All things are not necessarily equal when it comes to tyrants and liberals. Turkey has just elected a new president, or more accurately, they had their first popular election for that office, and moved their prime minister into that position. Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been acting a little power hungry lately, and decided that he wanted to be president, and expand the powers of that office to meet his desires. For better or worse, the people of Turkey have obliged him. Because he’s backed by mostly conservative Sunni Muslims, it won’t be surprising if in the coming months we’ll see liberal foreign policy wonks talking about how bad this is. They’ll be right, but probably for the wrong reasons.
Cenk Sidar offered a very interesting pre-election analysis of the situation in Turkey at ForeignPolicy.com, particularly through a thumbnail sketch of the Erdogan administration. The first statement of interest had to do with Erdogan’s attitude about the system of checks and balances in the Turkish government.
Lately, Erdogan has shown little interest in preserving a system based on checks and balances and the separation of powers. The prime minister’s harsh crackdown on his political opponents and his combative rhetoric strongly suggest that he would like to see Turkey become a decidedly illiberal democracy, one in which he and his party can use the mandate of the ballot box to rule as they please, with little or no consideration of dissenting views.
If one removes the references to Turkey in the previous, and inserts the U.S., it remains accurate. We can expect to see multiple detractors of Erdogan around the world over these actions, but many of them would not bring Obama to task for the same issues. But, the similarities do not end there.
Last year, leaked tapes showed Erdogan making direct calls to media group owners to give instructions and complain about negative publicity. After a major corruption scandal involving senior government officials surfaced last December, government officials failed to address the allegations and even covered up the ongoing parliamentary investigation of the three ministers who resigned after revelations about their alleged malfeasance. All of this has eroded Turkish citizens’ trust in their institutions, including the court system and the news media, which are increasingly viewed as subject to the prime minister’s whims.
Laws recently passed by parliament, which is dominated by the AKP, are part of the same trend. The laws, which tighten government control over the judiciary and the Internet while expanding the remit of the intelligence agencies, are all clearly designed to strengthen the AKP’s grip on various aspects of daily life. In addition to these bureaucratic measures, however, Erdogan has also inflicted serious damage to Turkish democracy with his use of discriminatory rhetoric. In order to consolidate his voter base, he willingly inflames religious, sectarian, and ethnic divides.
Again, the Erdogan and Obama administrations are eerily similar. However, the fact remains that while the Turkish leader can easily be referred to as a tyrant without fear of reprisal, even a whisper of the same about Obama will earn one relegation to the “tin-foil hat” crowd. We’ve known this for a long time, but Erdogan may actually become useful to conservatives that want to point out the real problems the Obama administration has been creating.
It is a little more difficult for liberals to maintain their argument that nothing is wrong when they are simultaneously calling another world leader that is doing the same things a tyrant. Hypocrisy is nothing new to them, but this comparison may help to illustrate the message that the U.S. government has been twisted into as Sidar put it, an “illiberal democracy.” It would also dispel at least one liberal myth about conservatives — uneducated people could not easily bring this argument to the table. They wouldn’t know enough to look for it in the first place.