Audacity in a leaderless world: Erdogan’s doctrine

World politics in the 21st century have become uncertain. Political leadership in our era is characterized neither by determination nor by confidence-inspiring guidance in a volatile atmosphere.

After the fall of the Soviet bloc, the world accepted the leadership of the United States for a while. For better or for worse, it was clear that there was one nation that dictated its opinions, thoughts and intentions to the world. The recent change in US leadership placed a new kind of leader at the helm of the strongest country in the world. The Obama revolution is primarily declarative – about a different world, about cooperation, about mutual respect rather than coercion, about discussion plans that are supposed to change the political style throughout the world. This declaration of intent was so powerful that it convinced the Nobel Prize committee to award the coveted award to the charismatic young leader.

Reality has demonstrated that discussions and lack of firm leadership have weakened world leadership, and have opened a new race to conquer the leadership of the new world. The US has lost its power of deterrence as a leading and feared country – its “world sheriff  status has worn off, and various countries have proved that they no longer accept US authority, status, or its overt and implied threats.

North Korea has experimented with weapons of mass destruction and developed long-range missiles, flying in the face of US objections. Russia has attacked Georgia – America’s recent ally – and no steps were taken to prevent the attacks. Iran ruthlessly suppressed the civil demonstrations following the elections for the Iranian Parliament. No real support of the demonstrators was expressed, and they were abandoned to their fate and brutally crushed. All of America’s friends – from President Mubarak in Egypt, to the president of Yemen, to Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, who gave up his attempts to produce nuclear weapons in order to draw closer to the West – were overthrown, as no attempts were made by the US to help its friends. One was lynched; one was put on a showcase trial. The only countries that showed the world a semblance of the term “friendly nations” were Russia and China, even at the cost of world condemnation.

After many years of involvement and millions of dollars invested in the war in Iraq, the entire world, including the US, has found that the country is falling into the hands of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards like a ripe fruit, as the US runs for its life. Piracy off the coast of Somalia continues to take its toll, and the world is faced with increasing nuclear abilities of a terrorist state, intent on establishing an Islamic empire that will impose sharia law throughout the world.

It seems that when there is a leadership vacuum, the struggle for the leadership position is not theoretical but very practical. In this new political reality, the prime minister of Turkey has taken on the role of a contender for the leadership of the Muslim world, angling for the role of the new world leader, as he potentially leads an Islamic movement of 1.6 billion citizens and is a power that cannot be stopped.

Erdoğan has adopted a malicious and arrogant style. Freedom of the press has been eradicated in a country that used to be secular and democratic. The Turkish military, which was the protector of democracy, is losing its power, and hundreds of officers have been imprisoned, as the world stand by, silent. On his way to establishing his position in the Arab and Muslim world, he first allied himself with Syria and attempted to impose himself as a mediator between Syria and Israel, intending to hand Syria the Golan Heights as a reward. But his betrayal was complete when he found that support of the Muslim Brotherhood was more important than preserving his new ally, Bashar Assad. Since then, he has become the greatest adversary of the Syrian government and a big supporter of the bloody Muslim Brotherhood uprising currently taking place in Syria.

Erdoğan has shown the world that any opposition will be met with force. That is how he behaved toward the Kurds, who have tried for years to achieve autonomy and freedom, using military means on a yet-unheard-of magnitude in internal conflicts to quell a citizen uprising. That is also how he reacted to a single stray missile from Syria to Turkish territory – unrelenting military force and a declaration of war that was endorsed by the Turkish Parliament. Erdoğan’s doctrine says that audacity in a leaderless world is a launch pad to show the world who and what the new leader of the Muslim world is, and to command the world’s recognition, respect and esteem.

Erdoğan’s doctrine says that harsh language accompanied by military force and uninhibited efficiency will prevent the world from criticizing or restraining him. It is a fact that NATO countries and his strategic allies have been supporting his behavior without batting an eyelash.

His vitriol toward Israel during Operation Cast Lead in early 2009 appears somewhat peculiar today, in view of his behavior toward Syria in the current crisis, and proves that Erdoğan’s doctrine allows him to do as he pleases in the region, since there is no one to stop him or intervene.

Erdoğan’s doctrine is dangerous not only because of Turkey’s behavior, but because it is a model that will eventually be adopted by other countries and has the potential to foment anarchy on a worldwide scale. We must open our eyes to see the consequences of this doctrine, which is in danger of becoming a typical global behavior pattern in the 21st century.

About the Author
Dr David Altman is senior vice-president at the Netanya Academic College and vice-chair of the college's Strategic Dialogue Center