As the standoff between China-Russia on one side and US-NATO on the other continues, Turkiye appears in the news as a major global player.
Ankara’s active participation in West Asia and Europe’s political and economic high stake events easily creates an image of Turkiye returning to the global political stage as a successor of the Ottoman empire.
Headlines of the past decade can certainly create this image if one chooses to cherry-pick data.
The reality is that Turkiye is in a hopeless situation.
Since President Recep Tayip Erdogan came to power almost 20 years ago, the AKP government has constantly tried to play both sides.
He has strived to show that he is part of NATO’s political and economic architecture while at the same time presented Turkiye as the vanguard of Islamic revival in the Muslim world.
In November 2020, Erdogan loudly proclaimed that “We don’t see ourselves elsewhere but in Europe. We envisage building our future together with Europe.”
Considering that Turkiye does not face any western sanctions and is well integrated into the global economic system, its economy could be in far better shape than it is at present.
Its geopolitical position could also allow it to become a manufacturing and logistics hub between European and Asian economies.
Possessing all the ace cards in political and economic sense, Ankara was not able to leverage its advantages in any of these fields. Why?
The number one reason for this fiasco is the duplicitous trait of the current Turkish leadership.
The AKP government sees its power projection in not crossing the redlines of western regimes.
For example, it was jockeying for street influence during the Islamic Awakening (Arab Spring) but made sure to do it in locales aligned with Washington’s agenda.
The clearest proof of this is Turkiye’s role in Syria.
Prior to 2011, Syria was a geopolitical, trade and cultural window for Turkiye into the Arab world.
According to data provided by the Atlantic Council, “Turkey exported goods to Syria worth $1.8 billion in 2010, [of its total exports] of $113 billion. In 2012, Turkey’s trade volume with Syria deteriorated to $497 million.”
By adopting a pro-Israeli and pro-US agenda in Syria in 2011, Turkiye’s rulers made sure that their populist bravado did not cross western geopolitical redlines.
Washington did not care about Ankara’s independent policies on events in Tunisia or Libya, but Syria and Bahrain were red lines for the US.
A recent example of a similar maneuver could be observed when Turkiye’s three state banks suspended the use of the Russian Mir payment system once the US officially expressed its displeasure.
The two examples point to the fact that Ankara is constrained in making policy choices based on western reactions to them.
While in politics one must always weigh the broader consequences of policy choices, in Turkiye’s case it appears that strategic choices are always confined to a list of options based on what constitutes strategic western geopolitical redlines.
This is an indication of the fact that Turkiye will not be able to choose policies which are in its national interest, but strongly oppose western geopolitical agenda of global hegemony.
This reality will always impose serious economic and political limitations on Turkiye to become an independent global player, be it in economics or politics.