Thursday, June 28, 2018 at 4:52 PM

Thanks to European Union, Turkey Ratifies Erdogan’s Dictatorial Rule

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

No doubt there was more media hype this time about a potential upset. But Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s reelection was as guaranteed on Sunday as Russian strongman Vladimir Putin’s was on Sunday, March 18, 2018.

Turkey’s long-standing leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan has won a new five-year term after securing outright victory in the first round of a presidential poll. …

He will now assume sweeping new powers, won in a controversial referendum last year.

(BBC, June 25, 2018)

As it happens, I commented on that referendum in “Hail, Erdogan! Latter-Day Sultan of Turkey,” April 19, 2017. Ominously, it included the following:

If you harbored any doubts about … Erdogan’s dictatorial predilections, the referendum he orchestrated on Sunday should disabuse you of them. …

I fear this referendum has effectively put that struggle for democracy out of its misery. Ironically, only a (successful) military coup can save Turkish democracy now.

But the best way to understand what Erdogan’s reelection portends for Turkey is to look at what Putin has done (and is doing) in Russia. Because Erdogan now has the constitutional powers to truly rule Turkey like a latter-day sultan, emulating the way Putin has been ruling Russia like a latter-day czar for years.

Frankly, the most interesting thing about Sunday’s election is that it vindicated Erdogan’s moves in recent years to shun Western values and alliances. After all, as he began his rise to power 15 years ago, he embraced them so solicitously that Western leaders took pride in pointing to Turkey as a beacon of democracy in the Muslim world.

Except that there was always one glaring inconsistency: Despite Erdogan’s embrace, European leaders seemed determined to deny Turkey’s application for EU membership.

I am convinced that this denial explains why Turkey seems more aligned with Russia than any Western country today. But this is not the forum to elaborate too much. Therefore, I shall suffice to share an overview.

When asked about Turkey’s effort to join the European Union by the French newspaper Le Figaro, [Cardinal Ratzinger, soon to be Pope Benedict XVI] answered, ‘Turkey always represented another continent during history, always in contrast with Europe.’ …

The former Cardinal Ratzinger seemed to see the entry of Turkey [a Muslim nation] into the EU as a threat to the Christian tradition inherent in Western Europe.

(NBC News, March 9, 2006)

I don’t mind confessing that I vented political and moral outrage back then in such commentaries as “The Pope Apologizes! Proving He’s Not Only Fallible but also Gullible,” September 19, 2006, “Like Daniel in the Lion’s Den, Pope Benedict XVI Lands in Turkey,” November 29, 2006, “German Opera Decapitates Muhammad (Too), Despite Muslim Protests,” December 20, 2006, and “The Pope Comes to America,” April 16, 2008.

As the first title indicates, I vented because the pope never apologized for consecrating a religious litmus test to deny Turkey membership in the EU. Instead, he apologized for offending bellicose Muslims by daring to criticize Mohammad’s exhortation for them to use the sword to “coerce conversion.”

Meanwhile, purportedly secular European countries were using this religious test to deny Turkey. Never mind that they were doing this while putting the majority-Muslim nation of Bosnia and Herzegovina on the Stabilisation and Association process towards full membership.

In fact, this contradiction, if not hypocrisy, informed my outrage. But I soon realized that EU leaders were just using religion as a pretext for their political concerns about Erdogan’s nascent dictatorial predilections.

The problem, however, is that EU leaders already had a long history of coddling Muslim dictators like Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia – both of whom made Erdogan look like a Jeffersonian democrat.

Complicating matters, then US president George W. Bush was welcoming Erdogan to the White House in the same spirit of friendship in which he was welcoming the UK prime minister. And each of his successors did the same.

The point is that one could hardly blame Erdogan for resenting the way EU leaders were embracing Turkey as a geo-strategic and military ally (as the only majority-Muslim member of NATO) while shunning it as a political and economic member of their union. But his resentment must have increased from a simmer to a boil after so many of them gave tacit approval when the tumult of the Arab Spring sprung in Turkey.

The prevailing view had been that pro-democracy protesters across the Muslim world were targeting (and overthrowing) de facto dictators like Bashir al-Assad of Syria and Muammar Gaddafi of Libya. Therefore, the democratically elected Erdogan could be forgiven for feeling unfairly targeted.

I channeled his understandable resentment in “Turkey’s Erdogan No Different from Syria’s Assad…?” June 2, 2013. The following excerpt highlights what I thought was the unfairness inherent in targeting him.


What is most interesting about the belated Arab Spring unfolding there today is that opposition/rebel forces are attempting to overthrow this regime for the same reasons opposition/rebel forces overthrew the regime in Egypt. …

Except that Erdogan has as much moral and constitutional right to ignore opposition/rebel yells for him to resign as Obama has to ignore Tea-Party Republicans yells for him to resign. Not least because, unlike Mubarak, Gaddafi, and Assad, Erdogan was truly democratically elected. …

In fact, nothing is preventing Obama from parroting calls for Erdogan to resign quite like the long-standing allies in the Muslim world who are already accusing him of betrayal for throwing Mubarak under the bus. Because the last thing Obama can afford, geo-strategically, is for them to accuse him of doing the same to another Muslim ally.


Of course, as fate would have it, Erdogan survived that spring of street protesters only to face a summer of coup plotters a few years later. More to the point, his resentment towards EU leaders must have increased to a rolling boil when Putin showed him more support than any of them.

This is why nobody should have been surprised when Erdogan reacted to this coup attempt more like an Eastern-style dictator than a Western-style democrat. I duly lamented and warned in “Turkey: Bungled Coup Fails. Grave Purge Begins,” July 16, 2016.


When news of it broke yesterday, you’d have been hard-pressed to find commentators condemning this coup, especially early on when it seemed a fait accompli.

Instead, they rationalized it as due comeuppance for the democratically elected Erdogan – who they claimed was ruling Turkey more like a dictator than a president. They also cited his fraternization with Islamists as a betrayal of the global fight against ISIS, and his Islamization of Turkey’s secular culture as a betrayal of the Western values they once hailed this Muslim country for adopting.

Truth be told, almost every criticism ever hurled at him is true. But none of it justifies a coup. …

President Obama issued a belated statement calling on the Turkish people to support their democratically elected government. Never mind that he hedged his bets by carefully avoiding any mention of support for Erdogan himself. No doubt, if the coup had succeeded, he would have hailed the military for fulfilling the democratic will of the people; you know, like the military did in Egypt.

By contrast, my immediate denunciation of the Turkish coup plotters was surpassed only by my excoriation of these commentators: I ridiculed the former as misguided and inept for failing to execute the first stage of any military coup, namely, arresting the leader; and decried the latter as shortsighted and hypocritical for making a mockery of universal democratic values.


Sure enough, Erdogan began executing a Stalinesque purge (with all due respect to Putin). To date, it has seen tens of thousands arrested and over 150,000 schoolteachers, police officers, judges, and other civil servants fired. I duly commented in “President Erdogan Unleashing His Inner Dr. Frankenstein to Excise the ‘Cancer’ of Turkey’s Coup Plotters,” July 23, 2016. It includes this observation on the transformation of alliances afoot:

Erdogan’s NATO ally, Barack Obama, is being conspicuously silent. This, despite the clear and present danger of Erdogan turning Turkey’s democracy into a dictatorship. Whereas his putative mentor, Vladimir Putin, is being conspicuously supportive. This, because he knows that, if Erdogan can get away with this in Turkey, he surely can in Russia — if any group dares try to mount a coup.

Of course, nothing vindicates this observation quite like Erdogan consolidating dictatorial powers that would make even Putin green with envy. Hell, he might even think he could simply issue decrees eradicating the Armenian Genocide from history and disabusing Kurds of their ambitions for independence, and have it all be done. I bemoaned his ‘L’etat c’est moipowers in the April 19, 2017, commentary quoted above.

The only issue now is whether his reelection makes Erdogan feel so secure that he can mirror the way Turkey straddles East and West by playing Eastern powers (notably Russia and China) off against Western powers (notably Europe and United States) to further Turkey’s military, economic, and diplomatic interests; or whether his resentment remains so acute that, like his new BFF Putin, he’d rather seize any opportunity to undermine Western values and alliances – no matter the cost.


The leaders of Turkey and Russia pledged Tuesday to restart key energy projects and roll back sanctions, seeking to rebuild ties as Turkey looks beyond its NATO partners for support following a failed coup attempt last month.

(The Washington Post, August 9, 2016)

Mind you, if Western leaders were not tied up in so many geo-political hypocrisies, they would be free to execute the categorical imperative of kicking Turkey out of NATO, especially given the precedent they set by kicking Russia out of the G7. After all, Turkey lurching towards dictatorship is bad enough, but its fraternizing with Russia smacks of real betrayal.

Not to mention the fateful monkey wrench of having Donald Trump now as the leader of the free world. After all, this US president seems to have greater affinity for de facto dictators like Putin and Erdogan than for any of his democratic allies in Europe.

Related commentaries:
Hail, Erdogan
Pope Benedict
Pope comes to America
German opera Muhammad
Turkey’s Erdogan
Turkey bungled coup
Erdogan inner Frankenstein
Armenian Genocide

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