President Erdogan has recently come under intense criticism for his unwillingness to come to the aid of the beleaguered Syrian Kurds in the city of Kobani just across the Turkish border. Sadly, Erdogan's behavior is not surprising as he has always pursued policies consistent with the image of himself as a great leader and his country as a regional hegemon and a global power.
To his credit, Erdogan served his country with distinction, especially during much of his first and second term as Prime Minister. He put Turkey on the map as a progressive and prosperous nation, one that struck a healthy balance between religion and democracy, admired by friends, envied by foes, and recognized as a major regional power.
Since coming to power in 2002, however, his achievements have been eclipsed by three themes which have dominated his political career: a) his distorted account of the Ottoman Empire and his vision of Turkey's future "greatness', b) his religious fervor and support of Islamists, and c) his insatiable hunger for power domestically, regionally, and globally.
Erdogan never missed an opportunity to show off how much the 'new' Turkish Republic, as the successor of the Ottoman Empire, has achieved and how its importance has grown because of its geostrategic location, economic development, status as an energy hub, and unrivaled military prowess in the region.
Erdogan has never been fazed by the fact that today's Turkey is not the Ottoman Empire and that the Ottomans were not as admired by the peoples they governed, as Erdogan wants to believe.
As recently as September 2014, Erdogan stated that "The Ottoman State had a very successful administration system, and for centuries, these areas of crisis today had maintained their existence without problems. The Palestinian issue, the problems in Iraq and Syria, Crimea, Balkans, all are issues that came about after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire." [Emphasis added]
Ironically, Erdogan's boasting about the lack of problems during the Ottoman era seems to have escaped his doctrine of "zero problems with neighbors," as Turkey today has problems with nearly every neighbor, standing in stark contrast to what Prime Minister Davutoglu (reflecting his boss' view) stated:
"[Turkey wants] to integrate with our neighbors… have a belt of stability, security, prosperity in the surrounding regions" and at the same time seek to become a member of the EU.
In fact, Erdogan's domestic policy has diminished Turkey's prospect of becoming a member of the EU because many in the EU do not want to integrate an Islamic state with a large population, which would give it a leading role in a "Christian club."
More important, the EU has raised concerns about the Turkish government's interference with the judiciary, the restrictions it has imposed on the press, and the "excessive use of force [which] continues to be a matter of concern."
In the wake of the Arab Spring, Erdogan was convinced that it was Turkey's time to project itself as the leader of the Sunni Arab world. He believed that Turkey could offer a successful model of democracy and religion.
However, he was rebuffed by the Arab states as Arabs throughout the Middle East recall the reign of the Ottoman Empire and have little desire to see Turkey restore Ottoman-like power that would dominate the region.
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