Daniel Pipes’ recent article on Turkey exemplifies the type of analytical mistakes Western analysts have been making about what exactly is transpiring in Turkey and the reasons for it. Mr. Pipes, for whom I have tremendous respect as I agree with his exceptional analyses most of the time, appears to have also fallen in the same traps that have prevented better understanding of Turkey since Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to power. Hence, I would like to go over his September 27 piece titled “Is Turkey Going Rogue?” (in bold)
In a Middle East wracked by coups d’état and civil insurrections, the Republic of Turkey credibly offers itself as a model, thanks to its impressive economic growth, democratic system, political control of the military, and secular order.
How does Turkey offer itself as a model when people cannot elect their own parliamentary representatives (now or pre-AKP), when politicians have virtually unlimited immunities making them untouchable, when the single-party rule under such undemocratic conditions keeps stacking up debt without true parlimentary representation in order to enable high economic growth and when instead of political control of the military, there is unjustifiable imprisonment of hundreds of high-ranked officers accused of fabricated coup plots?
But, in reality, Turkey may be, along with Iran, the most dangerous state of the region. Count the reasons:
ISLAMISTS WITHOUT BRAKES
When four out of five of the Turkish chiefs of staff abruptly resigned on July 29, 2011, they signaled the effective end of the republic founded in 1923 by Kemal Atatürk. A second republic headed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Islamist colleagues of the AK Party (AKP) began that day. The military safely under their control, AKP ideologues now enjoy can pursue their ambitions to create an Islamic order.
The fact that four Turkish Chiefs of Staff has resigned in protest of the political pressure that prevented them from undertaking their duties as commanders does not in itself mean an end to the Republic founded in 1923. At least not as of yet. It takes years to become a general, and it would still take years to change the composition of the military academies and bring up similar-minded generals lukewarm to the government.
AN EVEN WORSE OPPOSITION
Ironically, secular Turks tend to be more anti-Western than the AKP. The two other parties in parliament, the CHP and MHP, condemn the AKP’s more enlightened policies, such as its approach to Syria and its stationing a NATO radar system.
While the CHP and MHP are not necessarily pro-Western - or pro-anything for that matter – Pipes’ sources here are Mustafa Akyol and Todays Zaman, pro-AKP masters of disinformation about Turkey, leading Pipes to erroneous conclusions. The CHP and MHP are in no way more anti-Western than the AKP and in some ways much more pro-Western. They are just not as pro-business when it comes to rampant foreign investment. I say rampant because even though I am myself a pro-business capitalist, I do not favor foreign investment which is mostly speculative and does not help create jobs. The AKP lets it al happen as long as its cronies and the government gets a share of the pie.
LOOMING ECONOMIC COLLAPSE
Turkey faces a credit crunch, one largely ignored in light of crises in Greece and elsewhere. As analyst David Goldman points out, Erdoğan and the AKP took the country on a financial binge: Bank credit ballooned while the current account deficit soared, reaching unsustainable levels. The party’s patronage machine borrowed massive amounts of short-term debt to finance a consumption bubble that effectively bought it the June 2011 elections. Goldman calls Erdoğan a “Third World strongman” and compares Turkey today with Mexico in 1994 or Argentina in 2000, “where a brief boom financed by short-term foreign capital flows led to currency devaluation and a deep economic slump.”
ESCALATING KURDISH PROBLEMS
Some 15–20 percent of Turkey’s citizens identify as Kurds, a distinct historical people; although many Kurds are integrated, a separatist revolt against Ankara that began in 1984 has recently reached a new crescendo with a more assertive political leadership and more aggressive guerrilla attacks.
I am not so sure about a more assertive political leadership, but more aggressive terrorist attacks have surely been taking place as errant AKP policy choices have emboldened the PKK and have not empowered the Kurdish political leadership. Pipes also does not mention the six Kurdish MP’s who were elected as independents, but are not let free by the AKP-controlled courts despite having parliamentary immunity, disregarding the legal precedents.
LOOKING FOR A FIGHT WITH ISRAEL
In the tradition of Gamal Abdel Nasser and Saddam Hussein, the Turkish prime minister deploys anti-Zionist rhetoric to make himself an Arab political star. One shudders to think where, thrilled by this adulation, he may end up. After Ankara backed a protest ship to Gaza in May 2010, theMavi Marmara, whose aggression led Israeli forces to kill eight Turkish citizens plus an ethnic Turk, it has relentlessly exploited this incident to stoke domestic fury against the Jewish state. Erdoğan has called the deaths a casus belli, speaks of a war with Israel “if necessary,” and plans to send another ship to Gaza, this time with a Turkish military escort.
True. Erdogan has been trying his best to exploit the issue which in any case, appears to have been staged via IHH, an often-shady Islamist aid organization, in the first place.
STIMULATING AN ANTI-TURKISH FACTION
Turkish hostility has renewed Israel’s historically warm relations with the Kurds and turned around its cool relations with Greece, Cyprus, and even Armenia. Beyond cooperation locally, this grouping will make life difficult for the Turks in Washington.
This may be true, but only time will show. I would imagine where the US interests will lie at the time will determine the outcome.
ASSERTING RIGHTS OVER MEDITERRANEAN ENERGY RESERVE
Companies operating out of Israel discovered potentially immense gas and oil reserves in the Leviathan field and other fields located between Israel, Lebanon, and Cyprus. When the government of Cyprus announced its plans to drill, Erdoğan responded with threats to send Turkish “frigates, gunboats and . . . air force.” This dispute, just in its infancy, contains the potential elements of a huge crisis. Already, Moscow has sent submarines in solidarity with Cyprus.
A dangerous situation may be in the Works, indeed, with the way Erdogan has been handling the issue.
OTHER INTERNATIONAL PROBLEMS
Ankara threatens to freeze relations with the European Union in July 2012, when Cyprus assumes the rotating presidency. Turkish forces have seized a Syrian arms freighter. Turkish threats to invade northern Iraq have worsened relations with Baghdad. Turkish and Iranian regimes may share an Islamist outlook and an anti-Kurd agenda, with prospering trade relations, but their historic rivalry, contrary governing styles, and competing ambitions have soured relations.
Erdogan has taken his bullying style abroad. The talk of “zero problems” is accompanied by threats thrown in every direction possible, which includes freezing relations with the EU and more-or-less superficially aggressive talk toward Syria. However, I doubt there are any plans to invade Northern Iraq. The Turkish regime does not have an anti-Kurd agenda. To the contrary, the AKP has been attempting to exploit Islam to attract Kurds away from the PKK and has even set free dangerous members of the Turkish Hizbullah terror group prior to the June 2012 elections.
While Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu crows that Turkey is “right at the center of everything,” AKP bellicosity has soured his vaunted “zero-problems” with neighbors’ policy, turning this into wide-ranging hostility and even potential military confrontations (with Syria, Cyprus, and Israel). As economic troubles hit, a once-exemplary member of NATO may go further off track; watch for signs of Erdoğan emulating his Venezuelan friend, Hugo Chávez.
A “zero problems” foreign policy was at best naive and at worst plain ignorant because it historically means “all kinds of problems” with everyone since appeasement usually emboldens enemy elements and alienates friendly ones.
That’s why, along with Iranian nuclear weapons, I see a rogue Turkey as the region’s greatest threat.
Turkey may very well become a problem nation under Erdogan’s leadership if the West does not start openly reacting to his misdirected, megalomaniacal moves and does not stop seeing him as a possible role model for Arabic nations. For historical reasons, a leader from Turkey can never be a leader for Arab nations but Turkey may be able to lead by example, and that will not happen as long as Erdogan is allowed to turn Turkey into his own Chavez-like regime cloaked in the appearance of a “vibrant democracy” with the help of mislead Western politicians and media.
The following facts, which hardly receive international coverage, actually shed light on the reality in Turkey:
Turkey has fallen from the 99th spot in 2006 to the 138th in 2010 in the Press Freedom Index with over fifty journalists jailed in recent years.
When US Ambassador Francis Riccardone finally spoke up against the erosion of media freedom, he was bluntly told to mind his own business. The State Department’s 2010 Human Rights Report indicates that “the law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, the government at times did not observe these prohibitions.”
The goverment has tackled Turkey’s scientific institutions issuing a decree giving itself tighter control of Turkey's two main scientific organizations: the funding agency TÜBİTAK and the Turkish Academy of Sciences (TÜBA).
Hundreds of people have been jailed under the investigations called Ergekenekon and Sledgehammer, which began in July 2008 and July 2010 respectively, without a single conviction to date. Ergun Poyraz, first detained in July 2007 and the author of over eight anti-AKP or anti-Erdoğan books, has now spent four years in jail with no end in sight. “Not only is the evidence in both cases deeply flawed, there are also increasing indications that much of it has been fabricated.” writes Gareth Jenkins, one of the most knowledgeable analysts on Turkish political matters.
While it may not seem that I am disagreeing in essence with Pipes, these distinctions in emphasis are in fact critical. Getting this right is the difference between formulating effective, informed policy toward Turkey and formulating policy in response to a caricature.