Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Other Caliphate in the Wings

Is Turkey's effort to fight ISIL and destroy their caliphate in Iraq and Syria motivated at least in part by a dream of Erdogan to build a Neo-Ottoman Empire as the true caliphate?

Turkish flirtation with Russia may well be a first stage in separation from alliance with the West that was necessary when long-time enemy Russia (and the Soviet Union with their Warsaw Pact empire) bordered Turkey. But now Russia doesn't border Turkey and so the post-Cold War weaker Russian threat is finally at arms length. Turkey may have room to maneuver between America and NATO on the one hand and Russia and China on the other to expand their zone of influence back into old imperial grounds.

The distancing from the West is clear:

Turkey has blocked some military training and other work with NATO "partner countries" in an apparent escalation of a diplomatic dispute with EU states, officials and sources said on Wednesday. ...

Erdogan has compared Germany and the Netherlands to fascists and Nazis, but as fellow NATO members, Turkey is unable to block cooperation with them. A NATO official said Turkey's action was ostensibly aimed at Austria, which is not a member of the alliance but is a partner country. ...

Turkey's action potentially affects all 22 NATO partner states, including Sweden and Georgia, some of which contribute troops to NATO missions in places such as Afghanistan and Kosovo.

Without fear of Russia looming over Turkey, this spat could have far-reaching impact:

European relations with Turkey, a NATO ally, have been rattled for years by issues from the flood of migrants into Europe via Turkey to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdo─čan’s authoritarian slide. ...

The firestorm indicates that Turkey under the AKP is increasingly resolute in its turn away from the West, and toward eastern friends such as Russia.

“That is something relatively new. It’s more than rhetoric,” says Cengiz Aktar, an expert on Turkey-EU ties at the Istanbul Policy Center of Sabanci University.

Turkey “has been Westernizing the last 200 years, and in the last few years it is clearly de-Westernizing, this is the main trend,” says Mr. Aktar. “It is really getting out of Europe by all means, values, standards, principles, on everything,” he says. “And [Turkey] is Middle-Easternizing, clearly, and Islamizing.”

As an enemy to rally the Turks around Erdogan, the European Union is perfect:

Erdogan’s inflammatory accusations are not merely anti-EU posturing. Turkey and the West are undergoing an increasingly acrimonious divorce, with both sides shedding former illusions about their shared values and interests. Erdogan has locked up tens of thousands of people on the flimsiest excuses, committed extraordinary human rights abuses, and abandoned every principle that the EU believes in. More fundamentally, he has destroyed the best hope in a generation of genuinely Islamic form of democracy, and is currently stoking Islamophobia in the West and xenophobia in Turkey.

Europe lacks the military and economic strength of America or China and lacks the eagerness to use military power ruthlessly that Russia displays. Europe has economic power but is vulnerable to the militarized migrant weapon that Turkey aims at weak Europe to blackmail them:

"Turkey is not a country you can pull and push around, not a country whose citizens you can drag on the ground," Erdogan said at an event for Turkish journalists in Ankara, in comments broadcast live on national television.

"If Europe continues this way, no European in any part of the world can walk safely on the streets. Europe will be damaged by this. We, as Turkey, call on Europe to respect human rights and democracy," he said.

Somebody recalls a march to the gates of Vienna with some regret that it failed, it seems.

And calling on Europe to respect human rights and democracy is rather bold of the proto-autocrat:

Building-size billboards feature a giant likeness of Mr. Erdogan urging the nation to vote “Yes.” On TV networks, government officials brand those opposing this executive presidency plan as traitors or supporters of terrorism. Finding any evidence of the “No” campaign can be mission impossible.

And yet, despite such a charged environment, a referendum victory for Mr. Erdogan looks surprisingly uncertain. Opinion polls keep showing a nation starkly divided along the middle—with a significant part of Mr. Erdogan’s own Justice and Development Party, or AKP, electorate balking at the idea of scrapping Turkey’s tradition of parliamentary democracy.

We'll see if Erdogan will let mere voting if it goes the wrong way derail his democracy exit (Dexit?).

If Erdogan is dreaming of a new caliphate, this is fascinating:

Since opening its new embassy in Mogadishu in mid-2016 the Turks have gone on to build a military compound between the capital and the airport. The new embassy compound is near the beach and is the largest Turkish embassy in the world. Since 2011 Turkey has provided more than $900 million in aid for Somalia and the new military base will be used to train Somali soldiers as well as troops from other parts of Africa. Turkey is making a statement; that is will help Somalia and will not be driven out by threats.

Turkey's major effort in Somalia is odd if you see it as a purely humanitarian effort. Although it has value as an effort to leverage the move to claim a leadership role for Turks in the Arab Moslem world that defined the first Ottoman Empire's southern provinces.

And as an effort to complement China's reach to Europe and the Middle East through the Indian Ocean route of the "New Silk Road," it makes a lot of sense.

And that cooperation with China might just be a point of leverage to weaken and balance rivals in the region until the Neo-Ottoman Empire can try to exert control on its own.

A more robust indigenous Turkish defense industry would be the ultimate goal of first diversifying weapons sources from the West to Russia and China in order to gain freedom to maneuver between those power centers.

Diversification is clearly important as Europe reacts to Erdogan's rush to autocracy:

Berlin has rejected more than 10 applications for arms exports to Turkey in recent months, the German daily "S├╝ddeutsche Zeitung" (SZ) reports, citing a letter from the Ministry of Economic Affairs. The ministry was answering questions by the left-wing MP Jan van Aken.

As a NATO partner, Turkey is rarely subject to restrictions on arms exports. But there are concerns that since last July's coup attempt, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has launched a far-reaching purge of political opponents.

With Russia pushed back and perhaps courted as even a frenemy with China available as another counter-weight, Erdogan find he doesn't need the help of a weak Europe to help Turkey defeat the Russian threat.

And Erdogan certainly doesn't need a Europe to hector him on human rights and democracy when that interferes with rebuilding the Ottoman Empire.

I assume Erdogan thinks he can rebuild the Ottoman Empire before Putin can rebuild the Soviet Union.