Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan is increasingly seen as a threat to the stability of the region. His government continues its domestic crackdown in the wake of the failed putsch while issuing indirect as well as direct threats against other states, international organizations and regional institutions. The Turkish president sees enemies lurking in every corner: The West is an enemy. Washington tried to topple him. The European Union did not support him. Erdogan is determined to follow his own path.
Erdogan violates the human and civic rights of Turkish citizens. At the same time he is destroying what is left of the country’s policy of “zero problems with neighbors” either by making direct threats or by innuendo that creates tension with neighboring nations.
There is hardly any country in the region that can be said to be on good terms with Turkey: Iraq, Syria, Greece, Cyprus, Israel and Egypt. And the recent improvement in Ankara’s ties with Moscow is simply too opportunistic to survive in the long term.
The Islamist leader of Turkey appears to be out of control. He is increasingly being portrayed as a dictator. Parliament recently extended a state of emergency for an additional three months. His government is detaining or firing thousands of soldiers, judges, journalists, academics and business leaders. It recently shut down another 15 media outlets and arrested the editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet, the oldest secular newspaper and one of the few media outlets still openly critical of the administration. Amid the ongoing drive to stifle the press, international organizations are reporting abuses of inmates. Society is deeply divided.
Erdogan thinks he can do anything he wants. But things are not as rosy as he appears to believe. He fails to realize that Turkey’s robust growth over the past 15 years was the result of Western backing. Washington praised Turkey as a model of an Islamic democracy while Europe served as a carrot for democratization and modernization.
Now Turkey’s economy is about to implode – authoritarianism and disregard for the rule of law do not attract foreign investors – and when that happens, it is not certain who exactly would want to support it.
On top of being anti-democratic toward its citizens, this new Turkey is detrimental to the stability of the wider region, including Greece. Erdogan’s heart, as it were, is not only beating within the boundaries of modern-day Turkey but also outside it, in areas which belong to other countries, including Thrace, the Aegean islands, and even Thessaloniki.
At the same time, Erdogan keeps no secret of his vision of a Turkey playing the role of a regional superpower. Ankara recently announced plans to order 24 additional Lockheed Martin F-35 military aircraft – a move that would upset the current balance of power in the Aegean Sea.
Meanwhile, Baghdad is warning over the possibility of a conflict between Iraq and Turkey. This is no longer a theoretical possibility. The West cannot afford to remain a passive bystander. The US and the EU must hammer out a comprehensive policy to deal with a risk of this magnitude. Erdogan is basically questioning international treaties and threatening to invade neighboring countries.