September 24, 2014

Erdoğan, the US, ISIL

İhsan Yılmaz

Regular readers of this column will remember that I have repeatedly argued that, in spite of whatever Justice and Development Party (AKP) leaders say in opposition to the West and the US in public rallies to motivate and manipulate their voters, behind closed doors they will agree to whatever they have been asked by Western states.

Take the Chinese missile issue for instance. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and co. had led the public to believe that they could really move away from NATO and approach the Shanghai group. I remember stating here that this would not happen. And now we all know that Turkey has started talking to a French company. Similarly, on a visit to the US, Erdoğan declared very firmly that Turkey would not join military operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), but now he has changed his mind. In the past, this has always been the case, but these types of U-turn were not as conspicuous as current examples.

There are several reasons for this. First, the militarist White Turks, the enemies of both Erdoğan and democracy, were the imminent danger for the democratic camp in Turkey and abroad, so many turned a blind eye to Erdoğan's mistakes. Second, Erdoğan is suffering from an erosion of prestige and credibility as a result of staying in power too long. Third, he is under immense pressure because of the corruption allegations. Fourth, the economy is not going well, and the future does not look very bright. Fifth, his hatred towards Hizmet and inability to come up with credible legal arguments against the movement negatively affect his balance. Thus, he makes Kafkaesque and ridiculous mistakes that probably stem from his paranoid “Hizmetophobia.”

He is not even aware that he would be perceived as a comical Recep Tayyip Gaddafi if he told the American audience that some American media outlets and think tanks were under the influence of the Hizmet, suggesting that Hizmet were manipulating these organizations. When he said this at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) people giggled and tweeted about the remark. He then tried to convince the audience that Hizmet is a national security threat to the US. He spoke for 30 minutes, and 10 of those minutes were allocated to the Hizmet issue, trying to explain that members of Hizmet are “assassins.” The audience was not impressed at all and they used Twitter to express their curiosity about why he didn't talk about ISIL terrorists who decapitate journalists, gang-rape women and kill innocent civilians. That is why in the question-and-answer session, nobody asked about the issue he spent one third of his time on, Hizmet, but rather asked him questions about Turkey-ISIL relations. His advisers do not have the courage to tell him that he looks as miserable and comical as Gaddafi did in the past.

Some AKP supporters claim the West engages with Erdoğan because they take him seriously. Yes but that does not imply that they respect him. They have to take him seriously because he is the powerful sultanistic leader of Turkey and they have to work with Turkey on all sorts of issues. But they made it very clear that they are fed up with his government's childish maneuvers, such as this Shanghai business/Chinese missile issue. They have also made very clear that they are aware of Turkey's unwillingness to take measures against ISIL presence within Turkey's borders. With the Der Spiegel leaks, a message was given implying the Turkish state might probably be turning a blind eye to ISIL activities in Turkey.

All in all, they have cornered Erdoğan and pressured him to say that Turkey will join the military campaign against ISIL. This is risky for him since his voters would expect him to attack Israel, Syria or at least Egypt (!), given his intense and emotional rhetoric against these countries. The Gezici polling firm's recent poll suggests that a large section of AKP voters do not think that ISIL is a terrorist organization. Erdoğan will have to convince his nationalistic, Islamist and Ottomanist voters that it is just to join the “Christian” US to bomb these bearded “Muslim” guys in Syria and Iraq.

This is a bed he has made so he has to lie in it. He has to understand that using emotional, empty and cheap foreign policy rhetoric to gain votes will cost the country very dearly in the mid and long terms.

Published on Today's Zaman, 24 September 2014, Wednesday

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