By George Ades – Erdogan’s “big words”, primarily for domestic consumption were usually ignored by his western “allies” who viewed him as little more than a clown and generally humoured him. However, repeat something often enough, no matter how absurd, and you can come to believe it yourself and Erdogan came to believe that Turkey under him could and should be a major player with a say in what transpires in the region and beyond.
Turkey has one great advantage when it comes to the geopolitical chessboard and that is its geographic location. The all important to all Bosporous Straits and as gatekeeper of the Black Sea, Turkey long before Erdogan, had always pulled that trump card to get its own way. The NATO base of Incirlik, in southeastern Turkey was also another important card for Turkey, although with the American military presence in northeastern Syria, their alliance with the Kurds in the region and their establishing upwards of a dozen military bases on both Syrian and Iraqi soil, the once all important role of Incirlik has diminished. Further, I have more than merely strong suspicions that the US nuclear weapons that were stored there, have already been spirited away after Erdogan threatened to take control of the NATO base following the failed coup of 2016. The new home of those warheads is possibly Romania (?)
Turkey’s protracted honeymoon with the west effectively ended after a Turkish F-16 shot down the Russian SU-24 over Syria and things took a serious turn, not just for Turkey, but for the rest of NATO too. The clear message given to Erdogan by his “allies” that he could not rely on Article 5 and that he was on his own against Putin’s wrath, was the rude awakening for the wannabe Sultan.
The US too realised that Erdogan was more than just a minor annoyance and a liability rather than an asset; hence the hastily plotted coup to replace him. That was destined to fail, thanks mostly to information passed on to him by Russian intelligence.
After the botched coup, Erdogan became Putin’s “spanner in the works” for the western camp. With expert handling by a master, Erdogan soon became the lost boy looking for a warm embrace. His instincts for survival brought him closer to Russia and its allies, many of which would not be natural allies of Turkey under normal circumstances. However, he also tried to maintain the western connection balancing on the proverbial tight rope for a while, until he got a load of Trump; a man devoid of diplomatic finesse, just like Erdogan himself, and a man who’s as big a megalomaniac as Erdogan is.
I don’t believe for a minute that Erdogan wanted to break away from the western camp; he was quite comfortable with all the money and concessions the westerners were throwing at him, yielding to his usual threats. However, Trump, who does not play by the usual rules, decided that it was time Erdogan was brought to heel, just like everyone else in the alliance, and the situation, due mainly to their personality clash, got out of control. Neither of them can now go back on what they publicly declared as that will mean major face loss for them.
However, Turkey’s geography has not (yet) changed and the gates to the Black Sea are no less important to the US now than they have always been. The future of the gates will no doubt be the subject for serious consideration of both political as well as military planners in Washington. Do they bow to Erdogan’s threats and compromise, or do they teach him a lesson and make an example of him that would serve to keep all the other minions in line? My money is on option II.