US sanctions, glue for cracks in Turkish society

US sanctions, glue for cracks in Turkish society

Turkey’s foreign policy is constantly being analyzed from the perspective of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s domestic political agenda. A foreign policy move coming from Turkey is immediately followed by a cost-benefit analysis for the country’s leader. There is no doubt that foreign policy issues have become increasingly intertwined with the domestic agenda during the rule of Justice and Development Party (AK Party).

While foreign policy had remained largely above domestic politics during most of the Republican history, the acute polarization that started and deepened during the course of the past two decades has changed this tradition.

Some of Turkey’s foreign policy decisions have not seen an across-the-board support from the society, as some of the opponents of the AK Party objected to these decisions simply because they were taken by this government.

This might have led some foreign decision-makers and opinion leaders to conclude that Turkey’s foreign policy decisions are motivated by the requirements of the domestic agenda and that they are not supported by the majority of the nation.

While there is a truth to that, this understanding does not apply at all times.

One would wish that Turkey had not become so involved with the civil unrest and the ensuing war in Syria. One would wish Turkey had spent more efforts to hold the ceasefire with the illegal PKK and brought the peace initiative to fruition.

One would have hoped that Turkey was able to maintain the dialogue that was established with the leaders of the Syrian Kurds at the beginning of the war and Turks and Syrian Kurds fought ISIL together. One would have hoped that instead of showing hesitations, Turkey had played a more decisive role in saving the Kurdish enclave Kobane from ISIL siege.

There might be a sizeable segment among the Turkish society that believes that if the YPG, the PKK’s Syrian wing, has gained tremendous reputation in the eyes of the world and consolidated its gains in Syria, this was also due to the mistakes made by Turkey’s decision makers.

But these same segments would not have rejoiced seeing Turkey’s southern border becoming under the control of an organization that they consider uncontestably as a terror organization.

Yet, Turkish officials’ calls to its Western allies that the “security issue” east of Euphrates was a matter of existential threat went to deaf ears.

Some thought military operations in Syria were motivated by Erdoğan’s need to change the agenda, as the deterioration of the economy started to take its toll on the daily lives of millions with limited income.

Maybe another leadership in Ankara would not have committed the same mistakes that ended Turkey in the current situation in Syria.

But looking at where we are now, another leadership would not have let the tactical cooperation between the YPG and the West turn into a permanent one. Another administration would have also stepped in to avoid the creation of a Kurdish statelet in northeastern Syria without an overall political solution to Syria.

Having said that, one needs to underline that while not much convincing was needed for the necessity of the last operation, people are not going to forget the mistakes made in Syria in the past, people are not going to forget who is responsible for the deterioration in the economy either.

Yet, the more the anti-Erdoğan campaign gains vigor in the West, the more Turkish president will be able to consolidate the Turkish nation’s support behind him.

The more Turkey’s Western allies resort to “weapons” such as the recognition of Armenians’ claim of genocide, the more they will push the opponents of Erdoğan away from the West and more towards silence and inaction. The more there are efforts to implement humiliating sanctions against Turkey, the more these will act as glues for the cracks that have been appearing in the pro-AK Party camp in Turkey.