Is Turkey scattered on all fronts?

Christian Chesnot

Published: Updated:

To say that the powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are upraising both internally and externally is an understatement. One year after the failed coup in July 2016, Turkey is present on all diplomatic and military fronts.

Ankara has long stated that it is has a necessary role in the resolution of the crises that agitate the Middle East. President Erdogan has even become a mediator between Qatar, which now houses a Turkish military base, and its Gulf neighbors.

However, this diplomatic activism of Ankara hides an accumulation of setbacks and missteps to the point that one can ask the question: does Turkey still pursue a coherent and rational regional and international strategy? Instead, we have the impression that Turkey is escaping its problems without actually solving them with a diplomacy that has lost its composure.

It seems that the times of former prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu, a theoretician of the AKP's neo-Ottoman diplomacy who developed the concept of “zero problem with his neighbors” are dead and gone. Today, itis rather 100 percent neighborhood problems!

Meanwhile, Turkey has fallen into the Syrian trap. Ankara wanted to create a broad security zone on its border with Syria which proved to be a big failure. Ankara’s ambitions were blocked by a tactical alliance between Bashar al-Assad’s army and the Kurds of the PPU, of the Syrian branch of the PKK. The fall of Aleppo in December 2016 buried the last Turkish illusions. The Syrian Rai is still in power in Damascus while Erdogan wanted his head.

Furthermore, the Kurdish fact in Syria has become an unavoidable reality. In their three cantons of the Rojava (Afrin-Kobané-Jezireh), the Kurds, sworn enemies of Ankara, control about 36,000 square kilometers, more than three times the size of Lebanon.

Certainly, they have failed to establish territorial continuity, but since they are backed by the West and the Russians, they succeeded in keeping Erdogan and his army up at night!

Erdogan continues to play on the strategic position of his country, as a link between Europe and Asia

Christian Chesnot

The Iraq front

In Iraq, Turkey wanted to take advantage of the situation. It has the Bachika base in the north-east of Mosul, which is aimed to protect the Turkmen minority. Again, Ankara’s interventionism is likely to fail. After the resumption of Mosul, the government of Baghdad will not tolerate this Turkish base on its soil. Iraqi leaders have yet to digest this unilateral settlement on their territory.

Decidedly, the Turkish military bases are giving hives to many people! The Incerlik base in south-eastern Turkey, from where the coalition planes took off to strike ISIS, is also a source of problems. The Americans had to wait several months before obtaining permission to use it. The Pentagon will surely remember this in the future. As for Germany, it has decided to leave Incerlik and to have its Surveillance aircraft take off from Azrak (H5) in Jordan.

The most worrying news for Turkey today, although a member of NATO, is that it is no longer considered a reliable partner by Westerners. The latest incident consisted of the disclosure of the positions of the American and French Special Forces in northern Syria by the Anadolu news agency. Behind the scenes, Washington and Paris are furious.

As for Germany, Ankara’s main European economic partner, the crisis has now exploded into the open, so much so that the German Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schäuble compared Turkey to the former GDR! The Large-scale human rights violations, more than 100 incarcerated journalists – and the totalitarian abuses of President Erdogan have long degraded the image of the country abroad.

Fragile on its eastern borders, Turkey must now mourn its integration into the European Union. The Europeans did not appreciate Ankara’s blackmail offer in the crisis of the Syrian refugees. Erdogan continues to play on the strategic position of his country, as a link between Europe and Asia. He underestimates the massive rejection he provokes in European public opinion.

In the years of 2000 at the height of his power, he was considered a “model”. Today, he has become a source of repulsion. In the nineteenth century, the Ottoman Empire was referred to as the “sick man” of Europe. At the beginning of the 21st century, History seems to repeat itself.
Christian Chesnot is grand reporter at Radio France in Paris in charge of the Middle East affairs. He has been based as correspondent in Cairo and Amman. He has written several books on Palestine, Iraq, Syria and the Gulf. Chesnot tweets @cchesnot.

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