Turkey’s Erdoğan aggressively courting Team Trump

Special to WorldTribune.com

By GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs staff in Ankara and Washinngton, D.C.

Turkish President Reçep Tayyip Erdoğan has moved rapidly to recapture U.S. strategic support by wooing the incoming U.S. Administration of President-elect Donald J. Trump.

President Erdoğan is attempting to stem Turkish economic collapse, Turkish expulsion from NATO, and total rejection of Turkey by the European Union. … And to enable him to resume his bid to dominate neighboring societies, and stop, once and for all, the Kurdish insurrection — the civil war — inside Turkey. All the while extricating himself from the dominance which Russia began in 2016.

Eric Trump with wife Lara.
Eric Trump with wife Lara.

President Erdoğan has made remarkable strides. He has convinced several of Mr. Trump’s team that (a) Turkey remains a loyal and important ally of the U.S. and NATO; and (b) Turkey’s strategic goals include the suppression of jihadist activities in the Levant and the Balkans.

The views on Turkey of incoming U.S. National Security Advisor Lt.-Gen. (ret.) Michael Flynn and, possibly, Defense Secretary-nominee Gen. (rtd.) James N. Mattis are decades out of date. By comparison, Turkey today, under Erdoğan, is far more different from the Turkey of President Halil Turgut Özal (1983-89) than, say Germany under Adolf Hitler (1933-45) compared with Germany under Emperor Wilhelm II (1888-1918).

The fact that Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., visited Turkey on a hunting trip after his father’s election, and that the President-elect has had positive commercial dealings in Turkey, compound the feeling in Ankara that Erdoğan has pulled off a coup with Washington.

The realities are far different in terms of Turkey’s present position: the Turkish economy is tanking (as forecast by this journal over the past few years); Turkey continues to be the key lifeline for jihadist groups operating in the Balkans, Syria, and Iraq; Turkey is struggling to escape from strategic control by Moscow (bearing in mind the overwhelming dependence which Turkey has on Russia for its economic wellbeing); Turkish blackmail of the EU over the control of migrant flows is now being rejected, even by German Chancellor Angela Merkel; Turkey’s attempts to insert itself into the Eastern Mediterranean gas network (largely controlled by Israel and Cyprus) are failing (and will fail rapidly with the absence of U.S. Barack Obama Administration pressure on Israel to accommodate Turkey); the progress being made by Russia and Syria toward the collapse of the heavily-Turkish-originated “civil war” in Syria; and the growing momentum of the Kurdish revolt against Ankara inside Turkey.

The irony, given President Erdoğan’s hatred of modern Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, is that the president is invoking the pro-Western, modernist view of Turkey to retain U.S. support, even though Turkey no longer represents this picture.

Moreover, the Turkish President is invoking Turkey’s invaluable position in “containing” Russia, even though Turkey’s present economic viability is now very much in the hands of Russia. Indeed, the dichotomy — or inconsistency — will become apparent early in 2017 as the Trump Administration attempts to normalize U.S. relations with Russia while at the same time believing that it can support Turkey, which is in a hidden war with Russia as it tries to escape Moscow’s domination.

There is little doubt but that the U.S. State Dept. will continue the Obama Administration’s policy of unquestioning support for Turkey (based on the historical view that Turkey is indispensable to the “containment” of Russia, even though the containment rationale has been overturned). But Moscow has played the long game. It has quietly neutered Turkey; it has ensured that the Balkans, now in large measure being sidelined by both the EU and the U.S., are given some support against Turkish pressures; and it has to a large extent stemmed Turkish adventurism in the region.

So Erdoğan grasps for straws to prevent the collapse of his post-Atatürk state, while he continues to consolidate absolute political control at home. In The Turkey Analyst of Dec. 14, 2016, Gareth H. Jenkins noted: “The package of proposed amendments to the Turkish constitution that were announced on December 10 foresee the gradual concentration of even more power in the hands of President Reçep Tayyip Erdoğan, leading to the introduction of a full presidential system in November 2019.

Yet recent events have shown that the more power Erdoğan exercises, the worse the situation in Turkey becomes.” Under the announcement by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the opposition Nationalist Action Party (MHP) of 21 proposed changes to the Constitution, the post of prime minister would be eliminated and the president would be the Head-of-State and Head-of-Government. From November 2019, Erdoğan would be able to rule for two additional successive five-year terms; in other words, until he was 74 years of age.