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  • Erdogan's Empire: Turkey and the Politics of the Middle East by Soner Cagaptay
  • Senem Aslan (bio)
Erdogan's Empire: Turkey and the Politics of the Middle East, by Soner Cagaptay. New York: I. B. Tauris, 2020. 369 pages.

Turkish foreign policy has suffered many setbacks in the past decade that ran counter to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's grandiose expectations to make the country a global power. Soner Cagaptay's Erdogan's Empire provides a detailed account of Turkish foreign policy under governments led by the Justice and Development Party (AKP, from the Turkish Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi). Erdoğan reversed Turkey's traditionally Westernoriented foreign policy, seeking to revive Ottoman-era influence in the Balkans and the Middle East. Once deemed to be Turkey's equivalent to Henry Kissinger, Ahmet Davutoglu, the former minister of foreign affairs and prime minister, promoted this new policy shift with flashy concepts like "strategic depth" and "zero problems with neighbors." Both proved to be meretricious. Today Turkey has volatile and strained relationships with the neighboring countries. The country has come into conflict with Russia and Iran over Syria. It has no allies in the Middle East except Qatar; and it alienated its Western allies. Cagaptay explains the limits of Erdoğan's international ambitions and why there has been a big discrepancy between the AKP government's goals and Turkey's actual status in the world.

Cagaptay rightfully calls attention to serious constraints that prevent Turkey from becoming a great power in the world, let alone in the Middle East. First, the impressive economic growth and the rise in exports might have increased Turkey's soft power during the AKP period, but these are hardly adequate to realize Erdoğan's ambitions. Turkey is a resource-poor country that needs foreign direct investment to grow, and Western countries are its top trade partners. Cagaptay emphasizes that Turkey cannot turn its back to the West because the sustainability of its economic growth depends on the West. Second, it does not have the military or hard power to match its ambitions. Turkey encounters powerful adversaries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Russia in its attempts to assert power in the Middle East. Finally, Cagaptay points out that Turkey's neighbors have memories of the Ottoman Empire that differ from that of Erdoğan and do not share the latter's vision of the Ottomans as benevolent rulers. Furthermore, Turkey's "benevolence" does not benefit groups who are not Sunni Muslims. Given the religious and ethnic heterogeneity of territories that Erdoğan wants to exert Turkey's influence over, his politics are not attractive to many.

Cagaptay's book provides a balanced approach in showing that both Erdoğan and the West have been responsible for the rift between them. It was not solely ideology and domestic power dynamics that gave way to Turkey's increasing attention to the Middle East and Africa. Erdoğan's goal to make Turkey a stand-alone power defying the West gained strength as the process of Turkey's accession to the European Union failed to make progress. The process fell victim to the disagreements among and within the EU member states about Turkey and the enlargement fatigue that the 2008 global financial crisis generated. As the EU failed to provide adequate incentives, dragging its feet and sending mixed messages, Turkish public support for accession declined. Ironically, the EU process also provided an opportunity for Erdoğan to consolidate his rule by helping him weaken the military and move swiftly toward authoritarian rule. According to Cagaptay, the EU could have tempered Erdoğan's ambitions for power by threatening to suspend accession negotiations.

There is, however, a tension in the book regarding whether it is national interests or ideology that informs Erdoğan's foreign policy. Cagaptay emphasizes repeatedly that Erdoğan is a pragmatic leader. Erdoğan demonizes the United States and Israel rhetorically to mobilize his supporters but continues to maintain good relations with them. He can suddenly attempt to repair [End Page 480] relations with Europe after expressing severe anti-European sentiments. According to Cagaptay, Erdoğan "is a pragmatist before he is an...


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