How Erdogan Duped the West

Erik Khzmalyan & Armen V. Sahakyan

Erik Khzmalyan is a Senior Fellow at ERA Institute.

Armen V. Sahakyan is the Chief Editor at ERA Institute.

Despite the mounting evidence of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s arrant enmity against the West and the regime’s adoption of regional insecurity as a de facto state policy, the Washington establishment remains hesitant to call a spade a spade and punish Ankara for the mayhem it has generated in all directions, counter to the U.S. regional interests. No less worrisome is the influence of the “blame America first” apologists in Washington who exonerate Turkey and go as far as to accuse the U.S. of the deteriorated relationship with the country that is an ally only in name.  

Simplistic excuses include Turkey’s decades-long membership in NATO, America’s involvement in Syria, or Ankara’s supposed role as a “buffer against Russia.”  These a-la-carte arguments are scholarly unsound and fail to recognize the dramatic transformation that Turkey has undergone particularly since the end of the Cold War.  

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ankara’s role in NATO lost its strategic concept. If Washington was willing to close its eyes on democratic deficit in some NATO member states — including Turkey — due to the looming communist threat, the post-Cold War era renders this rationale obsolete. Without first rigorously reexamining its new raison d’être, NATO haphazardly switched the bulk of its attention toward fighting militant Islamism, largely ignoring the alarming signals coming from Ankara in this regard ever since. 

The latest wave in rise of anti-Western forces in Turkey since the early 1990s, and emergence of Erdogan in national politics marked the beginning of Ankara’s drive to pursue its own separate path to the detriment of NATO alliance.

Previously a key member of the radical The Welfare Party of Turkey, Erdogan was an ardent supporter and advisor to then Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, a full-fledged Islamist who chose Libya as his first foreign visit. A harsh critic of the US and NATO, he vehemently opposed the American use of the Incirlik Air Base and promised to end the relations with Israel. 

These and many other developments set the ground for yet another military coup d’état in 1997. The armed forces justified their intervention out of the fear of Turkey’s increased Islamization. Upon taking control, they banned the party and suspended the operations of Islamic radios and TV stations. Erdogan himself received jail time for inciting religious extremism. 

A manipulative tactician, Erdogan realized that openly demonstrating his disdain for the West as well as aggressively pushing his neo-Ottoman agenda would hit a dead-end.  Hence, he began his subtle duping of the West by scaling back his true politics and playing the game of Turkey joining the European Union while running on his Justice and Development Party (AKP) platform that took power in 2002. 

The West fell for this, and some even gave Erdogan a pass when presumed ally Turkey shut the doors to Incirlik Air Base during the Iraq War of 2003, costing American lives. 

Discovering that the West was willing to go along, he slowly revived his real agenda inherently hostile to democracy, secularism, and the West as a whole. For example, to reaffirm his long relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood, Erdogan visited Cairo in alacrity to welcome the organization’s takeover of Egypt in 2012.  Muslim Brotherhood has long been accused of enabling Al-Qaeda and Hamas. This has not prevented Erdogan from turning Turkey into a safe haven for the organization’s members who continue their activities. 

Furthermore, Erdogan facilitated the free flow of the Islamic State terrorists, providing them with logistical and medical support as well as filling their coffers with the illegal purchase of oil sold by the militants. 

Having fully solidified his dictatorial power since 2016, Erdogan no longer has to conceal his true intentions. Damaging Turkey internally, he has embarked on turning the entire neighborhood into conflict zones that have cost thousands of innocent lives, emboldened terrorist groups, derailed American operations, and shattered NATO’s reputation beyond recovery.

The United States has poured hundreds of millions of tax dollars into the Turkish treasury in hopes of gradual political liberalization. But instead these funds have been misused to orchestrate humanitarian crises stretching from Cyprus to Libya and from Syria to Artsakh (formerly known as Nagorno-Karabakh). 

History has proven time and again that appeasing dictators only empowers them. Erdogan’s pronounced neo-Ottoman ideology and engineered hotspots throughout the wider Mediterranean with the help of terrorist organizations and proxy states like Azerbaijan evidently showcase this point. It’s time to dispel the Western myth of Turkey being an ally and to assertively confront Erdogan’s challenge before it’s too late. 

This article is produced by the Eurasian Research and Analysis Institute, Inc. (ERA Institute), a public, 501(c)(3) nonprofit institution devoted to studying Eurasian affairs. All views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).

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