Turkey’s prisoner dilemma

Turkey’s prisoner dilemma

Spending a weekend in Germany is a mind-opener. It gives any person who is living under the constant news bombardment in Turkey time and space to see the real Europe that is not told to us on pro-government TV stations. It tells the story of a world that Turkey is slowly slipping away from, a world becoming more sensitive to human needs and more in synch with the environment, a world completely unlike Turkey.

As emergency rule continues in Turkey, businesspeople are having a harder time finding export markets. With every decree issued from Ankara, European partners and buyers are getting more edgy about doing trade with Turkey. A very important businesswoman told me over the weekend that she is having difficulty getting her customers to come to Turkey to visit the factories. “They say they don’t want to come,” she told me, “some of them, especially Americans, question whether we would be able to deliver the goods.” Such an image does not happen overnight. You may be producing and creating the best product in the industry, but if your country’s image is in ruins nobody will want to be your customer. 

Europe is going through its own change these days. After Trump’s victory, French and German nationalists came together for a gathering in Koblenz to discuss the future of the EU. But on the streets of Germany one does not feel the anxiety that sinks into Istanbul every day. There is hardly even one poor Syrian woman or child begging. Unlike the “old and dying Europe” cliché that is told over and over in Turkey’s pro-Justice and Development Party (AKP) press, young European families with at least two kids are very common. In front of my hotel in Dusseldorf, an electricity run-BMW is charging its batteries. Healthy eating and active lifestyles are everywhere and you don’t see a single obese woman on the streets. Europe may not be a successful political experiment for the time being, but it is obviously a solid and healthy social and cultural structure.

Ankara is putting all its eggs in the Trump basket these days, which poses a greater challenge than one can foresee. I remember the Erdoğanist media eight years ago back when Barack Obama was entering the Oval Office. There were conspiracy theories everywhere. “He is a black man, the U.S. deep state will not let him do the things he wants,” they wrote. “He will be pro-Muslim and he could get assassinated,” one strongly pro-AKP columnist wrote. After eight years, we are now hearing the same “deep-state” “anti-establishment” talk about Trump on some of Turkey’s TV stations and newspapers. 

What conservatives in Turkey do not get is that America is built on checks and balances. Trump’s anti-Gülen policies may please you, but you will be shocked to hear how pro-Israel his Middle Eastern agenda is. The AKP’s hawks may cherish the thought that Trump dislikes Iran, but they may be in for a “prisoner’s dilemma” if they read between the lines of Trump’s Secretary of Defense General James Mattis and his National Security Advisor General Mike Flynn. And by the way, not every advisor to Trump can be lobbied by cash.

Talking about your shopping list with President Trump everyday will not open up doors for you. Being pragmatic and open for business may do so. And for that, Ankara needs to lift the emergency rule immediately and release the journalists in jail. That will send a stronger message to the capitals that are looking for Turkey to be a beacon for the Middle East again.