Turkey becomes the land of the paranoid
The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) last month threatened to attack the only outside territory that belongs to Turkey; a tiny stretch of land in Syria that holds the tomb of Süleyman Shah, the grandfather of Osman, the first Ottoman sultan whose name the empire went on to carry. The ISIS threatened to attack the tomb if Ankara did not take the Turkish flag down and pull out its soldiers (25 in total).
In other words, a terrorist group has threatened to attack Turkey. Full stop. The small Turkish contingent is in a vulnerable situation; their lives are in danger and Turkey’s dignity at stake.
What happens next? The foreign minister, an undersecretary of the foreign ministry, the head of the intelligence agency, and a top commander meet to discuss how to handle the threat. This is what happens in any country when faced with a military threat.
But the moment people listened to their conversation, which was leaked only few days before the elections, there was an outcry in social media by the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) opponents: “This is warmongering, the government wants to create a crisis and enter a war with Syria in order to increase its votes in the local elections.”
Is the ISIS an imaginary organization? No? Is the threat real?
Suppose for a moment that it were not real. What makes AKP opponents believe that some kind of a military action in Syria would increase the votes of the political party that takes this decision?
Turkey’s past harbors examples of electoral defeat for political parties that have taken military action.
The most notorious is the late Bülent Ecevit, who lost the elections immediately after the 1974 intervention in Cyprus. The electorate did not necessarily punish him for the military action, but he was certainly not rewarded for it either. Military action in Syria is extremely risky under the current circumstances; success and therefore electoral victory based on that is not guaranteed.
But the crucial point is this: As much as we can suppose the threat might not be real, we can also suppose the contrary. What if it is real? Isn’t it normal for top state officials to discuss every possible option?
The Syrian plane was shot down a few days before the elections. Again, there was uproar among the AKP’s opponents, accusing the government of unnecessarily taking down the plane just to raise nationalist sentiments, which would supposedly increase the AKP’s votes.
But what if the contrary is true? The Syrian regime is angry at Turkey. Perhaps Turkey and Syria are not in war with each other, as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said during his electoral victory speech. However, there is every reason for the Syrian regime to be hostile against Turkey and use every means to inflict damage on Turkey. And do we think that Bashar al-Assad and his team are idiots? Don’t they follow the internal situation in Turkey? Wouldn’t it be wise on their part to make provocations to make the government’s life difficult under these circumstances and challenge the engagement rules that Turkey has declared on the border?
In short, it is highly likely that we have a situation where Turkey is threatened by some enemies (be they state or non-state actors); yet half of the country might not be convinced about it. How can you handle such a threat if you do not have half of the country behind you?
This is the result of polarization. Who is responsible? Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who refuses to be the prime minister of the whole country, and who bases his whole strategy on pitting one side against the other.
This is the result of the loss of trust in state institutions. Who’s fault is it? Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who is trying to turn state institutions to pro-AKP mechanisms, arguing that it is simply “cleansing” them of parallel structures.
Following the local elections, the opposition parties are using official mechanisms to register their objections. What happens? AKP opponents flock to the front of the Supreme Election Board (YSK). Why do they do this when opposition parties are using the legal mechanisms? Are they impatient? No, they don’t trust the institutions.
How can a country be run like this, when there is a serious erosion of confidence, with everyone becoming suspicious of anything and everything done by the government and state institutions?
Suspicion reaching the limits of paranoia will mean a serious national security problem. This is not the fault of the paranoid, it is the fault of those who are pushing them to that paranoia.