Turkey has forgotten the wise teaching of its modern founder, a mistake made by virtually every powerful regime. Before it corrupts, power blinds.
Mustapha Kemal Ataturk reportedly “coined” the phrase “peace at home, peace in the world,” [Semih Idiz], a slogan that may to the average person just sound idealistic but that actually expresses the core concept of a rational foreign policy. This is worth spelling out because major state leaders almost never seem to figure this out and then spend their careers wondering why their foreign policy plans collapse. A reinforcing feedback loop lies at the heart of foreign policy: if you treat your people well and treat your neighbors the same, then your foreign policy will strengthen your domestic policy and your domestic policy will strengthen your foreign policy; treat either neighboring states or your own people badly, and that behavior will also promote the mistreatment of the other.
How this reinforcing feedback loop, so brilliantly and concisely summarized by Ataturk, relates to Turkey’s current foreign policy has become pretty obvious to the whole world in recent months.
Ankara’s sectarian behavior toward the Kurds has both enflamed and been enflamed by Ankara’s Syrian policy.
Ankara’s Syrian policy of military force to compel regime change has both promoted and been promoted by an analogous hardening of Ankara’s domestic attitude toward peaceful democratic dissent and cultural diversity.
- Ankara’s increasingly hardline policy toward domestic Kurds has both hardened and been hardened by its increasingly repressive policy toward any Turkish expression of dissent.
This reinforcing feedback loop between domestic and foreign policy (either moderate domestic and foreign policies or violent domestic and foreign policies, i.e., a cycle of moderation or a cycle of violence/extremism/repression) is a general rule that explains many stories of state success and failure. Turks, Americans, Saudis, Yemenis, Israelis, Iranians have all suffered from this fundamental weakness in governance. As a political policy leans more upon repression or force rather than compromise, it intensifies emotions on both sides, causing actors to behave in more self-centered and short-sighted ways. Tactical gains with inherent strategic losses undermine policy. Cognitive dissonance makes actors insist that they are “right,” undermining self-examination and blinding them to the pitfalls inherent in any course of action. Extremism justified as righteousness replaces thoughtful caution. Pride rules, and chaos results.