Casualties of war

We all know the famous phrase: andquotIn war, truth is the first casualty.andquot Since Turkey decided to open war on two fronts against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the Kurdistan Workersand’ Party (PKK), we can find examples of that mechanism in the Turkish press every day. Turkish heroism is beautified, all state violence sanctified, acts of horror against the country magnified, and domestic and international criticism vilified or nullified.
The last knee-jerk reaction probably explains why many Turks have not noticed that there is a second casualty of the current war, especially in the foreign press and in American and European capitals: the credibility of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the caretaker Justice and Development Party (AKP) government he controls.
In my previous column, I referred to the confusion among many analysts and observers at home and abroad in the first week after Turkey started bombing. What exactly was Turkey up to?
That uncertainty has now been replaced by some strong convictions. In Turkey, many have taken to the old pro- and anti-AKP trenches, accusing each other of reckless opportunism or treacherous naivetandeacute. In this article, I want to concentrate on the American and European press and highlight how both Turkey specialists and concerned politicians outside of Turkey have come to assess the initial stages in Turkeyand’s new war. I can already tell you: that does not look good for those in charge in Turkey. Whatever the eventual outcome of this war, Erdogan and his men have definitively lost the first perception battle. Let me sum up the main points of criticism:
– The deal between Turkey and the US is not a game-changer in the fight against ISIL. Yes, the Americans can now use Incirlik airbase to strike more effectively at ISIL positions in Syria, and maybe the Turkish Air Force will participate in joint raids on vital ISIL targets. I say maybe because there is still strong doubt whether Turkey is really committed to the coalition goal of destroying ISIL. One example: Is Turkey really going to block flights from Incirlik intended to help the Syrian Kurds on the ground to fight ISIL?
– The so-called safe zone across the border that Turkey presented so proudly has become a source of strong doubts and plain skepticism. Nobody outside of Ankara believes it will work. The US has made it clear it is not willing to invest in sustaining such an ISIL and Kurds-free zone. Nobody believes the contested area will be safe enough to house substantial numbers of refugees. Most see the zone as an all-too-obvious trick designed to frustrate the Syrian Kurds.
– Turkeyand’s more active participation in the war against ISIL is appreciated by its friends in the US and Europe. But the NATO summit last week was not the big success claimed by Turkish diplomacy. Behind closed doors, many allies voiced their concerns about Turkeyand’s aggressive bombing of PKK bases. They are afraid the attacks will have two negative effects: the Kurdish settlement process in Turkey wonand’t survive and the military pressure on the PKK will definitively weaken the Syrian Kurds. Only ISIL will profit.
– Everybody is convinced that Erdogan chose this particular moment to make his U-turn on ISIL and the PKK for electoral reasons. Many analysts and politicians are used to Machiavellian manipulation in foreign policy. But for most, starting a war to settle domestic scores is simply one cynical step too far.
This summary of foreign criticism is an indication of two changes in the way Turkey and the region is seen abroad that had already taken place before this controversial war started: There is deep suspicion about each and every Erdogan move, and the Western appreciation of the Kurds has fundamentally changed over the last couple of years.
Does this botched perception matter? I am sure Turkish nationalists will say it wonand’t. They are again proud of a strong and independent Turkey willing to defy the duplicitous West. I am afraid, however, it does. Investors and tourists in Germany and the rest of Europe read these critical judgments and unconcealed warnings. If they decide to wait for this shower to pass over, not only Erdoganand’s credibility but also Turkeyand’s economy will suffer badly. Are all supporters of the current war willing to pay that price?