It goes without saying that the Egyptian Army's ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood-run Morsi government is bad news for Turkey's AKP, Prime Minister Erdogan and Foreign Minister Davutoglu.  While some astute observers have raised the question whether Erdogan's purge of the Turkish military has proceeded far enough to insulate him against a rerun of the Egypt developments in Ankara, I believe there are other elements of the situation that are far more menacing for the continuing rule of the Erdogan-Davutoglu government.  If I am correct, the real undoing of Turkey's experiment in "political Islam" will be from self-inflicted wounds rather than from fallout from Egypt's own Muslim Brotherhood folly.

When the Erdogan-Davutoglu team first came into power, they had faced economic challenges as well as diplomatic challenges in a volatile region.  Initially, the AKP government had pursued a foreign policy based on the idea that they had no regional enemies.  From Iran to Syria to Iraq, the Turkish AKP government pursued a policy of bilateral trade and normal diplomatic ties that was a key element of Turkey's economic success.  Turkey became a regional exporter of products to all of its neighbors, developed solid economic cooperation with Russia, and built up bilateral trade with Iran that was one of the anchors of Turkey's long run of relative economic growth.

When Erdogan took the lead in demanding the ouster of Syrian President Assad, everything changed.  Rather than continuing with the successful foreign and economic policy of non-aggression and non-interference, Turkey jumped out ahead of everyone in pressing for rapid regime change next door in Damascus.  It may be fairly said that Erdogan adopted this aggressive posture, throwing his entire foreign policy success out the window, at the behest of Washington and Riyad.  Obama, who counts Erdogan among his few close friends among foreign leaders, pressed for the Turkish leader to lead the way to Assad's rapid ouster.  There was a strong implication that Washington had his back covered.  Big mistake!

Now, Turkey is facing the kind of economic troubles in the coming months that can make things very difficult for the Erdogan government.  Trade with Iran, Syria and Iraq is greatly reduced–for obvious geopolitical reasons.  The Syria conflict has lingered for more than two years, and there are now a large number of Syrian refugees inside southern Turkey, at a significant cost to the Turkish government.  Add to this the fact that Turkey is unavoidably absorbing some of the costs of hosting factions of the Syrian rebels, and the costs keep mounting.

Is the situation yet at the point where Erdogan's survival is in jeopardy?  I cannot answer that question.  But instability in the region can potentially have an additional cost.  With both Qatar and Saudi Arabia going through internal power shifts, with the possibility of conflict with Iran diminished but still possible, with Iraq's stability uncertain, and with the spillover from Egypt still playing out, it cannot be ruled out that oil prices spike, even temporarily.  All of these factors could add the further dimension of instability to an already lethal mix.

The 300 or so officers of the Turkish military who have been purged since the AKP came into power are a relatively small number when you consider the overall size of the Turkish armed forces.  The actions of the Egyptian Army, following the June 30 mass demonstrations, in which an estimated 8-10 million Egyptians took to the streets demanding early elections to oust Morsi and the Muslim Brothers from power could inspire the still-powerful "Ataturk impulse" in the Turkish Army.

I am no Turkey expert.  So I will not venture any further.  But Turkey is a key NATO ally.  Turkey has the second largest military in NATO, only surpassed by the United States.  What happens in Turkey matters.  I would welcome a thoughtful dialogue on this critical situation at this critical moment. Harper

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  1. mbrenner says:

    I don’y see the evidence that Turkish policy re Syria is at American behest or that Erdogan has thrown out the window the Davutoglu designed foreign policy. Erdogan – we should recall -was quite ready to tell Kerry/Obama to go to hell when we squeezed him to cancel his trip to Gaza.He is nobody’s flunky. There are self-interested reasons why Turkey has supported the insurrection that have little to do with sectarian affinities: the belief that Assad was doomed and that a protracted civil war was the worst outomce; and the unsettlin effects of massive refugee flows.
    Turkey does not have Washington’s luxury of prevaricating endlessly and changing its mind every 72 hours in its public comments about syria. As to the economy, people I know in Turkey do not see a major economic crisis arising short of a serious system break in the world economy.
    Erdogan’s problem is his growing impateience about the Islamization of Turkish society. Even President Gul now thinks that he is going too far too fast. As Erdogan told King Abduallah of Jordan: “Democracy is like a bus that you use to take you to your destination. Once there you get off.” This attitude will be his undoing.

  2. steve says:

    “From Iran to Syria to Iraq, the Turkish AKP government pursued a policy of bilateral trade and normal diplomatic ties that was a key element of Turkey’s economic success.”
    Hello, Washington? Are you listening?

  3. Rd. says:

    ” There was a strong implication that Washington had his back covered. Big mistake!”
    Currying favour for the ZATO has its rewards!!!
    Sadam, Qudafi, BenALi, Mubarack, Morsi, shah of the shahs.. others and the list goes on… these short sighted men are in contempt of their own people.. one would hope, the sultan’s head has been cracked wide enough to get some fresh air and return to his zero problem policy and bring about a more prosperous Turkieh.
    and for the west, the implications are far worst than a terminally ill tumor!! This continued policy of De-stablizing governments, promoting coup d’etat, wars, killings, invasion, etc,.. US is not offering anything positive (Marshal plan) for the region.. eventually, US will be booted out of the region. It is out partially.
    remember, up to the 70’s, most people were becoming ‘americanized’!! even taking pride in moon landings, etc.. now, they are all becoming radicalized and your treasury is continually draining. This is a reflection on US policies.
    The miss-guided idiot and lobby apologists in the FP establishment, have got their heads too far up their own back side. No amount of missiles, in-visible bombers, etc is going to bring billions of people under your order! You will waste your treasury and destroy your own way of life in this country.
    The FP has reached a level that one has to wonder, is it idiotic, or is it desperado? That is the question.

  4. DH says:

    Intriguing insights, Harper. Thank you. It seems that for the distinction of joining the crowd under Obama’s bus, he’s gone against his earlier, better judgement of keeping friendly relations with all. How much will Turkey’s geopolitical position as a crossroad of trade help or hurt his chances to stay in power? I have the sense that the Turkish military will be content with simply leaning on him to keep him in line.

  5. Will Reks says:

    I still think it was the other way around. Erdogan was in DC a couple of months ago urging Obama to take a harder line against Assad. Erdogan jumped into the brier patch all on his own.

  6. lally says:

    Hats off to the sharp-eyed commenter at MoA who linked to this potentially game-changing prospect of Turkish military disengagement from NATO (and Israeli) interoperability.

  7. JohnH says:

    Erdogan’s predicament mirror’s Washington’s. Like the US, Turkey has become dependent on foreign money to cover its huge trade deficit and foreign oil to power its industry.
    Gulf states have huge excesses of both money and oil and the influence that that buys. As a result, they seem to be have been given a free hand to promote Salafi fundamentalism
    I agree with Harper that Turkey should have with its “no problems” policy. It would be interesting to know what motivated Erdogan to go from zero problems to total problems. Pressure from Riyadh?

  8. Kunuri says:

    Great analysis, there is nothing I can disagree here if it was written May 30 the of this year. But Gezi Park events have caused a paradigm shift in Turkey regarding all political analysis. Such that, Erdogan’s legitimacy, AKP’s support base, relations with the rest of the world, basic freedom, machinations of the justice system and even the health of the economy is questioned and redefined as we speak. The new actor is the long apolitical youth cleverly protesting and exposing the agenda and governing style of the AKP.

  9. Kunuri says:

    A series of articles here to put the paradigm shift in Turkey into perspective. Kadri Gursel and Cengiz Candar are the most prominent and internationally recognized journalists in Turkey.
    Long link I know but cut and paste into browser gets you there.

  10. Kunuri says:

    Case in point here, al monitor’s Turkey Pulse section is extremely informative and most articles here are legitimate journalism. I am hoping a discussion about Turkey will benefit significantly after digging through articles here.

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