The Arab Spring did not happen, according to George Friedman, the head of global intelligence firm STRATFOR Institute, because there has been no regime change in the Middle East. Turkey is the leader of the Islamic world but it is still not a mature power, said the author of “The Next 100 years,” in which he predicted that Turkey will rise to be a great power. “Turkey is still very cautious and it is testing its strength,” he told the Daily News during a recent interview in Istanbul.
Q: You recently said Turkey was a power but not a mature one. How so?
A: A mature power has institutions for managing international systems. The U.S., at the outset of World War II, did not have intelligence service [and] very few trained diplomats. Turkey is more advanced than that, but it does not have a diplomatic corps that is matched to Turkey’s responsibilities in the world. It does not have Portuguese speakers, experts on Mexico; it takes a while to develop this. It takes a while to develop intelligence services. The foreign minister said Turkey has opened 21 embassies in Africa, but who mans them? Who are the Africa experts?
Q: You are warning Turkey that it is not rewarding to be a big power.
A: America is the major power. We are not loved, we are resented. It is the fate of countries that take leading roles. They will disappoint some countries, anger other countries. Turkey is not yet experienced with the sense of injustice of trying to do good but being claimed to have done badly.
Q: Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu would have objected to the comparison with the U.S. and said Turkey was out there with the best of intentions. Why shouldn’t we be liked?
A: You will be liked. But it is easy to be liked when Turkey refrains from acting. But when Turkey has to act it does not act because it decides (when) to be an aggressive power. It will be facing a crisis along its southern border, then the crisis will spill over to Turkey; that is just an example.
Q: In the next 100 years, will the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) “zero problem” policy be sustained?
A: It is a transitionary moment. I have always said that Turkey will be a great power; I did not say Turkey is already a great power. AKP has two policies: One is to be a major power in the Islamic world and simultaneously to avoid engagement. This is precisely the foreign policy it should have now. But 10 to 20 years from now, it will not be able to maintain that. Because as you send out your businessmen, you would have to have political influence to guarantee their security, their interests, etc. Soldiers are one way to interfere in a country; businessman can interfere, too. So the process will draw you into engagement. There will be a moment where Turkey’s interests will seriously diverge from those of another country and that will be the time Turkey will have to decide to act or suffer the harm. It will not happen because Turks decide to be aggressive; it will happen because they will be pursuing their interests. And that will lead to criticism; don’t forget that when you act, you make mistakes.
Q: Everyone is criticizing Turkey now for its problems.
A: Problems are not determined by whether Turkey wants to have them; it has to do with the dynamics of the region. These problems arise not because Turkey is creating them. Turkey has a policy of not creating problems.
Q: Looking at your writings, it seems that you are not changing your projections due to Arab Spring.
A: No, because the Arab spring did not happen. No regime fell except Libya and that’s because of NATO. In Egypt, one general is replaced by four generals. In Syria, Bashar al–Assad is still in power. There is tremendous excitement but there is very little action, very little outcome. Not every bit of unrest is a revolution. Every revolution does not succeed. Every revolution is not democratic, and the democratic ones can elect (rulers like) Ayatollah Khomeini. There is talk about massive democratic uprising; first of all it was not massive in Egypt – most of the country was not affected. Second, those who rose up did not have a common idea of what should come next. Third, they did not overthrow the regime. They got rid of Mubarak and that was what the army wanted, too.
Q: You have previously claimed that Turkey should leave its EU bid and lead the Islamic world. You maintain that autocratic regimes will continue in the region but Turkey has opted for democratic change.
A: Unless Turkey wishes to invade countries and impose regimes on it, it will work with the regimes that are there. Turkey would have to be insane to join the EU. It is the leader of the Islamic world. It has the largest Muslim economy, it has by far the largest military force, and its economy is so dynamic that it is creating a vortex in the region. The best thing that happened to Turkey is the fact it was not admitted to the EU.
Q: How does Turkey’s present situation fall into the realities of the Arab Spring and the call by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for secularism, for instance?
A: It told us more about Erdoğan and the AKP than the effect it made in North Africa. That he choose to make that statement was important. But there is a huge gap between voicing an opinion and taking an action and responsibility. Turkey is in a position of transitioning from the time when it was a weak power, and all it had was its opinion to offer to a time when its opinion matters because it is followed by the expectation to act.
Q: You also argue that old powers don’t like rising powers. Can we assume therefore that the U.S. doesn’t like Turkey?
A: In the long run there will be bad feelings. But in the short run, the U.S. needs Turkey as a stabilizing force in the Middle East. It no longer wants to play a role for the time being. Turkey also wants stability in the region but does not have the power yet to create that stability, it will reach out to the U.S and we will redefine the relations. But down the road as Turkey becomes more powerful, the U.S. will become more frightened and the relationship will change again.
Q: On strained relations between Israel and Turkey, is it a prelude Turkish-U.S. contention?
A: With Turkey taking on its current position, its relationship with Israel has become a liability. The level of visibility cuts against other interests. But lately we’ve seen signs that Turkey is having closer relations with the U.S. Israel is close to the U.S. therefore Turkish-Israeli relations will be more constrained.
Q: You don’t foresee a conflict between Turkey and Israel?
A: I don’t think it is possible. Turkey does not have the military to project force against Israel. It does not want to be in Syria, let alone engage Israel. And Israel does not want to engage Turkey. You are not in a situation of divorce or hostility. You are in a situation which certain relationships continue, but in which public diplomacy shifts to where Turkey can take advantage of other relationships.
Q: Is Turkey punching above its weight?
A: This government is careful not to do that. One of the reasons it doesn’t engage is because it manages its strength. Turkey is testing its strength. You see that in the case of its policy toward Libya and Syria.
Who is George Friedman?
Dr. George Friedman is the founder and chief executive officer of Stratfor, a global intelligence and forecasting company. He is the author of several books, including New York Times bestsellers, such as “The Next Decade” and “The Next 100 Years,” in which he predicts that Turkey will be a great power; as such, he has advised global players to learn Turkish.
A very popular keynote speaker, Friedman is in high demand at conferences and industry-specific events for private organizations and government agencies. He was recently in Istanbul to moderate the energy simulation of Turkish Industry and Business Association (TÜSİAD) that was also attended by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu.
“We have taught the same courses,” he said about Davutoğlu, adding that the latter was one of the most interesting of the many foreign ministers that he has met.
Friedman lives in Austin, Texas.