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Erdogan's golden days are over

The message was clear. He was pointing at Erdogan's way of managing foreign relations.

By Ghassan Charbel

Published: Tue 10 Sep 2019, 8:00 PM

Last updated: Tue 10 Sep 2019, 10:43 PM

In August 2014, I paid a visit to president Abdullah Gul days after his term ended. He was always cordial during our visit to Ankara and Istanbul for talks with Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Ahmet Davutoglu to understand the Turkish policy in the region.
We discussed the Syrian crisis that was raging at the time. Gul avoided talking about Erdogan's foreign policy or about his relations with him. But as I was leaving, he said: "At any rate, a severe tone does not solve problems, neither here nor abroad."
The message was clear. He was pointing at Erdogan's way of managing foreign relations.
Three years later, in September 2107, I travelled to the Kurdistan region and visited the counter-terrorism headquarters in Erbil. I met several Daesh prisoners, including members from China, Kazakhstan, and the United States. They all had similar stories; they had come to Turkey and were transported to Daesh's caliphate from there. Turkey was playing with fire when it opened its border to thousands of fighters under the pretext of toppling the Assad regime.
Erdogan wouldn't have realised at the time but he was doing a favour to the Russian president, who would rather confront extremists in Syria than confronting them in Russia and its neighbouring countries.
Erdogan benefitted immensely from burgeoning Turkish economy. He benefitted even more when western powers believed that "Turkey could act as a bridge and help reconcile Islamic peoples with the values of modernity."
Ankara boasted at the time about its ability to talk to all parties and chose to ignore Iran's expansionist agenda, believing it was merely a 'competitor', not a 'rival or enemy'.
However, developments in Syria over the years have countered Erdogan's ambitions. Russia's military intervention sealed Assad's fate and kept him in power. This crushed Turkey's goals to keep Kurdish fighters away from its borders. Moscow brought Turkey to heel when Ankara downed a Russian warplane.
However, before that Turkey, a Nato member, had purchased Russian S-400 missile defence system. The deal anagered the US. Moscow has been covertly unsettling US-Turkey relations, and now Washington doubts Erdogan's loyalty towards Nato.
Turkey is at a crossroads. Neither has it been able to keep its pledges made to the United States and Nato, nor honour the new ones to Russia. It has spoiled its relations with Europe, too, by threatening to flood Europe with Syrian refugees if it does not pay the right price. This is an unusual way to address issues.
And meanwhile, Turkish economy is struggling. The lira has weakened dramatically and foreign investment has dropped. Erdogan adopted a vindictive approach for addressing the so-called 'Gulen coup'. He carried out a wide purge beyond the military to reach the judiciary, schools, universities, and administrations. Erdogan is losing trust and confidence. A tango with US president Donald Trump and Russian President Putin won't do him any good. His golden days are over, but remains in denial.
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al Awsat newspaper

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