Streetwise Professor

July 23, 2020

What To Do With With Erdo?

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia,Turkey — cpirrong @ 6:06 pm

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan seems hell-bent on making enemies. Indeed, other than Qatar, it’s hard to point to any nation that is allied with Turkey. Turkey doesn’t even seem to have frenemies, only real enemies.

The FT had a long piece detailing how Erdoğan is using force and threats of force to prevent other nations, notably Cyprus, from drilling for gas in the eastern Mediterranean. He has also entered into a deal for what passes for a government in Libya to develop its offshore gas, and to build pipelines that deny that Crete is part of Greece. (Hey, it was Ottoman once, right?)

Speaking of Libya, Erdo has intervened in the conflict there. Turkey has supplied advisors, drones (including armed UAVs), anti-air defenses, and electronic warfare systems to support the “government.” Further, Turkey haas shipped in thousands of Syrian jihadi-types to provide the ground forces to fight against the force led by warlord Khalifa Haftar, who is trying to overthrow the UN-recognized government.

This has led to a confrontation between French and Turkish ships off the Libyan coast. Turkey has demanded an apology, and Macron trumpeted a call with Trump during which Libya was discussed–a clear indication to Turkey that the US was leaning towards France and against Turkey.

To make things even more complicated, Egypt supports Haftar and is threatening to intervene with its ground forces to combat the Turkish-supported troops. Turkey has made stern warnings to Egypt to stay on its side of the border.

To make things even more complicated, Russia is Haftar’s biggest backer. Russian mercenaries operate there. So in Libya Erdoğan is risking conflict with Russia, France (and hence the rest of the EU–yeah, I know), and Egypt.

The correlation of forces here is definitely not in Turkey’s favor, especially if Egypt intervenes on the ground. Egypt shares a border with Libya, and as the Desert Campaigns of 1940-41 showed, an armored force can race across Libya and achieve operational dominance. Egypt’s logistics would also be relatively simple, and it would be operating well within range of its air forces. Turkey, on the other hand, has no direct land route to Libya, and would have to reinforce and supply by sea. If shit gets real, it is highly doubtful that such a supply line would be sustainable. It would certainly be highly vulnerable to attack from air and sea.

Turkey has some submarines, some frigates (including some old US Perry Class ships) and corvettes, and some small landing craft. Egypt’s forces are comparable, with the big difference being the French-built (originally for Russia) Mistral assault ship, for which Turkey has no counterpart.

So Turkey would be in a very weak position if it indeed attempted to challenge an Egyptian incursion.

Libya is not the only country where Turkey and Russia are at loggerheads. They are also on opposite sides in Syria, and Russian-supported forces have killed well over 100 Turks. There is an uneasy coexistence between Russian and Turkey in Syria, nothing more.

But there’s more! The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan (which has been going on since 1988 or thereabouts) is heating up again. Armenia is close to Russia, but Erdo is rallying behind Azerbaijan.

It’s not surprising, then, that Russian helicopters flew along the Turkish border soon after the initial Armenian-Azeri clash in mid-June, and Turkey’s condemnation of Armenia for that fighting.

Erdoğan also has a very strained, and strange, relationship with the US generally, and Donald Trump in particular. Given Trump’s mercurial nature, Erdoğan would be a fool to expect Trump to pull his irons out of the fire in a Turkish dust up with Russia. Or France. Or Greece. Or Egypt.

The Turkish economy is also in a parlous state, meaning that the country is extremely vulnerable to economic pressure. The lira has depreciated badly in recent years, is near all time lows against the dollar, and could easily tip–or be tipped-off a cliff. Turks of a certain age remember the extreme privations that followed US sanctions imposed in the aftermath of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974. Younger generations don’t have that experience, and have (at least in the big cities) attained a degree of affluence that could be gone in a trice. It is an open question whether they would, in a fit of nationalist pride, forgive Erdoğan for that.

Erdoğan also outraged much of the Christian world with his conversion (on extremely dubious legal grounds) of the venerated Aya Sophia/Hagia Sofia from a museum (established by Ataturk) back to a mosque.

Erdoğan’s political situation is shaky–which may be why he is engaged in so much adventurism. He lost the big cities–Istanbul and Ankara notably–to the opposition CHP. He still has very strong support in the Anatolian heartland, especially among devout Muslims there (and in the cities as well). But the country is divided and Erdoğan has a lot of domestic enemies, and is making more by the day.

In sum, Erdoğan has picked a fight with pretty much everyone with a stake in the eastern Mediterranean. Why he’s doing so is not completely clear. In part, it’s delusions of grandeur: he envisions himself as the emerging dominant power in that region. But he can be so only at the sufferance of the US and Russia in particular. He is appealing to a highly chauvinistic populace–Turks are arguably the most chauvinistic nation in the world–in order to bolster his political situation.

But strategically his actions appear to be incredibly foolhardy and shortsighted. It is hard to see the upside, especially in Syria and Libya. The downsides are huge. He must be counting that the big boys in the neighborhood are willing to put up with his bumptiousness. But if he’s wrong, Turkey will be in a world of hurt.

He needs to be most careful about the Russians. After Turkey shot down a Russian jet over Syria, the furious Russian reaction forced Erdoğan to back down. Now he is risking confrontation with them not only in Syria, but in Libya and Armenia/Azerbaijan. With Putin too perhaps needing a wag the dog moment again (given the uninspiring results of his constitutional referendum, growing discontent as illustrated by open protests in the east, and chronic economic difficulties), Erdoğan could be made to order.

Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Erdoğan is rushing in where angels avoid, and doing so very likely because he is a fool.

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  1. What puzzles me is where the Turks get the resources for this adventuring from.

    Adventures are expensive, and Turkey isn’t wealthy. Do the Turks really want to pay for this nonsense, either in real resources or via the inflation tax?

    Maybe the adventuring is to distract from problems/unpopularity at home?

    So far Erdo has been lucky. The larger powers he has faced off against have been patient with him. Expecting more patience would be a miscalculation I think. The Egyptians won’t tolerate his soldiering, and I suspect the Russians are biding their time and waiting for the right moment. As you suggest I don’t think many would mourn him, and someone already tried to send him on this time four years ago.

    Comment by Ex-Global Super-Regulator on Lunch Break — July 24, 2020 @ 3:03 am

  2. How much would this adventurism be quelled if Turkey were not a part of NATO? Erdo seems to take that for granted.

    Comment by I.M. Pembroke — July 24, 2020 @ 3:17 am

  3. Good summary, but the what’s the answer now to the question in the headline?

    Kick him out of Nato? crash the Lira?

    Comment by — July 24, 2020 @ 6:43 am

  4. Speaking of Libya, Hillary has intervened in the conflict there. Hillary has supplied … warfare systems to undermine the government. Further, Hillary has shipped in thousands of … jihadi-types to provide the ground forces to fight against the force led by Kwah-daffy. And she had the man buggered with a bayonet and then she cackled about it.

    Comment by dearieme — July 24, 2020 @ 7:59 am

  5. @viennacapitalist–Kicking out of Nato is probably impossible. Crashing the Lira would be a simple matter, but a blunt tool. I think the best option is to let Vladimir settle Erdo’s hash.

    Comment by cpirrong — July 25, 2020 @ 12:10 pm

  6. @Ex-Global Super-Regulator on Lunch Break. IMO so far Erdo has found a sweet spot. Obnoxious enough to be a menace, but not so obnoxious to make it worth anyone’s while to smack him down.

    The problem is that this just feeds his megalomania and encourages him to push it. There will come a point when someone (most likely Russia, but possibly the US) says enough. Pretty sure that the Egyptians understand the correlation of forces and realize that in Libya he can’t back up his bluster. So they might be the ones to deliver a setback for him there.

    As for the resources. Turkey has fought on the cheap in Libya, and is willing to fight to the last Syrian. I don’t think it can sustain a serious military operation there however.

    It can fight on the cheap in Syria and Iraqi Kurdistan using its conscript army–as long as the body count doesn’t get too high. Erdo still appeals to the Anatolian masses who don’t pay the financial cost, but they do provide the human fodder. If the body count gets too high they might desert him.

    Comment by cpirrong — July 25, 2020 @ 12:18 pm

  7. @dearieme. Glad you brought that up. I deliberately didn’t mention it in the post, to forestall criticism that I was making partisan hay.

    But now that you have brought it up . . . yes, Libya is a total clusterfuck primarily as the result of Hillary and Obama. I presume by “cackling” you are referring to Hillary’s lame attempt at channeling Caesar: “We came, we saw, he died.”.

    That worked out totally swell, right? Ask Chris Stevens.

    Khaddafy (or Gaddafi or Qaddafi or WTF-ever) was a nightmare, bu compared to the Mad Max world Libya has become, he was an enlightened despot.

    Comment by cpirrong — July 25, 2020 @ 12:30 pm

  8. @I.M. Pembroke. There is no mechanism for ejecting a nation from Nato. Pretty serious design defect, no? But that’s one thing Erdo can indeed take for granted.

    Comment by cpirrong — July 25, 2020 @ 12:31 pm

  9. “Turks are arguably the most chauvinistic nation in the world”

    Hahaha. Very true. You should try visiting some of the Turk-sponsored “educational” institutions in Central Asia. You’ll discover that Turks are, like, Numero Uno (or whatever the equivalent is in Turkish) in every realm of human endeavor. Consider yourself suitably enlightened.

    Complicating factors for a Putin smackdown is the whole Black Sea geo-strategic situation plus the very large Moslem minority in Orthodox Russia. Putin steers very carefully (and wisely in my view) around those sensibilities

    Comment by Simple Simon — July 26, 2020 @ 9:08 am

  10. Erdogan is doing a bit of colonising a la Mussolini in Somalia.

    Comment by Southerner — July 27, 2020 @ 1:35 am

  11. Interesting times. A few thoughts:
    – I think the whole Hagia Sophia thing was primarily intended to annoy the entire Orthodox community, not just the Greeks. That said, it will have a serious impact on the tourism industry in Istanbul.
    – Not sure of your take on Erdo being humbled by the Russians. Given the Russians laboured efforts in Syria and Ukraine, I reckon the Turks would be more than a match. They certainly embarrassed them in Libya, plinking all those Pantsirs. On this subject, is Russia still providing tech support for the Turk’s S-400s? A deals a deal and all that.
    – I wouldn’t rate Egypt’s chances against Turkey either. Their military is principally just for show – and domestic usage.
    – WTF are the French playing at? Whilst Russia’s position is eminently understandable, given their previous involvement in Libya, what on Earth is a second permanent member of the UNSC opposing the UN-backed government?? Even more bizarre given France were instrumental in setting in motion recent events in the country (forget Obama and Hillary – this was Cameron’s and Sarkozy’s gig, first and foremost).

    Comment by David Mercer — July 27, 2020 @ 6:01 am

  12. Unlikely to result in much more than posturing by either side. Weirdoğan is already unpopular among turks with money and/or sense (unfortunately there are too few of either) and the currency is probably going to have yet another total wipeout in the next few months. The CBRT already blew the entire $15bn swap line from Qatar trying to defend the currency. Just need to sit back, eat a kebab and watch it fly.

    Comment by Alwalad — July 31, 2020 @ 12:52 pm

  13. I also doesn’t like Erdo, but you double check some important points and you shouldn’t jump conclusion directly,

    1- According to maritime law perspective, what greece and cyprus claim is not correct. they are just trying to make pressure Turkey to accept unfair terms. They don’t have power themself as economically or militarily so they are begging from Europe. Turkey had to participate Libya to secure its right in maritime zone in Med. France is trying to be leader in Europe ( Macron’s dream) and protect their influence in Africa.

    2- You compared navy of Egypt and Turkey, but you are missing key point. As number Egypt may look better, but they don’t have capability to deal with Turkey as navy. Their fleet consist many different systems like their air force. It creates logistical nightmare. Along with this, army officers are selling even lemons in markets in Egypt. Egyptian army needs to pass more than 1000 miles to be in Sirte or participate in hard work in Libya officially which they are already part of this unofficially years but couldn’t win.

    3- Armenia- Azeri issue is just a diversion for Turks to not focus on East Med, Libya and Syria properly.

    Above countries were and are not friend of Turkey at all already. So nothing changed actually. There are already sanction against this country for not only weapon tech and supply perspectives for some years, but also economically in some point. Still nothing happened. So above points aren’t related with Erdo. Whoever sits in his chair would have to fight for these. No doubt Erdo is fool and he will be gone surely in next election. But you should check your facts!

    Comment by meninger — August 1, 2020 @ 4:38 pm

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