April 11, 2019 | By Brian Hanson, Steven A. Cook, Mustafa Akyol

Deep Dish: Will Erdogan or NATO Survive Longer in Turkey?



President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s long-dominant political party lost elections in Ankara and Istanbul last week. At the same time, a dispute between Washington and Ankara over Turkey buying a Russian missile system has hurt ties between the NATO allies. Steven A. Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations and Mustafa Akyol of the Cato Institute join the Deep Dish podcast this week to explain.
 

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Brian Hanson: This is Deep Dish on Global Affairs, going beyond the headlines on critical global issues. I'm Brian Hanson and today we're talking about two big developments that have happened in Turkey. First of all, President Erdogan's political party, which has dominated Turkish politics for years, now, unexpectedly lost important local elections in the two biggest cities in Turkey: Istanbul and Ankara. Secondly, relationships between Turkey and the United States have become increasingly tense and Turkey is working more cooperatively with Russia, including a plan to purchase a Russian missile defense system. So we want to explore today what's going on, what this means for Turkey, and for geo-politics, more generally. And I have two terrific guests to help us understand those issues. First, I got Steven Cook, who is a Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern and African Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He also writes for foreign policy and his latest book is False Dawn: Protest, Democracy, and Violence in the New Middle East. Welcome, Steven. Great to have you on Deep Dish.

Steven Cook: Oh, it's my great pleasure.

Brian Hanson: Also, joining us is Mustafa Akyol who is a Turkish journalist and author who writes regularly for the Hurriyet Daily News in Turkey and, also, The New York Times. He's currently a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute and his latest book is The Islamic Jesus: How the King of the Jews Became a Prophet of the Muslims. Welcome, Mustafa. It's great to have you on Deep Dish as well.

Mustafa Akyol: Thank you so much. Thanks for having me in the conversation.

Brian Hanson: So I want to start with the local ... with these local elections, which surprised many people, including you, who'd predicted them to go a different way. Just to start off, what actually happened in these elections?

Steven Cook: Well, the Justice and Development Party, which has -- as you pointed out -- dominated Turkey since it came to power in 2002. Lost the major metropolitan areas in the country, including, it seems, Istanbul. Now, they've conceded nothing in Istanbul and they're demanding a full recount of all the ballots. Although, there's an indication that they had lost that city by 14,000, 14,000 votes. This is a fairly significant setback, even if the Justice and Development Party can claim that it still controls most towns and cities around the country. President Erdogan himself has said that if the party lost in Istanbul, it would be a clear indication that the party has lost its footing in Turkey. There are indications that the government is trying to undermine these results and possibly set the stage for a rerun in the elections. There's precedent for that. In June 2015, President Erdogan did not like the outcome of national elections and did everything possible to sabotage government coalition talks and, in fact, did. And elections were rerun and the outcome was more to the Justice and Development Party's favor. We'll just have to see rather that actually happens, but there are some indications including the government-friendly press calling the outcome of the elections, as they now stand, an electoral coup.

Brian Hanson: That's very strong language and relevant in Turkey 'cause I think ... when I think about Turkey and Erdogan's position, I think about things like recently consolidated and increased power surrounding the presidency, through a constitutional reform, after the 2016 failed coup against him he massively purged Turkish officials, including in the military, and, also, the once vibrant Turkish media has been basically put under government control. I think Turkey has arrested more journalists, if I'm not mistaken, than any other country in the world in the last three years. How come he's vulnerable then given that degree of political control? And there's really active measures to consolidate his control in the country.

Steven Cook: It's true. He has consolidated his personal power around what the Turks call the executive presidency. Turkey is the leading jailer of journalists in the world. There has been an ongoing purge of the bureaucracy of the military, of the police forces going on ... Actually, even well before the failed coup in July 2016. But I think the real factor in these local elections was an economy that's in recession. The unemployment rate is 25 percent, it's much higher among younger people. And inflation is about 20 percent. People are really feeling it in their pocketbook. It's also important to recognize the Justice and Development Party really has never garnered the support of more than half the population. It's high watermark in general elections is 49.95 percent. Erdogan, when he was elected president, won 52 percent of the vote. But there is a large, however divided, opposition to Erdogan. And my sense is that with the economic problems, the kinds of issues that Erdogan has run on in the past, and ones I personally believe would help him prevail were not as potent a message about a national identity, religious identity, fears about the country's fragmentation. Those did not work against overall avalanche of bad economic news.

Brian Hanson: Mustafa, how do you view why this happened? Why Erdogan was not keeping it together? Steven just listed a number of factors. Are they are other things that you would add to that list? Or do you think that's basically the story?

Mustafa Akyol: I mean, this election seems to be yet another level that the Turkish government, President Erdogan and his ruling party, is jumping into ... I mean what I've seen in Turkey in the past five, six years and, painfully, I've watched this as someone who had better hopes about this party in the beginning, is that Erdogan and his party, the AKP, has been using a narratives that you would normally see in a one-arty dictatorship, a political narrative. According to this political narrative, President Erdogan is the only patriotic leader, and, of course, those who are aligned with him are just fine too, but opposition is all made up of traitors, terrorist collaborators, dark powers, that are serving evil conspiratorial powers out there that are against Turkey itself, so every election is a big patriotic war and so on and so forth. This narrative doesn't fit into what we've typically known as democracy or at least liberal democracy. I think the fundamental assumption in liberal democracies is that there are different political parties, they have different ideas, different goals, some are right, some are wrong. You can totally say, "Well, the other side is totally bad and their ideas will be really bad for our country." But you don't think that they are serving evil powers that are conspiring against the nation itself. You see that kind of narrative in one-party dictatorships because if only one party, or one political mind, is legitimate, why do you have ... why do you allow the other ones in the first place? Now, the interesting thing is that this political narrative, which is now being pumped in Turkey by a big chunk of the media that President Erdogan controls, directly or indirectly, which is right in your face in official media and everything and in the government's propaganda resources. It is being -- it's a one-party ideology, but it's been acting in a multi-party system. And so far this has worked to some extent because President Erdogan has been really winning elections. Because Turkish society is very divided between voting blocks and President Erdogan has consolidated the broad right-wing block, let's say, religious conservatives and even some Turkish nationalists. And that has been enough to give him like 51, 52, 53 percent that he typically needs to win an election. But in the past couple of years, especially with the economic decline, there has been some erosion of this major block and in this election what we saw in the big cities, Ankara and Istanbul, President Erdogan lost just a little bit of his traditional voters. And that was enough to tilt the balance in favor of the opposition and the opposition did a better job of, you know, having better candidates that appeal to a broader segment of society and so on and so forth. So the outcome could be: Oh, okay. This is a political movement that is using, you know, totalitarian language and certainly using totalitarian means to crack down on a position, like jailing journalists and decedents, the problems that Steve pointed out. But at the end, electoral democracy works. If they lose elections, they will go, so, Turkey is an illiberal democracy, but elections still matter. So that will be the outcome, if these election results had worked. Now, in Ankara they had worked, but in Istanbul, which is the biggest importing of citadel, you know, that everybody wants to get, and a president who doesn't want to leave. Now, I think there are reasons to believe that the elections will be renewed. At least, that's what the government is pushing for right now. And the news coming from this morning that there some pressure on the electoral board that's going to decide upon this, and the government is trying to find some reason to make the elections invalid and push for new ones, so, there may be renewed elections. So if that happens, I think even the minimum electoral democratic tradition we had so far will be also questioned, so, therefore, I worry that these elections can be taken to a higher level in authoriarianism.

Brian Hanson: So, that's very helpful, and I want to pick up on one of the things you pointed out there: To try to gage how significant this is. You know, obviously, the fact that someone from, the people from the non-ruling party, won is significant. But you pointed out, Mustafa, that the change in ... if you look at the national vote the change is really not very significant, it's from 54-52 percent in terms of the votes gotten by the ruling parties. Does the fact that these couple of elections turned on a handful of votes, is there a possibility we're over-reading this as a bigger sign of the erosion of Erdogan's power than it should be taken as? Steve, I'll start with you on that.

Steven Cook: Well, I certainly think that Erdogan remains extraordinarily powerful. He has consolidated his power. He is safe himself. And as you pointed out previously, there are -- is a virtual ministry of information in Turkey. Erdogan, essentially, controls the narrative. Now, that narrative, the narrative that he has been advancing over time, did not necessarily work this time and as a result, the government is looking for other means, perhaps through the judiciary, to reverse an outcome that they don't like in the elections. And as I said before, I think Mustafa's warning that Turkey's democracy, however impaired, or illiberal democracy will ... is being tested in this episode, but I'll point out, once again, that in 2015 the Justice and Development Party and President Erdogan did not like an outcome of an election and was able to reverse it. I think that they do have the power in their hands to do it. They'll be -- I think the question is whether there is a perception within the bureaucracy among the vote counters that Erdogan has been weakened and the party has been weakened enough that they can stand the pressure or whether they will fall into line with what the government is clearly trying to do in Istanbul. I should also point out that there is some speculation and of course this is all speculation, but that the party and the president are not happy with the outcome in Ankara, even though it's pretty clear that the new Ankara mayor, Mansur Yavas won. He actually won in 2014, but they fixed that election as well ... that he may be vulnerable to moves to declare him unfit for office for some legal reason or another. So, although, Turkey remains a quasi-democratic or illiberal democratic system on paper, more and more it looks like a consolidated electoral autocracy. But this is a big test, whether ... and we'll be able to make that claim with more confidence if Erdogan is able to reverse the outcome of the elections in Istanbul, which seems to be the prime target right now, whether he's remaining strong or not, he's in a strong position, especially since there are no more elections in Turkey for another five years.

Brian Hanson: So, Mustafa, I want to come back to you and talk about what this election, and ask about what this election tells us about the strength of the opposition. One of the comments that many observers have made is that the ... for years, now, not only is Erdogan been successful in consolidating power in various ways, but the opposition has had a very difficult time organizing itself to be a potent political force. How should we read this election in terms of, whether or not there are signs of increasing mobilization or potential effectiveness of the opposition, taking into account the point you both have made that, whether or not it's going to matter, whether or not we have democratic institutions in Turkey that can even reflect these changes is an open question. But what -- have we learned something about the potential strength of an opposing party in Turkey?

Mustafa Akyol: Well, I mean, first of all, I should ... yes, agree with the fact that President Erdogan is quite still strong, electorally strong as well. And, I mean, we should not forget that we're speaking about municipal elections here. He still has his own mandate, the presidential mandate, which will go there until 2023, so he's four more years. And still he is ... his party is still the first party in Turkey, which gets 45 percent of the votes. And I think a big chunk of that, at least 40 percent, is like die-hard Erdogan supporters. No matter what happens in Turkey, they will not think of an alternative. I mean, he has created this bond with a certain part of Turkey, like, religious conservatives, more traditional people, which think before Erdogan, they were the outcasts and for good reasons, they think like that and Erdogan gave them power and dignity. They took their country back and he's making Turkey great again, so there are these great images, which will not go away that easily. But the thing is, ultimately, if you go for elections and if they elections are competitive, you have to win 50 percent plus one. And, now ... it didn't work in Ankara. It didn't work in Istanbul. And they clearly lost Ankara, so that's not contested right now. But, now, they're contesting Istanbul and somehow they want to reverse this. Now, what this means is that we have years ahead and Turkish economy is not doing well, especially, with a potential confrontation with US and even NATO, because of Turkey's purchasing Russian missiles. That will have an additional, maybe, impact on the Turkish economy. Now, those things will, maybe, further erode the pragmatic vote, on top of the theological vote that President Erdogan has been winning. So in 2023, when we are going to elections, President Erdogan might think that, "Hmm, there is a chance that might lose these elections." So, now, the question is in Turkey people's minds, is that "Hmm, in that case, we ..." President Erdogan and his party will say, "Okay, okay, lose elections, so that's life and opposition can come to power, so what can we do about it?" Will they say that? Or will they use the arguments that we are seeing right now? The arguments, like, there are dark powers that infiltrate the ballots, so the opposition rigged the ballots, so the ballots are not trustable anymore. Will they come to that? So in that words, will Turkey lose electoral democracy, at least the trust in electoral democracy as well in the years ahead. Now, that would be, I think, a major question now. Steve is right to point out in 2015 the election was renewed again, but that happens still not by annulling the first election or declaring it as invalid after the first election in 2015, in June election. There was no ... the government ... there was no government formed and Erdogan made sure that there was no government formed, so, constitutionally, new elections were required. And, so ...but this time, an election that has taken place with everybody has saw and the opposition got more votes, if this is renewed and in the renewable if AKP gets the shots, I think few people will start to trust in the electoral process as well. And I think ... yeah, that will take Turkey to a further darker, I think, level in the course that ... it's already is in the past couple of years, in the past five, six years I should say.

Brian Hanson: I'm here with Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations and Mustafa Akyol, currently in residence at the Cato Institute. And I want to shift our conversation from domestic politics to the growing tensions in relationship with the United States. Of course, Turkey is a NATO ally and has been a NATO ally for decades now, but increasingly there have been conflicts in the relationship with the United States as well as President Erdogan has been forging a closer relationship to Russia. And just earlier this week, on April 8th, President Erdogan was in Russia and met with Russian President Putin. One of the flash points, currently, in the relationship is the decision by Turkey to buy a Russian-made -- to buy a Russian-made, surface-to-air missile, the S-400. So, Steven, if you could start off and just share with us what is the S-400 and what is involved in this controversy.

Steven Cook: Well, thanks. It's a complicated issue and there are a long list of grievances between the two countries. The S-400 is just one of them and it's the most visible one right now because the United States, in the last weeks, has signaled to the Turkish government that there will be great consequences should Turkey take delivery of the S-400. And that consequence is removing Turkey from the F-35 program. The F-35 is the most advanced war plane that the United States has ever developed and it's developed in a consortium of countries that actually includes Turkey. I commend your listeners to an op-ed in the New York Times that was written by the chairs of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Armed Forces Committee, along with their ranking members, which lays out the case that Turkey cannot have ... it can have the S-400 and it can have the F-35, but it can't have both. And, indicating that if the Turks do go forward with S-400 purchase, which they have said over and over again, in fact, NATO's 70th anniversary meeting in Washington last week, Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu basically told his NATO allies to get over it, that Turkey was taking delivery of the S-400. And President Erdogan also said that Turkey could source its weaponry from other places, including Turkey, and that it was also go ... and he reaffirmed that Turkey was going to go forward with the S-400 purchase. That would mean that: One, the F-35 would not go to Turkey. And, two, Turkey would be subject to sanctions by the US government as ... for buying defense articles from Russia. It would also mean, at a practical level, Turkey would be isolated from certain things within NATO, meetings, exercises, things along those lines.

Brian Hanson: So, Mustafa, I just want to bring you in on how this issue plays and I want to get to the broader ... the other issues that are involved in this relationship and the tension with the US. But the S-400 issue, Mustafa, how does this play politically within Turkey?

Mustafa Akyol: Well, Turkey is, I think, right now in a moment of perfect storm and that is a combination of internal drive towards authoritarianism and, then, in globally ... in global terms, a drive away from the Western alliance and a bit closer to Russia. And these are happening sometimes through different dynamics, but they're not unrelated. I think it's fair to say that in the past five, six years, President Erdogan has growingly found Putin as a better ally and friend than most of the Western leaders.

Steven Cook: I agree.

Mustafa Akyol: Yeah. And --

Brian Hanson: How so?

Mustafa Akyol: Putin treats him always nicely and politely. Putin never criticizes Turkey on things like jailing of journalists, press freedom, or other human rights' issues. Putin wouldn't have a problem with those issues himself. And the whole idea of this defiant leader who can stand up against the West and can rebuild his lost empire, I mean, that is a kind of spiel that you find in both leaders and in prior to one media, I mean, there have been writers who have openly said Putin and Erdogan are the two great leaders, two brave leaders who can stand up against Western colonialists and so and so forth, so there's already like a kind of closeness. Plus, Turkey has found Putin to be an important key partner in dealing with issues in Syria. Putin was the first leader to call him after the failed coup to say, you know, we're with you and ... whereas Erdogan thinks that there are some Western elements in the coup and so and so forth. There are a lot of conspiracy theories in Turkey about the West, but there are no conspiracy theories about Russia. So I think all of these are coming together, and I think ... so the S-400 issue has some technical -- technicalities behind it, but it is coming on top of an ideological scene like that. I should add that in the global sense, one thing that has made Turkey, and not just Erdogan, but actually the broader Turkey scene, including opposition parties, quite suspicious of US plans in the region, is the US support for the Kurdish Forces in Syria? These are not any Kurdish Forces, but these are forces that are affiliated with the PKK, which is Turkey's main terrorist problem since 1980s. And I think the US has made a mistake of not taking care of Turkey's, at least, legitimate concerns on this issue. And that added to the fear that, "Oh, now, US is behind ... against our enemy, the PKK, so we should look for other friends outside."

Mustafa Akyol: So --

Steven Cook: Let me --

Mustafa Akyol: Yeah.

Steven Cook: Let me just add a couple of points here for clarification and to advance the discussion. First of all, I'm not aware, and I pay close attention to this, of the US government ever actually condemning Turkey for being the leading jailer of journalists in the world or condemning Turkey's Human Rights' abuses. This has always been a thing that Senior US government officials have sought to sweep under the table because Turkey is so important to the United States. I think the problem that Mustafa is articulating is that the Cold War ended a long time ago and Turkey and the United States have very different interests and they also have different values. So the S-400 is a manifestation of a different worldview and countries that have different interests. I think that the Turkish government, under the Justice and Development Party and President Erdogan, believes that an American-led order in the region around Turkey constrains Turkish power. And that Turkey should be a power in its own right and that has led it to develop a closer relationship with Russia. It began as a pragmatic issue related to Syria, but has now turned into something else. Turkey does not see Iran as a challenge but rather as an opportunity or at best this strategic competitor where the United States has sought to contain or even roll back Iranian influence, whereas, the Turks have facilitated and enabled the Iranians to get around sanctions, at the time the country was under sanction. And, of course, there's the issue of the YPG. I remind folks that in 2014 when President Obama went looking for allies in the fight against the Islamic State, Turkey said that its priority was fighting Kurds, and if the United States wanted to cooperate with Turkey in the fight against the Islamic State, Turkey had elements of the Free Syrian Army that can do it with the United States. The problem was from the perspective of the Pentagon, these were poorly trained and affiliated with extremists groups, so that our relationship with the YPG was a function of the fact that we didn't really have too many other options. And it has led to accusations, on the part of Turkey, that the United States was working with the terrorist organization, true. But counter-accusations from the United States saying, "But Turkey wants us to work with al Qaeda affiliated groups to defeat the Islamic State." There's also other issues that have buffeted the relationship and led to, I think, a rather serious deterioration in the overall bilateral relationship and that is I think Mustafa hinted at it when he said that there are all kinds of conspiracy theories about responsibility for the failed coup. I think the Turkish government and the Turkish-affiliated press has been straightforward, that they believe there was either a CIA, a US military, or other Americans involved in this coup d'etat in cooperation with Fethullah Gulen, a former ally of the Justice and Development Party, to overthrow the Turkish government. That is to suggest, and I think it's fairly clear, that people within the Turkish government believe the United States is interested in regime change in Turkey. Other issues include another piece of legislation, that was just introduced the other day in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee which is to sanction Turkish government officials involved in the detaining of Americans and American personnel or American employees of the US Embassy. There are a number of Foreign Service Nationals, these are Turks who work for the US government who have been detained. There was the famous case of Pastor Andrew Brunson who was held for more than two years. There's at least 20 other Americans who are being held in Turkey on charges that are believed to be illegitimate charges. So I think this ... all of this reflects two countries, that at one time were strategic allies in facing a common threat and now 30 years later that threat is gone and we run out of potential common projects, and the difference is in interest and values are coming to the floor.

Mustafa Akyol: Can I add something on it, I mean, I agree with the points that Steve raised but here's my feeling, there are some legitimate concerns that Ankara had regarding the US policy in Syria. There are, I mean ... there are legitimate reasons to believe that the Gulen followers in the military were the main element in the coup. So there are some real issues here, but these are exacerbated by the deeply conspiratorial worldview of -- that is now dominated in Turkey. It's one thing to say US is not taking care of our concerns with the PKK and the people they support in Syria are PKK affiliated and so we should talk about this. That's one thing. The other one is to say that, well, since the crusaders, the colonialists and everything ... these are evil powers that are attacking us, so, once you start to see the world in those terms it becomes difficult to talk about these issues. And, I think, maybe, in the US side there might be constitutorial views about that Erdogan is creating this whole alliance with Iran and anti-Western so and so, like a front. It was acting more nuanced in all of that. The bottom line, though, is today. Turkey is coming to a point that its alliance with the West, in terms of NATO, is becoming more and more questioned. And I know, for example, in Washington there are people who look at this and say, "Oh, yes, let's kick Turkey out of NATO." Well, that's not as easily said as done. There's no mechanism for that. But there are people who think that Turkey should be defined as totally a country out of the Western alliance. And I would think, well, that would probably make things only worse. Turkey is certainly going through turbulent times, the Erdogan era is really destroying a lot of institutions in Turkey and making Turkey's relationship with the West questioned. But this era will end at some point, so it is better to try to minimize the damage. And when the Erdogan era ends, like Peronism in Argentina, it's like ... or Chavismo in Venezuela. It is better to keep Turkey less harmed by what has happened and keeping Turkey, still, in the Western alliance, that includes NATO; that includes the Council of Europe; that includes whatever ties are there with European Union. To preserve them is, I think, better than ... better to break them because then Turkey will totally go into a more [inaudible] model.

Steven Cook: The underlying assumption, though, of that Turkey and Turks want to remain in these. I certainly agree with you. There's no mechanism to throw Turkey out of NATO. And I think that these periodic declarations that Turkey must be pushed out of NATO are rather silly, but it strikes me that Turkey and Turkish leaders calculate their own interest and have their own agency, and that they have signaled over and over again that they are deeply ambivalent about the Western alliance. And that they don't necessarily want to have the strategic partnership that US officials would like to have with Turkey, except on Turkey's terms, which are things that, as I pointed out before, that the United States isn't going to do because they're not necessarily in the interests of the United States. I think that there's a far less -- I think there's a lot of people in Washington, less people who are interested in the conspiracy theories about Turkey and throwing Turkey out of NATO and a Turkey-Iranian front, and there are many more people who would like to save the relationship between the US and Turkey. But there's folks like me who say, Look, we need to see the reality of this and that structurally the world has changed. And, that, while Turkey remains an important country and of course we should have diplomatic relations with Turkey and that we should cooperate with Turkey where there are places we can cooperate. They cannot do a number of things that undermine American interests and American power in the region around it and expect to enjoy the fruits of a relationship, like, for example, taking delivery of the F-35 or enjoying unfettered trade with the United States or anything else that might be on the agenda.

Mustafa Akyol: Well, what I would say against that would be only -- or on top of that, would be well Turkey is not just Erdogan, and we see that electorally. President Erdogan controls 51 to 52 percent of the electoral --

Steven Cook: That doesn't mean that the other 49 percent of the people are so in favor of the United States. I think 80 percent of the Turkish public believes the United States was somehow involved in the failed coup.

Mustafa Akyol: Well, Turks always believes in those things. They believe this about the 1980 coup as well, the 1960 coup as well. But, still, this didn't stop Turkey try to become a member of the EU. The demand for EU was still high within the electoral. So my bottom line would be to conclude that what Turkey has become, in these last years of President Erdogan, is Turkey forever, I think that would be wrong. I think this an error of idealogical zealotry and an overreaction to Kamalism and but it is going through a different extreme, but Turkey might find it's balance, it's balance at the end. And to try to keep Turkey as what it was as much as we can in terms of it's ties with the West, is I think a kind of better way of dealing with it rather than to totally turn control into the arms of Russia, in that part of the world, in that particular imagination of the world.

Steven Cook: Again, I don't think anybody wants to see Turkey fall into the arms of Russia, but I think this is ultimately up to the Turks. Two quick points on that: One, perhaps, Mustafa, you know or you can recall better than me, but I don't remember the last time a Turkish official, whether it's from the ruling party or the opposition, defended the relationship with the United States. The second thing is I don't think we should overestimate the possibility that once Erdogan retires, passes away, or decides to ... or suffer some electoral defeat, that Turkey would snap back to being what it was prior to the Justice and Development Party period. He's now been in power for 17 years and is set to be in power at least through 2023, that's had a profound impact on Turkish institutions, it's had a profound impact on Turkish people, if he serves just through 2023 there are people who will be coming of age, politically, who will have known nothing other than the Justice and Development Party and the kind of rhetoric about the United States and the state of the relationship, and the state of relationship with the West more broadly is deeply corrosive to a worldview of people who've never experienced anything else. So I wish I could share your optimism that this is just a moment. It certainly is just a moment but this moment won't have an impact on Turkish politics and Turkish view of the United States and the West more broadly for years to come after this moment, I think is, perhaps, a tad too optimistic.

Brian Hanson: So I think this has been a fabulous discussion because what you've both done is clearly laid out two different views of where we are and what the likely future is going forward, and, therefore, what the policy implications should be. So I want to close our discussion by asking you to do something more or less impossible which is to predict the future a little bit. And after these recent municipal elections that are really the trigger for the show in many ways, we know the danger of prediction. But I want each of you to look out, say five years, and where do you think things will stand in five years? Will Erdogan still be in power? Will Turkey still be on it's current political trajectory, in terms of domestic politics? And in terms of the geo-strategical relationship with the United States, is Turkey still in NATO and is Turkey still a close US ally? I'll let whoever wants to start kick us off.

Mustafa Akyol: Sure, first of all, on just what Steve said, I mean, has Turkish leaders been positive about US relationships lately? Well, actually, they were quite positive, not with the US in general but with President Trump. There was a love affair for President Trump, at least in his early years, in 2016 because he was seen as a man of the leader who defies the establishment, just like Erdogan himself.

Steven Cook: An establishment that has shielded Turkey from a lot of criticism, though.

Mustafa Akyol: Yes, actually, I would prefer that assumption to ... but, I mean, from a Turkish point of view, he was standing up to all the conspiratorial evil problems of the world, global powers or whatever, as Erdogan himself. So that's an interesting -- just a thing to add to the discussion, maybe, a little funny one. How do I see Turkey in five years? Well, it's very hard to predict, but I wouldn't be surprised if President Erdogan is still ruling Turkey in five years. Well, he has a mandate to go until 2023. I wouldn't be surprised if he somehow wins those elections in 2023 again. I'm saying somehow here. And I wouldn't be surprised if President Erdogan turns out to be the ruler of Turkey as long as he lives. And after that though, I would hope to be a post-Erdogan era where you can have, maybe, some reconciliation, some balancing, of course how much Turkey will be transformed until then is a question that we will see. But, here is the thing, Turkey is my country and I want the best for it and I'm hoping Turkey to survive this, certainly, poisonous authoritarian era with the minimum damage. And for that, I think one thing to understand is that President Erdogan is obviously authoritarian, he certainly has an understanding of democracy where the winner takes all, which doesn't have much room for free press or rule of law or independent judiciary, but he is pragmatic so at the end of the day he will have to think of Turkey's economy, at the end of the day he can't totally toss all the relations with Western countries, especially, Europe, Turkey's biggest market and trading partner. So he should be treated like, maybe, Viktor Orban in Hungary's theater. Not as someone who should be totally thrown away from all the institutions of the West, but someone who is certainly promoting an illiberal understanding of democracy and the West should use smart ways to keep Turkey as much as possible within the framework of the free world.

Steven Cook: I guess I'm up to predict, which is hazardous, but I would agree -- let me just say that yes, Mustafa is correct. The Turkish leadership was very, very happy when Donald Trump was elected but my point was I hadn't heard a Turkish Official or opposition leader defend the strategic relationship with the United States as a benefit to Turkey. That's all. They may have liked President Trump, they initially liked President Obama, ended up hating President Obama but no one, in recent memory, has defended the overall strategic partnership between the two countries. Now, as far as the next five years go, it strikes me -- Mustafa is right. He has a mandate to rule. And Erdogan is intent on continuing the transformation of Turkey he began in 2002. He began that by pursuing a more consensus-based politics, but, since, arguably 2008 or so has pursued it through authoritarian means. And I think that the outcome of these elections and the relative weakness of the Justice and Development Party and let me emphasize relative weakness of the Justice and Development Party will convince him that he needs to pursue this transformation through authoritarian means rather than returning to some sort of consensus-based politics that he had initially pursued. As far as the relationship goes, it's already quite a difficult one, but let me point out that the United States has difficult relations with a lot of its traditional allies. And I think that this is reflective of the fact that the post-World War II order is really coming to an end and we don't know what's going to come next and that the assumption that the post-World War II order would live on forever and the set of relationships the United States established with its allies would remain forever, I think is naïve. I think the United States is a number of allies that it will always have. Turkey's not necessarily one of them. So the relationship is quite naturally going to change. My hope would be that we could come to some sort of understanding, here, in Washington and not exert a tremendous amount of time and effort to save a relationship that served a particular function and that we find places where we can cooperate with Turkey. But other places we're going to have to oppose Turkey or work around it, as we pursue, as the United States pursues its interests and as Turkey pursues its interests.

Brian Hanson: So Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations. Mustafa Akyol of the Cato Institute, where he is currently in residence. I want to thank you both for being on Deep Dish and really laying out what's happening in Turkey and what's at stake and how to think about the relationship between Turkey and the United States. It's been a fascinating conversation.

Brian Hanson: Thanks for being on Deep Dish.

Steven Cook: It was a great pleasure. Thanks for having us.

Mustafa Akyol: Thanks for having me too.

Brian Hanson: And thank you for tuning into this episode of Deep Dish. If you like the show, do me a favor and tap the subscribe button on your podcast app so you can get each new episode as it comes out. You can find our show under Deep Dish on Global Affairs wherever you listen to podcasts. And if you think you know someone who would like today's episode, if you could take a moment, tap the share button and send it to them as well. I'd really appreciate it. I'd like to invite you to join our Facebook group, Deep Dish on Global Affairs, where you can asks questions of our guests, follow-up questions to what you heard today, or submit questions for upcoming guests in episodes. That's Deep Dish on Global Affairs on Facebook. As a reminder, the opinions you heard today belong to the people who expressed them and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. This episode of Deep Dish was produced by Evan Fozio. Our audio engineer is Andy Zarnecki. I'm Brian Hanson and we'll be back soon with another slice of Deep Dish.

 

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