The Saudis suddenly have enormous leverage over Muslim states that can’t pay their bills. Turkey is in serious financial trouble, with a current-account deficit equal to 10% of GDP, the same level as Greece or Portugal. Turkey is in no danger of national bankruptcy, but it is in danger of a sever austerity program to correct the imbalance which might expose Tayyip Erdogan as a borrow-and-bully Third World populist tyrant. Is Saudi influence at work in the collapse of Turkey’s romance with Iran? That’s hard to confirm, but the fact is that the Turks (who financed 85% of their currnet account deficit on short-term money markets) need the Saudis more than ever.
As Tony Badran observes in Foreign Affairs, the Obama administration’s hope of outsourcing Levant policy to Turkey has sunk (we might say that the Good Ship Obama has lost its Ankara). It is hard to make sense of what Erdogan is up to; his latest bombing campaign against Kurds in Iraq suggests fear that the Syrian problem might spill over into Turkey itself. But I hesitate to guess at this juncture. Erdogan is a shrewd Anatolian peasant whose response to pressure is to confuse pursuers by contradictory actions.
We do not know what role the Saudis are playing in Turkish politics, but it seems clear that whatever Riyadh does is directed towards closing Sunni ranks against Iran. The good news is that Iran faces serious opposition; the bad news is that the feckless gang in Washington is barely a spectator in these events.