Turkish government handsomely rewarded for realpolitik

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.

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10 Responses to Turkish government handsomely rewarded for realpolitik

  1. Nicholas Gruen says:

    Thanks Paul,

    Very interesting (and depressing) post.

    What exquisite longing Europe has for its own demise. It’s all a bit like Death in Venice.

    Another low dishonest decade up ahead.

  2. ordan andreevski says:

    In the land of the blind the man with one eye is king. The reward for AKP will may be short lived given the mess it has created with the Kurds and the weakening of democracy.

  3. derrida derider says:

    It’s easy to start a civil war, hard to control where it leads. Same with the refugee games. So AKP has done brilliantly so far for itself but there is a long way to go yet.

    To me, the most grimly amusing part is the way Erdogan and Putin have set out to pick a fight with each other, with the fight being far more like professional wrestling than a real fight. Lots of dramatic action, lots of name calling, but being quite careful not to actually hurt each other too much. Of course it’s for the benefit of domestic audiences on both sides.

    • paul frijters says:

      yes, the Putin/Erdogan show has been informative, though many other players are involved in the Syrian war. I agree that the Russians and Turks are playing to domestic audiences, but I also think both are testing the limits to what the Western powers will allow. The Turks have been feeling out the limits of how far they can go with their war on the Syrian Kurds (by bombing them), who are allies of both the Russians and the West. The Russians in turn have been feeling out how far they can go with limiting the Turkish involvement (a NATO ally) by means of air support for the Kurds and by means of bombardments of Turkish-sponsored factions inside Syria. The call to have a no-fly zone in Syria is IMO a bid by Turkey to have the US back its plans to destroy the Syrian Kurds, whilst the ceasefire by the Russians at the moment allows it to build up the positions of the Kurds and the Syrian regime. Interestingly, both Turkey and Russia see a use for a continued of ISIS, if only as a bargaining chip towards the West (ie unfinished mutual business). I have a lengthy piece on this I might post later.

      • John walker says:

        It’s rather reminiscent of the Great game in about 1870- 1890 no? The main differences being that these days the Turks are much more of a powerful player than they were back then and the British do not have more battleships than the rest of the world, combined. On the other hand the Rusians are as reckless as players as ever.

        • paul frijters says:

          yes, the Russians are indeed pretty reckless in Syria. They don’t seem to even try to aim well with their bombs.
          The Turkish government plays a difficult game in Syria though. They essentially have no allies in Syria that the West likes and its enemies inside Syria are mainly (implicit) allies of the West. Though they are searching the limits of how far they can push their Western allies, don’t really want to break with the West, so their hands are a bit tied.
          Normally, one would write them off as a mayor factor in such a case, but they are so wily that one would be stupid to do so. They think outside the box and they will no doubt be considering very carefully how they can get what they want in Syria.

  4. conrad says:

    “It is hard to find a cleaner example of a war that benefited those who started it. ”

    I agree with DD on that — That might be true in the short term, but I find it hard to imagine it is going to do any good in the long term with some 15 million Kurds in Turkey alone. In particular, compared to other groups that think living in the stoneage is a good idea (and hence remain largely harmless to most of the world), many of these people are going to get well educated. There are thus any number of especially vile possibilities one can think of that are available to them to get people back if someone is angry enough. For example, what happens when an especially angry one gets a PhD in Virology and knows how to create novel-enough viruses or similar nasties? I imagine these sorts of things are within the bounds of plausibility for such a group (or, for that matter, loony individuals).

    • paul frijters says:

      wishful thinking. The cut-throat nature of Turkish politics is such that the AKP leadership will have to flee the country if it loses. So its all or nothing, and the potential actions of some disgruntled group in decades time is the least of their concerns. This all or nothing reality is why they have to be so bold and smart, its the only way they can survive

      • conrad says:

        Why decades? I don’t know how hard it actually is to make this type of stuff, but I can’t help but think of the guy sending Anthrax around in the US a few years ago (obviously they have a bigger biotech industry) and all the nasty chemical weapons that could be scavenged from places where many Kurds already are like Iraq and made it something more deliverable. It actually surprises me that some of these groups have not tried to do this sort of thing before, although perhaps the saner ones think the global political risk is too much.

  5. Mehmet Doktan says:

    Yes an Interesting and very convincing article. And perhaps a little too much convincing.
    Although I don’t support much of the political agenda of the current leadership in the county, I don’t believe many of the points you make are the direct results of their deliberate planning or intentions either. They seem to be “too well engineered to be true”. I have real doubts that such a grand scale strategy can be implemented by the current administration as you put forward. If they did I would take my hat off.
    Turkey has been courting with the EU long time now. The latter is dragging its feet. It has turned into a one sided love and it is natural that a search for another love has now started. This may be Russia or any another country. To me it has been even too late. Should have left the alliance long time ago.
    Remember the fact that during the cold war Turkey (when her financial means was not even adequate to feed her growing population let alone building a huge defence force) was asked to carry the burden of being a buffer state between the West and East (and North) largely to protect the interests of the west (as part of NATO). A disproportionally large defence force has been maintained (and still so) just for that very reason.. Western interests. And then when she wanted to become part of the west, the west has just produced excuses while welcoming many other smaller less significant states into their arms.
    Regarding the civil war. Yes but remember .. it takes two to tango .. for a dance or a civil war..
    Let’s make our intentions quiet clear here.. Are we on the side of a declared terrorist organization or a legitimate state?
    If the latter is our way to go, defeating a terrorist organization (be this or that it does not matter) is in the benefit of entire humanity not only a government or state. And just like any other we all need to support the efforts of eradicating any terrorism or barbarism whatever their names are or wherever they are in the world we live in. Otherwise, they will come bite you and others soon or later.
    A tragedy is unfolding in the region.
    Some three million refugees are fed and looked after in Turkey currently. The Turks are very generous to share their limited resources. They are not rich people. Look at the GDP of the country and compare that with the EU and see who is doing the lion share of giving & helping. In my view the world should be thankful and appreciative of Turks’ efforts and hospitality and Instead of saying me, me and me (again and again) they should do more to support financially and physically the good intentions of Turkish people.
    Lastly, it as a quiet unfortunate statement you make by saying “It is a pity that they are not on our side”. It is quiet divisive and reflects a mental attitude that is not just, constructive and neither appropriate.

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