Turkey Decides

Well this is disappointing, for me anyway:

Turkey’s long-standing leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan has won a new five-year term after securing outright victory in the first round of a presidential poll.

Election authority chief Sadi Guven said the president “received the absolute majority of all valid votes”.

State media reports put Mr Erdogan on 53% with 99% of votes counted, and his closest rival Muharrem Ince on 31%.

Had Erdogan got less than 50% of the votes he’d have been forced into a second round; I’d hoped the result would at least have been tight enough for this to happen. Whatever claims of rigging and suppression of the opposition there are, this is a rousing endorsement of Erdogan and his policies. It’s worth noting that some 2m people took to the streets in advance of the election in support of Erdogan’s rival, so while he is happy to throw politicians, journalists, and judges in prison Turkey is not some sort of totalitarian police state, at least not yet. The result takes on an additional importance because:

President Erdogan will assume major new powers under Turkey’s new constitution. The changes were endorsed in a tight referendum last year by 51% of voters, and are due to come into force after the election.

They include:

– Directly appointing top public officials, including ministers and vice-presidents

– The power to intervene in the country’s legal system

– The power to impose a state of emergency

The job of prime minister will also be scrapped.

Like it or not, this is what the majority of Turks appear to want. Sure, the educated middle classes are distraught but they had the run of the place for decades, airily dismissing what are now Erdogan’s core supporters as backward and unworthy of their attention. As I said before:

The chattering classes in Turkey had no problem ridiculing Recep Erdoğan during his slow rise to power either, confident they could contain him while dismissing his supporters as backward reactionaries that could be defeated by sophisticated discussions among themselves. At no point did the elites in Ankara and Istanbul listen to his supporters to figure out why they were voting for him, and look at ways to persuade these millions of people to come on board with their own policies. Perhaps they believed that beating him at the ballot box wasn’t necessary and they could just remove someone who didn’t do their bidding by other means? And look how that worked out.

What the majority Turks seem to want is a country run along Islamic principles led by a strongman who isn’t going to get pushed around, can be relied upon to bash Israel, and will keep his boot on the necks of the Kurds. Anything else – the economy, secularism, relations with the west, and ensuring Turkey doesn’t become an oppressive, theocratic basket-case like Iran – is of secondary importance. One would be forgiven for thinking this is all rather normal for the Middle East, and historians may look back on Ataturk’s secular nation as being little more than a quaint experiment held in place largely by force. I have heard some Turks despairingly say that Ataturk put too much faith in the Turkish people, but he had the sense to ensure Islamist strongmen couldn’t take over by having the army step in when necessary. Then the EU stuck its beak in and, waving false promises of membership, told Turkey this safety-valve was incompatible with democratic norms and must be abolished. They complied, and now they have an Islamist strongman at the helm. Well done, Brussels! One can hardly blame this on Ataturk’s lack of understanding of his people; it suggests he knew exactly what would happen if every Turk got a say.

I suspect things will have to get a lot worse in Turkey before Erdogan is turfed out, and who knows what the place will look like by then. As I implied earlier, my guess is in ten years it will look a lot like contemporary Iran. The best thing the western powers can do is let them get on with it – it’s their country and they have decided this is the direction they want to go in. The last thing Turkey needs is western meddling in its internal affairs. However, they should seriously evaluate Turkey’s continued NATO membership; the Cold War is over and Turkey no longer holds the strategic importance it once did. Fears like this I believe are overblown:

Russia and Turkey share a distrust and rivalry for one another which goes back centuries; whatever relations Moscow and Ankara enjoy now are of convenience only. The next time Erdogan starts ranting about the west and invoking holy wars, the Americans should withdraw their military support, kick them out of NATO, and tell them to take their chances with the Russians. It won’t happen any time soon, but eventually they might not have a choice.

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20 thoughts on “Turkey Decides

  1. Make sure we take none of their “refugees” is the smartest thing we can do now.

  2. Make sure we take none of their “refugees” is the smartest thing we can do now.

    To be fair, you can’t blame the Turks for this. If Turkey had erected a wall, barbed wire, and minefields along the Syrian border the EU and western bleeding hearts would have screamed blue murder. Turkey didn’t want thousands of refugees pouring across its borders, nor did they start the war in Syria and Iraq. Nobody has done much to help Turkey deal with the problem, so what are they supposed to do? They’re between a rock and a hard place.

  3. They merely have to say “sort out North Cyprus or leave NATO” and they’ll leave. No need to kick them out.

    I have some sympathy for their initial intervention, but their continued holding of the north means they’re doing exactly what they opposed the Greeks doing.

  4. I have some sympathy for their initial intervention, but their continued holding of the north means they’re doing exactly what they opposed the Greeks doing.

    From what I can tell, the average Turk thinks the Turkish Cypriots are a pain in the arse.

  5. I predict that in ten years’ time, sub-saharan migrants to Europe will be pretending to be Kurds instead of Syrians.

  6. I predict that in ten years’ time, sub-saharan migrants to Europe will be pretending to be Kurds instead of Syrians.

    Yes, the Kurds are likely in for a tough time. Then again, they have proven they can take care of themselves well enough.

  7. If Erdogan is so popular, why did he have to tilt the playing field so much in his own favour?

  8. If Erdogan is so popular, why did he have to tilt the playing field so much in his own favour?

    It’s what authoritarians do by instinct. Putin’s the same: although it’s hard to know what his share of the vote would be if he didn’t bung opposition leaders in jail, we shouldn’t be fooled into thinking he is not popular or that the results would be all that different in the absence of such tactics.

  9. The BBC article is hilarious:

    He has presided over a strong economy and built up a solid support base by investing in healthcare, education and infrastructure.

    But the 64-year-old has also polarised opinion, cracking down on opponents and putting some 160,000 people in jail.

    It comes to something when the BBC is more even handed about someone who has jailed over a hundred thousand political opponents than the elected US President.

    The BBC does like a Strong Man (if he is the right sort).

  10. “They merely have to say “sort out North Cyprus or leave NATO” and they’ll leave. No need to kick them out.”

    There is no evidence that they have any intention of leaving. Ever.

    They have (and continue to) invested too much in infrastructure apart from anything else.

  11. Opposition and enemy is two different things. In Poland, they fighting their judges and lawyer`s as well.

    Their only law is to bring in as much immigrants as possible and make as much damage to Poland and Polish people as they can. Because of irrational pure hatred.

    You can not let such people run amok only because they call themselves a “opposition” . They are Forth Generation warfare enemy fighters and must treated as such.

    Maybe Erdogan and Putin methods are not the best but what to do with all those educated open minded bleeding heart people ? Keep them loose until they succeed another 1917 ?

  12. If we get millions of Turkish refugees as well as all the others we really will be screwed.

  13. If the NYT say that its a bad thing, then I kind of think it may be a good thing. Yes, no doubt about it the old guard don’t like strong men, they prefer nancy boys, and where have the old guard actually got us to. Erdogan the Sultan will definitely feature in something big going down in the near term and he can start by playing some head games with the EU simply by threatening to opening up his borders to let the refugees in. Then there is the nukes at Incirlik air base just for good measure.

    “Trump, who has yet to appoint an ambassador to Turkey, has gone further, fulsomely calling Erdogan “a friend of mine” who gets “very high marks” for his leadership.”

    https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/22/opinion/trump-arms-an-adversary.html

  14. Tim–I wasn’t thinking about any of the points you mentioned in your reply.

    I just don’t want any more of them over here is all.

  15. It’s generally not a great idea to have someone in a mutual-aid club if they do not share the same basic values and objectives as the rest of the club. NATO is no longer an anti-commie league, so now politicians (particularly ones who want, for various reasons, to de-emphasise it becoming by default an “anti-Russian league” instead) seem to feel a need to make it stand for something rather than against it. So it has become a more explicitly Euro-Atlantic “Western” project, with a liberal-democratic and rights-based concept of “Western” that no longer sits easily with dodgy dictators who – provided they were in some shade other than red – might previously have been welcome.

    Incidentally, if you have to cede the club political and economic power over you, it probably isn’t a great idea to join a club if you don’t share its long-run objectives. Or if your political and bureaucratic class does, but the populace beneath them don’t – because however many decades later, that decision is likely to catch up with you. (Hello Ted, cheers Nige.) On the other hand, NATO membership brings some security guarantees, underwritten by the world’s greatest military power, yet has far fewer strings attached. Indeed, even if you don’t meet the financial commitments you signed up to, nobody seems to kick you out… and if in an emergency you decided you didn’t actually want to declare war on a nuclear ex-superpower or send thousands of your troops to certain doom after all, just because Russian troops have crossed a border into some tiny country thousands of miles away with no significant economic or cultural links to you, I daresay you would get away with reneging on the military commitments too. You would likely be kicked out of the alliance but at that point, given the rocket-shaped and nuclear-tipped alternatives, it might well be a price worth paying.

    So while we may be in for some diplomatic spats and hissy-fits yet, while the benefits-costs ratio of membership remains as it does, I can’t see Turkey volunteering to leave the umbrella. On the other hand, there are some good reasons for other members to start seriously thinking about why they are committing themselves to protect Turkey, particularly if its leadership is no longer “tame” and predictable. If a conflict occurs that Erdogan or his successors is widely interpreted as having provoked in the first place, would they honestly go to his rescue? (The NATO expansion to the Baltic was very provocative to Russia but raises many of the same question marks – we have a paper commitment to protect Estonia in the event of a border dispute, but just how much would we really be willing to do?)

    If Warsaw Pact tanks had rolled into West Germany, everyone was pretty sure what the inevitable consequences would be. At the fringes of NATO now, I’m not so sure, and I don’t think national leaders can be either. I don’t like that uncertainty – there may be benefits to flexibility, but grey areas promote uncertainty and miscalculation. Easier to act provocatively if you have a (potentially false) sense of security, for example. I think Western powers would do themselves a favour if they had a careful think-through of exactly how committed they would be to protect Turkey, and in what circumstances, and on the flip side, to what extent they expect to ever benefit from Turkish guarantees to come to their aid. But that should probably be part of a more thorough rethink of what NATO is for in general.

    (Re the fate of Cyprus, or territorially disputed islands, one benefit of keeping Turkey in NATO is that it renders any Turkish-Greek conflict an “internal” one, relieving the other allies of any pressure to intervene on one side or the other. I suspect somewhere on the list of planners’ “bad scenarios on a 20-year timescale” is a nationalist Turkey, with armament and/or financial or political backing from some subset of Russia, Iran or China, getting into a military confrontation with a US and European-backed Greece. There’s a potential flashpoint there for the foreseeable future, in a way that e.g. the Franco-German border isn’t.)

  16. You can’t beat geography. Turkey and Russia are bound to be antagonists.

  17. “The chattering classes in [the USA] had no problem ridiculing [Donald Trump] during his slow rise to power either, confident they could contain him while dismissing his supporters as backward reactionaries that could be defeated by sophisticated discussions among themselves. At no point did the elites in [DC and NYC] listen to his supporters to figure out why they were voting for him, and look at ways to persuade these millions of people to come on board with their own policies. Perhaps they believed that beating him at the ballot box wasn’t necessary and they could just remove someone who didn’t do their bidding by other means? And look how that worked out.”
    Fixed it for you.

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