Erdoğan’s game plan
In the opening session of the first ever United Nations World Humanitarian Summit, which started in Istanbul on May 23, Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan strongly criticized the U.N.’s inability to take and execute decisive moves to address man-made crises, giving the example of the Syria civil war.
“The world is bigger than five,” Erdoğan said, not for the first time challenging the veto power of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council: The U.S., Russia, China, the U.K. and France.
For Erdoğan it is not important whether he gets any concrete results - such as getting Turkey included in the club of world powers - by playing the “Muslim but democratic” card. It is more important to be heard by Turkey and the world’s weaker nations as the leader defending their pride by carrying the flags of both Turkish nationalism and Islam.
Erdoğan has taken the same stance over criticism from German Chancellor Angela Merkel over the vote last week in parliament to lift the immunities of more than 130 MPs (out of 550), which could lead to them being removed from parliament and put in jail. He has also rejected demands from the European Union regarding Turkey’s anti-terror law, which Brussels wants to be amended before Turkish citizens are given visa-free travel rights as a part of a broader refugee deal. Erdoğan senses there is a limit to Merkel’s criticism, as it is more important for her to make the refugee deal work.
Erdoğan uses Turkey’s ability to stop or considerably decrease the flow of refugees triggered by the war in Syria as leverage in relations with the EU. He also uses the international fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) - DAESH with Arabic initials - as leverage in relations with the U.S. The telephone conversation between U.S. President Barack Obama and Erdoğan on May 18 led to a series of moves against ISIL, such as the visit of U.S. Central Command General Joseph Votel to the Kurdish-controlled regions of northern Syria, then visiting Ankara, as a part of the joint offense against ISIL. Will Washington’s decision to continue to use the Democratic Union Party (PYD) forces in Syria, aware of their links with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), further antagonize relations between Turkey and the U.S.? Not very likely, since the U.S. is also still giving support to Turkey’s fight against the PKK’s headquarters in northern Iraq.
All this is taking place at a time when Erdoğan is consolidating his power in Turkish politics, pushing a shift from the parliamentary system to a presidential system. After sidelining former prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who he thought was starting to follow a more independent line as the head of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti), Erdoğan gave the mandate to form a new cabinet to Transport Minister Binali Yıldırım, who is among the president’s closest confidants. Never questioning the authority of Erdoğan, Yıldırım is not even showing up in Istanbul for such an important international event as the U.N.
Humanitarian Summit, probably in order to not distract world leaders as an alternative center of power.
That is actually Erdoğan’s game plan: To let all concerned, inside and outside the country, know that there is only one address of power left in Turkey come to agreements with.