Turkey’s unconvincing narrative is its own worst enemy

Turkey’s unconvincing narrative is its own worst enemy

When he rose to power and launched “pro-democracy” reforms in the first few years of his governance [fake reforms, this columnist has persistently argued since] then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had a golden opportunity: An Islamist leader winning praise across almost the entire world, East and West. 

Then two major problems occurred: First, having consolidated power, and with newfound self-confidence, Mr. Erdoğan decided to be more real than fake, and he pressed the button to implement his not-so-public agenda. He would Islamize Turkey and revive the fallen empire that his beloved ancestors had built. His second mistake was his failure to see the gross discrepancy between Turkey’s political resources and its ambitions. He therefore fell victim to self-aggrandizing. His credit quickly diminished East and West, and among Turkey’s “useful idiots.” 

Meanwhile, he firmly believed his powers of persuasion, East and West, and among the same “useful idiots.” For instance he believed that his narrative was convincing when, for instance, he peacefully opposed sectarian wars in this part of the world while discreetly and passionately pursuing sectarian ambitions. He thought he was convincing when he smiled to mullahs in Tehran. He thought he could convince Moscow to abandon the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. 

He thought, just like in the past, he could convince the West that he was democratically ruling a country that more than deserved EU membership. He thought he would be the hero on the Arab Street just by constantly brawling with Israel and officially fueling anti-Semitism at home. He thought Turks and Kurds could live happily ever after, united under Sunni Islam.

Mr. Erdoğan almost believed (or said he believed) that the entire world was Turkey’s enemy – except Sunni Muslims, who he thought (or said he thought) - wanted to live once again under the Turkish-Ottoman flag.
Suddenly, he found out, at a big price, that it was not a good idea to make too many enemies - big or small, but always dangerous, both abroad and at home. Turkey became a theater of unprecedented wars of terrorism, with no winners. Then it became a scene of a disgraceful coup attempt by his one-time Islamist allies – his best allies once united under Islam. Ironically, he had to find out by way of trial and error that intimidating non-Islamist soldiers was no remedy to prevent a coup, that there could also be Islamist coup attempts.

At this stage of “Turkish affairs,” this columnist would suggest that Mr. Erdoğan’s new rhetoric is at some level an attempt to cheat the audience, blaming all of Turkey’s misfortunes on a “mastermind” that is determined to stop Turkey’s “inexorable rise.” 

In the new narrative, Turkey is a theater of war: Its Western allies are not loyal enough allies; there are countries with clandestine operatives who want to set Turkey on fire only because they do not want Turkey to build a third bridge over the Bosporus or a third airport in Istanbul. It will not bring anything good to Turkey if, instead of trying to cheat, Mr. Erdoğan genuinely believes that theory. 

“Turkey news” around the world over the past five or six years has predominantly been tragic: Demonstrations, death, hundreds of people in prison on fabricated charges, undemocratic practices of every possible way “a la Third World,” the world’s poorest scores in democratic culture, repeated acts of terror, near-wars, civil wars, perilous political polarization, a visible rise in religious and ethnic nationalism and, ultimately, a coup attempt. 

The judiciary has metamorphosed from strict secularism into strict Gülenism and now into strict Erdoğanism. Hence Mr. Erdoğan’s unconvincing narrative that the Turkish judiciary is independent. 

Mr. Erdoğan and his men will keep facing the global consequences of their bad narrative in the foreseeable future. Still, if they – surprisingly - change track today and decide to run Turkey like any other democratic – or “normal” - country in more civilized parts of the world they could win some credit which they can cash in within a few years. 

This columnist’s bet is that they will not opt for the latter path. Instead, they will try to put into action another fake narrative, thinking that this time it will work.