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Turkey, under an overzealous Islamist president with a strong xenophobic character, has become a source of tension for its allies and partners and will increasingly continue to be so if the fundamentals at the foundation of its political management remain intact and are even further cemented.
Attempts by the United States and the European Union to reset ties and stabilize relations with Turkey through dialogue have all failed, and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, once touted as a role model and a beacon of hope for Muslim democracies, has steered more and more off course. The main problem preventing efforts to move forward and foster dialogue stems from the fact that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is not really interested in the resolution of problems but is rather bent on pursuing his own policy agenda while hardening his anti-Western position and rebuffing dozens of overtures by allies. Engagement with him has been turned into appeasement and has served as a tool to provide legitimacy to his dictatorship rule.
The unprecedented bashing and bullying by the Erdoğan regime of allies and partners is not just a tactical move to distract Turks from growing domestic woes, especially economic difficulties. Erdoğan and many of his cabinet members, all Islamists and some fervent admirers of Iran’s mullah regime next door, really believe in the baseless accusations of the conspiracies they spew. In other words, there is a strong ideological commitment to what Erdoğan and others have been preaching publicly, and they are motivated by religious fanaticism when shaping and deciding policy, domestic and foreign.
The scandalous remarks we have heard from Erdoğan and his associates during this election campaign are not just for domestic consumption but are instead manifestations of the strategic inner thinking of the regime that has been lurking in the mindset of the current leadership of the country. Erdoğan’s shocking characterization of the impending war between the Crescent and the Cross against the backdrop of the Austrian government’s crackdown on politicized Turkish mosques that were turned into hot spots for spreading the radical, divisive and polarizing ideology of the Erdoğan regime as well as imams who were enlisted as spies in profiling critics and opponents of the Turkish government tells the tale.
Many of his ministers and close advisors have recently spoken about how Erdoğan, described as the leader of 1.7 billion Muslims worldwide, is defending the rights of all Muslims (the Islamic Ummah) when his regime is busy locking up critics in large numbers including hundreds of journalists and media workers. A day before his scheduled meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on June 4, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu met with some US Muslims whom he claimed look up to Erdoğan as the leader of all Muslims. On June 10 his chief advisor Yalçı Topçu described the June 24 elections as the election of all Muslims worldwide because Erdoğan is revered as their leader from Africa to China. On the same day, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu claimed the West aims to “de-Islamize” the Turkish populace, which is 99 percent Muslim. More and more similar rhetoric is being heard from others as well, fueling xenophobic and hostile views among the Turkish people.
It is clear that the Erdoğan regime is not interested in restoring the rule of law, addressing serious human rights violations, normalizing the country or actively seeking political dialogue with allies and partners. If not checked, a catastrophic scenario of a failed state awaits Turkey, which would spill over into Europe, Asia and the Middle East. The massive purges and arrests of government employees in the hundreds of thousands have left institutions crumbling, and neither the weakened military nor the crippled police force appears to be up to the task of protecting public institutions, order and security when push comes to shove.
It is hard to ignore the serious security implications of this major backsliding for Turkey’s allies and partners from regional security to the fight against jihadists and human and drug smuggling networks that would be undermined. Erdoğan describes the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, ISIS or DAESH by its Arabic acronym) as a hoax terror group that is engineered by the West (the United States to be more precise). His Interior Minister Soylu claims US ambassador John Bass in Kabul, the former envoy to Turkey, channels migrants and opium trafficking towards Turkey in a deliberate plot to weaken Erdoğan, while European allies the Netherlands, Austria, Belgium and Denmark ship synthetic drugs to Turkey at discounted prices to destroy Turkish youth.
How would it be possible to establish a constructive and meaningful dialogue with a regime that churns out these false narratives all the time? Erdoğan and his cronies are busy hardening their positions instead of looking for ways to resolve the differences through negotiated settlements, which suggests the regime is not really keen on changing its current course. There is an apparent lack of will on the part of the Turkish government in moving forward, and Erdoğan long ago lost his ability to engage in finding a safe exit from politics after having committed serious crimes from amassing wealth in corruption schemes to aiding and abetting jihadist groups to prop up Islamist regimes. Given the fact that his rants and diatribes are not just limited to election campaign periods, there should be more reasons to be alarmed about where Turkey is heading. Erdoğan’s leadership is not merely presenting a worrisome picture but rather a grave security threat that must be urgently tackled, confronted head on before it takes a further toll on Turkey and its allies and partners.
Unfortunately, the Turkish opposition remains weak and in disarray although there are signs that they have come to realize the gravity of the risks of limiting political space and appear to be finally getting their act together in challenging Erdoğan’s rule. It would be a miracle if the opposition alliance manages to win the June 24 elections, which looks less likely given that the election campaign is neither free nor fair under a renewed state of emergency. Even if opposition parties show strength at the ballot box, it will be Erdoğan’s people in the judiciary and election commission to certify and validate results that will certainly be distorted amid mass fraud. There is no longer an honest broker to insure a level playing field.
The results of the elections notwithstanding, the situation in Turkey will certainly deteriorate further, which will have extremely negative repercussions for allies and partners, from lost investment and trade to ruptured political ties, from worsening emigration to exporting jihadists to other nations. The sooner Erdoğan and his thugs are recognized and treated as a major liability and threat to regional and world peace and order, the better and easier to contain the damage it will be.