NATO Scandal Provides Windfall to Embattled Turkish President
The scandal in NATO has galvanized both government supporters and opponents in Turkey, offering a windfall to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan amid troubling signs of a flagging economy.
President Erdogan rebuffed an apology from NATO and said there is a sinister plot to divide Turkey. NATO’s immediate efforts to contain any fallout from a scandal during a military drill in Norway where a technical assistant and an officer added the Turkish president’s name on the enemy chart failed.
It’s apology to smooth ruffled feathers in Ankara did not work, instead triggered a groundswell of support for Mr. Erdogan from unlikely quarters of political spectrum and society.
In addressing his loyal supporters in the Black Sea province of Bayburt on Sunday, the president castigated the alliance and portrayed the event as part of broader plan to redesign the political map of Turkey and the region.
“With the help of God, we will rip apart those plans and maps as we did a century ago,” Mr. Erdogan said, thundering to a glowing, jubilant crowd at a rally in Bayburt.
The Turkish leader said he was not the target of the scandal in NATO. “But Turkey and the nation are real targets,” he told the crowd.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg stated an apology and said the individual’s action does not reflect the views of the alliance. Norway Defense Minister also apologized to Turkey.
But those statements were nowhere close to assuaging jolted nerves of Turks. From both sides of the political divide, there was a broad consensus in Turkey about the incident. Rather than an isolated action of one or two individuals, the incident was read like something a NATO plot against Turkey.
“NATO crossed its boundaries,” and “the incident was a deliberate message to Turkey,” where the main lines of Turks’ reading of the incident.
Usual skeptics of NATO in Turkish left and among Islamists were quick to demand withdrawal from the military alliance. Dogu Perincek, Mr. Erdogan’s late ally and an influential figure in Turkish security bureaucracy, launched an anti-NATO rally in solidarity with the Turkish president.
Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu said a mere statement of apology was not enough. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, for his part, called for a criminal investigation against those who were responsible for depicting Ataturk and Erdogan as enemies in Norway drill.
The Turkish media displayed a frenzy against NATO. Although days passed the first time since the president informed Turkish people about the scandal, the rippling effects were far greater than the initial reaction.
President Erdogan’s chief advisor Yalcin Topcu called for a re-assessment of Turkey’s membership to the alliance.
“This organization, which is engaged in all kinds of hostile attitudes toward a member, is a not must for us,” he said. “Our presence in this institution must be addressed urgently by Parliament.”
It provided a much-needed fodder for the government struggling to deal with worsening signs of the economy. Turkish lira on Monday tumbled against dollar and Euro. Central Bank’s efforts to instill confidence in markets and investors produced no result.
Bonds slid, driving the yield on the benchmark 10-year debt to a record high on Monday, according to Bloomberg. Exacerbating the sober outlook are a soaring inflation rate, a deepening current-account deficit and a sharp decline in foreign demand for the nation’s bonds.
International Plot Against Turkey
Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag regarded NATO incident as a broader international cooperation and project to remove President Erdogan from power.
Pro-government YeniAkit even went further to say that NATO had been responsible for all four critical developments in Turkey’s domestic political domain since 2007.
In 2007, secular opposition CHP organized a series of public rallies against ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), displaying an acute sense of fear over preserving secular pillars of the republic. YeniAkit said on its front page on Monday that NATO indeed was responsible for the 2007 rallies, which brought half a million people in Ankara and Izmir.
According to the same newspaper, 2013 Gezi Park protests, 2016 coup attempt, and the latest incident were other NATO attempts to engineer and design Turkish politics. All four attempts, the newspaper said, failed.
President Erdogan tapped into swelling nationalist fervor in Turkey and said the real target is 2019 presidential elections. His remarks were read as a launch of his presidential campaign two years before the election.
The only dissent voice came from Turkey’s military chief. In public split with both the president and other senior Turkish politicians, Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar praised the immediate move from NATO leadership to show a reaction and tackle the incident.
Speaking at an international security forum in Canada, the Turkish general noted that NATO is the most successful and most effective military organization that has existed in history.
“NATO administrators reacted timely and properly. We should not allow anyone to undermine our alliance and solidarity.”