“Every dictator wakes up
wondering if today could be his last” states Michael Rubin for Turkish
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in an interview with Evangelos D. Kokkinos for
The respected analyst of American
Enterprise Institute (AEI) and former Pentagon official, analyzes what the
changes of the political landscape in the USA will bring to US-Turkey
relations and the consequences that they will have in the Eastern Mediterranean
The Turkey-NATO relationship, the
Greek-French alliance and the rapid strengthening of US-Greek relations, as
well as the pan-Turkish aspirations of the religiously fanatical Erdogan are
some of the issues raised by the American expert.
Erdogan is actively trying to expand
Turkish influence in the region and because of Russia’s and US’s indirect
support appears to be succeeding in Syria, Iraq and Armenia. In this context,
do you think that the Greco-Turkish conflict might have a similar outcome?
No, Greece is an exception: There
has been a bipartisan move to strengthen U.S-Greece ties. The top advisors in
the incoming Biden administration are much better versed on the Eastern
Mediterranean than was Trump’s team. To be blunt–and I say this as a
Republican–Biden’s team is also less susceptible to Turkey’s attempts to bribe
them. There doesn’t appear to be a senior level equivalent to Michael Flynn,
Considering the forthcoming changes
in the political scenery in the US, do you think a Biden administration would
follow a stricter policy against Erdogan’s authoritarianism? What is the most
likely move to follow in US politics regarding Turkey?
The natural inclination within Biden’s team is to put up
with a lot less of Erdogan’s nonsense. That said, within Biden’s broader camp,
there are many who argue that Turkey is too important to lose. This was a view
most recently expressed by Michael O’Hanlon and Omer Taspinar in The
National Interest, for example.
But, holistically, while Turkey once
had great influence in Washington, today it has negative influence:
The Congressional Turkey Caucus is a
shadow of its former self and most everyone who works with Turkey is afraid of
being tainted by Erdogan and his excesses.
American ambassador in Athens
recently stated that there is a place for Turkey in the EastMed project.
Keeping in mind that the EastMed is exclusively financed by Israel and the EU,
for natural resources in the Israeli and Cypriot EEZ, how can Washington think
it is ‘OK’ to suggest this?
The State Department is infused with
moral equivalence. Remember how the State Department spokesman referred to the
waters off Kastellorizo as “disputed” even though the only party
disputing international law was Turkey? When diplomats say such nonsense, it
should not be tolerated but rather pushed back upon hard. The correct answer is
that countries like Turkey can only be part of an economic community when they
abide by the law, stop occupying others’ territory, forfeit their claims to
others’ resources, and separate politics from business inside their own
Erdogan is known to use Islamist
mercenaries as a “human shield” and many EU leaders accused him of
stimulating the recent attacks in France and Austria. Even in Nagorno-Karabakh,
Turkey’s intervention made the Armenians characterize the conflict as a
“Holy War”. Is Greece and/or other EastMed countries a potential
target for turkish-backed islamic extremism?
Yes. Simply put, the problem with
Erdogan isn’t just diplomatic, it’s ideological. And while some analysts say
that Erdogan isn’t Turkey and that Turkey will cease to be a problem once
Erdogan is gone, the fact of the matter is 30 million Turks have been educated
under Erdogan and he has remained in power long enough to shape the military in
Turkey today is to radical Islamism
what Saudi Arabia was in the 20th century.
Are Greece and Cyprus current
standing sufficient to keep Turkey in line? What should be the next step in
Greece and Cyprus are acting
properly. While diplomats and the European Union are naturally risk averse, the
evidence shows that Erdogan backs down when countries stand up to him. Remember
how quickly he folded after the US imposed sanctions for the detention of
Pastor Andrew Brunson? Or how Erdogan backed down on the Oruc Reis when he
realized that other countries would not tolerate his action?
The danger is that when attention moves
elsewhere, as with the Oruc Reis, he will try again.
The Erdogan-Macron conflict starts
in the Mediterranean and extends through to Africa and even the Middle East. At
the same time France have suffered greatly from Islamic terrorism, encouraged
in some degree – someone might say – by Turkey. Where do you think this could
lead and to what extent, is such behaviour likely to strengthen further the
France may recognize the reality of
Turkey, but the problem with the European Union is that for all the talk of
unity, there are always countries which are willing to break consensus.
Germany, for example, won’t take serious action against Turkey because Merkel
fears that Erdogan could incite Germany’s Turkish population to violence.
The Turkey-NATO relationship has
undergone many challenges in recent times. Do you think that under certain
conditions Turkey could be banned from the alliance and, would such a
development, strengthen the role of Greece in the region?
It should be banned in an idea
world, but there is no mechanism in NATO to do so. While in the past France and
Greece have stepped away from the organization, they have done so on their own
What really should happen is a
quarantine within NATO where states limit the distribution of classified
information to prevent Turkish officers from accessing it.
If Turkey then wants to leave the
Do you believe that Turkey will play
an effective role in the day-after of the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict? And how
much participation could Turkey be allowed to have when not a part of the Minsk
No. Turkey’s interest is not peace.
Rather, Turkey wanted a corridor to Central Asia in order to pursue in
pan-Turkic fantasies. Turkey’s apologists could say its other actions in Syria,
Iraq, Cyprus, or against Greece were motivated by counter-terrorism concerns or
economic disputes. But, in the case of Nagorno-Karabakh, it has no such excuse.
It has involved itself purely for
reasons of anti-Christian religious animus.
What do you think is the true
message behind Pompeo’s recent visit to Turkey after his definitive decision to
avoid any meeting with the country’s political leadership?
I am glad Pompeo made his move.
Turkey is not Erdogan, no matter what Erdogan may like to believe. And the
United States is not going to stand by while Erdogan pursues a religiously
You frequently characterize Erdogan
as a dictator in the footsteps of Saddam Houssein and Siad Barre. In the past,
scenarios had been heard for the overthrow of Erdogan, there was even a coup attempt
in the summer of 2016, and nevertheless he is still here. Do you see that
happening sometime soon?
Every democratic leader wakes up every
morning knowing when their term ends. Every dictator wakes up wondering if
today could be his last.
if the economy gets bad enough and
Erdogan can no longer pay off top business elite, who knows what might happen?
He may think of himself as a second Ataturk, but he will likely be remembers as
a ruler who brought shame and ruin to Turkey.
Is a full scale war possible in the
Eastern Mediterranean? Which countries would most likely be actively involved
in such a scenario?
I don’t think we will see war.
Simply put, Turkey is the type of country that likes to talk big, but is not
capable of a serious naval fight. Likewise, in Libya, it would take Turkey
weeks to get armor, etc., in place whereas the Egyptians can mobilize to their
border and beyond in hours.
Turkey is over-committed and like a balloon which is blown up too far, it can easily burst.
Interview to Evangelos D. Kokkinos – Pentapostagma