Turkey’s ‘Neo-Ottoman’ Rise? (1): Turkey’s Drift from the West


Part 2 is here, and Part 3 will come shortly.



Regular readers will know that I participate as a partner-analyst with the geopolitical consulting firm Wikistrat. This month they rolled out a pretty cool scenario on Turkey’s rise, and what it means for the region. The particular focus is whether or not Turkey is pursuing an independent line from the West in the Middle East especially. It has, partially, bandwagoned with Iran and Syria in the last few years. It broke publicly and sharply with Israel after the flotilla debacle. The current ruling party (Justice and Development Party; AKP) is formally islamist (although not too much in practice). There is concern in the scenario that Turkey might pursue an populist, semi-islamist course, possibly even a neo-Ottoman posture toward the Middle East. Obviously this would create huge headaches for the West, especially Greece and Israel. In the last few weeks, Turkey has fought the NATO-imposition of the no fly zone over Libya.

The scenario set-up is worth a look; Wikistrat’s idea is to build a sort of Wikipedia of analysts all contributing to pages of game scenarios and editing each other. (If you think you can hack it, and you have some decent credentials, contact them. Good analysts are always in demand.) I didn’t quite get it at first, but now I like it more and more. It is a nifty collaborative idea but with way better quality than Wikipedia or wiki-Avatar. (Hah! yes, wiki-Avatar really exists; if you don’t know why Avatar is awful, read this.) Wikistrat follows the ‘Web 2.0’ idea, pioneered by Wikipedia, that more eyes looking at the same ideas/writing will find problems and new approaches. I find this clever and rich. But it runs totally counter to the closed scholarship/peer review model of a sole author, perhaps emailing colleagues before submitting a paper to a journal, where three more reviewers at most look at it. Wikistrat goes the opposite way and throws open your input to all and sundry. In passing, I think this will be a big challenge to traditional closed peer review in the future. And yes, I do get a small stipend if you sign up for the service through my website, but no I haven’t made a cent yet, so I am not trying to be a shill here. I genuinely think the analysis keeps getting better and better, despite my initial skepticism about the ‘wiki’ model – it’s so different than what I do normally in my writing. Anyway, judge for yourself, and note also their awesome list of topics to come: global air power projection, global sea power projection, water conflict, US missile defense – nice, especially for all you defense wonks out there.

Anyway, I just don’t buy it that Turkey is really going to wander far into some kind of islamist-populist mode a la Chavez or Ahmadinejad. I argued that eventually Turkey would return to the NATO-EU-US fold because the cost-benefit analysis is stacked toward it. But I took some serious criticism for arguing for continuity, so, following the wiki-bleg model, commenters here should give me some good ideas to help me save my reputation. Here is the first part of my write-up, starting from the scenario baseline of a ‘neo-Ottomanization’ of the Turkish government. The titles follow the Wikistrat layout.


Scenario Title: Continued Rise and “Shift back Westward”


Summary: Turkey’s rise continues as it shifts away from Iran, strengthening relations with US, Europe and Israel.



Scenario Outline: From Neo-Ottoman Back to Normality


The AKP overreaches by openly provoking the West or EU, perhaps on the Armenian massacre debate, or Israel’s behavior in the occupied territories. Vocal domestic opposition emerges – particularly from entrenched elite interests in business and the military, coupled with the educated, westernized Facebook generation watching Arab Spring on their laptops. Facing rising domestic anxiety over an increasingly overt break with the West, Prime Minister Erdogan goes for broke, publicly arguing that Turkey is a ME power whose ‘destiny’ lies with fellow Muslims and others pursuing ‘social justice’ in the region. Trips to Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Central Asia, Russia, and China follow in the next years. Western leaders and westernized Turkish elements push back in the media; Western fora like the Community of Democracies and the European Parliament wonder out loud about Turkey’s commitment to democracy and human rights. US congressmen start complaining on Fox News. Turkey’s EU membership application is discreetly frozen. NATO becomes stand-offish. The IMF and World Bank start hedging Turkish loan proposals. Turkish stocks start sliding, as does the lira. Polarization akin to the red state-blue state in Turkey emerges, and the AKP loses the following election (possibly with hints of military blackmail). The succeeding government – corrupt, unpopular, unstable – mouths a mixture moderation and populist/semi-islamist rhetoric publicly for continuity’s sake, but bureaucratically tracks back toward western institutions.



Regional Implications


My scenario returns the region to the status quo ante (before the open flap with Israel particularly). The Turko-Israel relationship though will never be as close again. Iran and Syria will push back, deploying standard tropes of anti-Americanism and Muslim toadying to the West, but no listens much to that sort of boilerplate anymore. The real regional costs to Turkey will come from Al Jazeera, which will opine mercilessly on this for months, probably saying Turkey caved to Israel. Greece will be unhappy that its implicit competition has gotten worse again. The Cyprus stalemate will become a little easier. Arabs states, absorbed by Arab Spring and traditionally hesitant toward Turkish power, will say nothing much.

7 thoughts on “Turkey’s ‘Neo-Ottoman’ Rise? (1): Turkey’s Drift from the West

  1. Some 30,000 people are trapped in a church compound in Ivory Coast as fighting worsens in the west of the country, a missionary has told the BBC.


    Will the US intervene? Here you have the real potential for a Rwanda. How history repeats itself (hopefully not). In the 1990’s, President Clinton and his European allies intervened in Bosnia but ignored a major genocide in Africa (Rwanda). We seem to be re-visiting this again in 2011.


  2. About 20,000 Malians turned out to watch the game, many carrying posters protesting against the Western-led military intervention in Libya.

    “We were very touched by the Malian crowd,” captain Tariq Ibrahim al-Tayib told the BBC after beating Comoros 3-0.



    The dynamic in the Africa between maghreb and subsharan Africa is interesting. Take Chad and Mali for example. Some of Gaddafi’s hired guns have come from there. Why? Sorry to bring this up. Just though that I would share. Also, remember back in the 1980’s France sent troops to Chad to halt Gaddifi’s invading army.


    • Sorry. That link will be live tomorrow – April 4. I did not anticipate anyone would click on it in the narrow one-day window. Thank you for your interest 🙂 Any thoughts?


  3. Pingback: Turkey’s ‘neo-Ottoman’ Rise (2): Late Developers Need Inward FDI « Asian Security Blog

  4. Pingback: Turkey’s ‘neo-Ottoman’ Rise (3): Why I am Wrong… « Asian Security Blog

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