Erdogan and the regional leadership ambitions

Erdogan and the regional leadership ambitions

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Although the Turkish government has not yet sent a single soldier to fight in Libya, it is engaged on a daily basis in the war there; supporting Libya's internationally recognized Government of National Accord, which is barely defending the capital Tripoli.

Turkey has been a key partner in the Libyan war since it began eight years ago, and considers itself concerned with what is happening there on the ground that it had significant investments with Muammar Qaddafi's government before its collapse in 2011.

Last week, when he inaugurated a new submarine, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened of ‘reaching’ Libya; however, the Libyans almost immediately captured a Turkish vessel near their shores. Actually, there is another reason for Erdogan to fight everywhere, which is a personal one: He desires to make himself a regional leader and his country a central force.

Throughout Erdogan’s presidency, Turkey has had a project to be the biggest regional power, but there have been more failures than victories. Its biggest setback was the fall of its ally Mohammed Morsi in Egypt and the end of Muslim Brotherhood rule there, which lasted only one year.

Turkey's most recent failure was in Sudan, with the fall of its ally Omar Bashir and with it the Muslim Brotherhood’s three-decade rule. The new regime, brought by the Sudanese street, terminated the military cooperation agreement with Turkey and cancelled the lease of Sawakin Island in the Red Sea, where the Turks planned a military base to impose their presence off the Saudi coast and near Egypt.

In the Gulf, Turkey has a military force of 5,000 troops based in Qatar, but it is prohibited from using its air force; US forces dominate airspace there through two military bases in Qatar. This has marginalized the role of the Turkish force in the Iranian crisis, and curtailed its service as a local ground force.

There are also Turkish troops in Syria, which has become more like quicksand for them.  Turkey’s aim there, when it launched Operation Olive Branch, has been to control areas where Kurdish militants — Ankara’s main enemy —  are active; forcing Erdogan to strike different deals and make concessions with the Russians, the Iranians and the Syrian regime just to be present in those areas.

Erdogan has led Turkey from being a peaceful country with exciting economic ambitions to a military power project; although the last major war fought by the Turks was 100 years ago in the Balkans.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed 

To make the situation even more complicated, Erdogan says he will go ahead with his dangerous plan to resettle more than one million Syrians currently taking refuge in Turkey. Those will be forcibly transferred and made to live in areas surrounded by Kurds; thus using them as a shield to protect Turkish territory from attacks by Kurdish separatists.

Erdogan said he intends to allocate 10 Syrian areas and 140 villages to house these refugees, most of whom refuse to move in dangerous security conditions. Turkey is also present in Afghanistan where, along with US forces, it participated in the 2001 invasion, and is still fighting against the Taliban.

Does this military deployment from Afghanistan to Libya make Turkey a truly regional power? It is more likely that this step is motivated by personal leadership motives that will either end with Erdogan’s departure from power, or the suspension of foreign funding of his regime.

Indeed, Erdogan has personal ambitions, as he always boasts of the Ottomans’ history, funds films of Ottoman sultans, takes with him during his travels some actors from the popular TV series “The Etrugrul Resurrection,” attends filming sessions, and promotes the idea of his leadership of a regional and Islamic axis.

These ambitions, shared by many leaders in Iran, as well as Saddam Hussein in Iraq, have failed to achieve the desired end. Erdogan, himself, has not succeeded in any battle yet, and depends on external funding; mainly from Qatar, for most of his international activities. If Qatar ceases funding him these activities would most likely end.

Erdogan has led Turkey from being a peaceful country with exciting economic ambitions to a military power project; although the last major war fought by the Turks was 100 years ago in the Balkans.

Although Erdogan points fingers at Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Libya and Russia, his real opponents are in Istanbul and Ankara, within his own party, and among his allies and party leaders; many of whom have deserted him, and intend to get rid of him at the next elections. However, his most serious opponent is the Turkish ordinary people, who lost most of their savings with the fall of the lira and the decline of the economy; mostly because of Erdogan’s personal decisions.

  • Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya news channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat. Twitter: @aalrashed


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