Who are the useful idiots, the Americans or the Turks?

Who are the useful idiots, the Americans or the Turks?

The term “useful idiots” became popular in Turkey thanks to the Justice and Development Party (AKP). The staunchest opponents of the AKP accused liberals of providing “legitimacy” to a political party that they claimed had a “hidden agenda.” 

It is indeed true that in the initial years the AKP leadership harbored an excellent relationship with “liberal journalists.” But after 2010, when the AKP solidified its position and gained more self-confidence, the liberals and the ruling party went their separate ways.

Hasan Cemal, a prominent liberal journalist who initially supported the AKP, was once addressed as “Hasan abi,” (“abi” meaning “older brother”) as a sign of respect by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. But two years ago he was fired from the newspaper in which he had written for years after Erdoğan directly criticized him at a public rally. Yesterday, Cemal had to testify to the prosecutor, charged with “insulting” President Erdoğan.

In the eyes of the die-hard Kemalists/secularists who could never properly analyze the popularity of the AKP among the less-advantaged masses, the liberals were the useful idiots that helped the AKP stay in power. 

However, the AKP would have remained in power even if the liberals had not supported it. The fact remains that the liberals were also seen as useful idiots by the AKP leadership. The best proof of that is the confession that came in 2013 from Aziz Babuşçu, the head of the AKP’s Istanbul provisional organization. 

‘’Those who were with us, this way or that, over our 10-year-long administration, will not be with us in the coming years. Although they were not able to digest [accept] us, the liberals had become with us. But the future is now a period of ‘construction.’ This period of construction will not be to their liking,” Babuşçu said. Although later he tried to “correct” his words, it is pretty obvious what he meant.

In a previous article, I have written that the Saudi administration remained untouchable thanks to the U.S.-Europe-Israel troika. In the eyes of many AKP opponents, the AKP came to and remained in power also thanks to the Americans and Europeans - mainly thanks to Washington. 

The relationship between the AKP administration and the Obama administration certainly does have similarities with the relationship between the AKP and the liberals. In January 2012, Obama listed Erdoğan as being among the five world leaders with whom he has the closest personal ties.

But the divergence of views on - especially over Egypt, Syria, and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) - has reached such a point that Washington has made it known to Ankara that Obama will no longer pick up the phone if Erdoğan calls.

Relations have taken a new turn (again following a phone conversation between Obama and Erdoğan) since Turkey let the U.S. use the İncirlik airbase to fight ISIL. The Turks have become the new useful idiots, as none of their conditions for giving a red light to open the İncirlik airbase were met by Washington: Creating a no-fly/safe zone or getting rid of Bashar al–Assad as a first priority. 

But for the AKP, the Americans are useful idiots too. 

Although Turkey said it was joining the fight against ISIL, its jets actually started to bomb outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) targets, pushing Turkey into a spiral of violence that puts free and fair elections in jeopardy. What’s more, the U.S. has been so idle in the face of the AKP government’s many antidemocratic practices that Erdoğan continues to enjoy a free ride as he bids to satisfy his ambitions for one-man rule.