From Zero Problems with Neighbors to Zero Friends

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan attends a conference in Sochi, Russia, November 22, 2017 (Kremlin)

Ten years ago, Turkey’s “zero problems with neighbors” policy was all the rage. I went so far as to predict Ahmet Davutoğlu, the foreign minister at the time, could be remembered as the architect of Turkey’s return to preeminence in the Middle East.

Miguel Nunes Silva saw things more clearly, writing for the Atlantic Sentinel in 2012 that Turkey’s policy of antagonizing its allies and befriending its rivals merited little praise.

Turkish appeasement of Bashar Assad and Muammar Gaddafi meant little when those dictators turned their guns on their own people. Turkish appeasement of Iran was rewarded by unwavering Iranian support for Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq and Assad in Syria, two strongmen Turkey opposed.

Silva also recognized the on-again, off-again nature of Turkish diplomacy with Russia, which has only grown worse. Turkey and Russia back opposite sides in the Syrian War. Turkey even shot down a Russian attack aircraft near its border in 2015. Yet Turkey has also bought missile defense systems from Russia and is helping Russia build a natural gas pipeline into Europe that circumvents Ukraine. Both decisions were strongly opposed by Turkey’s nominal NATO allies. The United States kicked Turkey out of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.

To form, Turkey has also allowed the construction of a competing European pipeline from Azerbaijan to Greece. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan still — somehow — convinced his American counterpart, Donald Trump, to withdraw from Syria, clearing the way for him to invade and attack the Kurds.

Trump’s memory may be short. He responded with sanctions on Turkish officials and tariffs on steel, which he respectively lifted and halved only a week later. But not everyone is so forgiving. Turkey’s tendency to play all sides, far from giving it more freedom in foreign policy, has hamstrung its diplomacy. It now has to use force to get its way. Read more “From Zero Problems with Neighbors to Zero Friends”

Erdoğan Discovers Personality Doesn’t Trump Geopolitics

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey speaks with his Ukrainian counterpart, Petro Poroshenko, in Kiev, March 20, 2015
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey speaks with his Ukrainian counterpart, Petro Poroshenko, in Kiev, March 20, 2015 (Press Service of the President of Ukraine/Palinchak Mikhail)

Turkey still hopes the United States might reconsider their support for Kurdish rebels in Syria, but it doesn’t look like Donald Trump will change this policy from his predecessor, Barack Obama.

If anything, the new president has doubled down, approving the delivery of more arms to Kurds who do battle with the self-proclaimed Islamic State. Read more “Erdoğan Discovers Personality Doesn’t Trump Geopolitics”

What the Hell Just Happened to Turkey?

Jens Stoltenberg Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg meets with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Ankara, April 21, 2016 (NATO)

And “to” seems the right word, because this was done to Turkey by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his political machine. International electoral monitors cite fraud; so too does the powerful Republican People’s Party. That hardly matters, it seems. Turkish election officials will not allow a recount.

And so even if cheated, it is a victory for Erdoğan. It has been a long road for a critical Middle Eastern nation. The geopolitical trajectory of Turkey is now set. Read more “What the Hell Just Happened to Turkey?”

Erdoğan Asks Turks to Jump Off a Cliff with Him

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan observes a military ceremony, July 9, 2015
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan observes a military ceremony, July 9, 2015 (Turkish Presidency)

Turks will be asked on Sunday if they trust Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to run the country on his own or want to preserve at least a pretense of democracy.

Of course, that’s not how it’s put on the ballot paper. Nominally, Turks will be asked to approve or reject constitutional changes that would transform the country from a parliamentary into a presidential republic.

With the compliance of his party men in the cabinet and parliament, Erdoğan has already turned what what used to be a ceremonial post into a de facto executive presidency.

Should the referendum go his way, Erdoğan would also get the power to suspend parliament and appoint prosecutors and judges. Read more “Erdoğan Asks Turks to Jump Off a Cliff with Him”

Erdoğan’s Blowback: How Personal Ambitions Plunged Turkey into Crisis

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is surrounded by security personnel as he leaves a building in Istanbul, October 13, 2016
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is surrounded by security personnel as he leaves a building in Istanbul, October 13, 2016 (!Koss)

Recep Erdoğan has come a long way. The president of Turkey, Erdoğan has been clawing upward since becoming mayor of Istanbul in 1994. His political road has been riddled with mines: Turkish generals, side-switching Islamist allies, Kurdish politicians and secular-minded Turks. His accomplishments are impressive. Serving as prime minister from 2003 until 2014, he shepherded real democracy into what was once a military-dominated republic.

But all great movements run out of steam. Erdoğan’s political shakeup of Turkey is starting to ossify into authoritarian thuggery and habits meant to be banished by democracy.

Worse, his policies are getting Turkish citizens killed. Read more “Erdoğan’s Blowback: How Personal Ambitions Plunged Turkey into Crisis”

After Failed Coup, Erdoğan Will Further Polarize Turkey

Jens Stoltenberg Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg meets with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Ankara, April 21 (NATO)

If anyone still thought President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan might interpret this weekend’s attempted coup as a warning to govern more inclusively, the arrests of thousands of alleged plotters in the judiciary and military should put such hopes to rest.

By detaining so many previously-identified opponents of his government, Erdoğan is clearly using the failed putsch to purge the vestiges of Turkey’s secularist establishment.

The result is likely to be an Islamist party in full control of NATO’s southeastern flank and a president in full control of his party and the state — despite lacking the constitutional authority for either. Read more “After Failed Coup, Erdoğan Will Further Polarize Turkey”

Erdoğan Survives Putsch in Turkey

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan observes a military ceremony, July 9, 2015
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan observes a military ceremony, July 9, 2015 (Turkish Presidency)
  • A faction of the Turkish military has tried and failed to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
  • Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said fewer than 3,000 soldiers were involved in the putsch. A similar number was later said to have been arrested. Read more “Erdoğan Survives Putsch in Turkey”

Prime Minister’s Resignation Further Isolates Erdoğan

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan attends a conference in Saint Petersburg, Russia, November 22, 2013
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan attends a conference in Saint Petersburg, Russia, November 22, 2013 (Kremlin)

The resignation of Ahmet Davutoğlu as Turkey’s prime minister makes clear that opposition to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s personal ambitions has reached the very top of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Davutoğlu announced on Thursday that he would step down later in May, when a party congress is due to name his successor.

Although the former diplomat did not criticize Erdoğan on his way out — “Nobody can hear a negative word from me about the president,” he said — his doubts about Erdoğan’s plan to transform the presidency into an American-style executive were widely reported and broadly shared.

Davutoğlu’s objections were more than theoretical; a presidential system would have made the prime ministership, and hence Davutoğlu, powerless. Read more “Prime Minister’s Resignation Further Isolates Erdoğan”

Erdoğan Unexpectedly Wins Back Majority in Turkey

Mariano Rajoy Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy welcomes Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Madrid, November 27, 2012 (La Moncloa)

Turkey is set to return to single-party rule after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) won an unexpectedly strong mandate in Sunday’s election.

With nearly all the votes counted, the AKP was just shy of 50 percent support, the state broadcaster TRT reported: enough for an overall majority in the country’s 550-seat legislature. Read more “Erdoğan Unexpectedly Wins Back Majority in Turkey”