Politics & Policy

The Trouble in Turkey

A Twitter ban, a downed Syrian jet, and ever more authoritarian diktats

Across the Black Sea, about 330 miles directly south from the Russian forces in Sevastopol, Crimea, is Ankara, Turkey.

There you’ll find Recep Tayyip Erdogan — another fervent authoritarian.

Last Thursday, Erdogan tried to “wipe out” the ultimate 140-character threat: Twitter. His intention was to dampen allegations of corruption that have engulfed his administration.

Then, yesterday, Erdogan answered the questions of those who had been asking whether we’d see a Wag the Dog type of conflict in Syria. In an apparently calculated act, a Turkish air-force jet downed one of Assad’s bombers.

#ad#In some sense, of course, this air attack wasn’t exactly a bad thing. After all, Assad is using his bombers to annihilate the Syrian people. Nevertheless, considered together, Erdogan’s latest actions should trouble us.

For a start, they come from a troubling playbook. At home, Turkey’s leader has repeatedly proven he’s willing to use violence to quell dissent. As Turkish investigative journalists have found, inquiry can easily end up in incarceration. In his foreign policy, Erdogan has shown a similar penchant for extremism, as typified in his reaction to the 2010 Gaza-flotilla incident. As Netanyahu formally apologized for the death of nine Turkish citizens aboard the flotilla, Erdogan cranked up the tension by calling Zionism a “crime against humanity” and comparing it to fascism.

The latest incidents continue in this vein and suggest that Erdogan is capable of just about anything.

Think about the irrationality of his Twitter war. The Internet is a frontierless informational commons. In political terms, it’s a realm that’s extraordinarily difficult to control. That’s especially so in Turkey, where a young population has easy access to technology. Unsurprisingly, as the BBC explains, Erdogan’s ban is proving to be an unbelievable farce. In fact, far from silencing his critics, the prime minister has only reinforced their vocal anger, as Turkey’s explosion of tweeting illustrates. Turkish society is increasingly fragile — last summer’s bloody showdown in Istanbul’s Taksim Square shows that — and Erdogan seems determined to expand the divisions.

In a sign of Turkey’s internal conflicts, even Erdogan’s fellow party leader, the Turkish president, Abdullah Gul, has condemned him, albeit probably in part because he wants Erdogan’s job.

These are the facts. But how do we explain the social roots of Turkey’s increasing instability?

First, we can blame the battle between Erdogan and Turkey’s political establishment. As Mustafa Akyol has noted, Turkey is suffering from the long-term rot of its political class. Decades of corruption have insulated powerful interest groups at various levels of Turkish political society. Born partly of Turkey’s turbulent military-political history, this rot is made worse by the absence of credible non-partisan institutions and by the flourishing of political patronage. Thus, as Erdogan seeks to consolidate his authority, he’s being challenged by others who are committed to retaining their power.

Second, Erdogan’s populist-ideological struggle with Turkish secular society is a destabilizing force. Many secularists once regarded Erdogan as a tolerable figure, but the majority of them now share the Kemalist assessment of him: He’s an existential threat. Fearful of Erdogan’s creeping authoritarianism and of his intoxicated, hectoring diktats (aimed at both public and private behavior), many now see him as the corporeal figurehead for an approaching Islamic dictatorship. Correspondingly, the more aggressive Erdogan becomes in his social restrictions, the louder and more desperate is the opposition response.

To be fair, we must accept that Erdogan retains significant popularity within his party, the AKP. Regarding education and the economy (notwithstanding Turkey’s problematic current account deficit), his record is at least somewhat impressive. More important, in his mix of fiery nationalism and genuine Islamism, Erdogan has offered his supporters an imam Ataturk. That ironic character sits well with the AKP party faithful, those who regard Turkey as a proud beacon for political Islam.

Still, it’s increasingly clear that Erdogan’s unrestrained ambition is leading his nation down a hard path. In the arrogance and entitlement he displays when attacking his opponents, Erdogan reveals himself as calculating and gleefully undemocratic. In the unpredictability of his Syria policy, he adds another dimension to an already brutally convoluted war. And for a leader so personally associated with political Islam, Erdogan’s paranoid intolerance is an uninspiring example for that cause.

Attentive to these truths, Erdogan would be well advised to find some humility.

If he fails to do so, Turkey and the world will face an increasingly precarious future.

— Tom Rogan is a blogger based in Washington, D.C., and a contributor to The American Spectator and the Guardian.


Tom Rogan is a columnist for National Review Online, a contributor to the Washington Examiner, and a former panelist on The McLaughlin Group. Email him at TRogan@McLaughlin.com

Most Popular


The Democrats’ Disastrous CNN LGBT Town Hall

A few days after Donald Trump committed the worst foreign-policy blunder of his presidency by betraying America’s Kurdish allies in northern Syria, former vice president Joe Biden, the elder statesman and co-frontrunner in the Democratic presidential primary, was on a national stage talking to CNN’s primetime ... Read More
Film & TV

Joker: An Honest Treatment of Madness

When I saw that the New York Times and The New Yorker had run columns berating the new Joker movie, criticizing it not simply on cinematic grounds but instead insisting that the film amounted to a clandestine defense of “whiteness” in an attempt to buttress the electoral aim of “Republicans” — this is a ... Read More
White House

What Is Impeachment For?

W hat is impeachment for? Seems like a simple question. Constitutionally speaking, it also appears to have a simple answer: to cite and remove from power a president guilty of wrongdoing. Aye, there’s the rub. What sort of wrongdoing warrants removal from power? I’d wager that the flames of ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Fox News Anchor Shepard Smith Resigns

Fox News Channel's chief anchor, Shepard Smith, announced on air Friday that he would be resigning from his post after 23 years with the network. “This is my last newscast here,” said Smith. “Recently, I asked the company to allow me to leave Fox News. After requesting that I stay, they obliged.” He ... Read More

Beto Proposes to Oppress Church with State

Beto O’Rourke’s presidential campaign is within the margin of error of non-existence, but in his failure he has found a purpose: expressing the Democratic id. His latest bid for left-wing love came at a CNN forum on gay rights, where he said that churches that oppose same-sex marriage should have to pay ... Read More
Film & TV

The Breaking Bad Movie

I considered staying up until midnight last night to watch Netflix's two-hour Breaking Bad movie El Camino as soon as it went up, but I'm glad I didn't. It's fine, it's worth watching if you're a fan of the series (otherwise it'll mean nothing to you). But it doesn't answer any particularly compelling questions. ... Read More