The West Is Dreaming Of Erdogan’s Defeat, Very Quietly
Western leaders hope the end is coming for the reign of Turkey's longtime leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but saying it too loudly is just too risky in geopolitical terms.
PARIS — Always thinking about it, never talking about it. In Paris, Berlin or Washington, few would shed a tear if Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan were defeated in Sunday’s presidential election. On the contrary, they would be delighted.
But no one in these capital cities would dare say a word about Turkey that could be considered as an “interference” by the outgoing president or, worse, as foreign support to his rival, the opposition candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu.
Erdogan knows very well where he stands, as he has never hesitated to offend his partners in order to establish his domestic legitimacy, or play the nationalist card at the expense of countries which are, in theory, his allies.
Enemies and friends
When French President Emmanuel Macron described NATO as “brain dead” in 2019, he was referring to the lack of reaction to the aggressive behavior of a Turkish ship towards a French ship in the Aegean Sea, even though both countries are members of the same alliance. For his part, Erdogan has publicly questioned the “mental health” of the French president.
Erdogan has been on all fronts in recent years.
The diplomatic-military activism has served the Turkish president pretty well in domestic politics: it is anchored in the idea of the return of a neo-Ottoman power of which Erdogan would be the new Sultan. From Libya to Azerbaijan and a very special relationship with Vladimir Putin, Erdogan has been on all fronts in recent years.
The success of the Bayraktar armed drone, which changed the game in the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict, or in the defence of Ukraine, has become that much more of national pride as the manufacturer is the president’s own son-in-law.
News conference following a meeting between the leaders of Russia, Turkey, Germany and France
But today, Turkish voters have other concerns.
Namely, the economy, with a currency at half-mast, record inflation and poverty on the rise; and above all the consequences of the earthquake that killed 50,000 people earlier this year, which revealed the extent of the corruption between the ruling party and the construction sector.
It is on this popular discontent that the opposition candidate rides. He undoubtedly has a better chance of ousting Erdogan than any other opponent in the president's 21 years of rule with an autocratic profile.
A different foreign policy?
Would his departure from politics change Turkish foreign policy? Even in private, Western officials are wary of placing too much hope in a change in Turkey’s course if Erdogan is defeated.
Even defeated, Erdogan will not have said his last word.
Firstly, because his defeat is anything but certain, one should not underestimate the strength of the Islamist-conservatives of the AKP, the president’s party; and if a second round proves necessary, it will not lack dirty tricks. Not to mention that even defeated, Erdogan will not have said his last word.
But post-Erdogan foreign policy could, at the very least, be more predictable and less acrobatic, at least from a NATO perspective. In Washington, they haven’t yet come to terms with Erdogan’s decision to buy the Russian S-400 anti-missile system, a unique case within the Atlantic Alliance.
The satisfaction of Erdogan’s defeat is based less on the hope of a different policy than on the antipathy capital that this president has accumulated. Politics sometimes goes a long way with very little.
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