Let us clear our minds of all the shouting insults exchanged between Turkey’s Reccep Tayyip Erdogan on the one hand, and European politicians and global media on the other. When it is calm, we can still hear a choral hymn singing one repeated line: “Decouple Turkey and the West”. And the funny thing is that the choir is singing in Russian.
This picture is precisely what is drawn in one’s mind upon following this silly cascade surrounding the Turkish-Dutch spat. Can anyone explain to us what is the rationale of this hoopla? What will the West achieve exactly from this circus?
And let us assume that Erdogan is a fascist, a Nazi, a dictator and the descendant of an alien visitor who shortly visited earth once upon a time. Then what? Insult him? Why are those folks so hot to isolate him? Do they mean to give him to Vladimir Putin on a golden plate? Or are they simply idiots and do not know the significance of what they do?
Extreme right wing political parties are feasting today on anti-Islam to gain popularity. Erdogan comes in the right moment to give them an opportunity to play a page from Don Kisot (Don Quixote). They grow in the cracks of a shaky liberal order that suffers signs of age. And Erdogan is about to dismantle part of turkey’s liberal political system as well. So, it serves him well to play the Muslim Don Kisot against the anti-Muslim Don Kisots. In both sides of the picture we see the symptoms of the deterioration of a liberal political system in crisis. The Dutch arrogant diplomatic blunder and Erdogan’s reaction are both created and creators of a weaker political system. Then, comes the Kremlin, who is moving everything very quietly to push the crisis of the liberal political order to its miserable death.
Is not it Putin who supported the extreme right wingers in almost every Western European nation. Just ask Marine Le Pen what does she think of Brother Vladimir. Or ask Geert Wilders what does he think of the master of the Kremlin.
Those who criticize Erdogan come from different corners. There are people, like ourselves, who happen to believe that reducing the margin of freedom of speech in Turkey and killing peaceful Kurdish protestors will not help Turkey move forward. But we still understand the importance of Turkey in a strategic sense and insist on calling for caution in any move related to Ankara.
And there are the vulgar far right with its quasi fascist anti-Islamism which almost copy what the vulgar quasi fascist Islamists say about Christians in the Middle East and what the Nazis said about Jews in the 30’s.
And there are the leftist PKK activists who were chanting yesterday “Down with American imperialism”, but who now receive US Marines with flowers. This should not be mistaken for denying Kurdish suffering and legitimate aspirations. We completely support the Kurds in their struggle to get their rights and end their suffering in Turkey or in other Arab countries. But this has nothing to do with the PKK terrorist tactics and political opportunism. Iraq’s Kurdish model, which has brotherly relations with the Arabs around, is a model that deserves to be studied.
And there are some critics, even in the US military, who learned to hate Erdogan through their love affair with the YPG. But those should be brushed aside. It is basic to learn that alliances and enmities should be based on a clear-eyed strategic calculus and overall evaluation of the place of any conflict in a global configuration.
And there are normal people who are, and understandably so, unable to like Mr. Erdogan. He is not easily likeable. He has a heavy bag of shortcomings and Don Kisotism. But the world is full of similar characters anyway. We do not make this world according to our taste. It is a given.
The blind campaign against Erdogan and Muslims is dragging Western Europe to a dangerous spot. And that is precisely where President Putin wants it to be.
When the Dutch and all the choral were singing their anti-Erdogan loud tones, Putin was receiving the Turkish President with open arms in the Kremlin. During the meeting, Putin emphasized the military cooperation between the two sides. “We are actively working to solve the most acute crises, first of all in Syria. I’m very pleased to note, and few seemed to expect it, that our military and special services have established such efficient and close contact”, the Russian President said.
That is when people in the US and Europe were calling for ending all ties with the Turks. And that is when people in CENTCOM are pressing the White House to sign Section 1209 to align officially with the Syrian Democratic Forces (mainly PKK affiliated YPG) even if this enrages the Turks.
All in all, we see two complicated situations that necessitate a hard to find commodity: Sophistication in strategic thinking.
The first is the state of affair in Europe. Some prudent people in Germany understand the Kremlin’s game. They see, as we do, that the Russian-supported far right is doubling down against Erdogan to inflame anti-Muslim sentiments and gain few more votes. For Putin, it is two birds with one stone. First, he will widen the space between Turkey and the rest of its NATO allies, hence inch closer to a Turkish decoupling with Europe. Moscow knows that Turkey was the first line of defense against USSR expansion for 70 years. Second, the rise of the far-right dooms as well the post-Second World War liberal political system when it erodes its very culture, even in Turkey. Putin likes to say that this system has become “a burden on humanity”.
Your boat sails to where you want it to go if you wait for the right wind. And Mr. Putin is using the wind as a natural ally. Unfortunately, for President Erdogan, he found himself in the center of a larger storm. Not knowing what to do, he sometimes does the weirdest Don Kisotism one can imagine. But the real issue is not Erdogan, nor it is the clowns who feed on insulting him. It is the Kremlin. There, the hymn is written and secretly passed to the choir.
Cheap, easy selling populism should be condemned. The logic of just winning votes to fulfill the requirements of ruling according to the current system will condemn this very system to a tragic end.
When Holland did what it did, which was a cheap electoral gimmick, and when Erdogan uses that to enhance his chances to dismantle the quasi-liberal system in his country, and when the vulgar far right wingers start building their circus on Erdogan and Muslim hating territory, and when we see military strategists think with their emotions, then we are definitely witnessing the miserable and slow death of the post-Second World War Liberal political order.
It may indeed be the story of a giant with a bird’s head fighting a dwarf with a big head.
16 March, 2017