Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is shown in March attending a meeting of his party in Ankara. (Turkish Presidency/Murat Cetinmuhurdar - handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Erdogan’s Foreign Adventures

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, June 14

Few people know that Turkey has a military base in Mogadishu, the capital city of Somalia, and that its largest embassy abroad also happens to be in the Somali capital. The only thing that combines Libya, where Turkey is already present, and Somalia, where it is covertly establishing a presence, is that the two countries are torn by wars. Furthermore, until recently, Turkey had a foothold in the Sudanese island of Suakin, where it had planned to establish a military base, but this plan fell through with the collapse of Omar al-Bashir’s regime and the rise of a new government in Khartoum. The question therefore is: Are these Turkish enclaves abroad a product of an explicit foreign policy or just coincidence? The answer is that with Erdogan, nothing is mere coincidence. In the early years of the Syrian war, he was reluctant to cross the border with Turkish forces. Today, his forces are present in Syria, but they lost most of their major battles to the Russians and the Assad regime, as well as to the Americans. In the wake of a continued deterioration in the standard of living of most Turkish citizens, and after the Turkish military’s defeat in Syria, Erdogan is keen to revamp his image. This is what brought him to send troops to Libya; draw a maritime border in the waters of the Mediterranean despite Greek objections; announce oil discoveries; and establish a presence in Somalia. His ultimate goal is to raise the morale of the Turkish people, who’ve been hit by two years of economic shocks under his rule. However, one must not underestimate the damages caused by these Turkish military adventures in the region, which are often funded by the small state of Qatar, which is searching for a regional player it can climb on. In essence, the Turkish president is following in the footsteps of Iran through his own expansionist project in the region. Based on the Iranian model, Turkey has been using foreign militias in its war in Libya, and there are even rumors of its backing of mercenaries in Yemen. Erdogan ultimately hopes to build a major regional power parallel to Iran, and perhaps replace it, given the fact that the US blockade on Tehran has already significantly weakened the mullah regime. Turkey, with its 80 million people, has regional roles in Central Asia but has not succeeded in overshadowing Russia or Iran. Unlike Saudi Arabia, which commands huge oil reserves, Turkey is a country without significant financial resources alongside a large economy that is dependent on Russian tourism, European trade and remittances sent back from the West. It is for this reason that Erdogan relies so heavily on Qatari support to save him from every crisis he faces, such as the financial impacts of COVID-19, which sent the Turkish lira into a plunge until Doha supplied Ankara with $15 billion in aid. Erdogan continues hedging his bets on this alliance and sailing through the uncharted waters of the Middle East’s great power politics. – Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

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