The unbearable heaviness of being ‘principled’

BURAK BEKDİL

It makes you win. And it makes you lose. It is the same “principled” stance on foreign policy.

Unsurprisingly, the unimportant news went largely unnoticed, although it had messages at many wavelengths. A group of 67 top Turkish defense companies that come under the corporate identity of High-Tech Port will display their war toys at a private exhibition in Qatar on Oct. 6-8.

Apparently, High-Tech Port is the making of the powerful, pro-government business lobby group MÜSIAD. Nothing unusual here. Turkey’s defense exports rose 17.7 percent last year to $1.648 billion. They stood at a mere $600 million in 2008. Turkish arms makers want more. And they want more especially from the Gulf states, most notably Saudi Arabia.

According to Hakan Kurt, general coordinator of High-Tech Port, Turkish industry could win export deals in Gulf countries worth $20 billion over the next 20 years. To attain that goal, Mr. Kurt explains, Qatar will play a bridge role [between Turkish defense companies and other Gulf states]. Still nothing unusual.

But then Mr. Kurt’s narrative turns to problematic praise for the government’s “stance with a character” (read: our principled foreign policy stance). At present, Mr. Kurt says, “because of our foreign policy with a character, [defense] exports to countries in the [Gulf] region have diminished.” How sad.

Then Mr. Kurt cites a figure that was unknown to defense industry insiders until he said it: Turkish defense companies have been deprived of business worth $2.5 billion in the Gulf region “because of our foreign policy with a character.” But he happily adds that “relations with the new Saudi king are improving.”

This kind of narrative is all too common among Turkish officials or business figures who wish to “flash themselves” to the attention of government bigwigs in the hope of corporate, career or political gains or favors. That is understandable even when it comes in excessive, daily doses, which make one feel like throwing up. This is “New Turkey” and we are getting used to it. All the same, if such rhetoric is not a maverick’s joke then it often reflects numerous shades of self-ridicule. Just like in Mr. Kurt’s fancy narrative...

A few questions: If our “principled” foreign policy is depriving Turkey of lucrative contracts, was our foreign policy “unprincipled” when we won similar contracts? If Turkish defense companies have won $20 billion worth of deals from Gulf states by 2035, will that mean that Turkey’s foreign policy over the next 20 years will simply be unprincipled?

How nice that Turkey’s relations with Saudi Arabia’s new king are improving while we maintain our principled foreign policy. But how bizarre: Our principled foreign policy dictates that we cut off ties with an (elected) Egyptian “dictator” but improve ties with an (unelected) Saudi king.

Turkey’s main line of argument in opposing (and sometimes “clandestinely” fighting) the “dictators” in Damascus and Cairo, despite their arguably “elected” status, was that neither was in power in their respective countries through credible, legitimate elections. So the ballot box, if not deemed credible enough, makes a foreign leader totally illegitimate in Turkey’s “principled policy calculus.” But the total absence of the ballot box makes petro-dollar-rich sheiks and kings perfectly legitimate in our “principled stance.”

That really can be called a “principled stance.” Only if the “principle” here is pure Islamist hypocrisy: We don’t sell arms to elected dictators, but we queue up to sell arms to unelected sheiks and kings. That is our “principled stance in foreign policy.”

How strange that Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, a man of supreme academic credentials, still thinks there are fair and credible elections in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates – all potential markets for Turkish weapons manufacturers. It is even stranger that Professor Davutoğlu thinks Egypt and Syria are not democracies but Gulf countries are.

But then again, is anyone surprised? This columnist is not.