Why Turkey’s Erdogan Stumbled

In his rise to power, Turkish President Erdogan won popular support by showing independence in foreign affairs but then got caught up in his own grand ambitions, including support for violent “regime change” in Syria, setting the stage for an electoral rebuke, as ex-CIA officer Graham E. Fuller explains.

By Graham E. Fuller

It was welcome news that Turkish President Recep Tayyip ErdoÄŸan was dramatically foiled in his bid to win a majority in Turkey’s recent parliamentary elections. Those elections were in essence a referendum on ErdoÄŸan himself and his ambitions to create a super-presidency in which he could legally extend his increasingly authoritarian ruling style for years to come.

The Turkish public clearly recognized that ErdoÄŸan had overextended himself and had lost his touch in the increasing self-adulation and erratic ruling style over the past few years. The AKP, even with a plurality of votes, will not now be able to form a government without the participation of one or more opposition political parties.

Turkish President Recep Erdogan.

Turkish President Recep Erdogan.

Washington, which had grown increasingly irritated with ErdoÄŸan’s policies and unpredictable style in recent years, now hopes that a new Turkish government, even a coalition, will significantly change Turkey’s foreign policy strategies and tactics.

Don’t bet on it. Despite ErdoÄŸan’s personal excesses and recent poor judgment in foreign policy, the main thrust of his earlier foreign policies is unlikely to change significantly. While we can’t know yet what kind of ruling coalition will emerge in the weeks ahead, no combination will dramatically change the substance of Turkish policies.

In my book of last year, Turkey and the Arab Spring: Turkey and Leadership in the Middle East, I set forth detailed arguments for why AKP foreign policy in its first decade of rule (up until the turmoil of the Arab Spring) represented a new, profound, substantive, and permanent strategic shift in Turkey’s foreign policy vision.

What are those key elements of AKP strategy?

—As a “lite” Islamist party, the AKP moved to embrace and celebrate Turkey’s Islamic heritage and identity, much to the approbation of a…

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