Turkey's leadership has brought the country to an impossible position, and its dream of revived grandeur is receding.
There has not been a time since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the declaration of the Turkish Republic following the end of World War I that Turkey has been in such a web of conflicting interests, pressures and events as now. Now, as then, the developments are largely due to Turkey’s own disastrous decisions. In the case of the First World War, Turkey could perfectly well have remained neutral, as it did in World War II. Instead, it entered the war on the losing side.
Now, a series of policy decisions, many quite inexplicable on any rational basis, has led the country to a state of frozen animation, where every turn could lead to disaster. Let’s see:
- Turkey is a member of NATO. As such, it has access to all NATO documents, including the most confidential. It also has responsibilities, as do all NATO members. But the government of President Erdogan in recent years has gone out of its way to act counter to the interests of the NATO alliance, most recently with reference to cooperation in the fight against the Islamic State (IS). This has led to persistent calls for Turkey to be expelled from NATO. Finally, under intense pressure, the Turks have decided to allow Pesh Merga fighters from Iraqi Kurdistan to transit the country to support the Syrian Kurds in Kobani. At least that is what has been announced. It remains to be seen if in fact the decision is carried out.
- Refusal to intervene in Kobani against IS, despite deployment of substantial military force to the border, led to widespread demonstrations by the Kurdish population of Turkey, repressed with the usual excessive use of force by the government. Peace talks with Kurdish leader Ocalan have ended, at least for the time being, and Turkey faces the nightmare of renewed Kurdish violence inside the country, as well as cross-border operations by the Kurds of Turkey, Iraq and Syria.
- What do they do about Iran? Should they try to improve relations with the principal Sh’ia power in the region? Should they cooperate with IS against Iran? Should they try to remain neutral? What if Iran develops the capability to produce nuclear weapons. Would that be a major threat to Turkish national security?
- Does the government continue to antagonize huge sections of their own population, such as the Kurds, the Kemalists, the Alevis and the gulenists, while continuing to crack down on domestic opponents and critics, which has killed any possibility there might still have been of joining the European Union.
- Do they continue to antagonize The United States, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other countries through policies and measures contrary to the interests of those countries and in many cases counterproductive to their own interest, such as continued support of the Muslim Brotherhood?
- Do they continue to demonstrate increasing hostility towards Israel while supporting Hamas despite an increasing need for Israeli gas?
- Do they give more and more responsibilities to the armed forces despite the danger that the military might be tempted to try to restore their former central position in Turkish society and politics?
All this in the midst of a deteriorating economic situation. The Erdogan regime, so promising in its earlier years, is now coming full circle to a series of crossroads, all leading to dead ends. Dreams of a recreation of Ottoman-style dominance in the Sunni world of the Near East are ending with contemporary Turkey resembling the extinct empire in only one waythere is indeed a resemblance between Turkey today and the last years of the empire.
Norman A. Bailey, Ph.D., is Adjunct Professor of Economic Statecraft at The Institute of World Politics, Washington, DC, and teaches at the Center for National Security Studies and Geostrategy, University of Haifa.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on October 21, 2014
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