Fletcher Features

Professor Speaks on Turkey’s Position in Business and Politics

During his visit, Soli Özel sat down with Senior Associate Dean of International Business and Finance Bhaskar Chakravorti for a discussion in advance of the upcoming Turkey's Turn? conference.

The Institute for Business in the Global Context (IBGC) continued its speaker series at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy yesterday, featuring Dr. Soli Özel, professor of international relations and political science at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University.

In a talk entitled “Between Patient Ambition and Imprudent Self-Delusion: Turkish Foreign Policy in the Wake of the Arab Revolts,” Özel discussed the political state of Turkey. The event served as a kickoff for a conference on the country set to take place next year on April 10 and 11 at the Fletcher School.

Özel has been an advisor to TÜSIAD, a voluntary civil society organization established by Turkish industrialists and businessmen to represent the business world, for 16 years. He is also a columnist at the Habertürk, a high-circulation Turkish newspaper. Özel’s writing has been published in many international newspapers and academic journals.

During the presentation, Özel spoke at length about Turkey’s current political climate.

“Over the last 10 to 12 years, Turkey has enjoyed a great deal of autonomy,” he said. “Turkey could pursue its interests in a more carefree way. That space for that autonomous activity appears to be shrinking.”

By the end of the 1990s, Özel said, Turkey began to create openings in its foreign policy and become more engaged with the Middle East, Central Asia and the Balkan region.

“Following the Cold War, Europe was no longer the strategic area of the world,” Özel said. “Turkey, the capitalist, secular and democratic state in a radical and turbulent region, would be America’s solution to post-Cold War problems.”

The Iraq War then exacerbated an already delicate situation, according to Özel. Though he admitted to faults in Turkish Middle Eastern foreign policy, he claimed that U.S. intervention actually brought the wall down. As a result, Iran became a dominant power in the region, a region whose instability was worsened, he said.

“That gave Turkey the opportunity to engage with the region as a balancer of Iran and as a country that could bring some level of stability to a turbulent region,” Özel said. “It would do so because of strategic interest and because of a domestic dynamic.”

That domestic dynamic is due to a Turkish government ready to serve a budding entrepreneurial class, which needs untapped markets that can be found in Central Asia, the Balkans, the Middle East and Africa, according to Özel.

He also noted the failures of Turkish foreign policy, which mirror previous American failures.

Özel believes that throughout the Bush era and the Iraq War, the United States wasted resources and damaged its prestige.

Turkey has shown self-delusion in its dealings with the Middle East, he said, as well as with the latest protests in Syria.

“Instead of maintaining a secular approach to the conflict, Turkey situated itself as a party to a civil war,” Özel said. “It took positions that actually put it in the sectarian divide that the war has generated on the Sunni camp, thereby putting aside the secularity of Turkish foreign policy.”

By making no profound impact in Syria, Özel said, Turkey discredited itself as a world and even a regional power.

“Turkey is no longer one of the major actors in the Syrian conflict,” he said. “Its own rhetoric brought the conflict into its own population, and it remains the only bellicose country dealing with Syria. I consider this the result of an almost incomprehensible mismanagement.”

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--Reprinted from Tufts Daily
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