Can Turkey remain 'anchored to the West' under Erdoğan?

Can Turkey remain 'anchored to the West' under Erdoğan?

Reading Cansu Çamlıbel’s interview with U.S. Ambassador Francis Ricciardone in Monday’s Hurriyet Daily News, it was not difficult to cut through his diplomatically phrased remarks and discern the annoyance felt in Washington for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

This comes as no surprise since Erdoğan freely used anti-Western rhetoric, and hit at the United States in the lead-up to the local elections. He is also on record as saying that Ricciardone is in Turkey on sufferance, thus suggesting that if he wants he can boot the ambassador out at anytime.

Erdoğan’s remarks were based on unsubstantiated claims in the pro-government media about alleged interference in domestic politics by Ricciardone. The chance at U.S.-bashing for political gain was obviously too good to miss and Erdoğan used it unquestioningly, regardless of how destructive it was diplomatically.

It is clear that ties between Turkey and the U.S. are going though a delicate phase. They have been further aggravated as a result of the vocal criticism by Washington over the government-enforced Twitter and YouTube bans in Turkey.

It is unlikely, though, that these ties will come to a standstill, despite Erdoğan’s destructive attitude, because their strategic value is too high for both sides. Policy planners in Washington remain alert to Turkey’s important geographic location for the West, while the Crimean crisis has reminded level-headed officials in Ankara once again how important ties with the West continue to be for Turkey.

Clearly, however, there is little love lost between the West and Erdoğan. This was also discernible in remarks by Jean-Claude Juncker, the conservative center-right candidate for European Commission president, during last week’s congress of Germany’s ruling Christian Democratic Party.

Coming out in support of continuing EU membership talks with Ankara, Juncker – who nevertheless conceded that he does not foresee membership anytime soon under present circumstances – said these talks were being conducted with Turkey and not Erdoğan.

It seems that while Ricciardone may be in Turkey on sufferance as far as Erdoğan is concerned, Turkey will be kept anchored to the West by the U.S. and Europe for reasons that clearly transcend Erdoğan, who will in the meantime be tolerated by the West on sufferance.

Writing in the “The American Interests”
recently, Henry Barkey summed up the situation well.
“Erdoğan may have vanquished his opponents at home for the time being, but he has not recovered from the self-inflicted damage he has incurred abroad. The Erdoğan brand is severely damaged and diminished,” Barkey wrote.,

“His outlandish accusations against his allies for fomenting coups against him, his open interference in the media, and his ban on social media outlets have made Europe and the United States question his reliability as a partner,” he added.

Barkey observed, nevertheless, and in line with Juncker’s words, that “[Erdoğan] will be treated merely as the current leader of an important ally” from now on. It remains to be seen if this situation will improve in the coming months as a result of a change of tack by Erdoğan for the sake of Turkey’s “big-picture interests.”

There are presidential elections up next and general elections in 2015. Being the successful populist he is – as we see once again in the results of the local elections – he could act true to form and damage ties with the West further.

The question then will be how long Turkey can be kept anchored to the West if Erdoğan insists on his diplomatically destructive ways, and if it cannot be, where it will drift. There are many Turks who worry about this, too.