“The weakest element of Erdogan’s reign — a.k.a. the country’s ailing economy — paradoxically provides political strength to him in his dealings with Europe. That's why he can afford to be belligerent with the EU, and he can win against his European opponents.” concludes Cengiz Çandar his last column in which he provides a clear-eyed assessment of the latest (held on December 10-11) EU Council meeting’s outcomes concerning Turkey.
In a different way, yet perhaps along the same lines, Herkül Millas muses in his own column of at Ahval English that: “This is a new Turkey that needs to be re-discovered and re-evaluated. Limited ingredients necessitate new recipes.” I add my voice to both Çandar’s and Millas’, and will try elaborate on these issues a little bit more here-below.
It so appears that while Turkey was “isolated” as in diplomatic parlance during, due to and following the shouting match between the Turkish and American foreign ministers Çavuşoğlu and Pompeo at the last (virtual) NATO Ministerial on December 1-2. It was not the case during a previous NATO high-level meeting in mid-summer where the “Courbet incident” was discussed. All the more so that France had even furiously left the Operation Sea Guardian metaphorically banging the door right behind her.
This time around, at the EU Council too, France alongside with Greece and “Cyprus” appears to be on the losing side. Seemingly, it so turns out that Germany, Italy and Spain as well as Turkey’s, and Greece’s for that matter, immediate neighbour Bulgaria successfully diluted attempts at severely sanctioning Ankara. In a way, EU had a mockery of itself by again kicking the can further down the road, if there is any stretch of the road left to kick that elusive can down it, while at the same punting the hot chestnut towards the incoming Biden administration.
Yet, when one turns his/her eyes towards beyond the Atlantic, the outgoing Trump administration’s Syria hands Ambassador Jeffrey’s most recent Al Monitor interview with Jared Szuba and Joel Rayburn’s House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing contents are indeed telling. Both officials, with rather unscrupulous and candid manners, do not refrain from underlying the US policy of instrumentalization of Turkey merely as “the” bulwark against Russia and Iran in the MidEast as well as in the Caucausus and the Black Sea theaters.
Let’s try and turn another modest stone, so to speak, then: Germany’s military industry giant Thyssen Krupp is the foremost global submarine builder. The company’s “HDW Class 214” submarine is in demand both in Turkey and Greece. The former ordered six of them, with the first one to be belatedly delivered next year and Thyssen Krupp is the main technology provider of the additional six to be built under the “national submarine” program to be taken delivery by the Turkish Navy in the 2030’s. Greek Navy has already two Class 214s in its inventory and keenly awaits the delivery of the two that are already ordered. One can add two by two politically without further ado looking at the state of play between these two “reference customers” of Thyssen Krupp.
Now, let’s refresh our history knowledge a little and scratch our heads about a possible way forward. One lesson can be found in the way how in its death bed a diminished Ottoman Empire managed to play the disrupted Balkan states against each other away from the big power table. Ambassador Jeffrey qualifies Erdoğan as a “big power thinker” and Rayburn draws his audience’s attention to the fact that Ankara has a ring-side seat at the NATO. The other, more sobering lesson is the way, not the US but Greece paved diplomatically the way to bring now defunct Yugoslavia and Turkey together to create the Balkan Pact back in 1953.
“The guy won” read the now infamous WhatsApp message of the loosing presidential candidate Muharrem İnce that he sent in a creative way to concede defeat to his TV commentator friend İsmail Küçükkaya who in turn had read it aloud live during the election night. Within a different context Cengiz Çandar appears to argue the same as referenced at the outset. Economy professor Eser Karakaş has another idea though. He convincingly argues that the notorious US and EU sanctions are already in place and that these cost Turkey a whopping 275 billion USD in the last five years as Turkey steered more and more away from the West. To wit, Professor Karakaş reminds us that this figure is more or less equivalent to Greece’s national income.
In a well-known anecdote that Turks like to tell to mock themselves, in hell there are burning holes in which various nations are piled up in. Next to each, a demon stands guard to stop just in case if any member of that particular nation manages to climb out. There is only hole in hell next to which there are no guardian demon in sight. Intrigued, one hapless newcomer inquires about that hole. A demon casually replies: “Oh, that one; that’s the hole reserved for the Turks, they always pull back down anyone who attempts to escape on their own.”
In other words, if others (foreign powers, London bankers, imperialists, you name it) can’t sink the “too big to fail” Turkey juggernaut of a ship, its crew and passengers can always find a way to sink it themselves. Until then, it is perhaps high time for both Ankara and Athens to come to their senses and remember the 1953 spirit. It would save both sides much needed effort and monies especially in these pandemic stricken era. As for the EU and the US, they can perhaps remember the dream of a value based –if not global but- western order, and come up with a much smarter and positive agenda towards Turkey as in bringing back the EU membership accession talks to the table.
True, President Erdoğan was in Baku celebrating his Qarabakh victory alongside his Azerbaidjani counterpart Aliyev while the EU members were butting heads about Turkey at their Council summit meeting till the wee hours of the morning. Yet, just prior to that event, President Macron too was busy hosting his Egyptian counterpart Sisi at the Elysée Palace with great pomp and decorating him with a Légion d’Honneur medal of the highest order. And while the Germans were busy selling subs to both Greece and Turkey, the Italians were uncorking the champagne bottle to celebrate the much lucrative oil and gas deals that they cut with the Tripoli government. Let’s stop kidding ourselves, and get our act together maybe?
*Special thanks as always to my good friends Professor Serhat Güvenç of Kadir Has University in Istanbul and the relentless Bosphorus ship spotter Yörük Işık for taking their valuable time to educate their humble servant on technical matters while writing this article. If errors are committed, they are entirely yours truly’s, not theirs.