Why Is Erdoğan Disillusioned With the West?

A quick look at the West's treatment of Turkey over the past decade reveals that Mr. Erdoğan's disappointment isn't some emotional reaction but a structural transformation already underway

In a recent interview with CBS News, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said he has grown “disillusioned” with the United States over the Obama administration’s support for the PKK’s Syrian franchise, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), and Washington’s failure to extradite Fetullah Gülen. Keeping in mind that U.S. President Barack Obama’s Syria policy has been a fiasco, the Turkish leader was clearly sugarcoating his opinions.

Although Turkey is experiencing a crisis of confidence with Washington, policy makers in Ankara are willing to try and make a fresh start with President-elect Donald Trump.

At the same time, Mr. Erdoğan has been openly criticizing the European Union over its support for certain member states of terrorist groups, including the PKK and FETO. Last week, the president announced that he would consider holding a referendum to terminate membership negotiations with Brussels and the readmission treaty unless the EU granted visa-free travel rights to Turkish citizens.

During his recent visits to Pakistan and Uzbekistan, he told reporters that Turkey might seek to become a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which he doesn’t consider an alternative to NATO. Instead, the Turkish leader seems interested in the Eurasian political, economic and military community as a back-up plan in case Turkey’s problems with Brussels become a permanent fixture.

Still, it’s worth considering why the Turkish president remains critical of the West.

Traditionally, Turkish politicians have had a love-hate relationship with Western nations. Questioning the West’s motives from the sidelines, they tended to consider cooperation with Westerners as an unquestionable reality. In this sense, Mr. Erdoğan overcame the above-mentioned dichotomy by letting rational interests and strategic goals shape public policy even though his narrative has been emotional. As a leader rising from the ranks of conservative Muslims, who are extremely cynical of the West, the Turkish president was able to sell European integration to the masses. In 2005, he ignored the opposition’s claims that EU membership would place Turkey’s territorial integrity at risk to launch formal negotiations with Brussels. Nor did he care about skeptics accusing him of collaborating with the U.S. when he helped launch the Alliance of Civilizations.

In retrospect, Mr. Erdoğan put a lot of effort into developing a meaningful partnership with the West. But after 14 years, he has grown tired of the endless demands and unfulfilled promises of American and European leaders.

As the longest-serving Turkish leader in the multi-party period, Mr. Erdoğan has been able to watch Western “allies” make and break promises and question their motives. As prime minister and president, he witnessed the decline of George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Gerhard Schröder, Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy among others. Over the years, he grew disillusioned with the hypocrisy, stalling and narrow-mindedness of his Western counterparts.

Especially in recent years, the Turkish president has come to terms with the fact that Western nations supported terrorist groups threatening Turkey’s national security – let alone help Ankara address security challenges and remain stable. To make matters worse, he witnessed first-hand how the European Union and NATO reacted to the July 15 coup attempt.

For years, the Turkish leader hoped that European leaders would realize Ankara’s importance for preventing the old continent from turning into a fortress. He remained optimistic through the Arab Spring, the Syrian civil war, the refugee crisis, rising Islamophobia and terror attacks – even though the Western media was busy bashing him day in and day out.

A quick look at the West’s treatment of Turkey over the past decade reveals that Mr. Erdoğan’s disappointment isn’t some emotional reaction but a structural transformation already underway. The West should either redesign its relationship with Turkey or watch the Turks turn their back on Donald Trump’s America and the rise of the far right in Europe.

After sitting on the fence for years, the Turks have made up their mind: Hanging out in Europe’s waiting room is doing more harm than good.

[Daily Sabah, November 24, 2016]

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