Turkey and the Arab Spring

There's an emerging consensus that, after a promising start, Turkey has had a bad Arab Spring. Anthony Shadid suggested yesterday in the New York Times that the unrest threatens Turkey's newfound regional influence, while Steven Cook argued in Foreign Policy that the Arab uprisings represent a kind of "emperor has no clothes" moment for Ankara, exposing the hollowness underlying Turkey's much-vaunted rise. I'd like to weigh in on this, especially since I recently flagged the Turkish Model as a promising foreign policy approach for Egypt, the Palestinians and the region in general.

Clearly, Turkey miscalculated on Libya, as Cook makes clear and as Yigal Schleifer argued here in WPR in late-March. And as Cook also demonstrates, the missteps cannot be reduced to defending Ankara's economic interests in the country. They were, in effect, errors in judgment. The inconsistencies regarding Syria are a bit more understandable, given the proximity and the very direct impact -- including potential refugee flows -- that any fallout there will have on Turkey. But they are just as glaring, given Turkey's rhetoric and the image it has promoted of itself.

Moreover, and supporting Cook's argument, as much as I've often admired Turkey's regional approach, I've previously noted that there remains a wide gap between the rhetoric used by Ankara -- and outside observers -- to describe Turkey's regional pull and the reality of it. This was on prominent display following the Turkey- and Brazil-mediated nuclear fuel swap agreement with Iran, and is also characteristic of most of Turkey's "successes" in the region and beyond. The fact is, Ankara is pretty good at getting people to the table, as its many past and present mediation efforts -- Israel and Syria, Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Iran deal -- attest. But the difference between mediation and influence lies in the ability to get everyone, including interested third parties, to sign on the dotted line. And that's where Turkey bumps up against the limits of its diplomatic weight.

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