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Erdogans Turkey in danger of imperial overwork




Erdogans Turkey in danger of imperial overwork

Recep Tayyip Erdogan surrounded by soldiers in Ottoman Empire army uniforms, 2015 (Reuters)

Since 2003, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has dominated his country like a colossus, dominating his political discourse in all respects. To survive and thrive in this cutting and pushing political culture, it takes skill, brains and, most importantly, ruthless cunning. But, with success, as the ancients tell us, often comes the pride of excessive self-confidence, which can lead to ruin. And, in pushing his signature, expansionist neo-Ottoman foreign policy beyond its limits, Erdogan has bit more empire than Turkey can chew.
On its surface, Erdogans neo-Ottomanism corresponds perfectly to the tenor of the time. The emboldened Republic of Turkey’s desire to influence more strongly the ancient regions of its predecessor, the centuries-old sultanate centered in Istanbul, coincides with our new era of loose bipolarity, where the two superpowers, the United States and China, have much less control over others. great powers just below them, like India, Russia, Europe, Japan, and the Anglosphere, in terms of power.
Erdogan, seeing a revived Turkey as a potential great power in its own right alongside these others, sees the opportunity to define for the first time a largely independent Turkish foreign policy in such a favorable world system.
Reflexively, Erdogan resolved the age-old question of Turkey’s basic cultural orientation by going back to the days of Ottoman rule, where the answer was both and neither. Like the Ottomans, Erdogan sees his country as both West and Middle Eastern oriented, and also as entirely separate from the two regions due to its unique historical and cultural dual situation.
Given this shared vision of identity, Erdogans’ Turkey, while wishing to play a role in European politics, shifted its focus to the Middle East, in particular to the former possessions of the Ottoman empires in Greece, in Syria, Iraq and North Africa, hoping to expand. its power and influence in this traditional bastion.
But, as has happened literally dozens of times in history, in practice Erdogan has embarked on an imperial overtaking, making more commitments than he can handle. Currently, Turkey is directly involved in the civil war in Libya, supporting the Government of National Accord (GNA) faction in Tripoli against the forces spread around Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who in turn is supported by Russia, France and Egypt.
In June, Turkey at least temporarily bolstered the then GNA, providing it with weapons, drone technology and mercenaries. However, getting out of failed states is often much more difficult than getting in. At present, Ankara does not have a visible strategy for accomplishing the great task of winning the war, helping to establish a stable, pro-Turkish government, and then withdrawing at any time. the near future.
At the same time, Ankara also retained an important military and geographic position in neighboring northern Syria, occupying swathes of land in an attempt to both stop the influx of refugees and prevent Syrian Kurdish forces. to cross the border effortlessly to help Kurdistan. Workers Party (PKK), the indigenous Turkish Kurdish group that has been Ankara’s deadly enemy for decades.
If that wasn’t enough, Erdogan also continues the traditional Turkish practice of supporting a government in the northern divided island of Cyprus. In fact, it has also shifted to a much more aggressive posture in the eastern Mediterranean, with the Turkish navy actively challenging ships in waters recognized by the international community as belonging to Greece, a ruling Ankara defiantly refuses to support. These are potentially large deposits of natural gas, of great value to a perpetually thirsty Turkey.
To facilitate this much more expansionary regional strategy, Erdogan also built bases in Qatar (completed in 2019) and in Bashiqa in Iraq. All of these movements must be seen as part of a strategic whole, at the base of Erdogans’ neo-Ottoman efforts to decisively extend Turkish power in the region.
But you can’t run an empire on the cheap. The fatal flaw in Erdogans’ feverish neo-Ottoman dream is that Turkey is simply not the great power he imagines it to be. In the case of Ankaras, the structural problems endemic to its economy make such an expansionary foreign policy totally unsustainable in the long term.

Turkey’s endemic structural problems with its economy make such an expansionary foreign policy utterly unsustainable in the long run.

Dr John C. Hulsman

The devastating effects of the pandemic on Turkey’s economy are clear. In September, the Turkish lira slipped to a historically low level. In a desperate effort to prevent the currency from plunging further, the government blew up nearly half of the $ 65 billion foreign exchange reserves it had at the start of this year. Inflation remains stubbornly high, hitting nearly 12% in August. Finally, Turkey’s gross domestic product was pulverized in the second quarter of 2020, almost entirely due to the coronavirus disease lockdown. It fell 9.9 percent year over year, the worst such figure in more than a decade. To put it mildly, these devastating statistics do not facilitate the conduct of a neo-Ottoman foreign policy.
Instead, these numbers represent facts on the ground that simply cannot be resolved in the long term. The grandiose neo-Ottoman dream of the Erdogans is doomed for the most pedestrian, and historically common, of the reasons that its expansionist dreams have far outstripped Turkey’s economic realities.

  • Dr. John C. Hulsman is President and Managing Partner of John C. Hulsman Enterprises, a leading global political risk consultancy. He is also a senior columnist for City AM, the City of London newspaper. He can be contacted via

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the editors of this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Arab News

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