can be said to be a turning point in our relations with the West, the opposition parties were hesitant to ask against which danger these missiles were purchased (...) they avoided criticizing the government as the government was quarreling with almost the whole world. It became inevitable that this silence was interpreted as passive support.

They promise that if they come to power, they will bring the country back to being a state with the rule of law and restore democracy, but they do not go into too much detail (...) Sometimes, the things done right are being criticized just to appease the Islamist electorate. For example when the decision on appointing ambassadors to Israel was announced, a CHP MP criticized this move and accuse the government of betraying the Palestinian cause.

However, the expression “the devil is in the details'' is very fitting.” Although, opposition parties do not declare a common position in many areas among the main problems of the country, such as the economic disaster, the Kurdish problem, etc. (...) Of course, we will see whether it is possible to win elections as just being anti-AKP, within a year at the latest. Also, it is highly probable that they are worried about being criticized for having sold themselves to the West if they adopt different lines from the government about foreign policy and criticize it strongly.

Of course, the fact that the opposition, which takes the form of a group consisting of six different parties which do not have much in common except being against the AKP, undoubtedly complicates the task. For example, while the majority at the table suggest rejoining the Istanbul Convention, the Felicity Party opposes it. While several parties at the table suggest reversing the Syria policy and negotiating with Assad, Ahmet Davutoglu, the main suspect responsible for dragging the country into the Syrian swamp, insists on not admitting his mistakes in his statements.

In my opinion, the line followed so far is not sustainable in the upcoming period. If the opposition has a goal of coming to power as a coalition, It is natural to think that the opposition should not delay in setting reasonable and rational targets for Turkey's major problems, including foreign policy. I am aware that this is very hard. Especially in the last 10 years, the government and the media controlled by it have driven the voters away from all reasonable ideas, towards the most rudimentary and extravagant lines with a relentless brainwashing operation. It will not be easy to fix the damage wrought by the AKP in this field, just like every other field. If the opposition is not going to do this, and especially, if it is not going to take courageous but necessary steps by being afraid of the government’s reactions, unfortunately, they will not solve the country’s problems and they will neglect their own duty. (...)

It is known that the representatives of foreign countries are willing to get in touch with the opposition parties in an environment where the elections are approaching and there is a possibility of change in power. It is clear that the government is uncomfortable with these contacts. Indeed, it was a controversial event that the British Ambassador of the time had dinner with Mr. Imamoglu, the Mayor of Istanbul, last winter, and then, as seen only in totalitarian countries, it was announced that the meetings of the Embassies with the Municipalities and maybe other institutions are subject to permission from now on. It is unknown whether this restriction is valid or whether this has been tracked or not. However, in my own professional life, for example, when I was the Ambassador in Sweden and Korea, I would have considered myself neglecting my duty if I had not contacted the opposition parties in both countries. In fact, when Mr. Erdogan who was the PM at the time made an official visit to Korea, Mayor of Seoul Lee Myung-Bak, who was then the leader of the opposition and later the president, was included in the program upon my suggestion to visit him in his office. Just as we did not need permission from the Korean authorities for this, the PM sources also did not claim that it would not be appropriate to visit the leader of the opposition and there was a nice meeting between Erdogan and Lee, Lee visited our country twice as both mayor and president. Let us remind you on this occasion that he was tried with corruption charges and he is now in jail.

I told this story because of this reason: A few weeks ago, the Foreign Minister of Germany Annalena Baerbock visited our country and in a way considered unusual lately, expressed her desire to individually meet the leaders of the largest opposition parties represented in the Grand National Assembly of Turkey. Only HDP co-chairs responded positively to this invitation, while CHP and Good Party met with Baerbock at a lower level. I believe this was a big mistake on the part of CHP and the IYI Party (...)

In such a situation, especially for foreigners, the statements other than the leader's own statements do not matter much. If both Mr. Kilicdaroglu and Mrs. Aksener had spared time for Mrs. Baerbock, the FM of a country such as Germany, the most important country in the EU, would have learned what their foreign policy goals were from their own statements and would be able to share this information with the ministers in other EU countries first hand. This is an important missed opportunity. I hope they did not hesitate in meeting because they do not have anything to say.

Recently, many commentators have been repeating more and more frequently that the 2023 election is not a guaranteed win for the opposition. It is mentioned that being against Erdogan itself will not be enough to win the election, and that the opposition needs concrete policies. One of the fields in which concrete policies are needed is undoubtedly foreign policy.