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JULY 2020

The Middle East Pivot: Erdoğan’s Turkey Seven “Deadly Sins”


The Middle East Pivot: Erdoğan’s Turkey Seven “Deadly Sins”

Written by Prof. James Petras; Originally appeared at Global Research

Multiple wars ravage the Middle East. Turkey has inserted itself into the middle of most of these regional conflicts and ended up a loser.

Under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey has intervened and formed alliances with a rogue’s gallery of imperial warlords, terrorists-mercenaries, Zionist expansionists, feudal potentates and obscure tribal chiefs, with disastrous economic, political and military consequences for the Turkish nation.

In this paper we will discuss Turkey’s domestic and foreign policies and behavior over the past decade.  We will conclude with lessons for middle range powers, which might help in future decisions

President Erdogan’s Domestic Disasters

Throughout the early decade of the 21st century, Erdoğan made a strategic alliance with an influential semi-clandestine organization led by a cult-leading cleric, Fethullah Gülen, who was conveniently self-exiled in the US and under the protection of the US intelligence apparatus. This marriage of convenience was formed in order to weaken the leftist, secular and Ataturk nationalist influenced opposition. Armed with the Gülenists’ treasure trove of forged documents, Erdoğan purged the military of its Ataturk nationalist leadership. He proceeded to marginalize the secular Republican Party and repressed leftist trade union, social movements and prominent academics, journalists, writers and student activists. With support from the Gülenists movement, ‘Hizmet’, Erdoğan celebrated his successes and won multiple election and re-election victories!

Initially, Erdoğan failed to recognize that the Gülenists/Hizmet operated as a subversive political organization, which permeated the state apparatus through a dense network of bureaucratic, military, judicial, police, and civil society organizations, with ties to the US military/CIA and friendly relations with Israeli policy makers.

By 2013, Erdoğan felt intense pressure from the Gülenists/Hizmet which sought to discredit and oust his regime by revealing multi-million dollar corrupt practices involving him and his family in a ‘Turquoise Color Revolution’ – remake of other ‘regime changes’.

Having discovered his internal vulnerability, Erdoğan moved to curtail the power and reach of the Gülenists/Hizmet controlled media. He was not yet prepared to deal with the immense scope and depth of the elite links to Gülenists/Hizmet. A Gülenists-led military coup was launched in July 2016, with the tacit support of the US military stationed in Turkey. This was foiled by a major popular mobilization with the support of  the armed forces.

Erdoğan then moved to thoroughly purge the followers of Hizmet from the military, public administration, schools, business, the press and public and private institutions. He extended his purge to include secular and nationalist political leaders who had always opposed the Gülenists and their attempted coup d’état.

As a result of the coup attempt and the subsequent purge, Erdoğan weakened and fractured every aspect of the state and civil society. Erdoğan ended up securing control of a weakened state with a degraded business, educational and cultural world.

The Gülenists coup was authored and led by its supremo Fethullah Gülen, ensconced in his ‘secret’ private estate in the United States. Clearly the US was implicated in the coup and they rejected Erdoğan’s demands to extradite him.

Erdoğan’s subservience to the US/NATO leadership have undermined his attempts to strike at the roots of the coup and its internal and external power structure. The US/NATO military bases still operate in Turkey and retain influence over its military.

In the aftermath of the coup, the decline of Gülenist influence in the economy contributed to economic reversals in investments and growth. The purge of the military and civil society reduced Turkey’s military preparedness and alienated the democratic electorate. Erdoğan had already nearly lost his bid to the presidency after his earlier purges in 2014.

Erdoğan’s Foreign Policy Disasters

Perversity is when a ruler weakens its military and represses its citizens and launches a series of risky foreign adventures: This is exactly what Erdoğan has done over the past several years.

First Erdoğan backed a terrorist uprising in Syria, providing arms, recruiting overseas ‘volunteers’ and providing them with unrestricted passage across the Turkish border. Many of the terrorists proceeded to join forces with Syrian, Iraqi and Turkish Kurds in establishing military bases on Ankara’s borders.

Secondly, Erdoğan ran a scurrilous electoral campaign among the millions of ethnic Turks living in Germany – violating that powerful nation’s sovereignty. As a result, Erdoğan increased tensions and animosity with what had been its closest ally in its quest for EU membership – effectively terminating the process.

Thirdly, Erdoğan backed NATO’s invasion and bombing of Libya, killing President Gadhafi, who had been an independent voice, capable of serving as a possible ally against imperial intervention in North Africa.

Fourthly, Erdoğan backed the brief government of Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood after its electoral victory in 2012 following the ‘Arab Spring’ uprising in Egypt of 2011. He backed a formula similar to his own Turkish policy of excluding the secular, democratic opposition. This led to a bloody US-backed military coup led by General Abdel Sisi in July 2013 – a lesson not lost on Erdoğan.

Fifth, Erdoğan’s de facto friendly relations with Israel – despite verbal criticism – in the face of Tel Aviv’s assassination of nine non-violent Turkish protestors trying to break the starvation blockade of Gaza – undermined relations with the pro-Palestine Arab world and nationalists in Turkey.

Sixth, Erdoğan developed lucrative ties with Iraqi Kurd dictator-warlord, Masoud Barzani, facilitating the flow of oil to Israel. Erdoğan’s own illicit oil deals with Barzani strengthened the cause of Kurdish separatism and exposed the widespread corruption of Erdoğan’s family dealings.

Seventh, Erdoğan provoked military tensions with Russia by shooting down a warplane in Syria. This led to an economic boycott, which reduced export earnings, devastated the tourism sector and added Moscow to his list of adversaries, (Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, US, Germany, Hezbollah and Iran).

Eighth, Erdoğan backed the tiny oil-state of Qatar, sending supplies and soldiers to oppose a threat from Saudi Arabia, the other royal oil statelets and Egypt, US allies and followers.

Despite his many disastrous domestic and foreign policies, Erdoğan learned nothing and forgot nothing. When the Israelis backed the Iraqi Kurds in organizing an independence ‘referendum’ aiming to ultimately annex the rich oil fields of Northern Iraq, Erdoğan took no action despite this threat to Turkish national security. He merely made verbal threats to cut off the Kurd’s access to Ankara’s oil pipelines. He took no concrete steps. Erdogan preferred to pocket transit taxes from the oil, antagonizing Iraq and Syria and strengthening the links between Kurdish Iraq and its secessionist counterparts in Syria and Turkey.

Because of Erdoğan failure to close down the US military base following its support of the Gülenist-led coup, the Turkish army is still heavily under  US influence, opening the possibility of another uprising.

Erdoğan’s lip-service to ‘nationalism’ has served mainly as a political tool to repress domestic democratic political parties and trade unions and the Kurdish and Alevi communities.

Erdoğan’s initial support and subsequent opposition to the jihadi terrorist groups seeking to oust the secular-nationalist government in Damascus has caused ‘blowback’ – with ISIS terrorist cells bombing civilian targets Istanbul and Ankara with mass casualties.


Erdoğan’s unprincipled, opportunistic and pro-imperialist NATO alliance demonstrates the inability of an aspiring regional power to find a niche in the US Empire.

Erdoğan believed that being a loyal ‘ally’ of the US would protect Turkey from a coup d’état. He failed to realize that he had become a disposable pawn in US plans to instill more servile rulers (like the Gülenist) in the Middle East.

Erdoğan’s belief that Turkey’s collaboration with the US to overthrow Syria’s President Bashar Assadwould lead to a successful territorial grab of Northern Syria: instead Erdoğan ended up serving the US-backed Syrian Kurds tied to the Turkish Kurds. By working to break up Syria and destroy its state and government, Erdoğan strengthened Kurdish cross border expansionism.

Erdoğan failed to recognize the most basic rule of imperial policy: There are no permanent allies there are only permanent interests. Erdoğan thought Turkey would be ‘rewarded’ by acting as a US surrogate with a share of power, wealth and territory in the Middle East. Instead, as a ‘normal’ imperial power, the US used Turkey when it was convenient and would then dispose of Erdoğan – like a used condom.

Anti-imperialism is not just an ideal and moral/ethical principle – it is a realistic approach to safeguarding sovereignty, democratic politics and meaningful alliances.



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  • Assad Did Nothing Wrong™

    Erdogan did everything wrong.

    • Mountains

      Care to explain. I’m just interested in knowing how from your point of view. AND as they say every story has two tales. Let me hear the explaination

      • Assad Did Nothing Wrong™

        I read this article. It seems he just can’t do something right.

        • Daniel Castro

          Greedy people want everything, because they never make any ooncession forcing everyone to a zero sum game, at some point they find themselves on the side that lost everything.

          The same fate awaits ISrael and USSA.

  • Rob

    Turkey forces entered Syria and start negotiation with different
    terrorist groups without permission and coordination with the Syrian
    government and their allies. Now Syrian government have demanded Turkey
    to pullout their forces unconditionally. Syrian government spokesman said
    that we have not invited Turkey army. Turkey is not sincere.

    • RTA (Bob or Al)

      Not sure the Syrians stated not invited, more like overstepped their remit.

  • Shy Talk

    Turkey is not sincere. that is an understatement, Erdogan must be useful to someone because he’s still alive

  • Lupus

    Turks never brought peace in history and neither will in the present with Erdocunt

  • Floyd Hazzard

    Erdogan is an arrogant idiot. I don’t know how he rose to that position because he is always supportive of controversy and he never plans things carefully. He just makes impulsive and mostly wrong decisions.

  • Mountains

    Hahahaha. I just read this article from beginning to end. This is very childish journalism and rather just a personal rant. I sense the butthurt’ery

    • Draden

      You must be a Turk.

    • al quaida

      Congrats on reading an article from beginning to end. Must be quite the accomplishment for you…

  • Bru

    superb article

  • Bru

    Superb article!

  • Kira Binkley

    Who listens to Sociologists?

  • Ronald

    Despite the US backed coup attempt , he still can’t comprehend who are his friends and who are not his friends .

    • RTA (Bob or Al)

      I think he is Billy No mates now (with maybe the exception being The Ukraine).

    • Kira Binkley

      I like him. In this point in history, the nations of the world need strong leaders. Erdogan is a strong leader. He can tell the EU to take their “strings” and shove them, without equivocation.

      • Ronald

        As I see it , he still thinks Saudi Arabia and the US are friends , if he told the EU to “shove it” , if he ordered the NATO base out of Turkey , he would show strength .
        As it is , he is just rolling with the American punches , be surprised if he’s still alive in two years .

        • Kira Binkley

          I think he pretty much did what you said. First in regards to Incirlik, and then the EU. Turkey has been part of NATO from the beginning, I believe.

  • Draden

    This guy is a thug, was never a statesman, will never be one.

    • A thug and a great political street fighter. But the rural conservative Turkish Islamists who migrated to the cities in Turkey in pursuit of jobs in when the Turkish economy was growing and who took to the streets to support Erdogan during the 2016 coup attempt will turn on Erdogan if the damaged economy continues its decline.

  • Mortal

    It’s really hard to stop war from going on in Turkey, there have been tensions across its borders forever. I think it is a country inherently unstable due to its geopolitical value. Countries like Turkey, being in the meeting point of the civilizations, have to project power as well as know when to kneel in order to survive. Also, although the numbers favor Turkey, I believe the huge corruption will make its military weaker and less effective if it comes down to that. Maybe its time for Erdogan to choose who among his enemies are the ones he should take on first. And that would put him between a rock and a hard place.

  • NotFound

    The former Prime Minister of Turkey, Ahmet Davutoglu was one of the main collaborators of the imperialist assault on Syria which started in 2011. When he visited Damascus in 2011, the common opinion there was: “His suggestions are the demands of the Americans. We heard them once again from him this time.”

    In his report to the cabinet, Davutoglu claimed that: “It would be over in two months and Assad would go.” But Assad is still around today and he has been long gone. He will be remembered for his “strategic disgrace”, instead of “strategic depth”.

    Before 2011, Erdogan was calling Assad “my brother” and having family vacations with him at the holiday resorts of Turkey. Then, Assad became a “murderer”, and a “dictator” overnight. Because America said so once again. On behalf of the United States, Erdogan demanded from Assad, “to give up on Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, to cut his strategic partnership with Iran and Hezbollah, to accept a two-state solution in Palestine, to integrate Syria into the Middle Eastern Free Zone, and to implement political reform”.

    The U.S. also appointed Erdogan to establish a “Middle Eastern Free Zone”, formed by Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Israel. This plan would pave the way for the America’s “Jordanian-Palestinian Federation” plan. Erdogan wanted reform from Assad as well. But what Erdogan and his Akp government understood from reform was the neutralization of Ba’ath Party and include the Muslim Brotherhood into the power structure of the state. Assad rejected and resisted all of them and thus, became an “enemy”.

    The failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016 was a wake up call for Erdogan. Since then, he has been forging alliences with Russia, Iran, Iraq, and even a de-facto one with Syria through Russian mediation. Following the illegal “kurdistan” referendum, Erdogan said during a speech two weeks ago in Erzurum province that: “We are in contact with our neighbours, including Syria.” That is why, the days of Erdogan starting to call Assad “brother” again may not be that far away. Sooner or later, he will have to shake hands with him again. That is what the geopolitics impose for the mutual benefit of all.

  • Domenic Patrone

    Not yet . . so thinks prince of princes, Erdogap. He still may aid Israel in land acquisition and get some in the process, perhaps the top half of Syria or so. And maybe later, some of Iraq might fall into his lap as well. Cheers for the TURKS! They are back on the WORLD MAP ONCE MORE !!!

  • Bora Aslan

    The author is a sort of fanatic actually. He doesn’t know much abt Turkey. And most of his conclusions are just google search. Don’t mind this article. It is just junk

    • SHA

      can u bring an argument against this article ?
      erdogans mistakes are huge and easy to see .

      turkey lost in syria
      turkey lost in egypt
      turkey lost palestinian support
      tukey made russia and the axis of resistance(iran iraq syria lebanon) their enemies
      turkey only strengthened its worst enemies = kurds
      turkey lost the EU
      turkey did not achieved anything
      it only lost

      what did turkey won
      bring me 1 point
      tell me about a single geopolitic victory

      • Bora Aslan

        First, Turkey was no democracy, Kemalism was applied as something close to Fascism before Erdogan. For Example
        Kemalists did 4 military coups, killed hundreds during the process, military controlled all the Government positions, 17t Kurds were killed thru extrajudicial means during 90s and not a single person was convicted, wearing headscarf even in universities was forbidden, hanging the picture of Ataturk in every office was a must (like North Korea now) etc etc…

        I can make the list longer but the author starts by defending this system. That is why I called him a fascist.

        Second, the forged documents part. Funny, most of the documents were authentic and many of the convicts confessed their plans. We are talking about a military which did 4 coups and as if they will not do a planning for a 5th one. Anyway, generalizing the whole trials as forged makes the author as junk. (There were forged ones for sure.)

        Third, Gulenists allied Erdogan coz they were promised reforms and democracy. And Turkey was on the right path until 2010. So Ergodan used them and later junked them. Look he even did the same to Gul, Arinc, Topbas and so many other senior allies. Did the same to Kurds as well. Promised peace process then junked them.

        Fourth, The coup was a combined act of Erdogan and the deep state or the remnants of old military. Look FIdan and Akar gave no testimony. And it was obvious that the coup was destined to fail.

        Fifth, Erdogan was proven to be a criminal on Dec 17, 2013. But with the support of leftists, Kemalists and nationalists in promise to eradicate Gulenists, he remained there. Those groups were old enemies of Gulenists. When they saw the chance to destroy Gulenists, they took it. For example. look Gezi protests, Cumhuriyet meetings etc… If the opposition wanted, they could do real protests. But their silence and inaction was their support. So all these problems are collective problems of Turkish people. Singling out Erdogan is wrong.

        There is more to talk about the whole problem but blaming Erdogan alone is misunderstanding and misjudging the whole problem. I hope my points are clear..

      • Kira Binkley

        Where are you from, SHA?