President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seems determined to be Earth’s best — or worst, depending on your definition — political suicide bomber. Burying Turkey in multiple serious but avoidable crises, Erdogan ensures his nation’s growing suffering.
Let’s start with the economy. When it comes to the Turkish lira’s rising inflation, which now hovers around 12%, the primary causal factors are A) market expectation of near term European Union on U.S. sanctions being imposed on Ankara, and B) Erdogan’s utter mismanagement of the economy.
On the first count, we see Erdogan’s effort to steal Greek energy reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean, his testing – against explicit U.S. sanctions threats — of the Russian S-400 air defense system, and his picking of a fight with France over political Islam. Each of these imperial actions is likely to spark independent new sanctions on Ankara. Making matters worse, there’s Erdogan’s unrelenting reliance on a fiscal policy that matches heavy deficit spending to an uncompetitive, regulation-heavy economy. Viewing economic activity through a prism of patronage networks, Erdogan’s AK Party has discouraged innovation and avoided necessary reform. But to see just how catastrophic the lira’s currency collapse has been, have a look at this XE.com two year U.S. dollar-lira exchange chart.
The end of that chart is Thursday. But either Erdogan doesn’t care, or he has a fetish for popular pain. After all, the president’s showdown with Greece is nothing short of an imperialist effort to rewrite sovereign boundaries and subjugate the nemesis of all loyal Turkish ultra-nationalists. Erdogan’s effort to establish an Islamic boycott of French goods is both immoral and destined to failure (there are few substitutes for high-value French produce), and the EU has already offered President Emmanuel Macron its support. Erdogan’s obsession with retaining the S-400 system is equally idiotic. That system is totally at odds with Turkey’s responsibilities to NATO.
It needn’t be this way. As an example, the Trump administration has worked hard to give Erdogan an off-ramp to avoid U.S. sanctions. But rather than taking the opportunity to change course while saving face, Erdogan has doubled down on his escalations. Whether Trump is reelected or Biden elected, sanctions are almost certain to follow. The lira’s freefall ain’t over yet.
There’s a special stupidity in this wannabe sultan. It’s best encapsulated by his relationship with Russia.
Even as Erdogan looks to earn Putin’s favor by annoying the United States and EU, and purchasing the S-400 system, the tsar of the Kremlin isn’t handing over any thank-you notes. On the contrary, Putin is once again moving to make life hell for Erdogan in Syria. A Russian airstrike in Syria, which killed dozens of Turkish militia forces this week, was singularly designed as a Russia pressure move to get Erdogan to back off from his current effort to fuel the ongoing Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. Despising Armenia as an old nemesis of the late-genocidal era of the Ottoman Empire, Erdogan has provided Azerbaijan with military support and is pressuring its president to keep up his assault on Armenian forces. This has Putin in rare agreement with the west, which also favors a ceasefire. But Putin is particularly upset, in that both Armenia and Azerbaijan are friendly to Russian interests, and also happen to sit just south of Russia’s southern border. If Erdogan doesn’t back off from fueling the Azerbaijani war effort, Putin is sure to increase the punitive costs on Ankara. But we can be certain of one thing. Whether he does it now or later, the sultan will eventually do what he always does, and bend the knee to the tsar.
Erdogan might think he is a Suleiman the Magnificent, building a glorious new Turkish empire. But in reality, he’s just the ultimate political suicide bomber. Where Erdogan acts, Turkish misery sooner or later follows. Erdogan might see his one thousand room palace as a monument to his singular glory, but it’s only a tombstone for delusion.