Commentary Democracy New Turkey

Explaining the Slide in U.S.-Turkey Relations

LBJ School - The University of Texas at Austin

What’s mistaken with U.S.-Turkey relations? For over a decade, ties between the USA and its NATO ally have been a rollercoaster journey, main some in america to conclude that Turkey has both misplaced or is dropping its worth as a strategic associate. Observers have provided numerous explanations for the tensions, together with Aykan Erdemir and Merve Tahiroglu in Conflict on the Rocks and Steve Prepare dinner, who gave an extended record of disheartening causes in a current colourful article.

However at its essence, the issue is extra systematic. Turkey doesn’t assume when it comes to nationwide pursuits as a result of it has virtually accomplished its transformation right into a Russian-style kleptocratic “guided democracy.” In such a system, the political survival of an influence elite turns into the only strategic goal and the institutional technique of safeguarding nationwide pursuits are delegated to mere tactical instruments. This makes it almost inconceivable for Turkey to pursue extra static geopolitical aims and to take part successfully within the strategic partnership that the USA may search.

Turkey has by no means been a well-functioning democracy, not even through the Chilly Conflict when it aligned itself with the West. Again then, the federal government engaged in rampant human and minority rights violations and skilled army coups. Nonetheless, throughout that period, excluding durations of army management, Turkey had fierce political competitors with some degree of significant scrutiny of the state and politicians. Its democracy index rating remained comparatively excessive.

Issues began to look even higher in the course of the early years of the Prime Minister (now President) Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s administration at first of the 2000s. Like the opposite rising economies of the world, Turkey grew at a breakneck tempo. The nation took appreciable steps towards European Union membership, and there was ample cause to be hopeful that Turkey would develop into a functioning democracy. This image began to get much less rosy by the 2010s. The federal government, led by Erdogan’s Justice and Improvement Get together (AKP) slowly alienated sections of society with its divisive insurance policies, the financial system started to falter, and, following the failed coup try by members of a spiritual cult in 2016, all hope was misplaced. Because the early 2010s, particularly after the Gezi protests in 2013, the AKP and Erdogan realized that there was a risk of their dropping energy, and Turkey began its journey in the direction of turning into a “sovereign democracy.”

What’s a sovereign democracy? Jeffrey Herf referred to as the distinctive conservative worldview of the Nazi motion “reactionary modernism.” In response to Herf, Nazis embraced modernism selectively: They have been exhilarated by trendy science and know-how while rejecting the enlightenment values of modernism. In an analogous vein, at this time’s Russian ruling elites are “reactionary liberals.” They benefit from the financial advantages of the liberal worldwide order and globalism while strongly resisting the social and political modifications that include it. Vladislav Surkov, an in depth affiliate of Russian President Vladimir Putin, termed the phrase “sovereign democracy” to explain this distinctive view, which has advanced right into a quasi-ideology for the Russian Federation.

The German reactionary modernists believed Germany was neither West nor East, neither a democracy nor an entire autocracy. They subsequently claimed that Enlightenment concepts of democracy couldn’t work in Germany. Immediately, Russia advocates a parallel view: The nation has a definite historical past that’s incompatible with the thought of liberal democracy, so Russia ought to develop its personal distinctive sort of democracy. Following the identical playbook, Erdogan and the AKP in Turkey depend on the buzzwords of “yerli ve milli” (“native and nationwide”) to outline their autochthonous authorities type.

Nevertheless, regardless of ideological pretenses, at its essence sovereign democracy is a mannequin through which a strong elite retains everlasting dominance over the nation by means of the manipulation of politics and the media while preserving the phantasm of the existence of rule of regulation and a aggressive electoral panorama. This mannequin provides the elite immunity from duty and from inspection of their affairs. Corruption is on the core of the mannequin, through which politicians, bureaucrats, and people of personal wealth with good connections exploit public assets with out scrutiny.

The playbook of sovereign democracy dictates a clampdown on conventional media and the web to determine a national echo chamber. Turkey’s brisk decline within the freedom of press and web freedom indexes to “not free” is the results of this course of. For conventional media sources, that is achieved via the involvement of personal people with shut connections to the administration who purchase media retailers and hand over management of their broadcasting/printing coverage to ruling events’ public relations consultants. In return, these personal people achieve entry to profitable long-term authorities contracts. As all these transactions occur via personal means; the ruling social gathering preserves believable deniability.

An early instance of this course of enjoying out was the acquisition of Turkuvaz Medya, one of many largest media organizations in Turkey, by the Çalık Group in 2008. Berat Albayrak, the son-in-law of Erdogan, was on the time CEO of the Çalık Group and, following the acquisition, his brother turned CEO of Turkuvaz Medya. Not surprisingly, Turkuvaz’s coverage turned more and more pro-government. The group’s information channel, aHaber, began to unfold anti-western and, in some situations, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

In the meantime, opposition quietly begins to vanish from mainstream media. Slowly the federal government’s propaganda turns into the overwhelmingly repeated message. Journalists who criticize the federal government lose their jobs despite the fact that they work for personal enterprises. Though some enclaves of opposition media are left alone, they work beneath the continual menace of courtroom instances and jail time, being labeled terrorists, or being threatened by mafia parts.

When constituents can solely entry one aspect of occasions, it turns into simpler to solidify the electoral base. In a extremely regulated and oppressive surroundings, it turns into almost unimaginable for the opposition to succeed in a significant variety of constituents. Even once they can attain them, they get imprisoned or the elections get cancelled by way of political manipulation. Like in Russia, electoral competitors and constitutional authorized apply are stored alive, however in a vegetative state, to take care of the phantasm.

Accordingly, each Putin and Erdogan symbolize themselves not as mere politicians however as the primary pillar of survival of their nations. The potential of these people dropping energy is represented as a possible disaster. Behind the veneer of its nationalistic attraction, the precise cause for this rhetoric is that the entire mannequin works for the predatory minority solely so long as sure politicians stay in energy and supply cowl for them. Accordingly, the one nationwide strategic goal turns into the political survival of these people. Coverage selections and definitions within the fields of nationwide safety, economics, and overseas affairs are decreased to mere tactical instruments within the service of this strategic objective and are topic to fixed fluctuations.

Take, as an example, Erdogan’s willingness to jeopardize Turkish-Dutch relations in 2017. Regardless of the Netherlands being an necessary financial associate and supply of overseas direct funding, Erdogan had few qualms about sparking a diplomatic spat to be able to win votes in the course of the presidential referendum marketing campaign. It began when Erdogan and AKP ministers signaled their want to carry marketing campaign rallies in Germany and the Netherlands in an effort to attain expatriate Turks residing there. Each the German and the Dutch governments refused this request. Erdogan, seeing a chance to kindle the nationalistic emotions of his constituents and solidify his base, escalated the state of affairs by taunting each nations as “Nazis.” A Turkish minister then tried to enter Netherlands by land to carry rallies, leading to her expulsion. Then-Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım threatened the Netherlands with financial sanctions and the Dutch ambassador was barred from returning to Turkey. Erdogan received the outcomes he needed from the referendum. A yr later, 4 of Erdogan’s AKP ministers appeared earlier than the cameras to announce Turkey’s intent to resume the talks in the direction of E.U. membership in an obvious try and treatment the earlier yr’s politically expedient whim.

In the identical yr, the Turkish authorities as soon as once more exhibited its propensity to fluctuate in overseas coverage when Erdogan made an ill-fated try and woo overseas buyers in the UK. On the time, the Turkish financial system was faltering and he hoped to shore up investor confidence by discussing his financial coverage. His speeches had the other impact. A number of weeks later, Turkey despatched Minister of the Treasury Berat Albayrak to the UK to do injury management, however to the shock of his viewers, the insurance policies he promoted immediately contradicted what Erdogan had stated earlier. Equally, the Turkish chief’s abrupt halt to the peace talks with the Kurdistan Staff’ Get together and the continued saga of the acquisition of S-400 weapons techniques from Russia are additional proof of the federal government prioritizing  political expedience over long-term technique.

Primarily, sovereign democracies should continuously change their minds in overseas relations, economics, and nationwide safety to make these insurance policies align with the home requirements of the second somewhat than extra unmoving nationwide pursuits. That is the primary purpose it’s exhausting for Turkey to stay a strategic associate of the USA. Turkey’s parameters are continually altering, and there’s no long-term predictability. So long as america has no strategic curiosity within the survival of the regime in Turkey (because it does within the case of Saudi Arabia), it stays unimaginable for these two nations to share a standard language of cooperation.

This doesn’t imply the mannequin will prevail in Turkey for the long run. Strategic partnership could also be attainable sooner or later. The primary flaw of the sovereign democracy mannequin is the rampant inbuilt corruption and erosion of establishments, which finally results in stagnation and decay. For nations like Russia, pure assets present a cushion for the autumn. Turkey, nevertheless, has no such cushion. Just like the Soviet Union within the 1970s and 1980s and Venezuela within the 2000s and 2010s, the impression of rising ranges of corruption, stagnation, and decay can be inescapable in the long term.

The mannequin itself, then, has intrinsic qualities that a method or one other result in elementary change. However this alteration might not happen in a approach that restores Turkey’s democratic establishments and makes it a predictable strategic associate. Whether or not or not this occurs will depend upon how a lot the nation’s establishments and social material decay whereas sovereign democracy reigns in Turkey.


Nadir Firat lectures on army historical past at Nanyang Technological College, Singapore. You’ll find him on Twitter: @nadir_firat. These views are these of the writer and don’t characterize the positions of Nanyang Technological College.

Picture: Hedda Gabler/Wikimedia Commons

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