Syria Invasion might Help Erdogan’s Domestic Politics, International Aspirations


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Turkey’s military had launched a military invasion of northern Syria on October 9. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the military campaign is aimed at preventing the creation of “a terror corridor” across Turkey’s southern border.

Although the Turkish official position about the invasion mentions only the prevention of ‘so-called’ terror corridor, Erdogan’s weakening position in domestic politics and his aspiration to expand Turkey’s influence across the Middle East and beyond have played an important role behind the move.

Erdogan has been recently going through a bad phase in domestic politics and international relations. Erdogan’s ruling AK Party was defeated in the local elections of big cities including Istanbul and Ankara.

Erdogan himself once said, “whoever wins Istanbul, wins Turkey,” meaning that the party that wins in Istanbul’s elections wins the national election too. In this sense and in every other sense, the defeats in these local elections are embarrassments for Erdogan and signals a growing dissatisfaction of Turkish people about the policies of his party.

Add to this the crisis relating to hosting a big number of Syrian refugees in Turkey. It is also alleged that Erdogan has not been active enough to deal with the situation pertaining to the Syrian refugees, who, many Turkish think, are burden to Turkish economy as well as threat to Turkey’s internal order and security.

What’s worse, Erdogan’s lack of seriousness about the refugee crisis has been constantly facing criticism internally, as he has allegedly been busy in using the refugee scenario as a tool for keeping the European Union (EU) under pressure. Turkish people expect him to be serious about this serious issue and not to play games with an issue like this which has the potential to undermine Turkey’s economic and national security.

In this circumstances, it was necessary for Erdogan to showcase his willingness to solve the crisis and an attempt to resettle the Syrians in their home country was the best possible option available to him.

Hence, he has been trying to portray the invasion of northern Syria by Turkish forces as an attempt to resettle the Syrian refugees as well as to neutralize the Syria-based Kurdish militia groups which are labelled by Turkey as militants outfits.

Referring to Erdogan’s local electoral failures and Turkey’s teetering economy, Manish Rai, a columnist for Middle East and Af-Pak region, wrote on Oped Column | OC:

“Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants a military campaign to distract Turks from his own failures.”

Manish adds:

“So, the best way to enhance his [Erdogan’s] ‘strong leader’ image is to launch more military incursions into Syria or increase tensions with the Kurds.”

Manish also believes that Erdogan wants the possession of the oil reserves in the “buffer zone” that Turkey seeks to occupy and control, as the vast majority of Syria’s oil resources would also fall in this area.

After successfully completing its military campaign in northern Syria if Turkey can resettle in Syria a substantial number of Syrian refugees currently living in Turkey, Erdogan could well overcome the domestic criticisms he has been facing over the refugee scenario.

What’s more, the successful completion of this military campaign would mean that a great chunk of northern Syrian landmass would come under the control of the Turkish forces. This would present Erdogan with a chance to tacitly display his chauvinistic image before a Turkish audience who have been the main support base of Erdogan’s long hold on Turkey’s state power. Compare this with Russia’s Vladimir Putin when Russians invaded Crimea. However, unlike Putin, Erdogan wouldn’t dare to call the invaded Syrian landmass a part of Turkey nor would he expressly bolster about the invasion.

A firm hold on the Turkey’s proposed buffer-zone in the northern Syria would put more fuel to Erdogan’s aspiration to expand Turkey’s influence across the Middle East. This would also increase his negotiating power against the EU, the United States and Russia, and could help him overcome the current economic crisis that he has been facing lately with the Turkish economy.

The implicit portrayal of Erdogan’s chauvinistic image would be beneficial for him too, as this would allow him to rally the nationalists and ultra-nationalists behind his political cause, essentially halting the trend of defeats in the local elections and turning the domestic politics back into his favour.

All these reflects one inherent aspect of politics very clearly: wars have always been the favourite tool of the rulers who want to save their power from being slipped away from their grip. Erdogan is no different from such rulers, as he too is using war for saving his face internally, though there are other reasons too for this conflict.