Erdogan and the wages of Islamism

Except for his nation's economy, by mid-2018, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had achieved virtually everything he sat out to achieve when he first came to power in 2003.  Turkey is now in everything but the name an Islamist dictatorship, with Erdoğan as the unchallenged leader.  Yet, instead of feeling supremely confident, Erdoğan and his clique are beset by ineluctable problems and foreboding of disaster down the road.  In many ways, this was inevitable and stems from the very nature of the radical transformation of an imperfect democracy into an oppressive tyranny.  Disaster for Turkey may not be around the bend, it was thought, but it was inevitable sooner rather than later.  The collapse of the Turkish lira may have signaled that "sooner" is now.

To understand why this was inevitable, it may be worthwhile to briefly survey recent history.  Politically and economically, Ankara has profited enormously since it sided with the West after WWII and became a member in good standing of NATO and the West.  It enjoyed enormous benefits as a member of the European Customs Union and countless advantages as a preferred trade partner of the United States.  It would not be an exaggeration to say that without this massive show of Western goodwill, Turkey would have remained a run-of-the-mill Middle Eastern country that lacks natural resources.  Instead, the country was treated as quasi-Western despite glaring economic and political deficiencies.

No longer.

By taking his country down the one-way path to Islamism and tyranny, Erdoğan has severed its ties with the West irreparably.  Illusions to the contrary by many in NATO and Western Europe will not change that.  The naked fact is that Turkey is now an enemy of the democratic West.  The sooner we realize that and act accordingly, the better it is for the Western alliance and ultimately for the Turks themselves.

Economically, Erdoğan , who has been credibly charged with corruption nearly a dozen times as mayor of Istanbul, has pumped a huge amount of state money into mega-projects in the construction sector and real estate deals of his Islamist friends in an effort to spur growth.  This has come at the expense of huge trade deficits that need constant inflow of hot money to be sustained.

While in the years before Erdoğan (1975-1989) the deficit averaged 1.7% of GDP, during his tenure (2003-2016), it has risen to an unsustainable 4.8% of GDP.  With the lira now in a free fall, it is no longer clear how Turkey can avoid the precipice.  It is estimated by financial experts that at an exchange rate of 7.10 liras to the dollar, all bank reserves would be exhausted, and the banking system would face collapse.  Last Friday the exchange rate briefly touched 6.87 liras to the dollar.

Yet, despite plenty of evidence of the disastrous course on which Erdoğan was taking Turkey, plenty of European countries and the E.U. itself kept pumping money into this dismal enterprise.  Having made the catastrophic decision to open the E.U.'s borders to migrants in 2015, Mrs. Merkel compounded her mistake by striking a deal to pay Erdoğan to keep the migrants out.  In the meantime, European banks that many experts consider "zombie banks" themselves, such as the Spanish BBVA, the French BNP Paribas, and the Italian UniCredit, pumped over $133 billion into Turkey they will almost certainly lose in the near future.  No wonder the lira is collapsing.

While Europe remains mired in its typical policy paralysis regarding Turkey, there are finally signs that Washington has at long last realized that the time for tough talk with Ankara is past due.  Last week, both President Trump and Vice President Pence warned Ankara of "large sanctions" if it did not immediately release an imprisoned U.S. pastor and soon thereafter imposed sanctions on two Turkish ministers – an unprecedented act in the long history of NATO.  Pastor Brunson was little more than a hostage in Erdoğan's cynical game of hoping to exchange him for bête noire Fethullah Gülen, which shows just how clueless the Islamist is about Western norms and the rule of law.  Since then, Trump has also jacked up tariffs on Turkish exports of steel and aluminum.

More serious still are Senate efforts to prevent the delivery of F-35 jets if Ankara does not give up the idea of buying the Russian S-400 missile defense system, which is completely incompatible with NATO's systems, and, last but most, congressional efforts to prevent Turkey from receiving additional loans from the World Bank and EBRD.

It has taken a while to get the U.S. to respond to the blatant anti-Americanism and provocative behavior of Erdoğan , but it is now a fait accompli, and Turkey will pay dearly for the follies of its new sultan.  Such are the wages of Islamism.

Alex Alexiev is chairman of the Center for Balkan and Black Sea Studies (cbbss.org).  He can be reached at alexievalex4@gmail.com.

Photo credit: Pixabay.

Except for his nation's economy, by mid-2018, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had achieved virtually everything he sat out to achieve when he first came to power in 2003.  Turkey is now in everything but the name an Islamist dictatorship, with Erdoğan as the unchallenged leader.  Yet, instead of feeling supremely confident, Erdoğan and his clique are beset by ineluctable problems and foreboding of disaster down the road.  In many ways, this was inevitable and stems from the very nature of the radical transformation of an imperfect democracy into an oppressive tyranny.  Disaster for Turkey may not be around the bend, it was thought, but it was inevitable sooner rather than later.  The collapse of the Turkish lira may have signaled that "sooner" is now.

To understand why this was inevitable, it may be worthwhile to briefly survey recent history.  Politically and economically, Ankara has profited enormously since it sided with the West after WWII and became a member in good standing of NATO and the West.  It enjoyed enormous benefits as a member of the European Customs Union and countless advantages as a preferred trade partner of the United States.  It would not be an exaggeration to say that without this massive show of Western goodwill, Turkey would have remained a run-of-the-mill Middle Eastern country that lacks natural resources.  Instead, the country was treated as quasi-Western despite glaring economic and political deficiencies.

No longer.

By taking his country down the one-way path to Islamism and tyranny, Erdoğan has severed its ties with the West irreparably.  Illusions to the contrary by many in NATO and Western Europe will not change that.  The naked fact is that Turkey is now an enemy of the democratic West.  The sooner we realize that and act accordingly, the better it is for the Western alliance and ultimately for the Turks themselves.

Economically, Erdoğan , who has been credibly charged with corruption nearly a dozen times as mayor of Istanbul, has pumped a huge amount of state money into mega-projects in the construction sector and real estate deals of his Islamist friends in an effort to spur growth.  This has come at the expense of huge trade deficits that need constant inflow of hot money to be sustained.

While in the years before Erdoğan (1975-1989) the deficit averaged 1.7% of GDP, during his tenure (2003-2016), it has risen to an unsustainable 4.8% of GDP.  With the lira now in a free fall, it is no longer clear how Turkey can avoid the precipice.  It is estimated by financial experts that at an exchange rate of 7.10 liras to the dollar, all bank reserves would be exhausted, and the banking system would face collapse.  Last Friday the exchange rate briefly touched 6.87 liras to the dollar.

Yet, despite plenty of evidence of the disastrous course on which Erdoğan was taking Turkey, plenty of European countries and the E.U. itself kept pumping money into this dismal enterprise.  Having made the catastrophic decision to open the E.U.'s borders to migrants in 2015, Mrs. Merkel compounded her mistake by striking a deal to pay Erdoğan to keep the migrants out.  In the meantime, European banks that many experts consider "zombie banks" themselves, such as the Spanish BBVA, the French BNP Paribas, and the Italian UniCredit, pumped over $133 billion into Turkey they will almost certainly lose in the near future.  No wonder the lira is collapsing.

While Europe remains mired in its typical policy paralysis regarding Turkey, there are finally signs that Washington has at long last realized that the time for tough talk with Ankara is past due.  Last week, both President Trump and Vice President Pence warned Ankara of "large sanctions" if it did not immediately release an imprisoned U.S. pastor and soon thereafter imposed sanctions on two Turkish ministers – an unprecedented act in the long history of NATO.  Pastor Brunson was little more than a hostage in Erdoğan's cynical game of hoping to exchange him for bête noire Fethullah Gülen, which shows just how clueless the Islamist is about Western norms and the rule of law.  Since then, Trump has also jacked up tariffs on Turkish exports of steel and aluminum.

More serious still are Senate efforts to prevent the delivery of F-35 jets if Ankara does not give up the idea of buying the Russian S-400 missile defense system, which is completely incompatible with NATO's systems, and, last but most, congressional efforts to prevent Turkey from receiving additional loans from the World Bank and EBRD.

It has taken a while to get the U.S. to respond to the blatant anti-Americanism and provocative behavior of Erdoğan , but it is now a fait accompli, and Turkey will pay dearly for the follies of its new sultan.  Such are the wages of Islamism.

Alex Alexiev is chairman of the Center for Balkan and Black Sea Studies (cbbss.org).  He can be reached at alexievalex4@gmail.com.

Photo credit: Pixabay.