Control-freak Erdogan at heart of Turkey's problems

By Mark Almond comment

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Photo / AP
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Photo / AP

Turkey is in a uniquely awful position. It has the strongest President since the military coup in 1980, possibly since Ataturk himself. But while President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has skilfully pulled together all the threads of authority in Turkey, random killings, suicide bombings and a civil war in the southeast have been spiralling out of control.

He is a control freak who cannot master the threats facing Turkey; if anything, his capricious style of government has helped breed them.

By supporting radical jihadists against the Syrian regime, Erdogan ignored the risks of blowback. When Assad was weak, the Kurds in Syria began to assert themselves. Erdogan moved to stop them establishing a Kurdish mini-state south of Turkey, but the price demanded by the West for turning a blind eye to that was to also crack down on Isis (Islamic State).

These two crackdowns set off terrorist attacks in Turkey. Kurdish groups primarily attacked the army and police; Isis has targeted civilians.

Erdogan's foreign policy has veered from confrontation with Russia and Iran to partnership with them and public allegations that his chief Western ally, the United States, is behind the terrorism afflicting Turkey.

The economy has gone from boom to bust. Once, Erdogan seemed to have achieved the miracle of successfully mixing Islamic politics with the market economy.

But the backwash of conflicts in Syria and Iraq plus the impact on tourism of the terrorist attacks has tipped Turkey into recession.

In the past a military strongman has acted to restore order in Turkey.

In September 1980, General Evren launched a military crackdown on the bloody civil war then raging between gunmen of the radical left and right.At a heavy cost the army restored order. This time, after the fiasco of the failed putsch in July, the prospects for a credible ouster plot seem remote.

The crackdown since July has hit the security services hard. The Presidential Guard was disbanded, showing how insecure Erdogan feels.

It would be desirable if there was a democratic way out of the current impasse. But Erdogan's opponents in Parliament are divided, and the secularists and Kurds that make up their support base are under suspicion as traitors.

Turkey is becoming a sick man on the edge of Europe, fending off a Taliban-style threat from Syria's radical jihadists. After decades of Turkey being held up as a model for Pakistan to follow, Ankara seems to be becoming more like Islamabad.

Maybe, inside the ruling AK party, there are men ready to defy Erdogan's grip on power. But I doubt if they have the numbers or the courage to take him on.

Turkey's agony looks set to continue; and given the country's geopolitics, chaos in Turkey means instability for the West too.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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