Our prime minister has suddenly reached elevated status in Western capitals. Not so long ago, the same voices were accusing Recep Tayyip Erdogan an of changing Turkey’s orientation, of aspiring to establish an Islamic Republic. Now they are applauding him. Why? What happened to turn the tides so dramatically?
What we have been witnessing over the past few months is nothing short of incredible.
Prime Minister Erdogan is now being showered with accolades, most recently gracing the cover of TIME magazine. Whichever Western newspaper you open, it seems, there is an article praising him. We were used to praise coming from the streets of the Middle East, but this time is different. Relations between Washington and Ankara are at an all-time high: President Obama is on the phone with Erdogan all the time.
Cast your mind back to last year. The same Erdogan faced a barrage of criticism by Western sources and was viewed with deep suspicion – you remember those days, right? The Prime Minister was accused of steering the country away from secularism, and towards an Islamic republic, harboring Ottoman ambitions, idolizing Iran and being an enemy of Israel. So what happened? Why has the West made such a U-turn? There are five central reasons. Let’s take a look.
Erdogans decisions that changed everything
A few crucial decisions by the prime minister are what created this radical change. Nothing in Erdogans approach has changed vis-à-vis the subjects for which he was criticized: instead, it is the viewpoint of the West that has changed. His Israel policy is the same, as is his approach to Iran. If anything, in recent months he has stepped up criticism of the West. He has delivered speeches accusing Western countries of not caring about people and acting based solely on oil interests.
Western capitals, and Washington in particular, have chosen to evaluate Erdogan an based not on his rhetoric but his concrete decisions.
These 5 steps by Erdogan changed Western attitudes:
1. On Libya; after initial hesitation, Erdogan later came on board with the West.
2. He approved the deployment of a NATO missile shield to central Turkey that the US has developed to line up against Iran. This decision was seen as important and clear proof of whose side Ankara is on in the US-Iranian standoff.
3. In Syria, he is playing a leading role in the campaign against Assad’s regime, and has become a significant pressure point.
4. His foreign policy respects Iraq’s territorial integrity while also countering Iran, which is seen as proof that Turkey will be a balancing power in the region after the US pull-out.
5. In Cairo, his remarks on a TV show that Muslim countries should adopt secular democracy caused surprise in Western capitals, and played a significant role in changing their views.
There are perhaps other reasons too, but these are the most important. Barring any new and surprising developments, it appears as though this current climate will be hard to undermine. Whether this goodwill continues, or the winds of diplomacy change direction once again, is completely in Erdogan hands.