Tag Archives: Erdogan

Turkey: another “Syria”?


Turkey is rapidly catching the Syrian disease – that is, a Mideastern country not only torn apart by internal factions but a playground for contending international forces.
But as an important member of the NATO alliance, Turkey plays a much more critical role in relations between the European Union, the U.S. and Vladimir Putin’s increasingly aggressive Russia.
The analogies with Syria grow stronger even as the outcome is still as murky as the outcome appears there.
In Turkey, too, the “original sin” appears that from his once overwhelmingly popularity, Pres. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan developed egomania.
As the very successful mayor of Istanbul, Erdogan once allegedly said “Democracy is like a streetcar. When you come to your stop, you get off.” His stop seems to be creating an authoritarian state. But his streetcar’s trolley has jumped the wire with the loss of his parliamentary majority in June 2015 elections. And polls indicate he won’t get new majority in elections he has now called for November. With increasing domestic violence, it has become problematical whether they can even be held.
Like Syria’s Basher al Assad, Erdogan has refused to meet his considerable opposition with compromises. The economic boom is staggering. He has virtually abandoned an attempt to join the European Union after his potential Western partners dragged their heels earlier with doubts about whether Turkey met the requirements of free governments.
Meanwhile, Erdogan’s foreign policy which was to have only friends in all directions has turned into the exact reverse: he has growing disputes with all his neighbors and the major powers, including the U.S. That’s despite the fact that Pres. Barack Obama once called Erdogan one of a handful of leaders with whom he was on intimate terms.
Proof of the U.S. rift came with the announcement Washington [along with Germany] is withdrawing its Patriot missiles which Erdogan requested when his once highly advertised relations with Syria’s al Assad fell apart. The Pentagon’s official explanation is they need modification. But given Obama’s policies, there is a suggestion it is because Obama didn’t want to be dragged into Turkey’s increasing difficulties on its Syrian border, despite NATO assurances of support.
Washington’s relations with Ankara are also trapped in the Kurdish problem. Erdogan abandoned his efforts to bring the decades-old bloody Kurdish PKK insurgency to an end, in part because of the success of a Kurdish-led party. [The Kurds are at least 20%, maybe a third of Turkey’s 75 million]. But the Kurds inside Syria, whom Erdogan says are linked to his own internal enemies, are Washington’s only effective internal force against Daesh [the purported ISIS or ISIL caliphate]..
When Russian aircraft penetrated Turkey’s space in support of Assad [whose own airforce earlier had wandered in too], Erdogan threatened to cancel a growing economic exchange with Moscow including a giant nuclear power plant and cooperation to transmit Russian gas to Europe through a new pipeline across the Black Sea [which would eliminate Ukraine].
Erdogan abandoned his very profitable military alliance with Israel in a flurry of insults to Israel leaders and sponsorship of Hamas in Gaza whom the rest of the world calls terrorists. His strong ties to the Muslim Brotherhood put him at odds with Egypt whose President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi is trying to root out after overthrowing a Brotherhood regime.
Heavily dependent on Iran for gas, Erdogan has tiptoed around his growing differences with Tehran. But while he has lined up against the mullahs’ ally in Damascus, there are accusations – that certainly have alarmed Washington and the EU – of less than maximum efforts to cut off aid and recruits flow to Daesh,.
The question now is whether Erdogan will make a radical turn toward reconciliation. If not, there’s growing concern among Turkey’s friends that the country is moving toward growing chaos. A murderous bomb explosion this past week in the capital Ankara could signal that new level internal violence.
sws-10-10-15

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Turkey’s growing instability


Once NATO’s formidable eastern anchor, Turkey is increasingly becoming a major problem for Washington policymakers and a contributor to the Mideast chaos.
The change is all the remarkable since at the outset of the Obama Administration, the President saw then Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as one of his closest international friends. And, indeed, in 2009 Obama went to Turkey to make the first of two Mideast seminal speeches offering apologies to the Muslim world for what he saw as past U.S. mistakes with an invitation for cooperation.
But in late August Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter publicly was calling on now President Erdogan “…to control the border, the long border that they have with both Syria and Iraq …. It’s overdue, because it’s a year into the campaign [against Daesh, or ISIL], but they’re indicating some considerable effort now, including some — allowing us to use their airfields. That’s important, but it’s not enough.”
If truth be told, it took nine months of torturous negotiations to get Erdogan’s permission to the use NATO bases in Turkey for the relatively feeble American bombing campaign against Daesh, now considered a threat to stability in the region and rapidly becoming a coordinating body for worldwide Islamic terrorism.
Traffic through that border has included volunteers for the Daesh [ISIL] forces and a flood of Muslim refugees crossing into Greece and the EU. There are even suggestions that elements in Turkish intelligence aided Muslim groups fighting the shaky government of Syria’s Basher al Assad, sabotaging the faltering Obama’s so far unsuccessful effort to create an anti-Assad Syrian force to counter the growing strength of Daesh and other Muslim groups.
Since Obama’s visit, however, Erdogan has taken Turkey down a divisivepath breaking off Ankara’s longstsanding military alliance with the Israelis. Erdogan has permitted Hamas, the Palestinian group controlling Gaza which Washington calls terrorists, to operate out of Turkey, and Erdogan has made an outrageous anti-Semitic remarks picked up by sympathetic media.
Erdogan – who once said democracy is a train that you get off once you reach your destination – has pushed a creeping Islamization eroding the mandatory secularist heritage of modern Turkey’s founder, Kemal Attaturk. He moved to the presidency, hoping to create an authoritarian presidential system. But in June elections, his Justice and Development Party [AKP] failed to get the necessary majority to change the constitution, and he has now called new snap elections for November – after refusing to negotiate in good faith for a coalition.
Whipping up war hysteria, by abandoning the effort to reach an agreement with Turkey’s huge Kurdish minority – a radical part of which fought a bloody three decades war with the government – he apparently thought to get a new mandate. But the polls indicate he may again fall short. A sagging economy whose liberalization had bolstered Erdogan’s rule won’t help.
His whirling dervish foreign policy – which once saw itself as Neo-Ottoman, restoring the old Turkish empire in the region – is in tatters. And he has become a major deterrent for American goals in the area; not least, since the most effective fighters against Daesh have been the Kurdish minority inside Syria and the Peshmergah, hardened veterans of Iraq’s regional Kurdish government.
Erdogan – and the other countries which split the Kurdish peoples in the region – fear Kurdish military successes could eventually produce an united independent Kurdistan. The Iraqi Kurdish regional government, pumping oil out through Turkey [including to Israel], is already a relatively prosperous and semi-independent. And so long as Obama does not commit more American ground forces against Daesh, is probably the only hope of Washington to contain if not “degrading and eventually destroying” Daesh [ISIL], what he once dubbed “the varsity” team in the area.
Meanwhile, despite optimistic statements out of the Obama Administration, the military situation in the area is deteriorating, almost as rapidly as Turkey’s home front, with Obama’s critics predicting his Iranian negoaitions will produce a nuclear armed Persia, Turkey’s traditional enemy.
sws-08-27-15

Finally, some good news from the Middle East


The results of the Turkish election are almost too good to be true.
Islamism-light has been handed a whopping defeat. Pres. Recep Tayyip Erdogan got nowhere near the two-thirds majority in the parliament which he staked his political reputation on – and the future of Turkey.
With all the wacko nonsense he and his close followers have been spouting about foreign [even the old canard about the Jews] plots against him and Turkey, he was increasingly a menace. There was little doubt that if he got his two-thirds mandate, he would amend the constitution and continue toward an authoritarian state with at least mild Islmicist overtones. In fact, this week’s vote while giving him a 41% of the seats in the 550-seat Grand National Assembly, was an 8% drop since the last 2011 elections. He will have a hell of a time forming a coalition without making major concessions on the right, the left and to minority ethnic groups.
But there were other goodies in the outcome: The Kurds whose “militants” waged a bitter and bloody 30-year war against the central government for language and other rights for their 20% of the population came in strong. The minority Turkish chauvinists liked to call “Mountain Turks” not only passed the 10% entry requirement with 13% [and help from non-Kurds] but came up with a hefty 49 seats. The largely rural far right Nationalist Movement Party [MHP, the “Grey Wolves”] drew a little over 16 percent, with counterintuitively to foreigners almost half its seats to women. That’s a spit in your face rebuff to Erdogan’s recent blatantly anti-women’s liberation slurs. Three Armenians, with their troubled history of persecution and annihilation from the failing Ottoman Empire, won seats from three different parties along with one Roma [Gypsy].
Chairman Murat Karayalçın of the main opposition, the old Attaturk Republican People’s Party [CHP], who got just over 25 percent of the vote, has called on the opposition parties to join him in coalition. It’s something he says they promised before the elections. That wouldn’t be easy, given the CHP’s continued nostalgia for Attaturk’s state capitalism which Erdogan’s AKP [Justice and Development Party] had tossed aside in the last decade for a partial liberation of the economy bringing on the recent burst of prosperity and his popularity.
The bad news, of course, is that Turkey enters this new period of vote swapping with its economy on a downward slide. Turkey was one of the worst-affected during the global economic crisis with its economy shrinking by a staggering 5% in 2009. The more recent growth that averaged 7.2 percent per year has collapsed into what the IMF expects to be only 3 percent in 2015 and 2016.
If political stability could be restored quickly, Turkey might continue to depend heavily on foreign investment to meet its balance of payments crisis and technological transfer needs. Somehow the new coalition, whatever it is, needs to go ahead with the large part of the economic reform Erdogan had largely abandoned going into the elections. Even that, though, isn’t likely given all its other problems – not the least the crisis in neighboring Greece – to renew a serious invitation to join the EU, long an aim of Turkey’s serious economic planners.
sws-06-07-15

The end of a geopolitical model


Whether Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan survives the current crisis, the legend of “The Turkish model” is dead. The implications of the loss of Turkey’s image abroad, particularly in the Islamic world, may be far more important than the explosion of corruption scandals which always cynical Turkish voters may take in their stride.

But the possibility that Turkey could be the template for a predominantly Muslim, democratic, prosperous, stable society has failed after more than a half century when it was a highly vaunted prototype. The longer-term implications of that failure reach far beyond what happens to 70 million Turks and the 10 Turkish million immigrants to Europe. It goes to the heart of what Samuel P. Huntington called the clash of civilizations, and the long sought modernization of Afro-Asian societies where 1.3 billion Muslims live.

Erdogan, without daring to acknowledge it publicly, turned his back on the top-down secularization of Mustafa Kemal, the general-politician-philosopher who founded the modern Turkish state after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in World War I. Over the past decade, Erdogan nibbled at Atatűrkism’s basic building blocs – political authoritarianism, state capitalism and anticlerical tenets. He even edged into recognizing the multiculturalism of the Anatolian peninsular instead of Atatűrk’s Ne mutlu Turküm diyene! [How happy is he/she who calls himself/herself a Turk!]. That included not only the ancient, cosmopolitan megametropolis Istanbul [Constantinople] [14 million] at the crossroads of Europe and Asia where Erdogan’ S political career began as mayor. He also hesitantly recognized the identity of Turkey’s 15 million Kurds who have waged guerrilla war and terrorism for autonomy or independence for more than three decades. But simultaneously he moved toward more and more conservative Muslim concepts, appealing to rural Anatolia which had given him his big parliamentary majorities. That process is seen as a threat by the Alevi sect, another disproportionately wealthier 20 percent of the population, whose Sufism is considered apostate by many in the orthodox Sunni majority.

Erdogan’ policies – particularly his continued economic liberalization –ushered in a period of growing prosperity and optimism about the country’s future with continued if diminishing hope of entering the European Union. Most critically, he adroitly broke the hold of Atatűrk’s secularist heirs in the military. He probably ended the possibility of another of the half dozen coups by the military whose intervention had prevented political chaos and kept more outspoken Islamic forces at bay.

But in the process – and not least because of his egotism – his tactical skills were less than a strategy, bereft as it has been of consistency and integration. His foreign policy aiming at neo-Ottoman regional leadership has collapsed. Overall progress has been at the expense of growing destabilization Perhaps much of that was inevitable in a rapidly growing and changing society. But now the exploding corruption scandals and more importantly, the in-fighting inside his Justice and Development Party [AKP], a coalition of Muslim-oriented political groups, could bring down the regime as well as his administration.

But the culmination of these Turkish events has much larger implications:

  • ·        The increasing instability and possible collapse/transformation of Erdogan’s administration again puts the question of whether there can be a modern state in Muslim-majority lands without a formal break with traditional Islam.
  • ·        Pres. Barack Hussein Obama’s reliance on Erdogan – in 2011 more telephone conversations with him than any other foreign leader except British Prime Minister David Cameron – is another sign of the failure of the American administration’s Mideast policies.
  • ·        The growing economic crisis in Turkey, a result of reaching a development plateau and the growing political instability, puts into question for other Muslim states economic liberalization which permitted growth but [as in Iran] fed a new reactionary Muslim-oriented middle class..
  • ·        Turkey’s growing instability is writing finis to its effective participation in NATO, and may, indeed, point to the growing inability to turn the spectacularly successful anti-Soviet alliance into a broader security and peacekeeping coalition.
  • ·        Turkish instability is going to further imperil assimilation of the 10 million Turkish émigrés in Western Europe, recruited, especially in Germany as gastarbeiter, but who now constitute a growing European social and political problem in a period of extended high unemployment and growing Muslim fanaticism.

Islam has never had its Reformation or its Counter-Reformation paralleling Christianity in the West. Its religious thinkers for at least a half millennium have largely been ignored Greek logic and philosophy and its Roman progeny, the foundations of Western – and increasing universal – law. Orthodox Islam calls for no separation of church and state. In fact, orthodox Muslims demand the reestablishment of a worldwide ruling religious leader such as the Ottoman Empire’s sultan who also as caliph was the commanding religious figure. In majority Muslim countries, both Sunni and Shia ecclesiastics refuse the hard fought fundamental of Western democracies, equality of all religions before the law – including minority Islamic sects. Turkey’s role as the most successful example of a predominantly Muslim country advocating that concept – and rejecting much of sharia, traditional Islamic law — is now crumbling. Advocacy by Asian and African leaders of emulating Ankara’s road to modernization is not likely to be heard in the future.

That has implications for American policy. Obama had accepted that old hypothesis and said that Erdogan was one of his closest friends. It was to him in part that the Arabists surrounding the U.S. president sought counsel. But Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman dreams of becoming the go-to for the area’s regimes, has gone a glimmering. Instead, Turkey is at odds with virtually all its neighbors, especially Egypt and Israel, and, of course, Syria. There the al Assad regime now under siege after Erdogan effusively courted it only a few years earlier is driving tens of thousands of refugees into Turkey as well as the surrounding countries. Furthermore, the corruption accusations link some perpetrators to the mullahs of Iran – the Turks’ historic competitor for influence through the Mideast and Central Asia. As the internal conflict among Turkish Islamicist groups likely intensifies, Now Washington will find itself hard put – if it already has not done so – to pick sides.

Abetting the crisis is the rather sudden turn in Turkey’s economic outlook, after its gross domestic product more than tripled during Erdogan’s office. Now the trade deficit is widening dramatically, the lira is devaluating at a rapid pace, unemployment is increasing, and the political turmoil has taken a toll of the stock market, discouraging foreign investment as well as fueling a capital flight.

What may be even more significant longer term is that the liberalization of the economy which began in the 80s before Erdogan’s arrival at the helm has produced a new and growing class of entrepreneurs. They, like their Persian counterparts as a result of reforms by Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, seeking a new orientation from their peasant backgrounds, tend toward religious obscurantism.

The growing Islamicist sentiment of the Erdogan administration itself – including accusations that growing opposition to his government among Turkish groups is plotted by kafir [unbelieving foreigners] including the Americans – is distancing Turkey from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It will add to NATO’s renewed conundrum of its future role with the messy U.S.-led alliance’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. Erdogan’s threat to go to the Chinese for new weapons, which would create security lapses in integration with NATO, has further put into question the allegiance of one of the alliance’s most loyal members in time past. With Western Europe’s dramatically falling birthrates, Turkey’s army was seen in Washington and European capitals as an important element in any NATO peacekeeping effort. Given the growing decline in most of the European military budgets, Brussels had looked to Turkey’s young population [more than a quarter under 14] as a stalwart partner. That hope vanishes as the political crisis matures.

Although a first generation of immigrants to Western Europe seemed to be assimilating, their offspring have in more than anticipated numbers turned to radical Islam. There is a growing number of second and third generation Turks [and European-resident and native Arabs] who have joined the jihadist-led opposition to the ostensible secular regime in Syria’s civil war. Mosques in Europe, many supported by the militant Wahabbi sect of Saudi Arabia, have become hot houses for the spread of radical Islamicism and recruitment for jihadist terrorism. If the once secular regime of Turkey continues to move away from its Atatűrk traditions, as seems likely whatever the result of the current political crisis, it will have an adverse influence on assimilation of these immigrants.

Overall, this Turkish crisis inevitably becomes an integral part of the instability sweeping the Muslim umma [world] from Casablanca to Zamboanga, an accelerator in the age-old struggle for modernization in that impoverished and retrograde cultural environment. At the moment, the forces of reaction [and terrorism] are winning in the face of the incapacity of Muslim modernists [or “moderates”] and the Obama Administration to offer an effective counter to a romantic call for a return to simplistic, medieval orthodoxy [Islam=”submission”]. That, unfortunately, as 9/11 tragically proved, produces a growing threat not only to the future of Muslims themselves but to peace and stability throughout the world.

sws-12-28-13