Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan needs to decide what kind of relationship he wants with the West. For any strategy he pursues to be successful, he needs to start acting a lot more realistically.
If he continues grandstanding and acting as though Turkey were a global superpower, he will continue to cause friction with many and will be unable to restore ties with the United States and Europe. His country cannot be compared to the big players, not matter how problematic they have been in recent years, and indeed they have been.
Turkey is not a small country, and is located in a geographically sensitive area. The size of its territory, population, economy and even its military strength, justify a regional role – but only that far. If it acts more reasonably, plays by the rules and respects international law, it stands to gain by exploiting its advantages and working with other countries in the area. After all, its neighbors have repeatedly said that their bilateral and multilateral regional partnerships are not designed to weigh against any third party.
The recent communication between Erdogan’s spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, and the White House’s National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, seemed like a step toward restoring ties with the new US administration of Joe Biden, who plans to make the superpower more predictable and cooperative – but also less lenient – than it was under his predecessor.
In a similar manner, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar sought to assure Germany – its staunchest backer in the Euro-Atlantic context – of Ankara’s sincere and peaceful intentions during a recent visit to Berlin. Even a few initial comments by Erdogan himself seemed to transmit a desire to return to some kind of normalcy, only to be followed soon after by outbursts against the US and France, and accusations that foreign powers are trying to “subdue” Turkey in Libya, Syria, the Aegean, the East Mediterranean and Nagorno-Karabakh.
Erdogan is not being coy: He believes – and has no qualms about saying so – that all these countries belong in the sphere of influence of the grand Turkey he dreams of. He sees countries like the US and France as geopolitical rivals who are equal or even beneath Turkey, and are trying to undermine it with underhand tactics.
Turkey’s interior minister followed suit, accusing the US – in essence the Obama/Biden administration – of being behind the botched coup in 2016.
If Erdogan insists on acting as though Turkey were an invincible superpower that can expand by force, challenge the Treaty of Lausanne and create regional tensions and instability, he will lose. He needs to understand that he cannot do whatever he likes or interfere with any country he wants.
He is not being begged to stop by a bunch of weak and frightened countries, but rather by powers much stronger than him. It is the interest of his own country dictating that he does. If he carries on as is, Turkey will pay a hefty price, on many different levels.