For the last decade, the main concern of Turkish foreign policy has been the crises in the Middle East and North Africa, which include threats emanating from different terrorist groups and state failures as a result of Arab insurgencies. Ankara, however, has been spending its energy on its relations with Western countries, especially France and the United States, rather than on these crises. Nowadays, many observers both from inside and outside the nation have been trying to answer the question, “What does the West want from Turkey?” In this piece, I will try to trace the roots of Paris’ approach toward Ankara.
As the leading anti-Turkish European state, France has been pursuing a policy designed to block and suppress Turkey, and it has been exploiting every opportunity to achieve this objective. When considering regional realities and recent developments, it becomes clear that Ankara has been trying to prevent anti-Turkey projects in the region and get rid of the blockade targeted by France.
First of all, there is an anti-Turkey alliance forming in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. Other regional countries such as Greece, Israel, Egypt and other states have been isolating Turkey from initiatives in the area. Paris has been leading this otherization policy, which indicates their “siege policy” against Ankara. According to the French government, Turkey should not be presented as the model nation for other regional countries, and therefore the “Turkish experience” must be doomed to fail.
Second, France has been unhappy with Turkey’s new foreign policy orientation and its increasing effectiveness in the region. Paris holds Ankara responsible for the decline of its influence in the Middle East and North Africa. After Ankara’s direct intervention into the Syrian crisis and its four military operations there, France became alarmed that Turkey would dominate Syria, its old colony, possibly ending their influence. Considering the limited objectives of the United States and Russia, France was expecting a bigger role for itself at the beginning of the political process for the resolution of the civil war. Turkey, however, continues to be at the heart of the Syrian crisis, and it seems that it will be impossible to solve the conflict without Ankara’s approval.
Similarly, France holds Turkey responsible for the failure of its plans in Libya. Paris was about to solve the crisis there and maintain its economic interests by supporting the illegitimate warlord Gen. Khalifa Haftar and his allies. Ankara has changed the balance of power on the ground against the putschist’s forces, which are supported not only by France but also other states such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and Russia. Turkey, together with Libya’s legitimate government, broke the French project. As such, Paris has been virulently following an anti-Turkish stance in North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean.
Third, as a result of France’s unhappiness with Turkey’s rising position and effectiveness in the region, they have been at the center of almost all anti-Ankara developments in different crises, including the Syrian civil war, the conflict in Libya and the current tension in the Eastern Mediterranean. France has been trying to mobilize every anti-Turkish political actor it can find and provide them limitless support.
For this reason, Paris has been provoking Athens to continue to defend its maximalist position in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea. Similarly, France has been trying to prevent any Turkish influence in Lebanon. Since it prioritizes its colonial interests, it does not even want Ankara to provide humanitarian assistance to Beirut or bring peace and stability to the country. France wants Lebanon politically divided and therefore dependent on external powers, such as Paris.
French President Emmanuel Macron is not only mobilizing hostile forces in the region but also trying to turn Turkey’s friends against them. Macron has been visiting different Middle Eastern capitals and is utilizing both stick and carrot policies to set then against Ankara. Recently, the French president has been meeting with different regional politicians and trying to persuade them to support his Middle Eastern projections. For instance, Macron has met with the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Nechirvan Barzani, in Baghdad. Turkey quickly answered, however, interfering with possible developments by inviting Barzani to Ankara. France has also been instrumentalizing the European Union for its national interests by forcing the bloc’s institutions to take measures and even to impose sanctions against Turkey.
Fourth, France has been trying to throw out Turkey from Europe and has been one of the fiercest anti-Ankara states in the EU as it has been insistently rejecting their membership accession. Likewise, Paris has been trying to undermine Ankara’s NATO membership. France always prefers to boost defense cooperation among “European” countries, excluding both the United States and Turkey.
For all these reasons, France has been rancorously following an ambitious and aggressive anti-Turkey policy, mobilizing every adversarial political actor against Ankara. It seems that France and Macron will continue to exploit and to instrumentalize Turkey for its ultra-European policy and for its regional perspective. France has been trying to declare Turkey as the main “other” of Europe, but this perspective is not shared by the continent’s other countries. As such, this policy may create further diffusion, rather than the consolidation of European integration.
In addition, Paris may continue to buy support from regional regimes for some time, but it cannot sustain its impact in the area by following a zero-sum relationship with its ex-colonial states. France does not have the capacity to maintain a unilateral policy without the support of the other Western countries, some of which are at odds with their agendas. France can play its game only when the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany hesitate to follow a proactive policy in the region.
[Daily Sabah, 9 September 2020]