It is becoming increasingly obvious that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made up his mind. His rhetoric changes – at times confrontational and conciliatory at others – but the overall direction is clear: Turkey is drifting away from the West. And this is not because there are those in the West who don’t want Turkey, but because Turkey doesn’t want the West.
Whether justified or not, Erdogan blames specific countries for the botched attempt to topple him from power in July 2016. In combination with his innate megalomania, but also his personal preference for certain leaders and countries, he is carving a new path for Turkey.
There are those in Washington, Brussels and other major European capitals who need to come to terms with this fact and act accordingly. While there is absolutely no reason for Turkey to be viewed as an “enemy,” it certainly cannot be treated as a close friend and ally in the traditional sense of the term. Therefore, they need to plan an effective way to deal with this development, accordingly.
Major changes are under way and the situation will not revert back to the way it was even when Erdogan leaves the scene, either politically or by nature.
Anti-American, anti-European and anti-Israeli – for many anti-Semitic – sentiment has grown considerably in Turkey over the past 20 years, making cooperation with the West that much harder in the framework of defense alliances, political and economic institutions, and even on a bilateral level.
I remember a few years ago I had visited the offices of the country’s biggest newspaper in terms of circulation, Zaman, since closed down by Erdogan. I met with its editor in chief who told me that the only foreign leader the Turkish president really respected was Russian President Vladimir Putin, because he leads a nuclear power that has its roots in a major empire and speaks the language of raw force. That is also how Erdogan likes to see himself.
The Europeans are all about upholding values and principles; Erdogan is not interested. Some in Washington fear Turkey developing into a new Iran or Pakistan. Either way, Turkey is on the path of a gradual break from the West, if not a confrontation, and this is the reality, like it or not.
In this fluid environment, Greece has opted, across party lines, to maintain good-neighborly relations with Turkey, and since 1999 it has chosen to actively champion close Turkish-European ties. In the meantime, though, it is also vigilant and ready to defend itself against challenges and violations of its sovereign rights, as well as verbal threats. It has its own considerable military power and a network of effective regional cooperations, neither of which can be overlooked by anyone.