Friday, July 1, 2016

Wag the Dog - Part 3

Roger Cohen, NYT

Pity the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in his labyrinth.

It’s a large labyrinth. As he drifts from room to room — and there are about 1,000 of them in his new Ankara palace — Erdogan no doubt has time to reflect on Turkey’s travails and perhaps ponder how events can escape the control of even the most megalomaniacal ruler.

Here’s a sobering thought: Erdogan, the would-be leader of the Sunni world, after 13 years in power, alone in his vast palace with his neo-Ottoman dream in shreds and Turkish society polarized to the point of violence.

Erdogan blamed unspecified “terrorist organizations” for the vile attack at Istanbul Ataturk airport that killed 44 people. His prime minister, Binali Yildirim, tentatively blamed the Islamic State, or ISIS. This was a clearer statement from the government than last October when a terrorist attack in Ankara that killed 103 people, the deadliest in modern Turkish history, was attributed to a “cocktail” of jihadi Islamists and Kurdish militants — whatever that means.

Most of the victims then were Kurds. Mystery still surrounds the bombing [..].

Erdogan has played a double game. For a long time he allowed ISIS recruits to move across Turkey and over the border to the Islamic State’s Syrian stronghold of Raqqa. Given a choice between the terrorists of the Islamic State in northern Syria and what, for him, are the Syrian-Kurdish terrorists of the P.K.K.-affiliated Democratic Union Party, or P.Y.D (and its associated militia, the Y.P.G.), the Turkish president has no doubt who is more menacing.

ISIS has had anti-Kurdish uses for Erdogan. By contrast, the Kurdish enclave in northern Syria, known as Rojava, is only trouble from a Turkish perspective. That the Y.P.G. has, in effect, been America’s most effective ground force against ISIS complicates Erdogan’s position. Turkey is a NATO ally opposed to America’s anti-ISIS Syrian-Kurdish alliance [..]

Prickly and erratic, he has perceived enemies everywhere — in the press (whose freedom he has stifled), among former business allies, in the secular Turkey that resists his increasingly unbridled attempts to advance an Islamist agenda. Turning his back on years of attempted reconciliation with the Kurds, he has adopted an uncompromising brutality. Seeing his power threatened, he was prepared to countenance violence to instill an atmosphere of fear in the run up to last year’s November election, so that he could emerge as strongman-savior.

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Also see part 1, part 2