The American Interest

Turkey’s Recklessness

In the millennia-long “tragedy of great power politics” we encounter a recurring phenomenon.  An ambitious leader comes to power, successfully pursues an expansionist policy for a few years, succumbs to hubris, starts making risky decisions, and finally pays the price of not balancing his state’s strategic ends and means.  Classic examples are provided by Cleon before and after 425 b.c., Napoleon before and after 1812, and Hitler before and after 1941.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, the leader of a medium-sized regional power, follows a similar pattern.  He is able to impact the course of the Syrian crisis, and has been doing so to the detriment of both great powers involved in that crisis—the United States and Russia—whose ultimate interests in the Middle East are closer than they appear.  In pursuit of his agenda he is now acting with reckless abandon.  He needs to be restrained before he does more damage.

Between November 2002—when his Islamist party, the AKP, won its first landslide—and the middle of his second term as prime minister, Erdogan had followed a successful “neo-Ottoman” strategy.  He expanded Turkey’s regional influence while gradually dismantling the legacy of Kemalism at home.  Then came a series of rash moves, starting with the Gaza Flotilla in May 2010, which eventually turned Turkey’s geostrategic...

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