Erdogan’s Paper Tigers

The world, in order to rule Turkey with the help of the IMF, cannot stand our situation, where we have come so far. (Ahmet Arslan, Minister of Transport, Maritime Affairs and Transportation – 4 December 2016)

We are in favour of the EU, of the criteria, of the West. Due to racist movements inside your body, you are attempting to make Turkey pay for it. If this turns out to be a double standard and if you disregard your all your criteria because of your policies, we shall be the one who worry about your direction. (Faruk Celik, Minister of Food, Agriculture and Livestock, 4 December 2016)

Those, who could not defeat us with tanks and rifles, are now attempting to destroy with economic strike. My brothers and sisters who have dollars under their pillows, invest these on gold and Turkish Lira. (Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President of Turkey, 4 December 2016)

Creating paper tigers, dark enemies and a ‘cocktail of terrorist groups’ that have no common ground in reality is a daily political activity in Ankara. Unfortunately, the domestic repression takes different forms every day in Turkey. All of a sudden, it is the EU looked down on. Then, it is the whole word that wants to destroy the Turkish economy a few minutes later.  These might easily seem as naively uttered words targeting the domestic audiences. To a significant extent, yes, this is correct. However, the institutional damage this order of discourses has caused (both inside and with the West) is beyond any quick estimation.

Levent Guntekin, who writes for Turkish daily Diken, righteously asks an important question: “What is Erdogan trying to do?” Guntekin questions two foreign policy choices. The first case is about the shift of Erdogan’s discourse on Turkey’s military operations within Syrian territories. Suddenly, Erdogan dropped the use of the ‘ISIS’ (as a justification to be used to the West) and the ‘YPG’ (‘People’s Protection Units’, as another justification to be used domestically). Instead, he said that the operation was aimed to defeat the Assad regime which engendered serious reactions from Moscow. The question is that why would someone use such a dangerous sentence that could show Ankara as an ‘aggressive invader’, especially at a time when relations with Moscow are being ameliorated? Secondly, while Turkey is experiencing an economic hardship due to an immense increase in the value of the U.S. Dollar against the Turkish Lira and a political rift  with the EU, why would someone continue to target the West and dismiss foreign investment channels?

The answer is right in front of us. Erdogan’s political investment is based on a simple domestic strategy: Channel your efforts into dividing the line between ‘us’ and ‘them’ as sharp as possible;  marginalise the difference (at the expense of repudiating it tomorrow); and aggressively challenge the arguments of your opponents. Any other calculation is conditioned on the course of actions deriving from this equation. Hence, Turkish foreign policy has no character to build on; any challenging discourse is a temporary pursuit of the perceived conjuncture. This has, of course, reflections domestically too. For instance, last week, the prosecutor of the Mavi Marmara case announced that it should be dropped because of the agreement reached between Turkey and Israel.

Another challenge comes from Yasemin Oney Cankurtaran, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) Vice President. Cankurtaran argues that Erdogan’s suggestion to exchange the U.S. dollars with the Turkish Lira is a trick because it would do the opposite effect; as it would increase the value of the dollar. Since Turkey’s importation of gold is higher than its exportation, massive shift on the purchase of gold will automatically make dollar more valuable. So, the real question is that what does Erdogan really want? Is to save millions’ future as it is proposed? Or is to maintain his classic strategy; to show that he is the only solution; and secure his seat with a new title and a new constitution?

 

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