Apparently, Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Danny “Oh Danny boy” Ayalon left an undeletable mark on the art of diplomacy when he invented the “low chair” method to humiliate the Turkish ambassador last year. The very important Turks who had fiercely protested Mr. Ayalon’s protest last year look highly inspired this year by the Israeli deputy minister’s “low chair diplomacy.” Furthering Mr. Ayalon’s scientific technique, the Turks have invented the “chewing gum” and “lower step” diplomacies.
The mayor of Ankara, Melih Gökçek, said his gum chewing during his farewell to French President Nicolas Sarkozy was a tit-for-tat because Mr. Sarkozy was chewing a piece of gum as he descended the steps of his plane after landing in Ankara. Similarly, the Turks felt proud when a skillfully planned photo showed Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan greeting his guest, President Sarkozy, while the Frenchman was a few steps below the prime minister.
All the same, the twin Turkish contributions to the “Ayalon diplomacy” may create a dangerous diplomatic jurisprudence – especially for the not-so-tall Turkish dignitaries. I don’t want to think about the possibility of Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu being pictured halfway through the steps while Chancellor Angela Merkel, all smiles, greets him on top of the same steps in Berlin.
Obviously, the Turkish show was put on for domestic consumption ahead of the parliamentary elections in June. But it’s a pity in the year 2011 if a photo showing a foreign head of state half the height of the Turkish prime minister can please the Turks. This is as ridiculous as the photo showing the Turkish ambassador to Tel Aviv seated on a low chair with the Israeli deputy minister, all smiles, looking (physically) down upon him.
Fortunately, President Abdullah Gül did not join the “Ayalon Club” and secretly put salt in the sugar sachet for Mr. Sarkozy’s coffee, or rose water into a bottle of pink champagne.
But as presidential sources have unofficially revealed, in the two presidents’ tete-a-tete, there was “veiled commercial threat” (Mr. Gül: “I must say that the blockage of Turkey’s EU negotiations by France shadows possible cooperation in many other areas”), and “ethnic reminders” (Mr. Gül: “Your granduncle was from Salonica, a Turkish city in his time. Knowing your family history, one would expect you to be closer to the idea of Turkey in Europe”). But that was better than salt in Mr. Sarkozy’s cup of coffee, or rose water in his champagne glass (one wonders, though, does Mr. Gül’s reasoning justify rejection of Turkey by European leaders whose granduncles were not from Ottoman cities?)
In any case, the EU diplomats dealing with Turkey may have to find new jobs after the elections in June. There is every reason to predict that the size of the European Commission representation in Ankara may gradually decline from its present 140 or so staff (the largest in the world) to half a dozen at the end of 2012. Parallel to that, the Secretariat General for EU Affairs in Ankara may gradually metamorphose into the Secretariat General for Middle Eastern Affairs. And that’s bad news for anyone who favors the idea of Turkish membership.
But for Messrs. Erdoğan and Davutoğlu the EU is becoming increasingly passe. Their hearts and minds belong to where Mr. Sarkozy said Turkey belong. Remember, the new Turkish foreign policy last year launched efforts for what this columnist calls the “Middle East Coal and Steel Community.”
First, a free trade zone between Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon; then a visa-less travel area a la Schengen; then an accord for cooperation in nuclear energy between Turkey and Jordan… The Community will certainly expand in quality and quantity as soon as the dust from the Arab spring settles. And this is what exactly Mr. Davutoğlu recently hinted at when he said, “Turkey’s new foreign policy is about correcting the trajectory of history.”
But don’t think for a moment all that is bad news for Mr. Sarkozy et al. Turkey-skeptics in the Old Continent may be privately smiling. Mr. Sarkozy was even joyfully laughing the moment he ran into the “punishing low steps diplomacy” in Ankara as he was forced to shake Mr. Erdoğan’s welcoming hand from half a meter down the stairs.