By Alper Ali Riza
PRESIDENT Barack Obama once described Vladimir Putin as ‘looking like the bored kid in the back of the classroom.’ We all know the type! I have not managed to find any classroom description of Recep Tayip Edogan but staying with one’s schooldays I would venture to suggest, playground bully.
In a discussion on BBC World Service between two women journalists the ‘locking of horns’ between these ‘two alpha male stags’ over the shooting down of a Russian war plane on its way to attack Turkoman positions near the Turkish border was aptly described as snarling between the Russian bear and the Turkish wolf.
Whatever the metaphor these two tough guys are bad news for the region and the depressing thought is that the likes of Obama, Cameron, Holland, and Merkel are too rational and civilised to handle them or the crisis in the Middle East.
In the case of Erdogan the truth is that his Syria policy has been a disaster. It is directly linked to his introduction of religion into Turkish political life both at home and abroad. His obsession with the removal of the Assad regime in Syria is incomprehensible to those of us who believe in Ataturk’s wise policy of staying out of the internal affairs of other states.
The problem with Putin is that he is very similar to Erdogan in that he is an authoritarian despot who likes to project a tough guy image. But unlike Erdogan he just pretends to be religious whereas Erdogan is a believer. Nevertheless a year or so ago I was astonished to see the whole Russian cabinet – including Putin the ex KGB Communist atheist – cross themselves before a cabinet meeting. I have not seen the whole Turkish cabinet prostrate themselves in the Islamic way yet, but Turkey’s move away from Ataturk’s secularism towards Islam is beginning to cause Turkey strategic harm.
Put bluntly the strategic harm is that NATO – which apart from Turkey is a Christian club – is less likely to come to the assistance of a Turkey steeped in Islam than the westernised secular state she was when she joined the alliance. The Russians have sensed this which accounts for the undiplomatic language more suitable to a bar room brawl than exchanges between states, prompting predictable bravado and braggadocio such as the ‘do not play with fire’ riposte from Erdogan.
In further exchanges at the climate conference in Paris it has been claimed – and vigorously denied – that the airplane was downed in defence of oil supplies from ISIS to Turkey. Methinks president Putin protests too much! He protested less when a Malaysian civilian airliner was blown out of the sky over Ukraine – probably by forces loyal to Russia – and when a Russian airliner fell out of the sky over Sinai in Egypt.
After all Russia was warned repeatedly both about airspace violations and the attacks on Turkoman villages just south of the Turkish border and it is well known that Russia has been attacking rebel civilian targets in support of the Assad regime rather than ISIS.
The bored kid at the back of the class is disruptive and destructive. He contributes little, has few friends and is jealous of his brighter peers. The bully is dim, unimaginative and very authoritarian.
The bored kids and the big bully have taken over the playground in the East Mediterranean. Nobody likes them but alas there is no prefect or school master in sight to apply the cane!
Alper Ali Riza is a Queen’s counsel and part time judge in the UK.