Shadow Government

The End of Erdogan?

There's a very big story developing in Turkey that all foreign policy mavens should be watching closely. Exactly how big remains to be seen, but the stakes are huge. At issue: Will the decade-long domination of Turkish politics by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Islamist-leaning Justice and Development Party (AKP) continue? Or is the Erdogan era about to come crashing down, fatally weakened by scandal, infighting, and authoritarian overreach?

Early Tuesday morning on Dec. 17, police in Istanbul and Ankara carried out a wave of stunning arrests that included powerful businessmen, the sons of three cabinet ministers, and the head of an important state-owned financial institution, Halkbank. The operation flowed from a series of corruption-related investigations that have apparently been underway for a year or more. All the key targets swept up in the raids are closely linked to Erdogan's government.

Erdogan, characteristically, responded by going on the offensive and hurling accusations at his opponents. He attacked the action as a "dirty operation," the goal of which was to smear his administration and undermine the progress that Turkey had made under his leadership. He alluded to a dark conspiracy launched by terrorist gangs, both foreign and domestic, that were operating a state within the state. While insisting that Turkey was a democracy, not some two-bit banana republic, he proceeded to engineer within a day the sacking of more than 20 high-level police officers in Istanbul and Ankara, including those directly in charge of the units that carried out the raids. More heads seem almost certain to roll. Rumors that the lead prosecutor supervising the investigations had also been removed were vehemently denied -- though two new prosecutors were suddenly (and mysteriously) added to the probe. Howls of political interference in an ongoing judicial matter erupted. The crisis deepened.

These dramatic events were simply the latest escalation in a long-simmering battle royale within the AKP's Islamist coalition. On one side: Erdogan and his followers, whose political roots lie in the transnational Muslim Brotherhood movement founded in Egypt in 1928. On the other: the Gulenists, a secretive society whose religious ideology bears a more distinctly Turkish flavor, led by Fethullah Gulen, a septuagenarian cleric who fled Turkey in the late 1990s and now lives in exile in rural Pennsylvania. Partners for much of the past decade in the AKP's systematic efforts to undermine the foundations of Ataturk's secular republic and bring the Turkish military to heel, Erdogan and the Gulenists have now turned on each other with a vengeance.

Read the complete article here.

Photo: ADEM ALTAN/AFP/Getty Images

Shadow Government

The Problem with the White House Case Against New Iranian Sanctions

I am inclined to be sympathetic to the White House argument (presented ably by Colin Kahl here) that we must be careful lest the imposition of new sanctions becomes an excuse for the Iranian regime to renege on a possible deal to end Iran's nuclear weapons program. As I have been arguing for some time, negotiations with Iran will end successfully only if we maintain sufficient pressure, and yet also only if we can credibly promise the Iranian regime that truly cooperative behavior will be rewarded. One has to thread a narrow needle.

Back in August, before the latest round of negotiations with Iran had started in earnest, I thought threading the needle would entail passing new sanctions but giving President Obama a national security waiver on them and having Obama exercise that waiver.

Now that the negotiations have reached a more advanced state -- with a reported interim deal, albeit an "interim deal" that has not started because there are still apparently irreconcilable technical differences between the two sides -- defenders of Obama's preferred approach can make a partially compelling argument that my gambit would not work.

Their argument is only partially compelling, however, because the Obama team is not as candid as it could be in explaining how we got here. The Obama team version of the story is one in which a tough-minded president musters robust international support for crushing sanctions and then deftly moves to the negotiating table at just the right moment. That is not quite how it happened. The administration squandered the first couple years of handling the Iran file, and only reached the current level of economic pressure when Congress ignored earlier pleas by the administration and imposed over administration objections the very sanctions the administration now credits with having brought Iran to the bargaining table. It is true that the administration has said that no deal is better than a bad deal, but there are reasons to worry that the president may be so eager for any deal that he will make greater concessions than are prudent. 

A fairer reading of the history shows that the hawks have at least as compelling an explanation of how we got here as the doves. That does not mean that the hawkish option is always the right one tactically at every turn, but it does mean that it deserves a more careful hearing than it has gotten thus far.

In other words, President Obama would be more persuasive in making the case for the dovish no-more-sanctions option right now if he could be more forthright about the relative merits of the hawkish critique. And failure to do so reinforces concerns that his rhetoric about having a policy of "prevention" and not "containment" is just rhetoric, and not a red line he actually would defend. Those concerns, in turn, make it harder to give him the diplomatic leeway he says he needs to test the Iranians.