I visited Turkey in April last year, traveling through the country, witnessing the troubles of the leadership of the ruling AKP party: it had just lost a general election that left it without a workable majority in parliament and only 40% of the popular vote; it was sucked into a war in Syria from which millions of refugees were flooding the country; it was in open warfare with the large Hizmet\Gulen movement that leaked videos and recordings of the many nefarious deals the AKP leadership got into; and its dynastic and dictatorial tendencies were openly derided by the press in Turkey that never ran out of stories of huge palaces and rampant nepotism.
One year on and that same AKP leadership is riding high: they no longer suffer embarrassing media stories inside Turkey; they have a large parliamentary majority following new elections; they have over 50% of the population behind them; the Hizmet movement has largely backed off and is suffering blow after blow; the EU is promising it billions of euros, favourable visa arrangements for Turks, and accelerated negotiations for EU membership. NATO has promised it continued support; and the economy is doing well. Wow!
How did they achieve this remarkable turnaround? The answer is sobering: they started a civil war, abused state power to crush internal opposition, and openly blackmailed the EU with millions of refugees. They have now been handsomely rewarded for all three of these audacious choices. As an object in realpolitik, a student of politics and human nature can hardly find a better modern example of ruthless and successful power-politics than the choices of the AKP leadership. They have been inventive, bold, and relentless.
How did these choices help them?
The civil war that the AKP started with the Kurds mid 2015 brought it many related benefits: it galvanised support amongst the non-Kurds around the AKP party and thus gave it a majority in newly called elections; it divided the opposition that included a nationalist party that preferred continued AKP rule over a coalition with the Kurds; it kept the army busy, which had previously been a source of opposition; and it opened up a lot of jobs available to its own supporters that were previously taken by Kurds. It is hard to find a cleaner example of a war that benefited those who started it. Of course thousands of deaths and disruptions of whole regions inside Turkey were the result, but such humanitarian costs have not affected the ones who started it.
The abuse of state power in order to crush opposition was exemplified by the closing of the main critical newspapers in the last few weeks, as well as the use of sedition laws to silence any critic for ‘insults to the president’. This strategy too has worked spectacularly well, giving the regime control of the media and opinion formation inside Turkey, and forcing Turks abroad into a ‘with us or against us’ choice that has so far mainly lead to support. The vendetta against the Hizmet\Gulen movement also opened up many jobs previously held by Hizmet supporters in education, the police, health, and elsewhere. Hence there has been something to share amongst the supporters. In stead of having embarrassing stories in the media about embezzled public funds and state-orchestrated murder of its own soldiers (no kidding!), the Turkish public now gets a daily menu of patriotic news underlining the glory of its leaders.
The blackmail of the EU was via opening the internal transport routes and outside borders to migrants into Europe. Millions of Afghans, Egyptians, Pakistanis, Iraqis, and even Syrians took the opportunity. It was an inventive and bold move, well executed (I certainly didn’t see it coming. I predicted the other two moves, but not that one). These migrants were of course fleeced for the privilege of going through Turkey, and had the desired effect of shocking and bewildering the EU states. Those states, lead in this by Germany, decided that the only people who could undo the damage were those who inflicted it and have come to Turkey bearing gifts and promises in return for a stop to the migration flows.
The total victory of the realpolitik of the AKP leadership became painfully obvious today when the prime minister could claim manly tangible benefits to Turkey and its regime, barely days after ostensibly closing down opposition newspapers on the flimsiest of pretenses. He is rightly being seen in Turkey as having dictated terms to the EU and having the internal vendetta against journalists and opposition figures approved of by the EU. And anyone in the EU believing that the AKP leadership will stop manipulating them from now on is kidding themselves: the EU sold out on all its supposed principles of democracy and plurality in exchange for hot air, and its impotence has been exposed. The AKP leadership will make them pay a whole lot more.
I hate to see such bad things and wished fervently that it were different but it simply has to be admitted: what an object lesson in realpolitik! The Turkish AKP leadership has shown itself to be amongst the most intelligent and organised political groups on the planet, displaying a deep knowledge of both their own population and that of their European neighbours. It is a pity that they are not on our side.