Our foreign policy establishment, Democratic and Republican, was so enamored of the notion of Muslim democracy that it mistook Erdogan’s incipient dictatorship and bubble economy for the object of its desire. In June 2012, for example, David Ignatius of the Washington Post bragged that Obama’s embrace of Erdogan had “paid big dividends.” Said Ignatius:
As President Barack Obama was feeling his way in foreign policy during his first months in office, he decided to cultivate a friendship with Turkey’s headstrong prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Over the past year, this investment in Turkey has begun to pay some big dividends – anchoring the policy of the United States in a region that sometimes seems adrift.
Erdogan’s clout was on display this week as he hosted a meeting in Istanbul of the World Economic Forum that celebrated the stability of the “Turkish model” of Muslim democracy amid the turmoil of the Arab Spring. One panel had the enraptured title “Turkey as a Source of Inspiration.”
Now the hashish smoke has cleared, Erdogan’s Cave of Wonders has turned back into a sandpit, and the foreign policy establishment has nothing to show for years of propitiation of this Anatolian wannabe except a headache.
Now that Turkey is coming unstuck, along with Libya, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq, we should conclude that the entire project of bringing stability to the Muslim world was a hookah-dream to begin with. Except for the state of Israel and a couple of Sunni monarchies that survive by dint of their oil wealth, we are witnessing the unraveling of the Middle East. The best we can do is to insulate ourselves from the spillover effect.