Turkey’s President Recep Tayeb Erdoğan will pay a heavy price for his decision to invade northern Syria.
It will isolate Turkey diplomatically. NATO, the European Union, the Arab League and the United States have all condemned the invasion. The People’s Protection Units (YPG) is negotiating with Russia and Bashar al Assad for support. Erdoğan may not care, but he should. Alienating every ally that Turkey has is not a smart move.
This will cost Turkey, particularly its economy which is not in great shape. Over the last two years, the lira has lost 40 percent of its value against the U.S. The rate of inflation is at 19 percent. Mortgage rates exceed 20 percent a year. President Trump has put some sanctions on Turkey, and he is prepared to do much more. “We can shut down the Turkish economy if we need to,” warned Secretary of the Treasury, Steve Mnuchin.
Erdoğan would do well to heed this warning. Economic growth as measured has declined by 4-5 percent over the past two years. Sanctions by the U.S. and EU would likely result in negative GDP growth, increased unemployment and a balance of payments crisis.
Erdoğan’s recklessness will undermine Turkish security. The Kurdish opposition to Erdoğan both inside and outside Turkey can – and likely will – cause serious damage. Daesh fighters are returning to the battlefield, and they are a capable terrorist force that does not respect borders and cannot be trusted. Similarly, Bashar al Assad is a sworn enemy of Turkey. If the YPG partners with Damascus and the regime extends its control to eastern Syria, Turkey will be vulnerable as never before.
Turkey is also a member of NATO, which means that it has the ultimate security guarantee. Under the terms of the NATO treaty, an attack on one member is considered an attack on all members. Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 air defense system, combined with its aggression in Syria, has led some of NATO’s leader members – including the United States – to question its continued membership in the alliance.
The question that interests me is: Will Erdoğan’s decision to invade northern Syria hurt him politically at home? There is growing dissatisfaction with the Justice and Development Party (AKP). Despite using a variety of dirty tricks, Erdoğan’s party lost the elections for the mayor of Istanbul earlier this year. His former allies, Abdullah Gul and Ali Babacan have defected from the AKP to start their own party. Yet nothing rallies the base like a foreign war and the Kurds are a popular enemy for most Turks.
Erdoğan is a shrewd and capable politician. He certainly calculated that a patriotic war against a widely detested foe would strengthen his popularity with voters. It’s a gamble that he may yet win, but I would not be too sure. If the economic, diplomatic and military costs of this action are too high, we may see the beginning of the end for one of the region’s most dangerous despots.
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