Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Mighty Stumble

"It [Turkey] has so alienated everyone it cannot convince anyone to do anything. It is a country whose words no longer carry any weight. It bluffs but does not deliver. It cannot protect its vital interests, and it is at odds with everyone, including its allies."
"For a country that was until very recently seen as a consequential regional power, these facts strike me as quite disastrous."
Soli Ozel, professor of international relations, Kadir Has University, Istanbul

"Erdogan has mismanaged foreign policy because of hubris. He was overconfident in 2010 that Turkey was the darling of the world, and that went to his head. There are setbacks that are not of his doing, but how he managed those setbacks are his doing."
"I’m not saying that Turkey has lost its mind and is poised for war, but the posture in Ankara is very strange and could lead to surprises. What’s happening in Syria is a question of survival for Erdogan, so it is not possible to rule anything out."
"For Turkey, there is no good scenario from now on."
Henri Barkey, Turkey expert, Wilson Center, Washington

Arrogant and irascible Recep Tayyip Erdogan has managed to dig himself into a quandary and he has taken Turkey with him. His problem is that he explodes with anger and resentment and hatred becomes his consuming passion. At the moment the focus of his consuming passion of hatred is another world leader who is also arrogant, but manages to keep his cool, a much cleverer politician than Mr. Erdogan who he would have done much better continuing to cultivate rather than aggravate.

Russian servicemen stand at the Russian Hmeimim military base in Latakia province, in the northwest of Syria, on December 16, 2015.
Russian servicemen stand at a Russian military base in northwest Syria, in December

Like President Vladimir Putin, who overcame the limit on presidential terms in Russia by playing musical chairs with Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, and planned to alter the constitution to enable him to rule Russia for the foreseeable future as indispensable to its destiny as a world power, Mr. Erdogan saw no reason why the constitutional limits of his presidency should not be altered, in the greater interests of Turkey which needed his even-handed guidance to usher it into an aspirational future.

That Turkey's Kurdish political party won so many parliamentary seats that Erdogan's Justice and Development Party lost its huge majority, hobbling that constitutional reform he'd planned, sent him into a silent rage, ruminating darkly on Turkish Kurds supporting not the Turkish government but the Kurdish Workers Party, the militant group agitating for Kurdish sovereignty. Although the election following four months later restored his party the die was cast and it was only a matter of time before Erdogan revoked his peace agreement with the Kurds.

Turkey's economy had already been stumbling, and Erdogan had gone out of his way to alienate Israel, rejecting it in favour of giving the Hamas leadership another place of haven and vocal support, while excoriating Israel, its former regional ally, for its 'genocidal brutality' against the Palestinians. And when Egypt unseated Mohammed Morsi from its presidency and declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group this too offended Erdogan and the new Egyptian government under President el-Sisi became yet another enemy.

And then it was Russia's turn, for its decision to back the murderous regime of Bashar al Assad in air-bombing Syrian Turkomen and other Sunni Syrian rebel groups battling the regime, further infuriating a man whose blood pressure must be continually on elevated-boil. The downing by two Turkish warplanes of a Russian jet that wandered for too many seconds into Turkish airspace must have felt good at the time, but since then the taste of vengeance must have turned extremely sour as the spigot of Russian tourist money got turned off, as did valuable two-way trade between Russia and Turkey.

The final straw has been the Syrian Kurds aligned with Russia, and whom the Turkish military has been attacking along with the PKK, since Erdogan considers the YPG an offshoot of his Kurdish nemesis at  home. Turkey, in other words, is at war with just about everyone, including a more restrained conflict in choices and values with its most important ally, the United States, which refuses to support Erdogan's contention that the Kurds are terrorists.

Dispatching the Turkish military to strike at Kurdish positions both in Turkey and Syria, has not been a popular move within NATO. A group of over 200 Turkish academics delivered a petition to their government recently urging that Turkey refrain from going to war in Syria, and from conflict with the Kurds. The Turkish military has signalled its unwillingness to send troops across from Turkey into Syria without express approval of the United Nations Security Council.

While no public acknowledgement from a spurned Erdogan has yet surfaced conspicuously berating his own military leaders, Erdogan and his prime minister spared no invective, crude and wretched, vilifying the Turkish intellectuals who have found grave fault in his trajectory pursued in making enemies of friends and destroying the peace potential in coming to eventual terms with Turkish Kurds, an inevitability that a more astute and intelligent leader would long since have recognized.

Mr. Erdogan has spoken obliquely and sometimes directly of launching troops into Syria, hopefully with the United States as the lead, and Saudi troops alongside. That prospect doesn't appear likely, although were it to occur it's unlikely that it would lead to too many more lives lost than the impact seen by the combined onslaught against the rebels and nominally Islamic State, by Syria, Hezbollah, Russia, and the al-Quds Iranian Revolutionary Guard corps, all working toward recouping Syria's losses.

The prospect of an autonomous Kurdish enclave in northern Syria has put Erdogan to a boil. It would border Turkey's own region of Kurds who fervently believe that history is on their side, and the time has finally arrived for them to have a country reflective of their national aspirations as a separate ethnic group of considerable proportions and historicity in the region. Turkey is now witnessing Erdogan's dream of a powerfully influential Turkey with him at its helm distinguishing itself as a Muslim state equal to any Western power.

"Turkey is facing a multifaceted catastrophe. This is a country that has often had problems in the past, but the scale of what is happening now is beyond Turkey’s capacity for digestion", said Gokhan Bacik, professor of international relations at Ankara’s Ipek University. The region is on high tension as it is, and with concerns that escalation of hostilities between Turkey and Russia could provoke an incident from which it would be difficult to step back, prompted French President François Hollande to warn "there is a risk of war between Turkey and Russia".

Implacably now, at Vladimir Putin's direction, Moscow is busy expanding its presence uncomfortably close to Turkey's borders; Syria to the south, Crimea to the north, Armenia to the east. Russia's Defense Ministry has announced the deployment of fighter jets and combat helicopters to an air base outside the Armenian capital, Yerevan, 25 miles from the Turkish border.

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