While it now seems tragically hilarious, many of us spent the fading days of 2019 believing that we would – and could – absolutely conquer 2020. All of our resolutions were walled up until mid-March, and 2020 instead became the year that won us.
But if there is one man who will not allow a pandemic to suppress his pursuit of fame, it is Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Not that his year was a swimming one. Erdogan's crowning infrastructure project, Istanbul Airport– the largest in the world – hardly offers many visitors with worldwide trips in the doldrums. And the Turkish economy, once a flagship of GDP growth, is whistling.
In 2020 Erdogan took the wrecking ball that he had previously hit in Turkish domestic politics and directed it at the region. That year the Turkish military was more active worldwide than it has been in decades or maybe ever. Of Libya to Nagorno-Karabakhthe Turkish head of state has deployed armed forces to advance Turkey's goals. He made natural gas drilling in the Mediterranean a contact sport.
But Erdogan's real impact on geopolitics will not affect a tank. It will come in the form of 21st century pan-Islamism, which it has refined through soft power. The religious revival What is so controversial in Turkey has filled a void in the wider Muslim world – one that has been shown in Erdogan's recent years Word war with French President Emmanuel Macron.
Despite the strongman facade, there are signs that Erdogan's foundation is breaking. The Turkish opposition is growing and its foreign policy has proven burdensome and costly. And as before The NATO partners are turning away from Turkey– Even the Trump administration has reluctantly imposed lengthy sanctions in the country – Erdogan no longer has too many allies.
Here are five of the best Foreign policy Pieces that chronicle the adventures and misfortunes of Turkey in the face of growing domestic and international setback.
1. How did the Eastern Mediterranean become the eye of a geopolitical storm?
by Michaël Tanchum, August 18th
The Mediterranean has long been home to various fault lines, but the current wave of tension stems from natural gas discoveries off Israel, Egypt and especially Cyprus – energy resources Turkey wants a piece of. This alone has led to conflicts with Greece, Cyprus, France, the European Union and NATO.
But it has also led to a deeper Turkish engagement in Libya, with which Turkey is working together imaginatively carved the Mediterranean. Ankara stepped up its support for the United States-recognized government of the National Agreement in the Libyan Civil War, and even sent arms and troops into the country. Turkey's intervention complicated matters by "combining the already tense maritime conflict in the eastern Mediterranean with the Libyan civil war," Tanchum said.
Then Turkey turned back to the north Cypruswhere it has been meddling for more than 40 years. "With France and Egypt already in open conflict with Turkey in Libya, observers around the world fear that a further escalation in the eastern Mediterranean could trigger a vortex between Europe and the Middle East," writes Tanchum.
2. How the soft power of Turkey conquered Pakistan
by Fatima Bhutto, September 5th
Even when Erdogan ran gunboat diplomacy, his brand of moderate political Islam was never so popular in the Muslim world. Turkey under Erdogan is a brilliant supplier of soft power. Turkish dramas are second only to US series in terms of global distribution, writes Bhutto. Muslim viewers find refreshing nuances in something that is neither Hollywood nor Bollywood.
Ankara's neo-Ottomanism has certainly filled a cultural vacuum. The question is how it will transform or fragment the global Islamic community, especially against rivals like Saudi Arabia. "The bubbly and bombastic Erdogan may be divisive at home, but abroad, whether you like him or hate him, he has a charisma that has not existed in the Muslim world for decades," writes Bhutto.
3. Erdogan has hidden an economic catastrophe deep in Turkish banks
by Chris Miller, Aug 11
Erdogan is fortunate to have some soft power as his country's economic prospects look bad. Turkey "spends way beyond its means," writes Miller, but has avoided sovereign debt and instead hired its big banks to take advantage of low US interest rates to borrow in dollars that they have plowed into the local economy. The problem: With the Turkish lira depreciating, these banks get nervous when they are repaid.
And to make matters worse, Erdogan partnered these banks with the lira by lending the central bank billions of dollars to buy back lira in the open market. "A big hole is not what you want on your central bank's balance sheet, but this is the reality Turkey is facing" – with few palatable options to prevent devaluation, recession, or both – writes Miller.
4. A left-wing radical feminist who rides a motorcycle comes for Erdogan
by Nick Ashdown, May 1st
Financial deficits aren't the only loss affecting Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party. Turkey's long-suffering opposition party – the Republican People's Party – celebrated a number of important electoral victories in 2019. Its resurgence is thanks in part to Canan Kaftancioglu, who led the party to pursue a "radical love" communication strategy that emphasizes inclusive language in a political climate that is usually divided.
Erdogan, whose political success is based on division and antagonism, has taken note of the party's progress under Kaftancioglu's leadership and is intensifying his offensive. "Just as Kaftancioglu's approach puts many people off, it also targets others who may have previously felt excluded, such as younger people, leftists, liberals, and religious and ethnic minorities," writes Ashdown.
5. The Turkish Generation Z turns against Erdogan
by Gonul Tol and Ayca Alemdaroglu, July 15
This expanded electorate could mean Erdogan's death as Turkish youth – half of the population are under 32 years old – are frustrated with the only leader they have ever known. Generation Z "has watched [Erdogan] evolve from a dynamic leader building a more democratic, prosperous and western-oriented Turkey to an exhausted autocrat fighting for government," write Tol and Alemdaroglu.