Nov 08 2018

Erdoğan plays his cards right, repairs damage to Turkey's reputation - Brookings fellow

Toward the end of a difficult year, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has acted pragmatically and decisively to shore up the country’s troubled economy and repair some of the recent damage to its reputation, said Dan Arbell, an associate fellow at the International Insitute for Strategic Studies.

Erdoğan has a history of acting in an “erratic, unstable and personality driven” manner, but his responsible and pragmatic approach to three issues in particular “has partially mended Turkey’s reputation … while deflecting world attention from his own problematic human-rights record,” said Arbell.

Firstly, the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul “provided Erdogan with an opportunity to advance Turkish interests,” said Arbell.

The Turkish president’s deft response to the killing has gained Turkey a great amount of leverage over Saudi Arabia, whose Crown Prince Mohammed bin Sultan is thought to have given the order. Moreover, it has enhanced Turkey’s credentials as the United States’ main ally in the region, and distracted attention from Erdoğan’s own poor human rights record, Arbell said.

The release of U.S. Pastor Andrew Brunson after two years detained in Turkey on terror and espionage charges has been another wise move by Erdoğan, said Arbell. Turkey by doing so appeased U.S. President Donald Trump and fixed some of the damage caused by the pastor’s detention, seen internationally as a form of hostage-taking, he added.

Erdoğan’s recent moves in Syria have also been measured and constructive, helping prevent bloodshed while simultaneously strengthening dialogue with Europe, according to the scholar.

A deal Turkey signed with Russia prevented an assault on Idlib, the last major rebel-controlled area in the country, and a summit organised in Istanbul has further reinforced the diplomatic efforts.

Meanwhile, although the Turkish military has improved its cooperation with the U.S. forces stationed in northern Syria, launching joint patrols near the town of Manbij, tensions still remain over the U.S. backing of Kurdish militias deemed enemies by Turkey.

“Turkey’s problems and challenges are far from over. Among them, contentious issues still remain on the US–Turkey agenda beyond Syria, including its purchase of the S-400 surface-to-air missile system from Russia, and the continued jailing of Turkish–American employees of the US consulate in Istanbul,” said Arbell. “Nevertheless, Erdogan has been playing his cards right so far.”