September 16, 2015

You make your own bed, lie in it

Ali Halit Aslan

An outside observer would see Turkey as a sick person whose health is deteriorating because its democracy has been taken hostage, its economy is in decline and its social order is disintegrating. Pro-Erdoğan circles enjoy drawing parallels between the Justice and Development Party (AKP) era and Ottoman glory. If there is any resemblance, this looks more like the fall of the Ottoman Empire than its rise. A reckless chauffeur is driving the vehicle toward the cliff. Listening to Ottoman military marches inside cannot prevent a crash.

Here is the latest from Erdoğan's Turkey: Koza İpek and Doğan Media Group, which are among the remaining few independent media groups, were subject to legal and physical harassment. The newly emerged repressive elites played the chaos card when they realized the people would not support the single-party system they were trying to impose. The Turkish-Kurdish fault line is being exploited. Those obsessed with the idea that foreign powers are the ones causing this should not feel offended, but I think the problem is homegrown.

So, how are these developments seen from the US? There is a fire visible from afar. It is not possible for the fire to engulf you because there is water in the middle and you cannot do much. In brief, this is how the ongoing turmoil is perceived in the US. There have been only a few brief news reports and columns in US media, as well as statements from low-level US government officials. That's all.

Of course, strategic thinkers and experts in Washington are following the events in Turkey very closely. However, the foreign policy establishment in Washington has lately been extremely busy with the Iran issue; as a result they have not been paying much attention to events in Turkey. US President Barack Obama, who has been expending tireless efforts to make sure the nuclear deal with Iran is ratified in Congress, finally secured sufficient support in the US Senate. The pro-Israel-lobbying American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) threw in the towel. Now that the Iran issue is dissipating, Washington may now be able to look into other issues as well, including Turkey.

The Obama administration experienced an emotional detachment from the AKP government under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's leadership. In fact, this started some time ago. The first major downgrade of the AKP's democratic outlook came during the Gezi Park protests when the Turkish government relied on repressive measures. The detachment was further exacerbated by the 2013 corruption scandal followed by legal scandals, irregularities and aggressive measures against dissident media. On the other hand, the US administration pays utmost attention to make sure the emotional detachment from AKP rulers does not lead to the destruction of strategic ties and relations with Turkey. The reason is simple: The AKP will not stay in power forever, but Turkey will always have geo-strategic significance for the US.

The US does not want a strategic collapse in relations, but some moves of the AKP's interim regime may make this unavoidable. Dramatic moves such as suffocating unfriendly businesses, silencing opposition media and disrespecting the outcome of the elections in a country which is a member state of a number of leading international institutions, including NATO, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe, may lead to a strategic alienation of Turkey. To this end, the physical assaults on the Hürriyet daily's building and the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), which were apparently premeditated, have caused a lot of concern and reaction from the US.

The AKP has used the Hizmet movement to justify its illegal and unjust moves and attempts to completely take control of state institutions by presenting the movement as a national security threat.

It could be said that this initiative was partially successful at the beginning. It later became clear that the national security pretext would be used not only against the Hizmet movement but all other institutions they labeled as dissidents. Since the government has put Zaman, Samanyolu, Koza İpek Media, Cumhuriyet and Hürriyet in the same basket, they can no longer convince anyone in Washington that they are not against independent and free media as a whole.

Whether or not Turkey will remain part of the West will largely be determined by its ability to resolve the Kurdish issue through peaceful means. The dangerous political games Erdoğan and the AKP have been playing over the Kurdish issue has increased the strategic alienation risks between the US and Turkey. In return for allowing the use of İncirlik Air Base, Ankara thought it would have a green light to take bold steps against pro-Kurdish groups. But the White House is disturbed by this because some of these groups are fighting against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria. The disturbance has become even more severe because the HDP, which received 13 percent of the popular vote with its charismatic leader Selahattin Demirtaş, is treated as terrorist despite the fact that they do not endorse violence. The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) may have once again proved that it is a terrorist organization, but the AKP figures who have insisted on a political and peaceful solution have nothing to tell Washington. They are no longer credible in the US.

The number of people in Washington who wish to see Erdoğan and the AKP go increases by each anti-democratic move the prime minister makes. A political movement which does not even want to share power in a coalition government cannot have a place in the democratic world. Unfortunately, a party which has made positive contributions to Turkey for a long time has been turned into a toy in the hands of a small interest group trying to avoid legal responsibility by making the country ungovernable. You make your own bed, so lie in it.

Published on Today's Zaman, 16 September 2015, Wednesday