Does Erdoğan Really Need a Warning to See the Big Picture?

02/12/2014 08:36 am ET | Updated Apr 14, 2014

It has become clearer with every passing day that democratic Turkey and the values it represents are under attack by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party). Most people I come across in the US who are Turkish or have an interest in Turkey share a mutual concern about the recent situation in the country, even though their political views are not identical.

Turkey's democratic situation is fueling a dilemma for the United States. Experts think with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's current direction, Turkey is moving from a problematic democracy to an autocracy.

Recentlly we saw a New York Times article argue that Erdoğan's "wrong turn" could imperil Turkey's hard-won democracy. The newspaper suggested that the Obama administration send a strong message to the Turkish prime minister over his "damaging course." The article argued that "whether Turkey nurtures its hard-won democracy, which has contributed to its economic growth, or turns authoritarian is as critical to regional stability and to its NATO allies as it is to Turks."

The US silence on the critical developments in Turkey has been criticized by the experts here. They think that the silence encourages Erdoğan when he needs to be warned and strongly condemned, and believe that as a key ally, US policymakers should remind Erdoğan of the importance of political stability and democratic vitality in Turkey. An American colleague sarcastically asked me the other day, "What happened to Obama and Erdoğan's good friendship?" She went on to say, "If they are really friends, Obama has to privately condemn Erdoğan for the recent situation, if he hasn't done so yet." We don't know what is really going on in behind closed doors and how it will all work out, but it seems that we will soon, because tensions are on the rise.

The common view is that Turkey's democracy, which has admittedly been improved in the last 10 years, is now being destroyed by the Turkish prime minister. Every day the problems between Turkey and its Western allies get deeper. They are watching quietly in order not to damage short-term interests, but they are concerned for Turkey's longer-term stability. Some experts consider that the recent developments are not merely an effort to cover up corruption, but that Erdoğan is trying to gain complete control over Turkey.

Yes, democracy in Turkey has been seriously damaged by the recent corruption allegations and probes, but the damage started before. "Perceptions of Turkey have been suffering since the Gezi Park protests of the summer given the over-reaction by the Turkish government and the police force," a former state department official told me in an interview. "Democracy in Turkey is under attack," he added. "A vibrant civil society and media that can express dissenting views and are free to be critical are equally important, therefore I worry that both of these are under attack from aggressive Turkish politics that wants to win at all costs."

We can see clearly that Erdoğan is doing remarkable harm to Turkey's democracy, and this is far from only being a domestic problem. His outrageous actions and demagoguery are threatening Turkey's political base and values and put Turkey's international standing at great risk.

"I worry that US-Turkish relations are currently hostage to domestic Turkish politics. Beneath the surface there is deep concern about the direction Turkey is heading. A weak internally focused Turkey is not in the US interest therefore I hope the US-Turkish relationship can help strengthen Turkey's democracy but given the proclivity towards conspiracy theories in Turkey I worry that in the short-term little can be done, " the former official further commented.

I cannot agree more with him and for the sake of long-term stability I hope Erdoğan will act more responsibly. Will the Obama administration condemn Erdoğan publicly, or privately, soon? Would this work? I don't know. However, I believe he has to start reconsidering his actions and questioning whether he is dragging the whole country down with him to an unfortunate political ending. Does Erdoğan really need a warning from the US to see the big picture?

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