From Zero Problems with Neighbors to Zero Friends

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan Barack Obama David Cameron
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey, President Barack Obama of the United States and Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom observe a moment of silence during the G20 summit in Antalya, November 15, 2015 (White House/Pete Souza)

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

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.

The Syrian Democratic Forces — a Kurdish-dominated, secular opposition group — recently wrestled control of the Tabqa Dam, Syria’s largest, from the caliphate. They are now less than fifty kilometers west of its capital, Raqqa.

The United States and other Western countries count on the Kurds to chase the Islamists out of Syria.

But Turkey fears that would enable them to proclaim a Kurdish republic on its southern frontier. The existence of an independent Kurdistan could then convince Turkey’s own Kurdish minority to secede, or at least demand autonomy. Read more “Erdoğan Discovers Personality Doesn’t Trump Geopolitics”

What the Hell Just Happened to Turkey?

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

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.

The Council of Europe has called these proposals a “dangerous step backwards” for Turkish democracy. A presidential regime, as desired by Erdoğan, “lacks the necessary checks and balances to prevent it from becoming an authoritarian one,” according to the human-rights body.

The Venice Commission, which is comprised of constitutional law experts, has similarly warned that the reforms would give the Turkish leader “unsupervised power” to appoint and dismiss high officials “on the basis of criteria determined by him alone.” Read more “Erdoğan Asks Turks to Jump Off a Cliff with Him”

Erdoğan Huffs and Puffs, But Balks at Sanctions Against Dutch

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has continued to agitate against the Dutch government after it prevented two of his ministers from speaking at rallies in the country.

In a television interview, he called on Dutch voters of Turkish descent not to support either the ruling liberal party of Mark Rutte nor the nationalist Freedom Party of Geert Wilders in parliamentary elections on Wednesday. Both, he said, “see Turkey as the enemy.”

At a news conference on Tuesday, Erdoğan blamed the Dutch for the massacre in Srebrenica.

In 1995, Dutch peacekeepers were unable to stop Serbian militias from killing more than 8,000 Muslim Bosniaks in the town.

Earlier this week, Erdoğan called the Dutch “Nazi remnants” and “fascists”, accusations that did no go over well in a country that was occupied by Nazi Germany for five years.

Some 400,000 Dutch citizens claim Turkish roots. More than half are eligible to vote next month in a referendum about constitutional changes that would strengthen Erdoğan’s presidency. Read more “Erdoğan Huffs and Puffs, But Balks at Sanctions Against Dutch”

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

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

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

  • 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.
  • Late on Friday, soldiers barricaded access to the major crossways over the Bosphorus in Istanbul and seized the city’s airport. Tanks strafed parliament in Ankara.
  • Supporters across the country heeded Erdoğan’s call to take to the streets and resist the coup attempt. Soldiers surrendered to the crowds and police overnight.
  • Erdoğan and his allies have accused Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen of orchestrating the coup from abroad. Read more “Erdoğan Survives Putsch in Turkey”

Prime Minister’s Resignation Further Isolates Erdoğan

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

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”