Turkey’s Pragmatic Islamist
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan might be an Islamist autocrat with a short fuse, but when it comes to Turkey’s role in the world, he is nothing if not practical. At a time of a global realignment, he is committed both to maintaining his alliance with the West and pursuing relations with the West’s antagonists.
TEL AVIV – What does President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s election for an unprecedented third term mean for Turkish foreign policy? Not much. In fact, even if the opposition had won, the country’s foreign policy would have changed only in style, not in substance. For Turkey, striking a pragmatic balance between its obligations as a member of NATO and its working relations with Russia and China is an unavoidable cultural and strategic imperative.
Erdoğan might be an Islamist autocrat with a short fuse, but when it comes to Turkey’s role in the world, he is nothing if not practical. He has long catered to frustrated voters through periodic attacks on the West, touting the “Eurasianism” that has traditionally been a far-left rallying cry in Turkey. Moreover, at a time of a global realignment, Erdoğan has determined that it is in Turkey’s interest to hedge its bets by pursuing relations with the West’s antagonists.
But Erdoğan – who early in his presidency took significant steps toward meeting the criteria for accession to the European Union – knows that it is also in his country’s interest not to alienate the United States or Europe. Leaving NATO, disengaging from Europe, and joining the “anti-imperialist” faction led by Russia and China has never been an option for post-Ottoman Turkey.
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