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Erdogan: Everybody’s False Friend

The Turkish President only knows one loyalty — to himself. Little wonder Erdogan acts like a congenital flamethrower in international relations

By: EBR - Posted: Friday, February 02, 2018

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Recep Tayyip Erdogan is famous for claiming to pursue a “zero problems” foreign policy in the Middle East. Aiming for zero problems in the Middle East is difficult for anybody to deliver on. After all, the wider neighborhood is fiendishly complex and conflict-ridden.  No wonder that his vision unraveled badly. In the process, Erdogan crossed swords with just about every nation in the region, from Egypt to Syria and Iran to Iraq.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan is famous for claiming to pursue a “zero problems” foreign policy in the Middle East. Aiming for zero problems in the Middle East is difficult for anybody to deliver on. After all, the wider neighborhood is fiendishly complex and conflict-ridden. No wonder that his vision unraveled badly. In the process, Erdogan crossed swords with just about every nation in the region, from Egypt to Syria and Iran to Iraq.

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by Stephan Richter*

Recep Tayyip Erdogan is famous for claiming to pursue a “zero problems” foreign policy in the Middle East. Aiming for zero problems in the Middle East is difficult for anybody to deliver on. After all, the wider neighborhood is fiendishly complex and conflict-ridden.

No wonder that his vision unraveled badly. In the process, Erdogan crossed swords with just about every nation in the region, from Egypt to Syria and Iran to Iraq.

Erdogan: Flamethrower in action

Not to be perturbed by his complete failure to deliver on his promise, Mr. Erdogan – with a penchant for inconsequential grandiosity – next went about creating major tensions with the major nations beyond his immediate neighborhood.

First, he loved Russia, then vowed to despise it. Then, he loved it again. The same goes for the United States. It used to be a big friend, but when – in view of spurious charges – Washington didn’t extradite Fetullah Gülen, he called the United States all sorts of names.

His penchant to act like a very cheap rug merchant has left a sour taste in the mouths of many a leader around the world. One should not try to tackle everything on the basis of a very transparent tit-for-tat deal. As a matter of fact, Erdogan is far more transactional than even Donald Trump will ever be.

Germany received no better treatment than the other nations, with the (predictable) highlight of Erdogan calling out the entire country for acting like modern Nazis. In his classic bipolar pattern, when Erdogan saw the economic consequences of the baseless disdain displayed toward Germany, he told his ministers in so many words to love Germany again.

Shredding respect for Turkey

A man like Erdogan who, in such a monomaniacal fashion, is so wedded to his own boundless vanity is not anybody who serves his nation well. If anything, Mr. Erdogan has greatly shrunk the amount of respect that Turkey used to receive in the world.

Erdogan evidently believes that he is, quite literally, the mastermind of global affairs and can play off any country against another at his whim.

Unfortunately, he has surrounded himself with such a large number of yes men that he lacks any sense of realism. And none of his courtiers, for fear of being ousted (or worse), have the courage to tell him the plain truth. As a result, Erdogan doesn’t see that “his” Turkey is actually the one being played, not the other way around.

Russia’s Putin is the clearest cut case of someone who despises Erdogan. While the latter considers him an equal, Putin plays needy Mr. Erdogan like a fiddle.

Western hesitations

Western countries are not quite so unconstrained, in part because they exaggerate the options that Mr. Erdogan has at his disposal beyond NATO and the West. Sure, he can turn to Russia and the Saudis, but neither of those nations will provide his nation with anywhere near the wealth and integration into the international division of labor that the West can.

For that reason, rather than continuing to beat around the bush, it is certainly high time to speak more clearly and more directly to Mr. Erdogan. Tell him that his real options are very limited. Say that everybody’s patience is running out. And make it plain that it is utterly amateurish to engage in very transparent games of playing nations off against each other.

Erdogan and the Germans

Turkey is in too low a weight class to have real heft in that game. There are some notable exceptions. Germany is one of them. The Germans are masters in believing that their hands are tied vis-à-vis Erdogan.

Most fundamentally, they don’t understand that their reflexive obsequiousness doesn’t buy them anything, not even at home. Significant parts of the German foreign policy community still lack a true sense of strategy and strategic heft. That explains the penchant toward mealy mouthedness and near-permanent accommodation.

Macron to the rescue?

It apparently will take political Berlin another decade before it understands that, on many levels, it has only one interest and one loyalty – to help liberal Muslims that are under grave threat in Erdogan’s Turkey (and elsewhere).

That is why the suggestion by Soner Cagaptay to have Emmanuel Macron on behalf of the rest of Europe beat some real sense into Erdogan is a good one.

Erdogan and the PKK

Currently, Mr. Erdogan is once again engaging in utter hyperbole, promising to rid the entire region of “any terrorist.” Given that he considers the entire PKK as terrorist, it matters that Turkey has undertaken more than 25 military operations against the Kurds over the last 25 years.

These actions have evidently not crushed the PKK in Iraq. Not to mention that Erdogan also initiated a dialogue phase with the PKK five years ago, when that served his domestic political goals. It’s back to war now.

Smart Turkey analysts already predict that Erdogan will be into peacemaking with the Kurds again as soon as he has smashed the very anti-Kurdish MHP party. Currently, he needs its support in his pursuit of his imperial presidency.

Fortunately for other nations – and unfortunately for the Turks at home – Erdogan makes plenty of boastful statements in the foreign policy arena that thankfully almost always turn out to be hollow. That stands in stark contrast to Erdogan’s relentless harshness and crushing strategies at home.

*Publisher and editor-in-chief of The Globalist
*First published in Theglobalist.com

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