The rise of Erdogan’s party the AKP is no coincidence. He has been a recipient of major money from Gulf Arab backers, and thus leveraged an Islamic brand, and the financial support that comes with it, to gain power and enrich himself and his cohorts.
- An alliance with Gulf Arab states: This, my friends, is his first blunder. Yes, the money was good. Yes, that led to winning multiple elections. Yes, it propelled his part and him to power. However, what is good for the AKP is NOT strategically good for Turkey. He has in effect become a puppet of these Arab states. A pawn. In addition, he is executing a “Gulf Arab” strategy for Turkey NOT what is in the best interests of Turkey alone. Their interests are not exactly the same. In fact, I would argue this is a major blunder. It will lead to serious setbacks and distractions for Turkey. That will ultimately lead to its break up and demise. Read on.
- An Alliance with Israel: This Turkish alliance with Gulf Arab states, has led to a tacit (covert) alliance with Israel too. In case readers had not noticed, it is now clear that Saudi Arabia, Qatar and UAE have aligned with Israel. After Palestinian guest workers turned against Kuwait during Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, all Gulf-Arab states changed alliances (if you will). Now, these states also share an interest in toppling Assad’s regime and supporting ISIS’s drive across Iraq to build a new Sunni state buffer Iran’s influence in Shiite Iraq. All for one major reason: to get pipelines across to Turkey to export gas to Europe. Thus the prospect of gas transit fees is luring Erdogan to adventures in neighboring states that are not good for Turkey in the long run. He has become a tool for Israel too… underwriting ISIS’s butchery. By the way, in case you are questioning Israel’s role, note that over 1400 injured anti-Assad and ISIS fighters have been treated in Israeli hospitals near the Syrian border. This is a major blunder for Erdogan.
- Supporting the Rise of ISIS: In a rush to topple Assad and undermine Shiite Iraq, Turkey has systematically provided arms and sanctuary to groups like ISIS. This is NOT good. As a glaring example of Turkey’s role, consider the second siege of Kobane last week. Kobane is actually a city with primarily Kurdish residents. Turkey enabled ISIS to attack the city from its northern (Turkish) side i.e. gave ISIS privileged access to Turkey– yes, they crossed the border, and attacked Kobane. And as they penetrated the city killed off over 200 civilians. Once again, ISIS’s attack was repelled by Kurdish fighters. But the Kurds will NOT forget this. And Turkey has a huge Kurdish population. ISIS will, for sure, be defeated. But the next round of this war will be against ISIS’s backers.
- Undermining the Kurds: In the process of aligning with Gulf Arabs, Israel and ISIS, Erdogan has in effect pushed the Kurds (who were once allied with Israel) into Iranian hands, and destabilized Iraq. Iraq’s fragile unity has been compromised to a point where now everyone is talking about its balkanization into 3 states. The Kurds, who have never had their own independence … it seems… will finally have their own land locked, Armenia type, country. And Erdogan should know better than anyone else that this means doom for Turkey. It will NOT take long for an independent Kurdistan to push its national aspirations into Turkey – where by the way – there are more Kurds than all other countries combined. Splintering Iraq will lead to splintering Turkey. He, nor future governments after him, will be able to stop the Kurds. And, more importantly, he has forced the Kurds to increase their connectivity to Iran. Much like Shiite Iraq, Kurdistan will become a surrogate of Iran’s revolutionary guards. A land locked nation at war with Turkey will by default depend on commodity supplies from Iran, AND look to Syrian ports that are closest to Mosul for imports. It’s inevitable. And this is another major Turkish blunder. Iraqi unification was actually Turkey’s best bet for peace with the Kurds and he has now blown it.
- Hands Off relationship with Iran: If Turkey wants to maximize its income from Gas transit fees, and then surely Iranian versus Arab and Israeli supply is the key. Iran has the world’s second largest reserves of gas, and it already has pipelines to Turkey. The Nuclear standoff with Iran is about to end, and Iran will become both a major exporter of oil and gas but more importantly a major market. Turkey has MORE to gain from an alliance with Iran, than to become a pawn for Gulf-Arab states. In fact, it is a good bet that his Gulf-Arab sponsors are unlikely to be around for long. They are all dictators. They are sitting on suppressed and oppressed Shiite populations that can (and likely will) turn against their dictators. Erdogan, has quite literally, picked the wrong horse. Iran is the future. Everyone knows that. And the Arab Spring, surely, will rear its ugly head soon on the Southern side of the Persian Gulf. Iran can supply more gas, faster to Turkey … and thus maximize revenues for Turkey without the need for sponsoring war in Syria, Iraq and beyond. And by the way, why should ISIS stop at Iraq’s southern border? Why should ISIS not walk into Saudi Arabia … After conquering western Iraq? He should be embracing Iran! This is a major strategic blunder. (And before, there is a comment on this, let me be clear, I mean embracing the Iranian population… not the regime. Iran’s regime will inevitably moderate. Iran, at least has elections (that are NOT transparent, but a process at least), Saudi Arabia has nothing).
And the Plus One: Looking West when he should be looking East. Yes, there are actually almost a 1 Billion people that have Pan-Turkish heritage to Turkey’s East. Places as far away as Urumchi in China speak Turkish. And these nations in Central Asia are the future. China will be importing energy from Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan … and soon the streets of Samarkand will be paved with gold. No? In fact, Turkey should be forming an alliance with Iran to create a Central Asia Union of ALL THE STANS… leveraging Persian and Turkish influence and heritage to create a new Union like the European Union. Turkey and Iran could play the same role Germany and France have played in the formation of the EU! And all the Stans will then become interconnected and create a new Union (that I have called the Median Union [after the Medes Tribe that occupied much of that area thousands of years ago, and also to use a term that is synonymous with Centrality). Looking East means interconnectivity with China, that will soon become the largest economy in the world … leaving the U.S. and Europe behind. The future is East – NOT West. He has been pushing hard for European Union membership, when in fact he should be looking for better connections to Turkey’s east. This is a significant strategic blunder. Big mistake.
Perhaps you might have expected me to say, that his efforts to change Turkey’s constitution was a mistake too. Maybe! But so far the people of Turkey have pushed back on this. The AKP lost seats and lost a lot of prestige inside Turkey. And guess what, the Kurdish Party INSIDE TURKEY is on the ascendancy. I am thinking his days are numbered. But more importantly, Turkey needs a major strategic shift in direction.