Turkey defies Washington


As feared by many moderate Turks, the fix is going in. Last week the country’s Supreme Electoral Council ruled that six pro-Kurdish mayors from the Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) elected last month cannot take office. Their jobs are going to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP). On Tuesday the AKP submitted a formal demand for a rerun of the Istanbul election, which it lost narrowly to the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP). But the AKP’s humiliating loss of the capital Ankara was so overwhelming that it will take very creative thinking and constitutional fixing to overturn it.

Meanwhile, a Turkish delegation in Washington has demanded that the Trump administration waive economic and defense sanctions over the imminent delivery of the Russian S-400 ground-to-air missile system. The Turkish party, which included Erdogan’s son-in-law, finance minister Berat Albayrak, also told the Americans that unless they were prepared to sell a US Patriot missile system, the Russian missile order would be increased.

According to Washington briefings given by the Turkish group, Trump had reacted favorably to the idea that he should ask Congress to waive the sanctions. If this claim was not an outright lie, then Donald Trump would seem to be acting very much out of character. The US President may not think very much of NATO but even he can see that to have one of its key members adopt a weapons’ system supplied by the organization’s potential foe is fundamentally dangerous.

And Trump does not normally respond to threats and arm-twisting. It is patently obvious that the foreign policy path that Erdogan has taken is absolutely inimical to US interests. It is not simply that Ankara has struck up a worryingly close relationship with Vladimir Putin; it has also cozied up to the ayatollahs in Iran and is a willing breaker of Trump’s new sanctions on the Tehran regime. In addition, Erdogan’s rigorous support for the Muslim Brotherhood, the political arm of international terrorism, goes against everything that even Trump’s limited foreign policy goals are trying to achieve. The one possible reason for Trump to suddenly go easy on the increasingly dictatorial Erdogan is Ankara’s restored intimate relations with the Israelis. The White House’s slavish commitment to the Zionist cause and its support for the continued oppression of Palestinians is an aberration in Trump’s otherwise no-nonsense approach to foreign affairs.

With the partial humiliation of the municipal elections out of the way, Erdogan can now settle down to five years without an electoral challenge. He has seen off an attempted coup and crushed earlier popular demonstrations. There is little reason to doubt that he will use his considerable executive presidential powers to rule in an ever more intolerant and imperial style.

But the cost for ordinary Turks is already high and likely to prove higher. There is now a general feeling of uncertainty and suspicion among his political opponents. Tens of thousands of people alleged to have supported the November 2016 coup have lost their jobs. Press and broadcasters have been muzzled. Foreign investors are quitting. The economy is in danger of tanking. Moreover, little remarked was the post-coup purging of the country’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT) which diplomatic sources report has now seen a sharp increase in both its budget and numbers. Is Erdogan building a police state?