The AKP loses its vision

The downing of a Russian SU-24 by Turkish fighters on the grounds that it violated Turkey’s air space for around 17 seconds prompted Moscow to retaliate against Ankara, mostly through economic sanctions that have the effect of biting Turkish people rather than Russians.

Turkey’s late-night transfer of troops, which local media outlets reported as consisting of different figures, varying from 600 to 1,200, to the town of Bashiqa — around 20 kilometers from Mosul, which is under the occupation of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) — has, meanwhile, led to a diplomatic row with the Iraqi government, which described the action as a violation of its sovereignty.

Bashiqa is one of a number of camps created by Turkey last year in the northern section of Iraq controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to train local fighters in the fight against ISIL. Turkey’s latest troop deployment has, however, angered the Iraqis on the grounds that their numbers are too high for training purposes and that Turkey did not get permission from them for the latest deployment.

These events have further demonstrated that Turkey has been becoming more isolated in the region and this should largely be blamed on its ill-conceived policies, which have taken, among other things, the form of asserting its power on others. In addition, NATO allies are not happy either with Turkey’s acts complicating their fight against ISIL.

With the risks on Turkey’s doorstep in the East further heightened, this requires a much more thoughtful policy on the part of Ankara to minimize the spillover effect of the pending threats onto its soil. However, the Turkish government has been playing a risky game in the region, while the internal security situation poses additional threats for the country. There has been ongoing fierce fighting between the Turkish security forces and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), mainly in the country’s Kurdish-dominated southeastern regions, with the conflict having the potential to turn into nationwide violence.

At this point, two valuable academic papers published recently about the Turkish state of affairs both domestically and externally deserve a mention in this column. In an article published on Dec. 7 by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, Dr. Ian Lesser recalled that no NATO member has been more deeply affected by the chaos and conflict on Europe’s periphery than Turkey.

“The country is in a critical position as a consequence of both its proximity to multiple crises and its unique exposure to deteriorating security relationships in both the south and the east,” he said.

“The collapse of the regional order around Turkey also poses special problems of adjustment for a state whose recent international strategy was predicated on benign conditions and receptive neighbors,” Lesser asserted. “Ankara faces a double challenge.”

“It must keep regional conflicts from further undermining the country’s internal security [fighting with the PKK]. It must also strengthen ties to NATO and EU partners whose demands on Turkey are set to increase, but whose cooperation will be essential to meet proliferating regional security threats. The prevailing atmosphere of mutual suspicion between Ankara and its Western allies suggests that this will not be an easy task. But it will be an essential one if Turkey, Europe, and the United States are to deal with new risks emanating from the Middle East and Russia,” he added.

Lesser drew attention to what I describe as the highly problematic nature of Turkish policy when he stated that “for Turkey, the war in Syria and the turmoil across the Middle East is seen, first and foremost, through the lens of internal security.”

He went on: “For President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the struggle against the regime of [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad has become a personal vendetta, but Ankara’s policy is also bound up with wider regional dynamics.”

Turkish Professor Umit Cizre, one of few leading experts on Turkish politics as well as on Turkish civil-military relations, meanwhile, predicted the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) decline in a recent paper even if it won a majority in the November general election and has been ruling the country for about 14 years now.

To remind readers, in the June general election, the AKP lost its majority and its ability to set up a single-party government for the first time in 13 years. But, to the surprise of many, it won a majority in the November election just five months later and so set up a single-party government.

In an article published by the Washington-based Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP) in its spring issue titled “Leadership Gone Awry: Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Two Turkish Elections,” Cizre noted that “in a crisis-ridden region, it seems more than likely that the president’s restrictive policies at home will be linked to his search for a more assertive role abroad.”

“But the shift of focus to foreign policy spotlights the weakening hold of the party on the popular imagination,” Cizre asserted in her paper. She also said: “Once a symbol of hope and democratic reform, the AKP has turned into a party with no vision or substantive ideas. Its November victory cannot disguise the larger truth that it has lost its position at the center of the political spectrum. That is why, in contrast to the aftermath of the June 7 elections, there is not much palpable excitement in the country about the November outcome—even among AKP loyalists.”